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Tuesday 23 October: MUD, GLORIOUS MUD

Jim and Julia in the Dead Sea

We wake early. Today we are leaving Saint Margaret’s and Nazareth after three weeks. Our cases are packed. Our breakfast is eaten. Our prayers are said. We check our emails … and discover that one of the two churches Julia’s name was sent to this month has responded. Unfortunately it is yet another polite rejection email. I just wish that some of these churches would actually meet her before rejecting her … they might be pleasantly surprised! To be honest she is not holding out much hope for the other church either. We met with them before we settled at Elm Road in 2004 and things didn’t work out then, so it is doubtful that anything will work out this time? But hey … we have an exciting day ahead of us so we will worry about the next stage in our life journey when we get back to the UK.

We take our cases down to the courtyard where May has come to see us off. We are going to Jerusalem for the last few days of our month’s sabbatical. Our minibus arrives and we discover that we have a driver who doesn’t speak any English. He is in a bit of a mood and rushes around, ignoring May, trying to find out who is in charge. It is exhausting watching him. Finally Phil arrives. We pack all our luggage into the back of the bus and we are finally ready for the off. Phil is coming to Jerusalem with us to act as our guide. He is going to follow our minibus in his own car because the minibus is coming back to Nazareth tonight and Phil has to get back as well after he has seen us off to the airport on Saturday. Graham is promoted to sit next to our driver again. He did such a good job last Saturday that we are hoping for a reprise of his ‘Wee Jock’s Tours’ act

We are heading for Masada (the site of the Jewish rebels heroic last stand against the Romans c.73/74 AD), and the Dead Sea (where we are planning to go for a swim or should I say a ‘float’), before completing our journey to our new hotel in Jerusalem. But first we plan to stop at a more authentic baptismal site on their River Jordan at Kasr El Yahud. We drive through a check point into the West Bank. We don’t even have to stop but are just waved through by the Israeli soldiers. Just a few hundred yards down the road, however, we pass an Israeli soldier holding a Palestinian at gun point – kneeling down, hands behind his head – as the soldier waits for his colleagues to arrive. We eventually arrive at the road that leads to the baptismal site. It is down a narrow road with mine fields either side of the road. We pass through another military check point and technically we are in Jordan. The baptismal site is situated on the River Jordan where the river is very narrow and where you could almost literally wade across the river into Jordan proper in half a dozen strides. There are Israeli soldiers on our side of the river, and Jordanian soldiers on the other side of the river. There are quite a number of tour buses there but not a lot of baptisms going on. We take lots of photographs and then it is time to move on to Masada.

Julia and I have been to Masada before. It is very impressive. The countryside around is very stark and barren – proper desert – with the Dead Sea on one side and the mountains on the other. Phil, who has now joined us on the bus for this stage of the trip (having left his car at a place we stopped for coffee earlier) gives us a brilliant impromptu exposition of the 23 Psalm in the course of the journey. We arrive at Masada and, after eating our picnic lunches, we ascend to the top in the cable car. There is a bunch of Orthodox Jewish youth also waiting for the cable car. We know that they are Orthodox because they are all wearing the little skull caps that the Orthodox Jews wear. They are loud and abusive. They deliberately insult us and other tourists. Apparently they think this is a creditable way to behave … something to do with ‘chutzpah’ or ‘getting in people’s faces’ we are told. They are disgracefully behaved and even their teacher eventually gets fed up with them and makes them walk all the way up to the top. There have been a lot of developments since last we were here including making Herod’s northern palace accessible to visitors. We spend a fascinating couple of hours here, with Phil expertly enlightening us on the history of the place, before we descend via the cable car again.

From Masada we go to one of the bathing places along the Dead Sea where we stop off so that Rosemary, Graham, Julia and I can go for a ‘float’. Julia and I have done this before and it is an amazing experience just floating in this extremely dense salt water. We cover ourselves in the mud – that is supposed to rejuvenate our bodies – and then do some more floating to wash it all off again. An hour passes by before we know it. It would be impossible to baptise anyone by full immersion here … you would never get them under the water!?

We rejoin the rest of our group, who have been drinking coffee, while we were enjoying ourselves, and drive to Jerusalem, stopping on the way so that Phil can collect his car from where he had left it earlier. We are staying at the Ritz Hotel near the walls of the old city. The only problem is that our driver doesn’t know where it is? Phil knows where it is but he is following us … and our driver is getting more and more cantankerous. He takes a wrong turn and then keeps stopping in the most inconvenient places to ask directions. Cars and buses are hooting us, our driver is shouting out of the window at passers by asking for directions, he keeps getting the name of our hotel wrong, he refuses to make use of his SatNav …it is all getting pretty fraught! Eventually he stops long enough for Phil to give him directions and eventually we arrive at our hotel … and it is great! We have a lovely room, with a balcony, and a shower that doesn’t leak. The only downside is that we have twin beds instead of a double?

We go down to dinner and it is wonderful! A choice of different salads to start. A choice of four main meals. Sweets that are actual sweets as well as a great range of fruit. Not a chicken in sight tonight! Result!

Jim Binney

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