Day 10 - Jericho to the Dead Sea
The guidebook tells me that Jericho is the oldest city in the world. That mostly shows. The shopfronts are blackened by soot and there's rubbish everywhere. The flowers and trees are lush and pretty though; date palms, banana plants, different coloured bougainvilleas.
We're going to the desert. I'm in shorts and a t-shirt. Rob asks where my long skirt is for Jericho. I'm feeling churlish. "If they want me to wear a long skirt anywhere, I'm not going in," I say. Yesterday, I huffed my way through 30 degree heat in jeans and a long-sleeved shirt. The days before, I was in a long skirt and t-shirt. Guys, I just want to wear a dress or some shorts or a singlet. I do not know how the local women do it; some fully veiled, others in this get up, but always mostly covered. In the end, I give up. The skirt goes in the bag.
We're driving down the highway. I'm eating Nestle Crunch and gagging to myself. The compound chocolate is gross. I'm afraid to get the ice cream all over the seat. I'm scrambling for a plastic bag. Outside, the landscape is dramatic. There are sand dunes, large swathes of caramel-coloured sand set against a blue sky. A sign at a junction on the highway lets us know we are now officially at sea level. Also, there's a camel there, tied up in the middle of an island in the road, hanging out. His Bedouin owners are lounging on the side of the road in a tin lean-to, just hanging out. The scene is surreal.
We park up and we're about to go up the cable car and into a church. I ask the driver if I need to put a long skirt on. He says, "No one can tell you what to do. But I think the long skirt is better." So, despite no one being able to tell me what to do, I do as I'm told and wiggle it on in the backseat of the car.
The price for a cable car ride is 60 shekels each for Rob and me. The driver's price is 25 shekels. He's shocked but that's the way it is sometimes. I think of the New Zealand Bill of Rights Act 1990 and the legal test for how I would justify the right of a client to charge wildly different prices based solely on nationality. I think this because I'm a nerd and that's what I think about sometimes.
It's a burning 36 degrees by now. We sweat it out in the cable car, suspended over people's gardens, banana plantations, and the ancient mounds of dirt that was the Old City of Jericho. Rob asks about the safety record for the cable car.
My eyes focus on the sheer cliff face in front of me and almost camouflaged into the rock, is a church carved way up into the mountain, suspended over the oasis and the valley and looking amazing. That's Mount Temptation, the site where Jesus fasted and prayed in caves and then was tempted by the devil.
At the entrance to the astonishing Greek Orthodox church carved into the side of Mount Temptation, Rob is stopped. He's wearing shorts. The man at the door grudgingly gives him a pair of pants to wear.
Inside, there's a narrow hallway that weaves along to a cave church. On one side are windows to rooms, on the other the stones of the mountain are exposed. The cave where Jesus fasted is dimly lit and operates like a sauna. I take my pictures and get out of there.
Further along is a grander, more beautiful church with a small balcony that has an incredible view of the oasis, valley, and the city of Jericho. It's a million shekel view. I take selfies of my sweaty face against the background.
After more than two hours wandering the mountain, we take the cable car back down and drive into the city centre of Jericho. It's basically shops circled around a very small garden. It's choked with cars. We buy more sweets. The nice guy behind the counter explains each one but I'm too distracted. All I hear is there's kanafeh type one, kanafeh type two, one with vanilla cream, one with cheese. I'm dying here. We sample kanafeh type two and disappoint our driver by saying we like it better than yesterday's kanafeh type one. Then of course, we eat chicken shawarma. Our driver negotiates for a long time. Over what? I'm not sure. We eat shawarmas on the go, in the car. There's chips and pickles in mine and I die a little more.
We're headed to a private beach, Kalia Beach to go float in the Dead Sea. We pay an entrance fee to enjoy all the facilities; toilets, restaurants, fans that spray out misty water, showers along the beach, changing rooms, and loungers. There are public beaches farther along the shores but apparently it's not pleasant and you're gonna need fresh water showers nearby.
The Dead Sea stings me. It's so salty that it feels slimy against your skin. Floating is a breeze. Even when my feet can't touch the ground, there's no hope of drowning. The thing that creeps me out about the sea sometimes is that you never know creatures are lurking beneath you. Here, that's not a worry. No living organism can survive in the water. Well - other than daytrippers at the beach. Rob turns himself in a mud monster slapping on dead sea mud. My scalp is stinging and it's still 36 degrees.
I'm sitting on a towel and falling asleep in the backseat on the drive back to Jerusalem. There's still more camels on the side of the road.