Published: October 24th 2009October 24th 2009
The path to the visitor's center of Bethany-beyond-the-Jordan. The shrubbery was so different and snaggly almost. It must have been hard for Jesus to spend 40 days out here.
I have pictures this time! My camera was very well-behaved. Haha!
Anyways, today was my first optional CIEE-organized trip and as you probably guessed, it was to the Biblical sites in Jordan. I can't begin to say how excited I have been this whole week. I was the first person at the front gates and on the bus this morning at 7:30!
Not so promptly after 8:00, we headed off to Bethany-beyond-the-Jordan, the baptismal site of Jesus himself. After a quick trip to the "water closet" (I can't get over how that's what they call bathrooms here!), we walked down a little trail to a small lookout. And bam, it was the Jordan River! Jordan Creek might have been a better name for it though. I didn't quite know what to think of it. It was a murky, slow-moving creek surrounded by scraggy-looking shrubs. Our guide shepherded us down the trail to the ruins of John the Baptist Church, where the guide assured us that archeological evidence proved that it was the actual baptismal site of Jesus (as opposed to the alternate baptismal site in Israel/Palestine). Despite his obvious patriotism, he did say a lot of things that made
The River Jordan
It's dwindled to more of a creek now, although it still serves as the border between Israel and Jordan.
sense. The church was pretty far away from the actual river, but it could easily have shifted over 2000 years, especially considering how much it has dwindled. There were ruins of churches built upon ruins -- five times over! -- which were destroyed by floods every time. The builders were pretty determined for a good reason, I suppose!
We continued down the trail and came upon another Saint John the Baptist Church, only this one was built by the Greek Orthodox Church. It was a tiny little chapel, somewhat useless out there in the middle of the wilderness, but I think it was meant to be more symbolic than anything else. Workers were touching up the paintings inside, but it looked so beautiful and vibrant already. It didn't need any work! I got a lot of good pictures with my busted-up camera. I was so proud!
At first, I thought this church was across the river bank, since I had seen its golden dome in the distance while walking on the trail. As we walked up to the church, I thought we had snuck into Israel! Of course the river winds, and as I went down some stairs
Where Jesus was baptized...
The archeological evidence points to this spot, so I'm going to assume it's right. Jesus. Was. Right. There. My mind is officially blown.
from the church, it lead straight back to the river with stairs that went into the water itself. It was actually very cold and didn't seem to be moving at all. Right on the other side was an Israeli outpost with steps leading down to the water as well. It was so strange to think Israel was so close. I could have walked across the river if I really wanted to. Sometimes I think the borders of countries only exist in people's minds.
A short walk back to the bus sent us down the road to Mt. Nebo, where Moses, as punishment for doubting God, could only look down on the Promised Land instead of leading his people there. There was a lot of evidence of the late pope's visit to the Middle East there, especially since the land was bought by Franciscan monks. I took pictures of some of the commemorative stones and of course, of the spectacular view. I was sad that it was a hazy day though. We were told that on a good day, you could see Jerusalem. Still, it was very beautiful. I walked back over to the Jordanian side and just looked over
Bedouin workers helping to restore the most "recent" church.
the hills for a while. I could not imagine wandering them for forty years. I don't know about you, but I'd be pretty impatient with God if he kept me waiting for the Promised Land that long. I'd be one of those people bitten by a snake out of punishment. I don't think I would have liked Old Testament God very much...
We were only at Mt. Nebo for a short time before we hopped back in the bus to Madaba. There we got to go inside another Greek Orthodox Church, the Church of St. George. The paintings and mosaics were beautifully restored and there was the remaining part of a giant mosaic blocked off on the floor. In its completed form, the mosaic had shown pilgrims what sites were which and how to get there in relation to each other. It was quite interesting, although my pictures of it didn't turn out so well. The church was very peaceful despite the number of tourists in it.
And, of course, we were starving afterwards, so we got some good traditional Arabic food at Haret Jdoudna, a restaurant just down the street from the church. I finished my lunch
John the Baptist Church
Inside where people used to pray before going down to the water where Jesus had done so before.
a little early and perused the touristy shops for gifts for my family. I hope they like what I got them!
After lunch we eventually piled back into the bus and took the winding desert roads to Mukawir, the ruins of a castle on a giant hill were Salome danced for the head of John the Baptist. It was a bit of a sandy and perilous hike to get to the top, but the view was astounding. It was strange for me to think that a whole palace stood on that hill. It seemed too small! But maybe only because it was surrounded by the hugeness of the desert hills. We were actually close to the Dead Sea too! The hills just rolled down and down and down to the lowest place on earth. It was beautiful.
After a brief storytime session with our guide, we took the little hike back to our bus for the ride home. I feel like I have seen so much but so little. I'm glad that my parents will be coming here in May so that we can see these sites again and on our own time. I could have just sat
at Mukawer for half a day. It probably sounds strange to say that the desert is one of the most beautiful places in the world. But if you ever get to hear just the wind in your ears and the sound of your own breathing alone, you'll know what I mean.
حتى المرة الجاية
There are more photos below