Since July 7th was our last night sleeping on the east side of Israel this was my last chance to see a great sunrise. I've always been more of a sunset person, but I think it is possibly because I grew up on the West Coast. There is nothing like the sun setting over the horizon of Bellingham Bay. But being on the east side of a country showed me that watch the sunrise from the east can also be a very special thing. So I decided to set my alarm to go sit on the bank of the Dead Sea and watch the sunrise. When my alarm went off I walked over to the window and saw a glow in the sky, but decided to crawl back in bed and sleep for 10 more minutes. Ten minutes later I was awoken again, I walked to the window to see the bright orange ball climbing it's way up the sky, but again I couldn't muster what it took to put on shoes and go outside and I went back to bed. I'm sure people were thankful in the room that I kept having my alarm ring and then go to the window.
When we got up for good we went to breakfast, which was included in the price. It was a pricey hostel, so I'm glad breakfast was such a feast. They had canned fruit, yogurt, granola, coffee, tea, eggs scrambled and fried, toast, bread, lettuce, mixed salad, pickled fishes, and I know I'm forgetting things. We ate till we were full, but I know we could have stayed until we were uncomfortable if we'd chosen to.
After breakfast we checked out of our room and stored our bags in a room at the hostel. Unfortunately we had to put up a bit of a fight about the payment because the rates at the hostel were more than if we booked online which we tried to do. Eventually the desk clerk got his boss who checked his email and our names and acknowledged that he had received our message and honored the price on the internet. I hate price games. I just wish that there would be a set price. Same with airline tickets, as a side note, I just wish that they'd be one price based on distance or whatever and you wouldn't have to play games and search for hours upon days to find good prices and then get on the plane knowing that people on either side of you paid something else. Ugh.
Directly behind our hostel was the National Reserve. Our hostel was nice enough to give us a voucher for 10% off the entrance fee. Before we even went in the gates we were spotting wild animals. And as soon as we paid and entered we were on the trail. We didn't go as high up as you could, but we still climbed a fair amount. As we went along pretty much everything was brown, but then a pool of water with a waterfall pouring into it would appear as an oasis. The first one had a lot of people stopped at it, so we continued. When we reached the second one we got down to our bathing suits under our clothes and got in. The water was perfect. Everything about this was perfect. The next waterfall was the largest, called David's waterfall, but no swimming was allowed because of the chance of falling rocks. From there we started our ascent to David's Cave which was where our end destination was before climbing down. My friend, Ari, had told us about this and highly recommended it. When we got there it was apparent why she raved about it. We climbed down from the path into the cave area. There was a nice pool of clear water with some itty bitty fish in it. A waterfall pouring into the pool as down below. And this pool was right about David's waterfall thus creating the waterfall. And there was a percect view out over the Dead Sea and the mountains of Jordan in the background. Oh and to top off the fairy tale we were in there were little red dragon flies buzzing about. It was one of the best experiences of my life I would say without exaggeration. I loved it. It was my favorite part of Israel.
We spent awhile enjoying the cave, the water, and the view before putting out clothes and shoes back on and climbing back up to the trail. We walked further south before descending to make a circle. We went by an archeological site of an old synagogue that we could walk through for free after paying the Park's fee before we started hiking. We got back to the beginning and shared a treat from the little souvenir store. It was a prepackaged thing of dippin' dots with a different name. I convinced Ryan to get it (I didn't have money on me) saying that it was probably my only chance while living abroad to have dippin' dots which I love. Then (jumping ahead) we saw them and I got them in Italy with Barb and Michelle a few weeks later. And since then I've seen them another time. Oh well. They were still good and refreshing in the hot hot heat.
Then came the time I'd been waiting for for years. Ever since I first heard of the Dead Sea and the uniqueness of this body of water I've wanted to go at some time in my life. There was a camping area, store, restaurant, gas station, and beach entry all across the road and not to far down from our hostel and the National Reserve. You want into the water and then sit down, but you don't sink. I can try to explain it but really I don't think anyone will ever completely comprehend until they experience it for themselves. If I was on my stomach I would have to work super hard to right myself. The easiest thing to do was roll from back to belly. Sort of like a baby learning to move I suppose. It was trippy. You could sit in a chair position no problem. There was a family of four there from Maryland. The son and daughter were pretty young. The little boy kept saying, "my butt hole hurts." The little girl kept saying, "my vagina hole hurts." And not to be too graphic for anyone but I wanted to let them both know that they weren't the only one experiencing those feelings (although I kept it to myself and told Ryan privately). For this reason and the fact that the water was far from refreshing and actually very warm we didn't stay in the water too long. Probably only about half and hour. You have to be so careful not to get any of it in your eyes. Ari had told me she got the tiniest drop in her eye and couldn't see out of it for 15 minutes. Yikes. I had been worried about some blistered I had that were a few days old and that stinging, which it did a little. I just hadn't thought of the other areas of my body having the issues they did. It was still so cool and if I go back to Israel I want to go to the spa a ways down the road and try the Dead Sea mud that people cover themselves with on the beach and is supposed to be very good for you skin and your health in general.
After showering off we walked back to our hostel, collected our bags, refilled our waters and then waited in the shade until it was closer to time for our bus. Once we went to bus station we didn't have to wait to long for a bus to arrive, however it was packed full. Ryan and I were standing in the aisle way of this coach style bus. I thought maybe the driver let us on because he knew people would get off soon. But I stood in that aisle way for the entire hour and half back to Jerusalem. Some teenagers sitting on either side of us asked if we were married and we said no. Then they asked if we were siblings and Ryan said no, we were a couple. Then they didn't understand why we weren't married if we loved each other and thought it would be a great idea for Ryan to propose right there in the aisle of the bus and told him to get down. One boy looked at me and said it would be romantic and the other looked at me and said it would be sexy. Ryan told them he wouldn't do that while laughing off the idea and told them I'd say no. He's right I would. I don't really find that sexy or romantic. But it was funny to hear them probe.
In Jerusalem we walked back to the Old City from the bus station. Along the way we got lunch/dinner in "New Jerusalem" on Ben Yehuda street at Moshiko's where my teacher from high school had recommended. I don't even know if I need to specify what we had. I had falafel and Ryan had shwarma. :) It was good. What do you know?
We headed straight for the Damascus Gate where the bus station was that goes in and out of the West Bank. It took a little time to search out where exactly the bus was to get to Bethlehem, but we finally found it and didn't have to wait too long to leave. I really wanted to experience the West Bank while we were there and I really wanted to visit Bethlehem. Jerusalem and Bethlehem also have a peach agreement which makes it one of the safest areas of Palestine to go to.
The bus we took in dropped us in the town without us having to cross the border on foot. As soon as we got off the bus a taxi man was at our beck and call. Of course trying to over charge us but eventually we got a price I thought was something worth paying since we'd never make it to the church of the Nativity walking before it closed and it was all uphill and we were pooped. Along the way he tried to play tour guide and tried to get us to accept his services to drive us all over Bethlehem and beyond but we bid him adieu when we got out of the cab.
Have I mentioned this yet. I never go back and read what I write. It is far too long for me, but I often forget what I've already said. What struck me most about Bethlehem was how mountainous it is. Anytime I picture Mary and Joseph searching for the Inn I think of long straight flat roads. This is not what the landscape is at all. Upon returning home to Garmisch the first thing I read in my Bible was the title "Mountainous Israel" and throughout the last chapter I read in Ezekiel it clearly discussed the landscape of the Holy Land. This was a good wake up call to me that I should obviously pay more attention to what I read. I think often I search so hard for lessons to be learned that I miss out on things like that. And after knowing what it is really like, the thought of a woman in labor climbing hills, that I paid a taxi to drive me up, sort of changes the story for me. It makes thing come to life a bit more in my head and I think helps bridge the gap a bit between my head and my heart, from reading words and stories on a page to truly understanding what it was probably like.
You enter the church through a very low door and emerge into a small room like a foyer, I guess. Then you enter another door into the sanctuary of the church. On the floor was large wooden slats that I wasn't sure about. I think maybe it was the entrance to the Inn of the Manger or I could be all wrong, but it struck me that it was somehow significant. When you walk down stairs that go under the alter of the church there is a small room that has a hole in the floor that is supposedly where little baby Jesus was born, on that spot. How they know I do not know. But they all do seem to have some archeological evidence that has led them to their conclusions and it isn't totally out of thin air. So of course Ryan and I joined in the tradition of stooping down and touching the floor. For me the significance is less in the idea that I am touching the exact spot Jesus was born and more in the fact that I was in Bethlehem which has so much Biblical significance. It was more just being on the same ground Jesus walked on that it was all these specifics, yet that was cool to see too while we were there.
When we left the church it was getting quite late and any other site was closed. So we negotiated for a cab and he took us to the border crossing where we would enter back into Israel on foot. This was something else I had wanted to to after it was recommended to us by the Swedish woman we shared a cab with in Egypt on the very first day of our trip. As a reminder she had been working in Jerusalem for months and said this was a good experience to see what the Palestinian's go through on a daily basis.
As we walked along the narrow path between the wall and the fence I felt like a prisoner. And then I saw a heart breaking image. There was a lot of art and writing on the wall, but the image that stood out to me was the head of a woman who wore a head covering and next to the image was written "I am not a terrorist." THIS is what these people must go through on a daily basis. They have no choice but to come to find work on the other side of the wall while few Israelis ever cross over to their side. We spoke with two young guys from Israel probably about our age and that day was their first time ever going to Bethlehem or anywhere in the West Bank and they had each lived in Jerusalem their entire lives. I don't really care what people's opinions are politically speaking on the whole situation. I do not think that this is a human way for people to live... in fear and in a cage. I don't think it is too much to ask for for all of us to live in peace and harmony. I never think it is okay for one person to feel scared in their own home. And then as we went through the bag scanners and metal detectors and several guards not one of them opened our passports once they say we were Americans. I felt almost like I wanted to say, hey treat me like you treat everyone else who comes through here. I'm just like they are and they are just like me. We are all just human and there is equally as much chance I could be a terrorist as they could be. All this being said I am glad I made this part of my experience and I will never forget it.
We had to catch a bus back but kept having a taxi guy haggle us to take his cab. Then he came over to us at our bus stop and told us we missed the last bus, which I didn't think was true. This is when we met those Israeli guys who had just been to Bethlehem for the first time in their lives. Thankfully as the cab driver was still trying to take us for way more than we were willing to pay the bus arrived and by then there were five of us ready to get on and escape the cabbie.
Back in the Old City we went to our former hostel collected our things and took a city bus back to the Main Bus terminal. There we took a bus back to Tel Aviv for the night. This time we wanted to stay where Ari had before. They had places to sleep on the roof, which we really liked doing. The cool thing about this night was that it was Thursday. Thursday night is like what we are used to on Fridays since Friday and Saturday are Shabbat and make up the weekend days in Israel and much of the middle east that I'm aware of. So the streets were packed. There were people set up selling things all along the sidewalks and the noise level was intense. But despite it all happening on the streets all around our new home for the night after we showered and changed we were quickly caught up in dream land for our last night in Israel.