OTT on the Spiritual Journey

Trip Start Jun 13, 2009
Trip End Jul 08, 2009

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Monday, July 6, 2009

It took us a mammoth 5 hours to get to Jerusalem. Most of the time was spent waiting for the Israel immigration to “allow” us to enter. We were lucky though as we saw a lot of buses parked, full of Palestinians trying to get home just stuck in no man land. We were told by some locals that sometimes they sit there for days.

They have something called “Jerusalem syndrome” here. It’s when someone gets so overwhelmed by the whole spiritual journey that they think they are the Messiah and have to be admitted to hospital to be ‘re-programmed’. Apparently there is almost 200 cases a year and that 10% of those people don’t have any history of mental illness.

When you arrive, it’s not hard to see why. There are tour groups on religious pilgrimages everywhere you go.

We found a great hotel right in the old city and spent a good couple of full on days exploring. We took in an excellent free tour to start with, which gave us a nice overview of the 4 quarters (Muslim, Jewish, Christian and Armenian). While we were waiting for the tour to start we were given a little abuse by a Palestinian as the tour was run by Jews. This is the kind of tense feeling that hangs over the city. It’s a pity though – had he been offering an alternative free tour – we would’ve done it as well.

In our few days exploring the old city we visited the Western (Wailing) Wall, Dome of the Rock, Al-Aqsa Mosque, Church of the Holy Sepulchre (the spot where Catholic and Greek Orthodox churches believe Jesus was crucified, buried and resurrected) and of course the Citadel. The Dome of the Rock with its huge golden dome was our favourite. We also had a great view of it from our hotel roof terrace. We spent a lot of time wandering through the old city souqs. They were huge and sold everything, from beautiful gifts to clothes to brooms. Jerusalem is a beautiful city and has a fascinating but complicated history.

We also saw an amazing night “sound and light show” inside the Tower of David (not actually built by or for King David apparently). The show was pretty impressive – transferring huge images depicting the history of Jerusalem onto the castle walls.

Unfortunately we only had limited time in the area but we managed a half day trip down to Bethlehem to visit the Church of Nativity and Milk Grotto. It was a pretty incredible feeling seeing the spot where Jesus was born. Of course, T also had a chance to add to her Xmas tree decorations :-)

It’s such a shame that very few tourists take the opportunity to cross into the West Bank and visit Bethlehem and other towns in the area. The people are very welcoming and really benefit from tourist dollars.

On the way back through, we decided to walk to the West Bank border along the security wall. Seeing this and reading the messages was definitely an eye opener and was very similar to the one that used to be in Belfast. Hopefully one day they will see peace in the area.

We really enjoyed our short stay, even if it was a little too intense on the biblical side for either of us. But it’s an area we’d definitely like to explore more one day.

On our way back to Jordan, we saw more buses... or the same ones, stuck on the side of the road waiting. Unfortunately this time there was an ambulance there as well.

From the Jordanian border we were given a very interesting ride back to Amman by a guy who was travelling on a Peru passport, but was Palestinian born and raised, Israeli educated. A very educated man with a good view of both sides of the coin. We learnt a lot from that short car ride.

We caught up with Henry again for a night in Amman, then got a ride to the airport from Marguerite. She’s a family friend of the McHugh’s and also wrote the book Married to a Bedouin – telling her story of living in the caves in Petra. If you get the chance, get a copy as it’s a great read.

We’re now in Cairo for the night, enjoying a proper hotel with nice bed, swimming pool, restaurants and even hot water. Such a luxury ; ) Tonight we head for Nairobi for the next chapter of our trip – 73 days on a truck from Nairobi to Cape Town.

Highs: An eye opening few days visiting biblical sites.
Lows: Getting abused for taking a free tour as it was run by Jewish people. But hey, it was free!
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