Spring Break 1: The-Country-That-Shall-Not-Be-Named

Three days ago, I arrived in Amman, Jordan. Since then, I’ve met some amazing people – one who will help me as an expert for my students, and a bunch who have kept me company since – crossed an official country border and an unofficial country border (say what?! Palestine may or may not be its own country, but they have a border to cross just as other countries do), seen where Jesus was born, saw the last place Jesus prayed before his arrest, climbed a “mountain” named after olives, stole money back from a locked safe and made it out as the cops arrived.

Yesterday was a busy day: about 4 hours from Amman, Jordan to Jerusalem, Israel. After getting to a hostel, I hopped a bus with my new travel buddies and we were in Behtlehem in no time. We paid a taxi driver to take us to the sites in the short 2 hours that we had before catching the last bus back. We explored a few sites, including the Church of Nativity, where Jesus was born. We also saw the incredibly tall wall separating Palestine and Israel. Sleep was in order, only after a “late-night” beer, of course.

Now I rest, after a full day of wandering the Old City of Jerusalem and walking up the Mount of Olives. I awoke bright and early (not by choice), had some delicious breakfast with coffee from the fancy espresso/cappuccino machine (how many hostels have that?), and took off to a “free” walking tour, where I learned about the four quarters of the Old City and had some delicious Israeli hummus. Fun fact: the Armenian quarter is surrounded by a wall and locked doors to which only Armenians have keys. During a war, sometime in history, the Armenians kept out and even put up big posters saying something of this sort: “We are not part of the war; leave us alone!” The fighting took place directly beside their part of the city, but no Armenians were injured. Another fun (or not so fun) fact: there is still, today, intolerance between religions. Friends say they witnessed Muslims harassing Jews, who were protected by armed soldiers, as they passed each other in a shared religious space (for which they have separate entrances – everyone except the Muslims have one entrance, the Muslims have all the other entrances).

Anyhoo, it was a great tour, for which I tipped the guide sufficiently for his great service. The post-tour hummus was delicious – with beans and some other mixins – and I quite enjoyed wandering the market, making a few purchases, and chatting with some shop-owners (I may have promised I’d return for tea with one). Afterwards, I met with a couple guys who were also on the walking tour. We walked to and up the Mount of Olives. This “mountain” is covered with tombstones of various religions – Christian stones stood out because of their crosses while the others were blank. On the walk up, we saw the Church of Agony, where Jesus is said to have last prayed before his arrest. The remaining portion of the walk was steep but short, and ended with a decent lookout of the city – old and new.

I ended the evening participating in a Secret Room game. We had a top-secret mission: to steal wads of cash and gold and escape before the police came. Of course, it’s all simulation, but we got pretty into it and it was a blast. We started in a pitch black room, from where we discovered a light source and proceeded to figure out how to unlock the door leading to the next room. A flurry of puzzles and mysteries presented themselves and we made it out, through a floor duct, as the safe alarm blared and sirens neared. It took us longer than the hour we were allotted but the people running this fabulous simulation allowed us to go back in and finish it off.

Some pizza, beer, and cards were the perfect ending to this wonderful day. Tomorrow, bright and early (in traveler terms), I’ll be off on a bus back to where I started. A new adventure awaits me in Jordan, where I’ll see Petra, the Dead Sea, perhaps Wadi Rum, and maybe some more. Travel: I never want to say goodbye to you. I never even want to say “see ya later”. Two months ’til this is my only reality. Can’t wait.

 

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