Posts Tagged ‘rocks’

pilgrimage day 11 – did I mention that Cairo is the overwhelming city?

January 28, 2009

It is. We had a very touristy day which started with a Mass (ok not so touristy) at a Catholic Church run by priests from the Camboni order (mentioned in day 9.5’s post) – the same order Fr. Chico is in. That was a special last Mass to have as the last since Fr. Chico got to really give us an insight into his life and calling and we got to know this charming man better and understand his no-nonsense, pragmatic, this-is-just-my-path approach to priesthood.

its all a blur

its all a blur

Comboni Order

Comboni Order

Next we went to a Coptic Orthodox church which contains a crypt where the Holy Family are believed to have hid during their flight into Egypt. Coptic  Orthodox is the Christian church started in Egypt by St. Mark, who converted thousands of Egyptians and endured horrific torture at the hands of the Romans eventually ending with him being dragged through the streets until his head came off. Coptic Christians were persecuted mercilessly yet the more they were persecuted the more the numbers converting to Christianity became. Today it is Coptic custom to tattoo a Coptic cross (derived from the ankh, which typically represented the “key of life” in ancient Egyptian hieroglyphics) on your wrist as a way of showing a lack of fear in openly being Christian. Our guide, Max, is a Coptic Christian and has one of these tattoos. Max also points out that there are a few differences between Coptic and Catholic, one of the big ones being that where Catholics believe in Purgatory, Copts don’t.

where the Holy Family lived for some times

where the Holy Family lived for some times

We are taken to a shop and given lots of time to peruse the touristy wares, in fact a lot of the day centered around us being given lots of opportunity to shop. Next we drove to the pyramid complex of Giza, the streets were jam packed with people celebrating Eid – children running around, riding small Ferris wheels and camels and such. At the pyramids, Max warned us about the persistent hawkers and warned us not to engage them at all and how to say ‘No Thank-you’ in Arabic. We had a very short time at the pyramids, which were amazing but slightly underwhelming (Luisa thought they would be bigger). The hawkers were every bit as insistent as we had been told, sometimes resorting to forcing ‘gifts’ into your hands and then demanding that you pay for them. Despite the warnings, people from our group still got into trouble; I witnessed the amazing sight of Isabel rescuing H and Aunty B by throwing the ‘gifts’ they were given on the floor and leading them firmly away, one at each hand. We saw many ‘amusement camels’ – dressed up to the nines and hired to tourists for short rides and then we drove to the Sphinx which was even more crowded and featured two more pyramids.

slant

slant

pyramid + camela

pyramid + camela

storytelling

storytelling

After this began the shopping part of our day wherein we were taken to various shops all with a hands on approach to turning tourism in tangible economic gain. It was almost like Cairo knew we were only there for a day and knew it had to get as much money out of us as possible! We were taken to a perfume shop, then a papyrus shop and, finally, an Egyptian cotton shop. Of all these, the perfume shop left a lasting impression. I walked in there thinking that there was no way they would get me to smack down money on their counter – I don’t even wear perfume usually! But there I witnessed the most polished, charming and persuasive selling of my life. The place was filled with dainty glass bottles and we were invited to sit in a large wing of the shop by a friendly Armenian lady who took drink orders from us.  Next we were each given pieces of paper with the names of the perfumes she would be showing us and spaces for us to write down how much of each we wanted. “Yeah right” I thought. She then proceeded to tell us that the shop didn’t sell perfumes but rather essences, which perfume companies used. We got to smell pure flower essences such as the Lotus flower essence found in Tutankhamen’s tomb, and Yellow Lavender which was totally different and sweeter than the Purple Lavender. Under the unassuming heading of ‘Blends’ on our pieces of paper were popular blends of the pure flower essences which are completely identical to well-known commercial perfumes like Chanels Chance, and CK’s Eternity. When people starting raising their hands and asking about their personal favourite scents the woman would quickly present a bottle that smelled *exactly* like their perfume, even ones that are not longer being manufactured. She showed an unbelievable knoweledge of the perfume market down to which design houses, bottle design and the years that the perfumes were launched. We learnt that the difference between essences and perfumes is that perfume companies add alcohol to the blends, ensuring that perfume’s scent travels further, dissolving off your skin and making its way into other potential customers’ nostrils and that the perfume expires as some stage whereas pure essence never loses its scent. Next came the spicy essences like sandalwood (good for arthritis), frankincense (good for hay fever), eucalyptus (which literally clears your sinuses amazingly), narwatsu (a sweet vanilla scent) and sweet almond oil (good for moisturising skin and hair). Even the most hardened, tight purse string loosened after all the convincing whiffs and demos. Even Mae, who fell asleep during the demo, bought some for her arthritis. Between the Ladeira women we bought 6 bottles, 2 of which were for me (so very unlike me!).

a row of Portuguese ladies in the essence store

a row of Portuguese ladies in the essence store

just a touch of charm

just a touch of charm

view to another sale

view to another sale

cha-ching

cha-ching

With our  hedonistic detour behind us, we visited one more church – the Church of the Floating Bible which has a bit of a creepy story. It is built on a spot where a Bible was found floating and open at a passage stating “Oh weep children of Egypt”. By now it was dark and we were told that we should add whatever we had bought to our luggage now. So there we were in the dark street, lots of pedestrians walking past and an air of rush and panic. It was not good, even sweet A cracking and making some peeved comments. Then to finish the day we were taken to a yummy dinner cruise on the Nile which featured entertainment by a scary Bollywood-esque man who dragged unsuspecting guests on the dance floor to do weird synchronised dances with him, a belly dancer and man who spun continously for like 10 mintues while performing visual illusion type tricks. I have a tendency towards car sickeness, so riding on a bus all day, then eating dinner on a boat while watching the dizzying spinning man right before boarding a 7 hour flight was quite a test of my unfortunately delicate system! We ended up at the airport where some of us had a bathroom break in restrooms with no sinks and shared some calming cups of tea. Eventually we boarded our late night flight to Johannesburg looking forward to a tour bus-less existence at home and contemplating our experiences. At Johannesburg we still stuck together drinking coffees until eventually parting with new friends in Cape Town.

spinning man

spinning man

de Nile

de Nile

Tally for the day: 3 churches, 4 shop shop excursions, 5 pyramids, the sphinx, 1 Nile cruise, 1 flight home

Advertisements

pilgrimage day 10 – i don’t understand this day

January 25, 2009

Today we left Israel early in the morning. Frank and Jono drove with us to the Jordan border. Everyone was a bit nervous about this border crossing after V made an announcement that Israeli officials can be blunt and rude with us but we should be compliant – and no smiling. It did dredge up imaginings of being cast out into the desert passport-less and I swear one mama was literally wringing her wrists as we stood in the queue at the plane-less airport-type building at Allenby Bridge. After making it through we stood around in the sun with our bus waiting for a new Jordanian bus and guide. We chatted and discovered from Frank that his sister-in-law had landed in hospital the day before which is why he was pacing around on his phone and didn’t come to dinner with us. We all have a very camaraderie-filled goodbye with Frank and Jono and load onto our new bus, which much less luxurious. Our new guide is named Ammar and he is very apologetic for the bus’ lateness. He then collects all our passports (I really hated this mass collecting and processing of our passports) and went to some other office before returning and handing them back again. At this point a very young, armed Jordanian policeman joined us, apparently standard issue for every tour bus in Jordan, these guys don’t want nothing messing with their fledgling tourism trade. We started by driving out to the Jordan river, there was a bit of a walk to get there. It was very hot and the terrain was beautiful and open. We walk down to the river, which is not nearly as pretty as you might imagine – all green and stagnant looking. Each of us were baptised by Fr. on a pier at the river’s edge, very special. So special actually that some folks started emptying their water bottled to gather some Jordan water as a momento. We also visited a luxe chuch dedicated to the descent of the Holy Spirit during Jesus’ baptism.

*sploosh*

Baptism off the pier at the Jordan River

Jordan River Church

Jordan River Church

Next we visited Mount Nebo from which Moses and Israelites first saw the Promised Land, but where God told Moses that he would die on the mountain before being able to enter. Very bitter-sweet. We had a Mass here and I did the reading which, of course, was filled to a healthy proportion of those hard-to-pronounce Hebrew place names. But at least it was in English, at first it look the monk a while to find the reading in English for me! Looking it up now, I see there was lots we didn’t see at Mount Nebo, such as the amazing modern sculpture of Mose’s staff and the Memorial Church of Moses and, most awesome, the view of the Promised Land. Unfortunately, instead of visiting these we were taken to a shop where disabled people make and sell mosaics. I’m all for supporting this kind of thing but, in retrospect, I am bummed that we missed out on the cool things on Mount Nebo, especially that Promised Land view. We were given a demo on how the mosaics are made and given ample time to wander around their shop (where everything was very expensive but I did buy a wooden doll and a blue/silver ring).

remembering Moses

remembering Moses

Next on the adenga we drive to Madaba were we are taken to a restaurant for a pretty decent lunch. We hear that we are supposed to see a church in Madaba but there is a funeral taking place there so we will come back later.

madaba

madaba

friendly boys

friendly boys

What followed was a lot of driving around the Jordanian countryside with very little indication of where we were going. The lanscape was very different to Israel, instead of lots of small square houses cluttering hills, there were large tracts open land dotted with lavish mansions and a few smaller settlements. I got very hiccupy and car sick and caught only tidbits of Ammar’s discursions such as 75% of Jordan’s population are young, they have no natural resources, they have been trying to grow tourism since 2000 and they see people as their best resource. The bus was getting to me, in fact the 10 days of bus was getting to me; I remember tunring to Isabel and saying “It feels like this is our life now, everyday will be like this: We wake up at 6 or ealier, get loaded onto a bus and driven around and see too many places to remember”. Eventually, the bus stopped at a look out point from which you can see the Dead Sea in the distance and some mountain. I have no idea what was special about the mountain or why we had stopped to look at it. After we spent a couple of minutes checking out the mystery mountain we got back into the bus and drove all the way back through the countryside to Madaba.

dotted with masions

dotted with mansions

mystery mountain

mystery mountain

The bus stopped again and I had a little sit down to recuperate from the bus ride before all of us got led at a great speed through these interesting streets, past shops with lots of gypsy/bohemian style wares to St. George’s church. This was actually interesting, The church was built over an early Byzantine church and a mosaic map covers a large part of the church’s floor. The Madaba map has big chunks missing and which is widely believed to be the earliest map of the Holy Land, you can see Jerusalem, Galilee and the Jordan River on it. We got 5 minutes inside the church which was a bummer because the map was really detailed and fun to look at. Then we were rushed back through the intersting streets and hustled onto the bus. This day made very little sense to me, we spent hours driving, seemingly, with lots of time to kill around the countryside and when we were actually off the bus we were still rushing everywhere and couldn’t look at things properlly. When I got back on the bus people were cranky about this. I muttered to myself “I don’t understand this day” and V #2 turned around to me and said “I dont’ understand this day either” which led to some secretive giggling. I had resorted to sitting at the back of the bus today because of my car sickness and there were lots of laughs 🙂

Arabis want peace / Carpet Land

Arabis want peace / Carpet Land

madaba map showing the Jordan river

madaba map showing the Jordan river

Next, we found ourselves at Jordan airport where the Ladeira’s had to do some frantic repacking before boarding a flight to Egypt. I got to sit next to H and Aunty A, who told me a ponderous and hilarious joke about three old sisters. We arrived in Cairo late at night, all our luggage was mounted onto a mega mountain cart and we were loaded onto a new bus with a fresh, friendly guide named Max who made lots of references to Bafana and the 2010 Soccer World Cup. Max tells us the “Cairo” translates into “the overwhelming city”, which turned out the be a most fitting name. He also spouts off other facts like there are 20 million people living in Cairo and 2 million cars, Giza is actually pronounced “Gee-zaa”, Egypt has 117 pyramids and 94% of its land is uninhabitable. Interesting but folks were way to tired for more learning and were falling asleep left, right and centre, including Mae who was next to me. Cairo was busy, people were preparing for Eid which was the next day and it took us a whole hour to drive to our hotel. Once we got there we had to id our luggage by putting stickers on them and get our room keys. Becuase it was so later we were told we could sleep all the way until 8 the next day – a huge treat! Inside the hotel was overkill with bright lights, live music and middle-aged tourist dancing the waltz (I think). T&W promptly put down their bags and took the the floor without missing a beat, it was like something out of a deoderant ad. After a good while of waiting we finally got to our very fancy rooms where I missed the obvious cue to tip the porter, Luisa felt very ill from the plane food and I had a bath with pursed lips (for fear of drinking any to the hectic Egypt water). *snore*

oh clever, pyramid shaped lamps in a hotel overlooking Giza

oh clever, pyramid shaped lamps in a hotel overlooking Giza

Tally for the day: 2 border crossings, 3 churches, 1 river baptism, 2 mountains – 1 known and 1 mystery, lots of countryside bus, 1 short flight, 1 hotel change

pilgrimage day 9.0 – destination, Jerusalem

January 15, 2009

It’s a well known adage that life is not about the destination, but the journey. This pilgrimage was about Jesus’ journey, but the destination, where Jesus fulfilled his mission, had equal gravity. Even though we had been in Jerusalem a few days already, day 9 we ‘arrived’, everything after this day felt like a winding down of the pilgrimage. Day 9 was also, fittingly, the harshest single day of the whole trip, but, somehow, I felt full of energy and verve. The day was so ridiculously long that I’m splitting it into two posts (which is saying something becuase the posts so far have been way-too-long-for-blog). Anyways, we woke at 5am and left for a 6am Mass at the Holy Sepulcher. We got our Mass in early at the overbooked Christian epicentre, during its Catholic time-slice. We walked a windy, complicated path through the Old City during a grey pre-dawn to get there. The streets were weirdly quiet compared to their regular buzz and clutter. Once we got inside the empty, echoey church we gathered at it’s focus: the enclosure built around Jesus’ tomb. After a while we entered through a narrow entry to a teeny room, the size of a large elevator, for a Mass which contemplated Jesus’ resurrection from the very spot where we were standing. At the end of Mass, one at a time, we walk-crawled through a low arch into an even teenier room at the middle of the enclosure where there was only a large altar built over the rocks of the tomb. Here we knelt and reached into a hole to touch those scared rocks. By the time we emerged from the enclosure, there were already more pilgrims starting to gather.

early morning at the Holy Sepulchre

early morning at the Holy Sepulchre

a glimpse into the sepulchre

a glimpse into the sepulchre

After a quick breakfast nip back to the hotel, we drove off to the Western Wall (a.k.a. Wailing Wall or Kotel), that site of contentiousness between the Jewish and Muslim. The wall’s history is obviously interesting and the fact that Jews are able to pray there freely is a big deal as it is the only part of the Temple that remains. At the commission in which the Jewish sought free worship at the wall, the following argument was made which I think sums up the wall’s meaning and the Jews desperation to hold onto it:

“Being judged before you today stands a nation that has been deprived of everything that is dear and sacred to it from its emergence in its own land – the graves of its patriarchs, the graves of its great kings, the graves of its holy prophets and, above all, the site of its glorious Temple. Everything has been taken from it and of all the witnesses to its sanctity, only one vestige remains – one side of a tiny portion of a wall, which, on one side, borders the place of its former Temple. In front of this bare stone wall, that nation stands under the open sky, in the heat of summer and in the rains of winter, and pours out its heart to its God in heaven.”

There are seperate queues for men and women to enter the site of the wall and very strict rules around maintaining its sanctity. There’s also a seperation at the wall such that there is a part for the tourists  and another for devout (I think Hasidic) Jews. Something else you notice is that, since the wall is so sacred, people do not turn their back on is, so as you leave you walk backwards facing the wall at all times.We got 5 minuts to walk around, and I didn’t walk all the way up and touch wall becuase I thought there wouldn’t be enough time. As we left I instantly regretted it, but Angie, who did touch the wall, did something which really moved me; she saw I was upset, picked up my hand and rubbed it against hers saying ‘Now we both touched the wall’.

rules of sanctity

rules of sanctity

the holiest place

the holiest place

Next we moved onto an even more contested site, the same space is, for Jews, the Temple Mount, where the Temple once stood and, for Muslims, it is where Mohammed ascended into heaven and where he will again appear at final judgement. It is the most holy place for Jews and the third most holy place for Muslims. One thing both agree on is that it is where Abraham almost sacrificed Isaac. The space is occupied by two important Islamic places of worship the  Al-Aqsa Mosque and the Dome of the Rock, (as in the rock on which Abraham prepared Isaac for sacrifice). We walked through a make-shift tunnel with heavily armed soldiers posted along it to get to the Temple Mount.

Temple Mount arch

Temple Mount arch

Dome of the Rock

Dome of the Rock

We left the Temple Mount and walked through the Muslim quarter to see two things: St. Anne’s which is considered the birthplace of Mary and the Pools of Bethesda, where Jesus restored a blind man’s vision. Bizarrely and unexpectedly we were shuffled into a choir formation in St. Annes to sing a hymn becuase the acoustics there are really good. It was odd becuase there was an air of rush, we had to do this thing we didn’t know we were going to do *fast* bacuase there were other groups chomping at the bit for their choral moment. So, it seems, that’s what you do at St. Anne’s, you’re expected to sing; if you ever go, be prepared. At the pools there there was lots of talking by Frank (which I didn’t really process since I was still thinking about the Temple Mount) and a very quick looksee before we had to move onto to the Via Dolorosa.

one of many altars in St. Annes

one of many altars in St. Anne's

We got to do something very special and follow the Via Dolorosa, the way Jesus walked after his condemnation to his cruxifiction. We walked this path carrying a large wooden cross in turns and stopping at each station of the cross to read from the Bible and pray. The streets were narrow and filled with nonplussed shopkeepers who looked like they’ve seen thousands of Via Dolorosa processions. Ultimately we reached a little green door which turned out to be a wierd back entrance to the Holy Sepulchre, where we completed the last five stations and wandered around among the throngs of people. This time we also got to go to the altar above the rock of Calvary and touch that rock.

via dolorossa - the stations

via dolorossa - the stations

walking the via dolorosa

walking the via dolorosa

oddities through the back entrance of the Holy Sepulchre

oddities through the back entrance of the Holy Sepulchre

After that people got to rest for a while in the plaza outside the church before walking a good while through the shop-filled lanes to get to a Maronite nunnery where Frank had organised a lunch for us. The nuns there knew him well since he had grown up near the nunnery and spent lots of time there as a boy getting up to mischief such as hiding from his parents in their bell tower. We were led up a long flight of stairs which has very hard on the older folk. We ended up on a rooftop where we got an awesome view of rooftops used as backyards, statellites, domes, churches. Frank dissected the view, pointing out the different religious quarters and landmarks. Lunch was simple, homey and delicious and our table was filled with rollicking good table mates like Tia, Mae, Luisa, Fr. Chico, Caroline and Veronica.

lots of folk needed helping hands during all the walking

lots of folk needed helping hands during all the walking

rooftop backyard

rooftop backyard

look at this ladys apron

look at this lady's apron

Next, what we did after chilling at the Maronite nunnery…

pilgrimage day 4 – the way to Nazareth

December 2, 2008

Early wakeup call, today we changed hotels and cities which meant luggage had to be packed by 6am and then grabbing our breakfast boxes and getting on the bus for the long drive to Nazareth… eh except there was problem with that plan. At the hotel front desk I discovered there was some debacle with our breakfast boxes. V was telling someone from the hotel that they were unacceptable. Something about them being in bags and not boxes, I really couldn’t see what the fuss was about. The word spreading among the group who were milling around before deciding to nab the chance to have breakfast at the hotel. There was a lot of confusion and, in a sort of panic that there would be no breakfast, people began wolfing down big hunks of the hotel’s breakfast buffet. I hiccuped a lot, which led to lots of people giggling at me. We were rushed along with crumbs practically falling out of our mouths to catch the bus and breakfast boxes were cancelled completely.

This odd morning changed the program for the whole day – we missed our Mass slot at the Church of the Annunciation in Nazareth and V spent lots of time on the phone rearranging everything. Unfortunately this meant that no one knew what was coming up next and V wouldn’t tell us (presumably because she didn’t know herself). I thought it was rather peculiar that we were constantly being hurried along so as not to miss slots but sub-par breakfast boxes were good enough reason to miss them. We drove for hours with Frank talking a lot about the countryside and the highway that we were driving on which was gashed through the countryside. Our first stop was a petrol station where Isabel and I bought some unidentifiable Hebrew/Arabic water and chocolates and then we drove for more hours. Eventually we reached Cessaria where many of Jesus’ followers lived and preached and where Herod lived for a while and which was very hot and desert like (though there was a very lush golf course there). It was visually spectacular: old amphitheatre, a garden with broken pillars and then walking through a gate which revealed the breathtaking city ruins complete with a hippodrome. Sadly we did not have get to walk through the ruins but were loaded onto the bus and driven to another beach were we saw an old aqueduct and people dipped their feet in the Mediterranean, I would have preferred to walk through the ruins more.

many steps

many steps

aqueduct

aqueduct

We finally reached Nazareth; my first impression of it was that it was rundown but quaint. We started at a Greek Orthodox Church built over a well where Mary used to fetch water a few times a day. We were not allowed to take photos in the church and that was kind of blessing since it allowed us to enjoy it – it was beautiful and intricate with many golden lamps a big heavy chandelier. The well itself was surrounded by a fence but there was a small tap you could drink from, although after we drank we discovered the water was not quite safe (lucky we have tough tummies). We walked the route Mary would have walked carrying water from the well to the Church of Joseph (built over Josephs’ carpentry) and then onto the main event: the Church of the Annunciation. Here is it believed that the Angel Gabriel appeared to Mary to tell her that she was going to have a very special child. The church is amazing, outside there is a courtyard with many mosaics from different countries portraying Mary. It was interesting to see the different cultural portrayals of her. There was even one from South Africa would our tour organiser, V had brought all the way and placed on its spot. When we entered the church we were greeted with high ceilings and a wide open space, no pulpit no pews. This was a bit confusing but then we saw that there was a sunken level with an altar in front of a big black iron gate which fenced off the grotto in which Mary’s house was believed to be located. There was an Italian Mass taking place and later on we got our turn to have Mass – quite a touching one. It was the first time we were able to spend a while at it since we were the last group of the day to do Mass (in this sense the morning-gone-awry worked out quite well). Father Chico’s main message was that we should remember that, in all the madness of the tour, we should remember that we would find God in silences. Our group offered many personal prayers which gave me an insight into the struggles, illnesses and concerns the other pilgrims had.

downtown Nazareth

downtown Nazareth

the Church of the Annunciation in in the background

the Church of the Annunciation in in the background

cultural aesthetics

cultural aesthetics

After Mass we went walking back through downtown Nazareth and were led to – bleh – another souvenir shop. This upset some folks because they thought the shop in Bethlehem was the only shop we would be going to and this shop had some better deals. Isabel and I bought fridge magnets, that girl has a rather adorable obsession with them 😉 A couple on the tour – A (pregnant) and E were not digging the fact that we had been rushed through town only to linger at another touristy place so they went off to explore on their own, wish I had thought of that at the time since there were no other chances to explore downtown Nazareth.

That evening we met our new hotel, which V had told us would not be as nice as the one in Bethlehem. We definitely thought different – there was an amazing view, a huge pool and nice food. Us sisters when for a night swim before dinner. Over lots of hummus and aubergines we had a good chat with A and E. So not the super conservative people I thought they were, we discovered lots of common ground from uncompleted postgrad theses all the way to misgivings about the running of the tour and the bossiness of V. Ah it was nice to not feel like the only grumpy troopers – grumpiness decreased and camaraderie increased 🙂

Tally for the day: 3 churches, 1 ruined city, 2 beaches, 1 tourist trap