Since the camera I’m using had run out of battery, I didn’t get any pictures after this. So I’ll post with words for the moment, and then add pictures once I’ve got some from other members of the group.
After spending about an hour and a half at the Sachneh Springs, we drove for a little more than an hour, heading south again.
I fell asleep again, immediately after the checkpoint into Sumeria (which is under the Palestinian Authority, so it was like crossing a border) which was a shame, because I didn’t get to see the countryside change as we went. For much of the journey, the border fence was within 50 metres of the road. When I woke up, it had changed from green valleys to orangey-brown cliffs.
We turned off the main road (interesting factoid: Route 90, upon which we’ve been travelling yesterday and today, is the longest road in the country, going from Metula in the north to Elat in the south) and headed east, towards the Jordan river.
The site where we stopped is the traditional site both of the Israelite crossing into the Promise Land and of Jesus’ baptism. When we arrived, there were hundreds and hundreds of Ethiopian Orthodox there, dressed in white, going down to be baptised and coming back up. The women had really big, ornate hair, and there were lots of little children running around, too.
On the other side, we could see a small wooden shelter with steps down to the river and a much smaller number of people – Jordan, another country. There were soldiers on both sides of the river. Our side was quite built-up, with cement walkway and steps along the bank. The river was only three or four metres wide, so I imagine people being baptised on either side could talk to each other!
When we arrived, the open-air chapel was being used for the baptismal service of a large group of Greek Orthodox, who later headed down to be baptised by the dozens, all wearing matching white tunics with a picture and Greek writing, which I presume said something along the lines of “January 2016 Mega Baptismal Tour to the Jordan!”
The site is most popularly used by the Eastern Orthodox churches. I didn’t see any sign of a Catholic church, and the only Protestants seemed to be our tour group and one other. There was a marked difference between the Orthodox people who were there for worship and baptism, and the others, who were apparently there to gawk and take photos.
After stopping by the Jordan, we continued south through the hills of Sumeria. As I’ve mentioned, this is part of the Palestinian Authority area, which causes problems for the people, who aren’t recognised as citizens by the Jordanian government but refuse to recognise Israel. Even as we were driving past orchards on our side of the river and greenhouses on the other, it was odd to think that ISIS was in control just a few kilometres away.
We circumvented Jericho and then turned from Route 90 to Route 1 (which used to run from Joffa to Amman, but only goes a little past Jericho now) and headed west towards Jerusalem.
Along the road in to Jerusalem, there were lots of Bedouin camps along the side of the road. They’re reasonably settled now, and live in shacks rather than in tents, and only keep camels for the tourism aspects of it, although most still seem to be herding goats.
The Bedouin in Israel seem to be pretty content to be part of Israel, unlike the Palestinians. (A lot of the staff at Ein Gev Tourist Kibbutz were Bedouin whose parents and grandparents had settled). Apparently the Israeli government offered a few years ago to build a city or a town for all the Bedouin who are living in small shacks along Route 1, but they refused, because living in a town there would put them under the Palestinian Authority, which they didn’t want. As long as they continue to live in camps, they come under Israeli jurisdiction.
We had to pass another checkpoint just before entering Jerusalem, as we were exiting the Palestinian Authority. It was a little amusing because Tzion got us through with just one word: he wound down the window and said, “Australiyah!” And we were let through right away!
We entered Jerusalem at about 3pm and stopped for about an hour at an olive-wood-carving shop run by some Christian brothers from Bethlehem who served us tea. I don’t know if I’ve mentioned it, but tea here is served very sweet, with fresh mint leaves in it and sometimes little slices of lemon.
Then we came to the hotel, which is much fancier than the last two places we’ve stayed! I’ll take some photos once the camera has charged (I also have some photos of Ein Gev I’ll do a post for on Monday). I don’t know if I’ll be able to get a good picture of the view from the window, because it’s meant to be stormy tomorrow. Once Sabbath is over in a little bit, I’ve got to go to the supermarket across the street to buy some more waterproof layers to wear as it’s a lot colder here than I anticipated.