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Early on Saturday, Théo and I decided to pursue a trip to visit the city of Jericho, out in the West Bank. As is my custom here in Israel, I managed to pack up, leave and lock my room, and be about 25 feet away from the gate to my dorms when I realized I forgot an important item related to the weather at hand. While it is usually a coat when it is somewhat cold/possibly going to rain, in this case it was far worse; I managed to forget my sunscreen and I was going to a city smack-dab in the center of the Judean Desert…. A short round of applause for me.

We boarded the Arabic Bus #1, having decided to forgo walking the short distance to go get my sunscreen, and decided to do the trip in my usual method… know the first bus to get onto and then make it up from there. We arrived at the Arabic bus central station near the Damascus Gate, and then asked around as to what bus we needed to take. As it turns out, there is no bus from Jericho, and we had to go on Arabic bus 63 to the city of Abu Dis in order to catch a shared taxi from there. We rode the bus, and I suggested that Théo use his elementary Arabic to ask some girls next to us where we needed to get off the bus. They told us that they are students at Al-Quds University (in political science and economics, respectively), and that we should follow them upon as they got off so they could point us the right way.

We did follow them, and Salaam (as she introduced herself) went and spoke to a Palestinian cab driver on our behalf. We were offered a fair price (30 shekels total to get to Jericho), and then sat down to wait for any possible additional passengers to join us. Our driver Nasser and his buddy Fadi took us through part of Abu Dis and we dropped off Fadi at an automotive repair shop to get his taxi cab. Nasser took us onwards and told us about all sorts of details of our little outing (where cities used to be, where settlements have arisen from the sands, and so forth). We drove up to the IDF checkpoint outside of Jericho, and were waved through very quickly (probably because we looked clearly foreign in a private cab). On the way through that checkpoint, we took a good look at the cherry-red sign in English and Hebrew reminding people that Israeli citizens are forbidden by law from entering into the city of Jericho.

Afterwards, we drove through the inner [Palestinian] checkpoint into the city. It was a fairly large place, sprawling outwards from the center rather than upwards (I didn’t see any building larger than 2 stories in all of my time spent there). Nasser first wanted to drop us off in the City Centre, but I pointed out that the Mount of Temptation was a far (and unknown) walk away, so he gladly took us the 3 kilometers to where we wanted to go (after some English-Arabic difficulties, I simply showed him the map in my travel book of the city, pointed where we wanted to end up, and SUCCESS!!). We got out of the cab and walked into the Mt. of Temptation tourist information building/cable car terminal. After some discussion, Théo convinced me that those cable cars are Swiss-made and therefore I shouldn’t be worried about the ride. I acquiesced, and we bought the incredibly expensive 55 shekel tickets. The ride did afford us a great view of the surrounding parts of Jericho, and as such was worth the money in my opinion.

At the top, we had an amazing view of the city and the surrounding Judean Desert, even though it was a bit foggy in the distance. The photographs speak for themselves in this regard. We walked up the narrowing, winding, and treacherous path up to the imposing bronze gates of the Greek Orthodox monastery on the Mount. We waited for the Arabic man who works there to return with the last batch of visitors (as it turned out, someone we knew from Rothberg), and then went into the premises with him. He didn’t speak so much English, and his Arabic was quick enough that Théo couldn’t follow; all we managed to understand between us that Théo is French, to which the friendly old man started to name French soccer players with an enthusiastic grin.

As the photographs show, the inside of the monastery was absolutely beautiful; truly a diamond in the carved rock of the Mount. We passed by a typically-gruff looking old Greek Orthodox monk, and then marveled at the amazing shrine at the farthest point of the monastery from the entrance. We also were amazed by the original cave, said to be where Jesus spent a good amount of his 40 days in the desert being tempted by the devil. Check out the photographs for a fairly complete sense of how the entire monastery was in person (I don’t know so much in the way of details, as our guide wasn’t so versed in English as to tell us anything).

The story continues in the next post, about our journey towards and our time within the city of Jericho itself.

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