The paucity of updates lately is due to the many interesting conversations I've had in the hostel the past few evenings. Instead of spending my time thinking and writing (both of which require solitude), I've been speaking with history students from China, a Messianic Jew from the US, a Muslim woman from the UK with a surprisingly syncretistic religious outlook, an American contractor based in Beer Sheva, an Argentinian backpacker... Their stories are as interesting as they are varied. Last evening I stayed up very late, sorting and uploading photos -- seven dozen of them, in fact.
This morning I finally found the Secretary of the Jerusalem Patriarchate in his office. His Grace +ARISTARCHOS stamped and signed my notebook, marking the "official" end to my pilgrimage. I'll probably continue to collect stamps right up until the time I leave, but I'm no longer "on pilgrimage."
As I type this, I'm on a bus bound for Bethlehem. The ticket cost 8 shekels, while the taxi driver who collared me as I approached the bus station had quoted 150. Yeah....
I hope to get to Vespers this evening and Liturgy tomorrow morning before resuming my journey. If it's possible, I'll visit the monastery of Mar Sabbas on the way to the Dead Sea. The weather forecast is hot and sunny, so if I can find relatively cheap transport, so much the better. According to the Lonely Planet guide, there's no problem at all with spending the night on the public beaches, and this has been confirmed by the staff at one of the hostels I've stayed at.
I had planned to leave Jerusalem much earlier than I did, since there is still so much I would like to see before I fly home, but I've worked out a tentative schedule that takes me to Bethlehem, the Dead Sea, Nazareth, Mount Tabor, Tel Aviv, Amman, and Petra. All of that before my flight leaves Amman at 11:10 Friday morning.
Just a few minutes after passing the "Arab Orthodox Sports Center" in Beit Jala, we arrived in Bethlehem. Time to find a hostel, dump my pack, and see the city!