We hope you all are having a wonderful festive season with family and friends.
We've done a bit of mileage so we'll give you the highlights. From Damascus, we headed south to Bosra on a series of packed minibuses with dozens of eyes watching our every move. Bosra's home to an amazing 15,000 seat roman theatre but not much else so we sped on over the border into Jordan and the northern town of Jerash. It was a mad rush to get to the border before close and it was only for our cabby darting all over the 8 checkpoints that got us there. Over the border we realised his efforts we not all altruistic as he pulls a couple of cigarette cartons from under seats to sell at the nearest corner store - accessory to smuggling now on the list.
Jerash is another impressive Roman town complete with Hippodrome that still holds chariot races. From Jerash we got to the King Hussein border crossing with The West Bank. Although we knew it was Friday (Shabbat) and everything shuts after sundown, they closed the border early, leaving us with another mad dash 100km to the Jordan Bridge crossing in the north. Christmas day was on the line and we didn't want to be stuck in Jordan!! We though we had got through when the Israeli border control decided to withhold my passport for "Further Checks". After over 2 hours it was getting late and we wandered what I might have done - what did they have access to, who were they speak with?? The stern officer called my name and with the words "You're free", we were on our way.
We got to Jerusalem late and didn't have a room so we thought we'd be sleeping in a manger like that famous couple before us on this night. We found a room though and it was great to relax on Christmas Eve after a few days of fast paced travel. On Christmas day we got into the West Bank and Bethlehem to see the site where Jesus was born (where else on his birthday!). An atmosphere of singing and dancing by every race on earth met us in Manger Square in the front of the Church of Nativity. We saw the spot where he was born, had a big falafel meal (a local specialty) for Christmas lunch and got back to Jerusalem to watch sunset over the city from the top of the Jerusalem Gate.
Boxing Day was our time to explore Jerusalem, starting with the Wailing Wall where we joined the Orthodox in quiet prayer. The Dome of the Rock (one of the world's most photographed buildings) was equally as contemplative. This is where the foundation stone of the earth was laid by god and where the Mohammed ascended into heaven. The dome of gold was truly spectacular and it was easy to find a quiet place in the garden. We had lunch in the Jewish Quarter (fresh bagels of course), and then onto the Citadel for panoramic sunset views of the entire city and it's landmarks.
A twilight walk through the Christian Quarter souks led us the the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, the holiest in Christendom. Different rooms mark the spot where Jesus was stripped bare, nailed to the cross, brought down after his death and given to Mary for cleansing as well as his tomb and the place where his cross was found. Heavy with symbolism, bursting with faithful pilgrims and dominated by prayer. With our heads spinning, we wandered the tiny alleys back home to relax.
Regardless of your faith or lack of, it is impossible not to be inspired by this place and caught up in it's energy. We understand why this has been a focal point of human history and conflict. The Muslim Quarter, Christian Quarter and Jewish Quarter all have their own design and environment, like three separate towns, yet they all live together within the walls of old Jerusalem with a palatable sense of tension and unease under the watchful eye of battle armed Israeli soldiers.
From Jerusalem, we caught the bus south with an Israeli Navy graduating class to Eilat and back into Jordan to visit the ancient city of Petra. Yesterday we hiked for 9 hours around this amazing place with one breathtaking view after another. After a Turkish Bath / Steam and a (naked) massage, we feel re-charged for our trip today into the desert of Wadi Rum. Tonight we camp all alone in the middle of the desert. Our trip so far has been an amazing mix of cultures, history, food and unique experiences, however it will be nice to enjoy some pure silence.
Love, CP & Lee