With the ongoing conflict between Palestine and Israel, I cant help but be brought back to my Holy Land pilgrimage experience a few years ago. Everything was peaceful and quiet then, it was Christmas time, one of the more popular seasons to go on a pilgrimage.
As I am brought back to memory lane, let me share with you however much is left from my memory of this once-in-a-lifetime and humbling experience.
From Dubai to Jordan to Jericho to Nazareth
For this trip, I engaged the services of a travel agency in Dubai who arranged everything. It was a very convenient set-up and I felt was also reasonably priced.
I met my co-pilgrims in Dubai, most of them were Indians. Aboard Jordanian Airlines, we would meet with other pilgrims from Bahrain and Abu Dhabi in Amman.
A tour bus transported us all pilgrims from the airport. Our first stop was a Dead Sea products/souvenir shop. We were just at the beginning of the tour and already our pockets starts to “have holes”.
Then we proceeded to exit Jordanian border through King Hussein Bridge. Due to the restrictions of certain nations for travelers coming into their countries with Israeli stamp in their passport, exit/entry formalities in the border are slightly different. It was a bit intimidating as everything was new. Jordanian and Israeli immigration officials must not stamp our passports for entry and exit. It is a common knowledge though, and the Jordanian and Israeli immigrations officials know about it. They just need to be reminded again.
A small piece of paper is stamped and must be kept throughout the stay in Israel/Palestine and will be surrendered upon exit from these places. I am just not sure what the penalty is if this piece of paper got lost.
A different bus brought us from the Palestinian side of the border onward to our trip.
From Amman’s rolling hills and green landscape, Palestine / Jericho was barren, dusty and desert-like with wide, open spaces.
Jericho is said to be the oldest town on earth, about 10,000 years old. Our guide also told us that it is one of the most peaceful areas of Palestine.
We made a quick stop at the biblical Sycamore Tree. Jesus Christ is believed to frequently pass by Jericho in his Galilee-Jerusalem route. Zacchaeus, a short man and a rich tax collector, is said to have climbed this Sycamore Tree to get a look at Jesus among the crowd. (Luke 19:1-4)
Very late buffet lunch was served in the Temptation Restaurant. As this is a usual stop for pilgrims/tourists, a souvenir shop is also in-house.
Apart from being the oldest town, Jericho also holds the record for being the lowest point on earth, at 1300 feet below sea-level.
The Qarantal Monastery (Mount of Temptation) is nearby and can be viewed from the Temptation Restaurant. Due to the lack of time our guide postponed a visit to the mountain and instead assured us that it will be included in our later itinerary.
It was almost dark when we left Jericho for Nazareth. For security purposes we were told to close the bus window curtains.
It was late when we arrived in our hotel. While most of our co-pilgrims settled into their rooms, I went along with 3 Filipino co-pilgrims to the mall as one kabayan lost his luggage somewhere along our trip.
It was cold, it was a long-day, we were all tired. What I can recall is that we had difficulty looking for a taxi back to our hotel.
That’s all for a long Day 1. Stay tuned for Day 2!