But for this, today has been the day of more journey (not heavy) of the trip so far, so we have to get up early and get on the road early. We start ...
125 km (about 2 hours) is what separates Nazareth from a place we wanted to stop for Paula to know, and that Isaac already met from the other side on his trip through Jordan in 2006. For this we have had the odd fight with the GPS that he wanted to take us "around the world" until we realized that he had the option of "avoiding West Bank territories" and we have deactivated it.
This whole area maintains the green colors and all kinds of plantations that we saw these days in the southern part of the Upper Galilee, and that takes advantage of the water of the Jordan River to show us beautiful landscapes.
At this time of the trip we enter the Palestinian Territory for the first time, more specifically in the West Bank, that although they usually refer to the territories governed by the Palestinian National Authority, Israel calls them "disputed territories", as the final status of those territories as well as their definitive borders, according to various UN resolutions and the Roadmap, should be decided in an agreement between both parties in conflict. In this area if something happens to us with the car, no rental company is responsible, so it is at "own risk".
We also enter the Biblical Desert of Judea or desert of Yeshimon, and with it the panorama of our expedition changes completely again, very different from the lands of Galilee or the mediterranean zone that we saw days ago, which speaks of the great variety of landscapes that this sacred land has.
Qaser El Yahud, the baptism of Jesus
The passage through the "supposed border" has been very "light" and has not even made us stop. We follow now the Route 90 parallel to the Jordan Valley and Dead Sea, a road that we will barely abandon throughout the day, and that once the turnoff sign has passed to Jericho points to the point we were looking for.
We are in Qaser El Yahud (Baptismal Site), in the heart of Bethany and that opens from 8 to 18 from Sunday to Thursday and Friday from 8 to 16. It's 8.05 in the morning and literally "skipping" one of the barriers (of course, haha) we reach the edge of the Jordan River totally alone.
We are in the placewhere John the Baptist baptized Jesus Christ, although on the opposite side to the one we were in Bethany (the exact place of baptism is on the Jordanian side) where we saw the church of St. John the Baptist, now far from the Jordan River that has modified its course over the centuries (photos of that trip )
It is important to differentiate this place from Yardenit, located in the south of the mouth of the Sea of Galilee, north of Qaser El Yahud, which was established in 1981 by the closure of this due to the instability of that time in the region
As we saw in his day, in this area there are quite a few Israeli military "protecting" this small border separated by a fairly brown water flow that has not changed over the years. This flow is less and less, because throughout its course to the Dead Sea there are more and more open irrigation canals to surrounding lands by both countries.
This entire area of the planet, which includes the Jordan River Valley, Jericho and even the Dead Sea has a curious feature, and that is that It is below sea level, although in this location for very little.
Looking up to Jordanian territory we are able to observe those sacred places we saw in his day, even in the distance the modern Orthodox church dedicated to Saint John the Baptist with a golden dome.
But this place is not only sacred to Christianity for what it means, it also saves moments like the passage of the Israelis to the lands of Canaan or being the place where the prophet Elijah went up to heaven in a chariot of fire. In case there were doubts about the particular baptism of Isaac in that 2006, Paula takes the opportunity to do it again as the "grandmother cotters" would like
We know of a little person who has a big smile for having been able to enjoy a place like this with this silence and spirituality before marking our next waypoint on the GPS. The new destiny has several route alternatives, the first crossing Jericho and the one that seems better option, put on the GPS Mitspe Yeriho or Mitzpe Yeriho that takes us on Route 90 to the junction with Route 1 that leads to Jerusalem and once in Mitzpe Yeriho and get dressed up by a meandering road raise after about 25 km (40 minutes) a beautiful picture.
The Route 1 is also famous because it is where tours go down from Jerusalem to the Dead Sea, and is full of good places to have breakfastr. Do we stop at any? (Feast for 120 ILS)
Monastery of St. George, spiritualism in abundance
We continue our march and a little later, after taking the road on the left in Mitzpe Yeriho (the one on the right has a safety barrier and goes to a settlement), we start the winding road we expected. What we didn't know is what increasingly barren and stony lands of the Judean Desert They were going to bring us one of the best moments we have lived in any adventure.
We are on a road that generated a lot of controversy since what used to be 4x4 that went through the desert, taking almost 1 hour to reach the upper area of the site that awaits us, now they are only 15-20 minutes of asphalt It has allowed some pilgrims to approach such an important pilgrimage site. Perhaps that is why we thought that I would lose mysticism but the impression of see a cross on a small top, leave the car on the shoulder and climb there Quickly change our perspective completely.
Coupled in the face of a rock, in the Wadi Qelt's steep canyon, we find one of the most spiritual places on Earth. He Monastery of San Jorge de CozibaIn the middle of the desert, he makes certain those statements that say that the strongest spiritual movements in history were forged in solitude, ascentism, silence, contemplation and abandonment of the world of deserts (Islam, Yahvism or even the solitude of Buddha and the Buddhism).
We are about 32 ° C under the sun today and we appreciate the presence of some Bedouins who sleep in winter in the caves that the rock has left over time, as they tell us, and who have mounted a small cooler here to win a few hard-nosed travelers like us.
It is impressive to think how this place was born from one of the many hermits that represented the most spiritual life of the church in times of yesteryear, at the end of the Roman era, without historical precedents, and that led religious to isolate themselves from the world in caves or caves In remote places like this.
We leave this point behind and We continue along the paved road to the point where it endedto (2 or 3 km later). We have reached what is supposed to be a parking lot that begins a descent to the Monastery. !!We're alone!! Again we are surprised to be able to enjoy a unique environment again without the presence of a group of tourists or an organized tour.
Just the presence of a Bedouin trying to recover their goats and some mules that may be offered for the return of people in a worse physical form and with such heat, we begin a descent that borders the canyon that is really precious and that saving multiple differences reminds us a lot of day we went through the gorge of Petra looking for the treasure"
One of the best points of the route is undoubtedly a small viewpoint with a wooden cross from where you can see the magnitude of the beautiful Monastery located in the rock and from where on the opposite slope you can see the water channel of the Ein fountain Fawar that comes from kilometers above and part of the aqueduct built by Herod to pass the water. However, this route was the one that led from Jericho to Jerusalem at the time of Jesus.
Among all the hermits and religious who were isolated in the caves of this area, one stood out, San Jorge de Coziba, who gives name to the current building. Although the Monastery dates from the S.V it would be in the second half of the 6th century when with San Jorge it would reach its splendor.
The invasion of the Persians in 614 would pass over the old Monastery and its location would be abandoned until the time of the Crusaders, when Manuel I Commeno in 1179 would restore it. Again the period of abandonment would leave it in ruins until the Last reconstruction in 1878 completed in 1901, and that leaves the current picture really majestic.
We do not know if due to its location, its importance, its meaning, its isolation and loneliness or if a mixture of everything but the anxiety that caused us the last ramps, these of ascent, took us on blasts to his small door.
The enclosure, in spite of the erroneous indications that there are on the Internet or in Lonely Planet itself, opens every day from 9 to 13 according to a small sign. We enter through the little door and the first thing we find is a small patio hanging from the rocky wall cliffs and where you can still see paintings of the ancient Byzantine church exposed to the weather. From here we can also see more clearly the carved rocks built on the canyon that opens the way to the Wadi Qelt valley
Nobody receives us. The solitude of the place makes us feel for a moment those hermits. What could go through the minds of these people to isolate themselves from the world? How strong was his religious feeling? It is very difficult to understand for us, impossible in a lifetime.
The Monastery, which hangs from the precipice in all its precincts, still shows the Bedouin shepherds who care for their flocks (as described by Ezekiel 34 and John 10: 1-16) in what many imagine that the Valley of the Shadow (Psalms, 23)
We continue ascending its stairs, leaving aside a kind of gardens, and we go into what the main area where we begin to see the beauty of the last restoration.
In this area there are a couple of small chapels, where we can clearly see that we are in a Monastery dedicated entirely to the Virgin Mary, Mother of God, and that you are really humble and simple, like all of us who are in this little pilgrimage.
And finally!! someone appears. Are three greco-orthodox monks (the last restoration of 1901 was carried out by the Greek Orthodox Church) that receive us with a kind smile. As if no one had been here all day, they take out some cookies and nuts (to give us energy for the way back) and invite us to drink water or any soda from small dispensers that have prepared to quell the heat On days like today. Without saying a word, they bow to us and retrace their steps, retreating to their place of contemplation and prayer.
We also learned that the final location of the original monastery was chosen here since it is believed that the cave where the prophet Elijah was fed by two crows in his isolation. This area is seen on the upper terrace, wide and from where you can see better than ever the environment around us. The great bell tower was added by one Timothy already in 1952.
The hospitality of those monks, the enigmas that this place keeps and the strangeness of loneliness and oblivion on the part of travelers of this place, is complicated to explain with some photos and some words. It is said that until a while ago it was one of the few monasteries where women could enter, since the legend says that a woman went astray at night in this desert and entrusted herself to the Virgin. She appeared to him and said "go away and ask for lodging in that monastery". "It will not help, since it is forbidden to enter women"he replied, to which the Virgin responded"they won't be able to deny you being my house"And so it was. We put our particular candle (although that remains for us).
From that terrace, seeing the multitude of caves carved into the rock, thinking about the multitude of gloomy corners that kept a place with so much history and legends, we thought for a moment about that of monks who chose this place for retirement as well as the others so many who were not so lucky and suffered the most brutal martyrdoms (especially in the Persian era and whose skulls are still kept next to the Tomb of St. George)
Other corners keep "hookahs" with better use in times gone by and that surely met the simplest needs of a modest life without exuberances
Does it sound to you the miracle of the blind of Jericho? When Jesus began the last stage of his life to enter as Messiah in Jerusalem he leaves Jericho and many people followed him along these paths. Two blind people on the way, in their wake, shouted "Lord have mercy on us"Jesus stopped, called them and told them"What do you want me to do to you"?. They replied" Lord, let our eyes be opened. "Jesus was touched by their eyes, regained their sight and followed him.
And it is possible that with this fact of great symbolism, we also follow ours that now returns us uphill leaving behind one of the best moments of our trips.
The Israeli paved road ended at this point, but our little car seems capable of crossing a new path of broken roads and potholes every few meters of the radical change in which the road has become, although only 8 km (approx. 10 minutes) before arriving at our next destination of the day. Although this will be another episode of a really magical day.
(Continue on DAY 5 (II): Jericho, the oldest in the world)