Wednesday, November 7
Today was a long day of driving and sight seeing fro Petra to Amman in Jordan. After leaving Petra the itinerary said we were supposed to go to Kerak to a crusader castle there. Our guide took us, instead, to another crusader castle called Shobak, or Shawback. He said Kerak would be overrun with tourists, plus it’s situated in the middle of a town, whereas Shobak is perched atop a hill called Montréal (yes that’s right) sort of in the middle of nowhere. Much of this castle is in ruin but is being restored by archaeologists. A good bit was still standing. These castles were a line of castles built by the crusaders in the 1100s to guard the road from Egypt to Damascus. There are Arabic inscriptions on some of the stones dating to the 14th century restoration by the Mamelukes but when the Turks rebuilt it later they got the stones rearranged in the wrong order so it doesn’t really say anything now. It was quite impressive and the view all around was incredible.
From there we headed north to Madaba. On the way we had to cross Wadi al-Mujib which was called Arnon in the Old Testament. It is a huge and deep valley where we had to drive back and forth on switch back, hairpin turns down and back up the other side. At the bottom is a dam creating a lake for irrigation and for water supply to Amman.
At Madaba there are the remains of a huge mosaic map on the floor of a church depicting the Holy Land from Lebanon to Egypt dating back to the reign of Emperor Justinian (527-565 AD).
From there we went to Mount Nebo where Moses is said to have looked over the promised land but could not enter it. The view wasn’t too good because it was very cloudy and misty. You could see the Dead Sea 1,000m below. There’s a church up there with some ruins, a monument erected for a visit by Pope John Paul II.
On the way back from Mount Nebo as we headed to Amman we stopped at a studio and store where handicapped/disabled/differently-abled people make mosaics. They are really beautiful and I would have loved to buy one but they were too expensive for me.
We got to Amman just around dusk. It’s a city of 2 million. Our hotel is, again, gorgeous, maybe the fanciest we’ve been in. As in Aqaba we had to have our carrying luggage x-rayed and as at every hotel we had to walk through a metal detector. I don’t know what it is about me but I’m the only one who had to open my backpack at the Israeli border on Sunday and the only one they had to check with a wand after walking through the metal detector even though everyone made it beep. Maybe it’s my beard.
Thursday, November 8
This morning we drove from Amman to Bethany-beyond-the-Jordan where tradition says John the Baptist baptized and where Jesus was baptized. It was neat to be there. It’s not a huge river, more like a large creek. We got to put our hands in the water and we had a Re-Affirmation of Baptism service. While we were walking down and putting our hands in the river a soldier with a rifle over his shoulder was keeping an eye on us.
While we were having our service just up the bank from the river, a mother and her daughter went down to the (muddy) water to be baptized by their pastor. Later when we were driving in Israel where the Jordan River comes out of the Sea of Galilee we saw hundreds of people lined up going down to the river, all dressed in white robes, to be baptized. (Later we saw that Benny Hinn Ministries had a huge tour in the Holy Land with lots of buses and after I came home I was flipping channels and saw Benny and a crowd of people at the Jordan River so we just might have seen him baptizing all those people).
On our way from Amman down to the Jordan I realized I had left the tube with the papyrus I bought back at our hotel. I went and told Mohammed, our guide, and he called the hotel and arranged for someone to drive it down to us so when we left the river and headed north to the border crossing we picked it up along the way.
When we came through Israeli customs I was the only one in the group to have my bags x-rayed and opened and searched. The rest of our tour were waiting for me and laughing at me. When one of the inspectors saw my Keffiyeh in my suitcase he asked where I got it, why, for who, and how much I paid. When I told him at Petra, as a souvenir, for myself, and $20 he nearly laughed. The people from our tour who heard started to laugh and he said "they should laugh."
Finally we were on our way. We’re on a smaller bus. It doesn’t have as many empty seats for us to spread out in back. We drove to Bet-Shean, one of the cities of the Decapolis at the time of Jesus. It also figures in the story of King Saul and Jonathan and their deaths in battle.
We were a little early actually so we got something in that was scheduled for another day. We went to the Mount of Beatitudes where Jesus may have given the Sermon on the Mount. There is a pretty nice church up there financed by Mussolini. There are windows, stained glass windows, with each of the Beatitudes written in Latin around the top of the church just below the dome. You can look down on the Sea of Galilee from there as well.
We came to our hotel which is quite a step down from the places we’ve been staying so far. Supper was disappointing. I did a bit of laundry again sine we’re here two nights. Our guide is a Palestinian Christian and gives us mini-sermons wherever we stop. It could get tiresome if he’s too over-the-top for our entire tour of Israel. We were spoiled by our first guide in Egypt, Reham, who was great. In Jordan, Mohammed really knew his stuff and was a good guy but didn’t have the personality of Reham. Time will tell how I like Samir for our tour of Israel.