Simply.Just.Walking

peace is every step

Month: September 2017

Jerusalem, Bethlehem and Jericho

It would take less than two hours to drive from Amman to Jerusalem without the stop at the bordercrossing of the King Hussein bridge. I was warned by Lorenz. With aggressive  interrogation, he once was kept  for six hours at the Israeli border. I was lucky- nobody asked me anything, I just had to wait one hour for my passport to be cleared. Nevertheless, crossing the border is a confusing experience.

I met my sister Christi in the Austrian Hospice, where we stayed for four nights. The Hospice is located directly at the Via Dolorosa in the Old Town.

Austrian Hospice

The view from the rooftop of the Austrian Hospice is spectacular!

 

To the left is the 8th century Muslim Dome of the Rock. The place is sacred for Jews, Christians and Muslims.  King Solomon built the first Jewish temple over the sacred rock in 960 BC.

Herodes built the second temple, bigger and more luxurious. It is said that the walls were covered with gold. Jesus came to this temple to pray. The Muslims believe that Mohammed ascended to Heaven to meet Allah from the rock. All three religions feel entitled to own this spot.

 

Our favorite place was a cafe opposite the Hospice, from where we watched the life on the street. Often up to 12 young heavily armed policemen stood at the corner and watched the crossing between Via Dolorosa and  Hogai street. One time, a young Palestinian was pulled out of the crowed walking the street and searched with his body turned towards the wall and with his hands up. Nothing could be found.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A Christian believer carrying the cross on the Via Dolorosa, the street where Christ was believed to have carried the cross.  We have heard that crosses like that were rented from a Palestinian.

 

 

 

The Hospice is located near the Damascus Gate.

 

 

I never have experienced a town like Jerusalem.  The walled in city with 8 gates was breathing out history from every corner.  Narrow covered streets were filled with smells of herbs, bakery, sweets and incense.  The ringing of church bells, the call of the Muezzin and the singing and praying of Christian pilgrims walking on the Via Dolorosa all had space, together with the early morning call of a cock near our window.  However, on nearly every corner Israeli soldiers were located, dominating and controlling the town with the power of their weapons.  A dangerous calmness filled the streets. I could feel the pinned up emotions of the suppressed population. Often, we talked with locals about a solution to this situation. I came to the conclusion that only a world government giving each group equal rights could solve the problem. Will it ever happen?

We walked a lot. However, this time I hardly took photos. There were too many attention grabbing details, so many interesting sites, people, situations.

 

One of many Suqs (shopping streets) in the Old Town of Jerusalem.  Many Suqs were covered with a vaulted ceiling protecting the people from the sun.

 

The visitors could only be in the outer vicinity of the Dome of the Rock for a short time. I had to wrap the scarf around my dress in order to hide my lower legs. A kind visitor was lending me his scarf to cover my shoulders.

 

We stayed in Jerusalem during the time of the Jewish New Year.  Many traditionally dressed Jews with fur hats, clothed in white or dressed in a black suit with black hat and two curdles dangling down from the belt rushed to the Western wall to pray and celebrate the New Year. We could only go to the right of the Wall, the place of the women. The left side is reserved for men. It was amazing to see the almost trance like states of Jewish men praying, dancing and singing.

In Jordan as well as in Jerusalem mythological stories as well as religious ones all are connected with a specific place.  In Amman, for example, the Roman temple of Hercules is connected to the story of the birth place of Hercules. In Jerusalem, the story of Jesus is always connected to a special place. This goes back to Empress Helena, the mother of the Roman emperor Constantine, who came to Jerusalem at the beginning of the 4th century in search for the most important places of Christianity.

Garden of Gethsemane with 2000 year old olive trees

Church of Holy Sepulchre is the holiest site of Christianity. Over the place where Jesus is thought to be crucified and buried in a tomb, emperor Constantine  built the first church. The recent church dates back to the 11th century. Many pilgrims touch the stone slab were Christ’s body is said to have been placed after his crucifixion.

Crosses in the Church of the  Holy Sepulchre made by the Crusaders who ruled the city for nearly 200 years (1099 – 1291). It was a gruesome history.

 

After two full days in Jerusalem, we took a bus to Bethlehem and a taxi to Jericho. On our way to Jericho, we saw many fortified Jewish settlements in the Palestinian areas.  377,000 Jewish settlers live in the occopied area. They isolate the Palestinian towns and force the Palestinians to  live in very crowded areas. Palestinians do not get permits to build new houses and if they build, they are bull dozed down.  This policy works as a slow depopulation of the Palestinian people. Many Israelis are upset about this behaviour too. The Israeli organisation “Breaking the Silence” collects stories told by Israeli soldiers in order to uncover the unjust and gruesome behaviour of the Israeli government. For centuries justice was a major topic of the people living in this area.  Hopefully, these voices will be heard  and peaceful change will occur.

 

In Jericho, we saw the ruins of the first Western town built 10 000 years ago. High in the cliffs above the town, Jesus is said to have fasted for 40 days. We visited the cave were he fasted and – as the story tells -was tempted by the devil. A monastery is built around this cave like a pigeon loft.

 

 A walkway connecting the different parts of the monastery

 

 

We enjoyed fresh orange and pomegranate juice in the cafe Sultan high up on the cliffs.

 

All the time, strict regulations had to be followed, starting already at breakfast. In the Hospice, a table for breakfast was assigned to us and we could not change it. The breakfast room was in the cellar and very hot and sticky. We wanted to take the breakfast up to the beautiful garden, but it was not allowed. These rules are insignificant ones, but typical for Jerusalem and surroundings. Strict, narrow visiting times, strict rules on how to dress were often enforced. When we wanted to visit the winter palace of Herodes (Herodium) in early afternoon, the Jewish guard told us that the site was closed because of the Jewish New Year. The Palestinian area is divided into three zones,  A,B,C, depending who controls the area. The Herodium is under Israeli control.

We visited the birthplace of Jesus in Bethlehem, translated as the House of Bread. Underneath the Church of Nativity, a crypt (cave)  is dedicated to the birthplace of Jesus. Many pilgrims kneel down and touch the glass protecting the exact spot where Jesus is said to have been born.

Reported spot where Jesus  was born.

 

Now that I have been in Jerusalem and surroundings for a few days and witnessed people of the different religions expressing their faith deeply, committed and convinced that their believe is right, it made me think about the word religion itself. In Wikipedia I found that originally, the word  derives from RE, meaning “again” and from LIGO meaning “bind, connect”.  For me, it is reconnecting with something above right and wrong, something that is integrating all different forces into a unity. It seems to me that this is the only way to real peace in Jerusalem.

Dana Biosphere Preserve

Two hours south of Amman and close to King’s Highway lies the Dana Biosphere Reserve. My son Lorenz and his wife Ale joined us for a two day hiking experience.

For the Wadi Dana trail (16km), we started in the almost abadoned 15th century village of Dana (1700 m), and walked down  to Feynan Ecolodge (50 m below sea level). At the start, heavy  mist covered the valley, wonderful relief from the burning sun.

 

Birds were chirping, a sound not so common anymore in Jordan. The area is home to 180 species of birds and 600 species of plants. Mammals like ibex, foxes and wolfes live here.

Having lunch under a shady tree

The area of the preserve is rich in copper. 6000 years ago, copper mining started in the valley. Over 100 archeological sites document this history. The Jordan government does not allow copper mining anymore.

 

A taxi picked us up from Feynan Ecolodge. We were told that it is a two hour car drive to come  back to Dana Guesthouse (the place we were staying overnight.

Feynan Ecolodge, reachable only by 4WD

However, the car soon had a problem. It only  could only drive in the 4th gear without stopping. This worked OK in the Wadi Araba, the flat desert although there was no airconditioning and it was very hot. But as soon as we started to climb up to Dana, the car completely broke down. We had to get out and wait for a replacement.

With a sip of Whiskey, we enjoyed the sunset and the view to the Dead Sea. It took almost an hour for the next taxi to arrive.

The next day, we decided to hike the Al Ghuweir trail, a trail leading along a riverbed and through a Siq. Lorenz drove with his 4WD from Shobak castle down a windy, steep road to the entrance of the trail.

Soon the trail narrowed into the Siq. The shade was such a relief from yesterday!

We were prepared to swim through part of  the Siq, but there was no water at all. At one point, a rope was leading over a rock to the lower part. The place was described as the “waterfall”. Anna-Sophie climbed down and went farther into the Siq.

We had lunch and ate for desert a melted Austrian Zotter chocolate. Yummy!

In the evening, we picked up my car at the Shobak visitor center. After we drank tea with mint and sugar, the peope of the visitor center showed us typical Bedouine objects.

Between Petra and Wadi Rum

 It would take 6 days of hiking from Petra to Wadi Rum. Anna-Sophie and I hiked part of the trek for one day. We started in an area where heavy fighting took place between Israel and Jordan in 1967. A cemetery of fallen soldiers was speaking of this

 

We hiked down into a wadi with hardly any path visible. The uneven ground was scattered with many rocks and boulders and required utter attention. Our Bedouine guide Yusuf was looking for a dry stick for me to use as a staff. It helped. He could not speak English, but pointed to many interesting sites and plants.

 



In the middle of nowhere, a Beduine family guarding their goats invited us for tea. They were extremely nice and welcoming. When I asked if I can take a photo, they posed with their weapons.

 

Farther down the valley, we passed some places with water still in the creek.


Our host picked us up in the evening. He prepared  a typical Jordanian meal for us consisting of pieces of lamb, tomatoes, onion, potatoe, garlic and coreander. It was delicious!

Wadi Rum

Wadi Rum, the biggest Wadi in Jordan, is located in the south of Jordan and dedicated as a World Heritage site. Because of it’s beauty, Anna-Sophie wanted to do some hiking in it. We were picked up by Obeid at the visitor center, a Bedouine owning the Bedouine Life Camp. We spent two nights in his camp, a wonderful experience!
We slept outside our tent under the bright milky way and the Andromeda galaxy. Our dinner called Zarb was prepared in a cooking pit. For centuries, the Bedouines cooked their food underground in earthen ovens.

Obeid inviting us to dinner

A year ago, I had a very unpleasant experience on a camel ride. The camel threw me off. In order to overcome my fear of camels, I decided to ride a camel again. We started at 6 am in the morning, just before sunrise.

This time, an experienced Bedouine was  leading the group of camels, which were connected by a rope. They were calm. Anna-Sophie was riding on a mother camel with the baby trotting close by.

We hiked through a wadi close to the visitor center. The newly married son of Obeid was our guide. It was hard to walk in the sand, the sand was constantly filling my shoes. When it was cooler, I took off my shoes and walked barefoot. It is not the Bedouine way!

 

 
Wadi Rum, also known as the Valley of the Moon,  is 278 sq mi. One has to use a camel or 4-wheel drive to get around. Obeid’ s son was driving us to different places.

At the place where the movie of Lawrence of Arabia was filmed in 1962, we stopped for tea. Down below you see Obeid’s son.

 


We also saw Nabatean petroglyphs and the place where Lawrence of Arabia lived for a while.

 

 

Three days hiking in Petra and surrounding

The area my daughter Anna-Sophie and I are hiking in is the cradle of Western civilization.  9000 years ago, people started to cultivate the land and domesticate plants and animals.The land was fertile with lots of trees and water. Now it is desert caused by constant exploitation of the resources.


Bayda, a Neolithic settlement near Little Petra. The settlement is as old as Jericho and is considered one of the earliest farming settlements in the Middle East.

A Neolithic house. At nearly 40 degree Celsius, this house had a fresh breeze and felt cool.

For three days, Anna-Sophie and I hiked different trails in Petra and Little Petra. In Little Petra, our Beduine guide Khaleb showed us many over 2000 year old water cisterns carved into the rock, water canals and tombs. They were done by the Nabateans.

 

We walked through narrow passages, over ancient stairs and steep smooth rocks. The red sand stone reminded us of Arizona. Our  guide showed us a carob tree. The dried pods, also known as St. John’s bread, tasted delicious!

In the photo below, you see a Bedouine who had used the traditional eye make up called Kohl to protect his eyes from ailment. Kohl is made by grinding a mineral called stibnite. It is the same the Egyptians used.

The next day, our hike in Petra started at 6 am. For the first 3 hours we walked with the guide Jusuf. He told us that at one time, 60 000 people lived in this place. It was a -trading center for incense, cardamon and amber. Camel caravans stopped here on their way to Damascus and India. Two major earthquakes ( 4th and 6th century) destroyed the water system, the people left and the place was abandoned.

Siq into Petra

 


Petra is one of the Seven Wonders of the World and was founded about 312BC. The city declined when the Nabateans lived unter Roman rules, mainly because the main commercial routes became sea-based. However, the latest research shows that the final abandonment of the city happened by a big flash flood.  Buildings and the water system were destroyed. Many meters of white sand from the nearby mountains still are covering the ancient Roman road. The last inhabitants left the city in 551 AD after a major earthquake destroyed the rest.

In the evening, we walked up to the monastery and continued the path in the direction of Little Petra. Our host, Shady, waited for us at the road that hardly can be called a road – luckily, he had four wheel drive.


Anna- Sophie, fascinated by a white blooming flower.

 

 

 

 

Over centuries, the area was invaded by different peoples- Romans, Crusaders, Saladin, Mamluks  and Osmans. Each civilization left a footprint. We were told that the most destructive footprint for the environment was done by the Osmans who cut all the trees down in order to build a railway. This lead to the desertification of the land.

We visited Shobak Castle, built by the crusaders. The whole area is called Shobak meaning forest. Only a few trees are left. A tunnel with 365 stairs cut into the rock led down to a well. At the end, we had climb up an about 10 m vertical shaft to the surface. The well still had water.

 

Shobak castle with visitor center in the front

 


Anna-Sophie climbing out of the deep shaft

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