The morning for the Seattle Pilgrims started off warm, comfortable, and peaceful. After several minutes of lounging, eating, and sipping on hot drinks, Mark suddenly rushed in, informing the group that we all had to hurry out to the bus. The day being Friday, a very important prayer day, many people flooded the streets, hurrying to make it through the multiple checkpoints and crowded roads. One of the girls, Maria, ran-waddled out to the bus holding her shoes, scarf, a change of clothes, bag, and water bottle, all of which spilling out of her arms. This act caused multiple people to laugh, and they were all soon aboard the bus, excited for the events to come.
Eventually, after a while of driving, the bus arrived at Herodium. The group filed out of the bus and meandered over to the small gift shop/viewing room. We all took turns taking pictures of the model before gathering in a small side room to watch a mini-movie on the history of Herodium and the death of King Herod. The entire group voted to hike all the way up to Herod’s palace, and started up the hill. The day overall had been slightly overcast, though still warm, keeping the sun from leaving its mark on the shoulders and backs of the group, which made the walk moderately nicer. The view seemed to stretch forever, overlooking the Judean Desert, the mountains of Mohab to the east, and the Judean hills to the west. Being able to see the homes, old ruins, and rolling hills filled the group with an indescribable feeling that is only gained when looking across land that has seen and been a part of so much history.
We walked up a little more before stopping to look at what had once been King Herod’s personal theatre, a show of extreme wealth. A couple staircases later, the group arrived at a 1:7 model of what Herod’s tomb had looked like at one time. The base of the original construct was barely a foot from the model, and demonstrated the amazing extravagance of a very wealthy man. We then started up a different path, the teens breaking off from the adults, and soon came across a staircase carved into stone, each step roughly a foot tall. We all paused a second before bounding up each and every set of stairs. Finally, We walked out of the cave. Huge stones created a large circular wall, holding many pillars and remains of old rooms, such as a bathhouse, weapons foundry, and a huge pillar room for meetings and/or meals.
The adults arrived several minutes later, and took it all in just as the teens began exploring the crumbled pillars, long-since deserted rooms, and the expansive view of the towns below. A few posed for pictures while others, such as Nick, decided to walk along the very top of the structure’s walls to get the very best pictures possible. (This, of course, nearly gave the adults a heart attack.)
We eventually came down off the hill, bought a few items from the gift shop, and climbed back into the bus awaiting the next adventure.
This adventure happened to be visiting an amazing shop where our group overall left behind quite a lot of money; a very good thing, as the wall had long-since cut off the main road of tourism for the area. After quite a while of browsing through wooden carvings and amazing deals on jewelry, we paid for our new belongings and left for lunch. We were not able to drive all the way, so partway there, Omar was forced to let us off to walk a bit before picking us up again. We pilgrims then left, walking to where our bus would be waiting for us. This meant walking along the separation wall. Seeing concrete splitting people apart from who used to be their neighbors brought the pilgrims sadness, yet the artwork decorating the rough concrete gave us both hope as well as an admiration for those making a life inside those walls. We paused to pray before continuing on to lunch.
Every single member of the group hugely enjoyed the meal of falafels, pork, pita bread, and multiple fresh salads/dips. After paying, we crossed the street and followed an unusually empty pathway to a nice little bench area next to more ruins in what is called the Shepherd’s Field. Jeannine read a passage from the Bible, before the group walked over to take pictures of a cave displaying an example of (thought somewhat larger) the place where Jesus had been born. We pilgrims then made our way up to the small but powerful nearby church, listening to the other group talking and singing in Spanish before leaving the space to us. Nick read a passage from the Bible before the entire group participated in singing Christmas carols. The sound carried around the room, enveloping us in the sound of their singing, before slowly dying off.
The group was talked into spending even more money by some friendly street venders. When we finally decided we were free, we spotted a store with ice cream out front and couldn’t resist. By the time everyone finished with our snacks, Omar had returned from his special Friday prayers, and the group once again boarded the bus and soon arrived at the Church of the Nativity. Though normally very crowded, the group waited in a moderately short line, giving us time to admire the brilliant artwork in the room. We eventually entered the small room before taking turns to kneel down and pray, touching the rock marking the pace that is believed to be the birthplace of Jesus. Yet another powerful moment was witnessed as a baby was brought in and blessed above the stone. After taking several more pictures, the group exited the small cave before climbing up a staircase to marvel at the chapel.
After that, we all got on the bus, and quite a while later Omar brought the bus as close as he could to the hotel, dropping us off to walk a few blocks back to our rooms. Just an hour later, several of us left the hotel again to explore the stores along the American Colony Hotel.
A few hours later, everyone sat down for dinner. This consisted of an amazing dish named “maqloubeh,” (a traditional rice, meat and vegetable dish served “upside down”) and salads, and a special desert.
After a quick meeting and prayer, we all retired to bed, thinking back on the amazing events of the day.