Day 6 Ascending Mount Zion by way of Desert & Oasis – part 1

It’s Tuesday, and time to move on…just when we were beginning to settle into our idyllic surroundings of Tiberius. The place really is captivatingly beautiful, so filled with biblical allusions of Jesus’ Galilean ministry. But we have now reached the midpoint of our journey and the Holy City beacons us to ascend. But to do that we must first descend, through the desert. The moment to mount our buses arrives and we pull away from Hotel Plaza for the last time. As we head south along the lower reaches of the Jordan Valley our guide draws our attention to the extensive irrigational system that harnesses Jordan water for agriculture and the many fish farms that populate the delta river basin. “The super abundant productivity of this fertile region is directly attributable to our native Hebrew ingenuity and intelligent scientific application,” says Raffi, not ashamed to boast. He elaborates: “we (Israel) lead the world in reclaiming 70% of all our grey water (Spain, our Mediterranean neighbour is a distant second) so that our gardens will flourish!” He may well be proud! We are suitably impressed.

At this point Hans, who has joined our company for the morning trek into the wilderness, rises from his hiding place in the front stair well of the bus – the privileged domain of the spiritual guide – where he has been assiduously pouring over the Scriptures in preparation for the day’s meditations and homilies. Perched with bible in hand, Hans inquires as to whether we have noticed any change in the atmosphere. Some have. The early morning sun has lost its piercing brilliance, the light in the sky more diffuse, hazier. Possibly, a sign of an approaching sand storm or dust devil, Hans predicts. As a Hollywood scenario plays out in my mind, I am thinking, this day has very interesting possibilities. The emotional barometer in the bus rises noticeably.

Minutes later the Jordan Valley is behind us. A few palm trees appear to our right signalling the outskirts of a modern Jericho; at the same time, we note the appearance of long wavy trails of white substance stretching across the highway before us down the undulating sand slopes to the Dead Sea below. It’s salt, but it looks very much like drifting snow. And just for a moment I catch myself wondering, ‘where am I’ – but that’s one of the tricks of the desert, it makes you question what you hold certain. And then there is nothing but wide open spaces of azure sea and sand, and vaulting red rock precipice, treeless and barren, stretching spine-like down the coast as far as the eye can see, to the brink of the horizon, Only an occasional spectral pillar, conjuring half memories of some ancient doom, disrupts the vision (Genesis 19). The whole experience is very surreal. We could be in a movie theatre. Only when Rashid brings our vehicle to a stop and opens the door do we know we are in the desert. The heat is immediate, the warmth envelops you, – a pleasant sensation, really. Some of us make an additional pleasant discovery. You can stay “cool” (sweat free) in this heat even when drinking a steaming hot cappuccino. (This rest stop has a cappuccino bar!) Refreshed, rejuvenated, with optimum caffeine levels restored, we are off once more and heading to King David’s favourite resort – Ein Gedi.

As we draw close to our destination, now encompassed by the desert, the sheer immensity of the place, the sense of emptiness, assaults the soul. This is the place of revelation, where trees are torches of divine illumination (Exod. 3:1-7), and rocks are fountains of living waters (Exod 17:1-7)…. (Israel Journal-ptyoung)