pilgrimage day 8 – “it’s just rocks and more rocks, it’s all the same thing”

We spent day 8 in the desert, I think it was a Sunday but I’m not sure. V didn’t join us today because she had to go interview guides in Jerusalem or get her hair done or something. So far Frank had been a most excellent guide even though he was strained under our strenuous schedule but today he sucked – a lot. The general theme of the day was that people felt whipped,  hot and confused about what the places we were visiting had to do with our pilgrimage. We drove out of Jerusalem very early and for a long while before reaching Bethany which, since it was a Palestinian territory, was operating on a time zone a whole hour behind Jerusalem’s. We arrived at their 7am and the streets were empty and everything was closed. It was kind of like a ghost town, a very dilapidated ghost town with the most litter you’ve ever seen strewn everywhere. It seemed to fit well when Frank told us that ‘Bethany’ translates into ‘Town of the Poor’, a name which doesn’t exactly conjure images of economic boom. Bethany is also where Jesus’ friends, Mary, Martha and Lazarus, lived and where Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead. We waited around for a while on an empty pavement for the Church of Mary, Martha and Lazarus to open. A tourism-savvy  shop was open nearby and people got the chance to buy more crummy souvenirs. I stood around with Frank and Mae who were looking at pictures of his two children on his phone . When she asked to see a picture of his wife, Frank looked at me mischievously and winked while saying “Oh no she’s not on here”. When Mae left he asked me how my eye was (on account of him having punched it the day before by accident). Eventually we walked through a gate, then a leafy, shady vegetable garden before reaching the church and having Mass in a sweet stone chapel just off the main church:

Church of Martha, Lazarus and Mary (in order I think)

Church of Martha, Lazarus and Mary (in order I think)

stone chapel

stone chapel

Afterward we assumed we were going to Lazarus’ tomb so we trekked up the street outside the church following this sign:

dont miss the visit

don't miss the visit

Once outside the tomb we stood around for a while waiting for direction only to have Frank fetch us and tell us would not be visiting the tomb (boo!). No, instead we walked back down the road to our bus and stood around again for no apparent good reason. ‘Coincidentally’ there was some guy with a camel offering rides for $5 for our convenient amusement . I think about 4 or 5 people from our group went on a ride that consisted of the camel standing up and walking a circle or about 100cm radius before sitting back down. It was nice that we spent our time partaking in this obviously-pilgrimage-related and animal-friendly folly rather than visiting Lazarus’ tomb, but hey now I’m just getting petty and the people who did go for rides did seem to enjoy themselves.

folly. not so much for the camel

folly. not so much for the camel

Back on the bus we drove for a long time passing lots of farms land, small settlements, the Dead Sea, date plantations until,eventually, the landscape became filled with eroded sandstone mountians with many caves and rough shapes. Out here in the desert Frank became very impatient and we were rushed through all the sites with no Portuguese translations. We reached Masada which was a last Jewish outpost during the Great Revolt when the Jews rebelled against the Romans. The Romans responded by destroying Jerusalem (burning down the Temple) and killing off Jewish settlements. We were shuffled into a room where we watched a video about Masada. It has a pretty amazing story – these folks built a thriving society of about 1000 people atop of flat mountain in the desert. This required sophisticated systems for gathering water in big cisterns and pumping water up the mountain. They had simple dwellings as well as fancy palaces for Herod complete with luxuries like heated bathroom walls (via ceramic pipes embedded in the walls to distribute steam) and a whole level for his concubines. Eventually the Romans attacked, which proved rather difficult what with it being on top of a mountain and all. Eventually the Romans broke through a crucial defense point, but rather than attack immediately, they retreated for the night thinking they would get some rest and return in the morning to plunder and enslave. But, during the night, the Jews decided they preferred death over enslavement to the Romans and each soldier was ordered to kill their family. As if that was not enough, the last ten soldiers cast lots to see who would be the last soldier standing who would have to fall on his own sword (the stones they used to decide this were found in the temple remains). When the Romans returned in the morning, they found, not a prize of fresh slaves, but a dead city. Apparently one woman and child survived somehow to tell the terrifically tragic tale. The remains on the mountain are awesome; they were excavated by a famous Israeli archeologist, Yigael Yadin. There are lots of coherent building foundations which have been built on with the archeologist’s impressions of what the buildings would have looked like.

above the line is real, above is reconstructed

below the line is real, above is reconstructed

two sterlings

two sterlings

vistas from Masada

vistas from Masada

From one ancient settlement to another – next we went to Qumran where a ancient Jewish sect used to live, meditate over the scriptures and take lots of ritual cleansing baths. Qumran is also where the Dead Sea scrolls were found; it is believed the sect was also attacked by the Romans and the scrolls were tossed into a cave in a last ditch attempt to save them (and hey it worked!). The place was a total tourist hole and we were given a whole hour to ‘rest’ before going in to see the ruins. During this time we could either (a) have the expensive buffet lunch, (b) wander around the congested gift shop full of T-shirts, teddies and Dead Sea cosmetic products (c) sit outside jostling in the heat for a piece of the rare shade and sitting space (we chose option c). An hour and $15 each later we got to go in to watch another video about the Essenes sect and the Dead Sea scrolls. At the end of the video the screen creaked apart opening the way to the Qumran ruins. Isabel noticed Cecelia was not joining us but grabbed a seat in the shade. When she asked if she wanted to come with Cecelia was all like ‘Aaah e boracas and mais boracas… mesmo coisa!’ and I’m pretty sure I’ve misspelt that wrong, but it roughly means ‘Aaaah it’s just rocks and more rocks, it’s all the same thing!’. We walked around windy ruins with more hurried explanations. The Portuguese pilgrims were getting very tired and bored, not knowing what they were looking at or what it had to do with the pilgrimage. All I remember from Qumran was seeing lots of stone baths and cisterns and that the main thing we had come to see was closed.

Essenes liked to bath a lot

Essenes liked to bath a lot

Next we took a short drive to the Dead Sea, where the salt content is so high that you float in the water rather than swim. The bus stopped in the beach parking lot and Frank told us we had an hour to be back on the bus and that we could only float for 20 minutes in the water. Just to be clear that’s an hour to get changed into swimming suits in change rooms with lots of people and limited space, walk down to the beach, have a float, get washed off, get redressed and walk back to the bus. This is really not how Capetonians are used to visiting the beach :-/ Nontheless people had been looking forward to their Dead Sea float, so off they went. There were all kinds rules about the Dead Sea water like ‘Don’t get the water in your eyes’, ‘Don’t wear any jewelry’, ‘Don’t swallow the water’; these made it seem more hazardous than relaxing. Isabel and I floated in shifts so that we could look after everyone’s possessions. I have to say it was a pretty good float although any indication that you might upend yourself and get your face in the water was distracting. There was this black mud on the floor of the sea which was fun to muck about in. Sadly C with her deteriorating leg, open and sore, couldn’t float which upset her a lot 😦 Wet and half-dressed we piled back into the bus and started the long drive back home to Jerusalem.

dead sea

dead sea

The one thing that really rocked (figuratively) about this day was that V didn’t come with us so (a) there was slightly less tension on the bus and (b) Luisa and I snagged her sweet seat at the front of the bus with the best view. It was fun watching the beautiful desert through the big front window of the bus and I didn’t get car sick (on account of being able to look straight ahead of the road). Another consequence of this awesome seating was that somehow I ended up singing for the bus. After Fr. Chico led prayer on the bus mic, he asked who wanted to sing and Luisa, that snitch, started saying ‘Ilda Ilda, I’m like a bird!’. Next thing I know the mic is being thrust my way while Fr. Chico is excitedly announcing that now we would be having a song from Nelly Furtado who is from Azores (which was exciting for him since he is also from Azores). Eek! I shakily launched into ‘I’m Like a Bird’ and then led into ‘Forca’ which got the Portuguese ladies chanting the Portuguese chorus along with me “Forca! Forca! Com uma forca que niguem pode parar!”. It was fun 🙂 Next H sang – that man has a voice like Louis Armstrong, gravelly and tuned. And after that Maria sang some hymns and Portuguese folk songs during which the mic got back to me for singing Laurindinha. All the singing made the ride go faster and pepped up everyone’s spirits. We got back to the hotel wiped and early to sleep in preparation for leaving at 05:20am for Mass at the Holy Sepulcher…

H

H

Tally for the day: 1 church, 2 mountain ruins each with their own intro videos, the Dead Sea, lots of bus, lots of desert

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2 Responses to “pilgrimage day 8 – “it’s just rocks and more rocks, it’s all the same thing””

  1. Rudy Neeser Says:

    The singing sounds like fun 🙂 Like your own private karaoke bus.

  2. ildarabbit Says:

    except without scrolling words to help 😛

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