We headed South into the Judean Desert.
It was amazing to see shepherd communities on both sides of the road as we travelled deeper and deeper into the Judean wilderness. Our guide said there was more green than normal because of the rain the day before. Oh and it was cold and rained some this second day as well.
Our first stop was St. George's monastary. It's a monastery still in use and it was absolutely beautiful. We couldn't go in it so we just stopped to look at it from a cliff.
Our next stop was the Jordan river. The spot on the Jordan we went to is a newly open area that the bishop had not visited yet. He said it was much better than the site further north that he used to go too. It wasn't as "touristy" and historically Jesus' baptism probably took place closer to this location than further north.
As you can see the Jordan river is not very wide. It was on average probably 10 or 12 feet across. I always thought of it being much wider than that.
We held a brief service to remember our baptism and it was just an awesome experience.
There were Israeli guards on site. I thought it was an interesting juxtaposition of being by the river where Jesus was baptized to begin his ministry of bringing peace into the world and there were armed guards walking around. On the other side of the river we saw a Jordanian guard come down and check things out before he disappeared out of our site.
I didn't realize doves were prevalent near the river but there were a few of them. When the scripture says that the Holy Spirit descended on Jesus like a dove...it could have been an actual dove.
The next stop was the oldest city in the world: Jericho. We learned about the development over ancient history of the Tel in Jericho called Tel es-Sultan. It was here the Natufians began civilization.
We could see the site traditionally accepted as the place of the temptation of Jesus. We ate lunch at a place ironically called Temptation and shopped.
Then on the way out of Jericho we stopped to see what is traditionally known as the Sycamore tree that Zacchaeus climbed. We also thought of the story of Bartamaeus which took place in Jericho.
The next stop was the caves at Qumran. It was pretty neat, but it was cold and wet and so we didn't stay outside to look at the caves and the ruins of the Essene community for very long.
After that we went to the Dead Sea. This is the lowest place on earth. The Dead is Sea aptly named because no animal life lives in it because of it's thick salt consistency. I also learned that it's actually evaporating at one meter per year.
I was so excited to swim in the Dead sea…I mean float in it. However, it was cold and windy and rainy and because of that and because of the waves they said “No swimming today.” It turns out that rain is so rare at the Dead Sea that it made international news.
I was really bummed they wouldn't let us get in. I did put my hands in the water and tried to experience it the best I could. I found a cool salt formation that made it back. I also found what I thought was petrified wood, however, it turned out it was the root of some sort of tree…my guess was that it was a Olive Tree. I brought in on the bus hoping to bring it home. My peers convinced me that I would not get it through customs on the way out of the country so I threw it away.
We got back to the hotel around 4:30pm. I got freshened up and then went exploring Bethlehem with a few friends. We were so excited to find a bakery. I thought of how cool it was to eat bread baked in the city that means hosue of bread (Bet-lehem in Hebrew literally means: house of bread).
It was another amazing day. I kept thinking how surreal the whole experience was. It still seems surreal. I kept saying "yeah all I did today was visit Jericho and the Jordan river and hang out in Bethlehem."
Stay tuned for day 3...