pilgrimage day 6 – two mountains + we are the worst group ever. yay.

We started the day with a record: everyone was on the bus on time for the first time. This was a notable achievement since (a) this was something we had been chastised over quite a bit and (b) we had to get up very early and get all our luggage packed to move hotels and towns from Nazareth to Jerusalem. We drove a short-ish while before reaching Mount Tabor, where it is believed the Transfiguration of Christ happened. The Transfiguration was where Jesus took a couple of his disciples up the mountain and was transformed, radiating light and rising on a cloud in between Moses and Elijah. Mount Tabor is one of those sites that isn’t confirmed (I can’t imagine how you could confirm the site of something like the Transfiguration). Getting to the top involved a thrilling taxi ride to the summit where you either held on pretty tight or got thrown around the van like a bean in a baby rattle. Arriving at the top was beautiful – a clean, quiet mountain top surrounded by forest and crowned with an enormous, three-towered white stone Church of the Transfiguration. This Franciscan church was built by the same master Italian architect who built the tent-like Shepard’s Field church. As you approach the church the left tower is dedicated to Moses, the center tower to the Jesus and the right tower to Elijah.

serene & clean

serene & clean

Inside the church was quite and peaceful, there was a group of Franciscan monks there on retreat and they were wandering around inside the cavernous, breathtaking center tower. Unfortunately it was too grand and detailed to photograph properly. There was a center altar in a sunken level in front of intricate stained glass and below a full arch of detailed mosaics of baby Jesus and angels in tones of blue, white and yellow. Up at the ceiling there was a huge golden coloured mosaic of the Transfiguration that was kind of ethereal. We had Mass around the center altar and, although we didn’t realise it, it was a bit stressful for Fr. Chico because we were running late and the next group’s guide had been manically signaling for him to wrap things up. That group unfortunately had to resort to holding their Mass in the Moses tower. I’m not sure why we were running late actually since we had all gotten on the bus on time. After Mass we wandered around Elijah’s tower and outside for a good couple of minutes while waiting for taxi’s to take us down the mountain again. During this time we got to enjoy the mountain top breeze and noticed more and more pilgrims pouring in. While I was showing Fr. Chico how to use his camera he mentioned that Mount Tabor was expecting about 60 groups that day! I consider the fact that we were the first group of the day and got to enjoy it fairly peacefully quite the privilege!

inside the Church of the Transfiguration

inside the Church of the Transfiguration

After the thrilling rattle ride back down the hill and wading through the even bigger crowds at the bottom we were loaded onto our bus and began the long drive to Jericho during which we whooshed past more brown lands and through two fertile green vallies. We passed a big cotton plantation and Frank was explaining what they were in English and I could see some of the Portuguese ladies were looking  at them with curiosity and confusion. Frank had been pointing out farming areas often but when we had passed  banana plantations on the way to Cessaria the Portuguese women understood (since “bananas” in English and Portuguese are the same word) and got very excited pointing and nudging each other and exclaiming “Aaahh banannaaaas!”. So I turned to Isabel and asked her what cotton is in Portuguese, “Algedou” she said. So I tapped Cecelia, who was closest to me and pointed to the cotton fields and said “Algedou”, to which she replied “Aaah algedou?” and I said “Algedou”. This triggered a cascade of gleeful poking among the ladies and excited alternated exclaimations of “Algedou?” and “Algedou!” and sending Isabel and I into very pleased giggles.

Unfortunately the rest of the ride to Jericho was very bumpy and made me feel very carsick. When we entered PA-controlled Jericho we had to pass an Israeli and Palestinian checkpoint before entering a very dusty brown land with lots of Bedouin settlements. After all the dustiness we reached the lush, green and oasis-ey Jericho, the lowest inhabited place on earth (well below sea level). Here we were supplied with tickets for the Jericho cable car to the Mount of Temptation. Sho! The cable car ride was not easy because I was highly carsick already and the cable car holds some kind of record for being the highest in the world and it stopped in the middle of the ride for about 5 minutes swaying gently and nauseatingly from side to side above the excavations of Tel Jericho. The Tel Jericho was the original city of Jericho, often touted as the oldest continuously inhabited city in the world. It is also suspected that the walls of Jericho of might be there; unfortunately the first archeologist working at the site ruined any chance of discovered them by digging from the from bottom of the Tel instead of the top. Bet that ruined her professional rep! The cable car landed us on the side of the mountain where it is believe that Satan tempted Jesus by offering him the world as far as the eye can see. I gotta say looking at the view I didn’t think it was all that tempting but I might have been too nauseas to appreciate its impact. On this mountain there is also a Greek Orthodox monastery we were meant to visit but we were too late and it was closed 😦 When we reached the bottom again we got a long break near a busy market and a fountain called Elijah’s Fountain (I don’t know why). I found a large tub of saffron for only $8, and ate a pomegranate, some nuts and a protein bar from Luisa’s ever-giving bag of traveling snacks. After almost recovering from my carsickness we had to get back in the bus for the long drive to Jerusalem (ack!). We saw passed by more checkpoints, desert, mountains and Bedouin settlements. I think there’s an impression that Bedouin implies some kind of bohemian/gypsy opulence (or maybe that’s just my impression), but the real thing is anything but – rickety and spartan.

a mid-air stop to unload people?

a mid-air stop to unload people?

the view from the Mount of Temptation

the view from the Mount of Temptation

When we finally reached Jerusalem Jono*, our bus driver advised against finishing our program as Ramadan was due to finish that evening and the, predominantly Muslim, city would be traffic laden. So we were given the last few hours of the day to ourselves and we would have to make up the sites another day. Our hotel was really fancy again and Luisa, Isabel and I scored an actual suite with a HUGE TV, sleeper couch, chairs, ottomans, desk and lots of space. After settling in we attempted to walk to the Old City center of Jerusalem, but were foiled by road construction blocking our path and instead ran into A & E back from exploring the Armenian and Greek Orthodox quarters in the Old City. At dinner we met up with everyone again including V who looked she had something on her mind. By dessert she could maintian her cordial demeanour not longer and said “I wasn’t going to say anything but…” and continued on to express disenchantment with our group saying that she couldn’t put her finger on it but we were the worst group she had seen in all her 22 years – the *worst*! She told us that we were slow, we didn’t listen to instructions or Frank’s expositions and that we were giving South Africa a bad name among the local tour operators. That really took the wind out of everybody’s sails, with people worrying about whether they were the slow pokes and about having offended popular Frank. V told us we had to improve, that this was like school and everyone just had to pull their weight. Cynthia, whose legs were constantly swelling out of we white tennis shoes and were partially bleeding in one area, stammered apologies for being a lagger. Isabel and I suggested that the language differences with a large number of Portuguese people in our group might be a factor. This suggestion was not only shot down, but V suggested that, to save time, Fr. Chico shouldn’t translate Frank’s explanations into to Portuguese anymore, which was even worse! V explained that she had had a Swazi group with three different languages who coped beautifully so language was not the issue. But after she left the, up till then silent, Fr. Chico leaned in and told us that this model group had had 20 days to complete the same program we were doing in 12! The few of us that were left chatting concurred that the tight, packed program was a problem. The whole thing left me feeling horrible and actually counting the days before this ‘school trip’ was over. Then I felt indignant, we were in Jerusalem and we didn’t come to be impressive ass haulers, we came to be close to God. After all this general yuckness, Luisa, Mae, Tia, Fr. Chico and C and I took a little Friday night walk to a corner cafe to find bottles of water and beer. This cleared my head. Slept well.
Tally for the day: 1 church, 2 long bus rides, 2 mountains, 1 new hotel, 1 chatisement of note

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5 Responses to “pilgrimage day 6 – two mountains + we are the worst group ever. yay.”

  1. Rudy Neeser Says:

    The chastisement affair sounds really painful 😦

  2. ildarabbit Says:

    yeh. did you stumble-approve this post again?

  3. Rudy Neeser Says:

    Indeed I did 🙂 Got a lot of hits?

  4. Rudy Neeser Says:

    Oh, wow! That’s really great 🙂

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