Day 4, Part 1:
Today began with a long drive south, from Nazareth down along the Jordan river, through the valley of Jordan, and stopping in Jericho. Jericho is in the desert, and the difference in landscape and lifestyle throughout the drive was striking. Northern Israel is fairly green in this rainy season, but as we drove south, the land became more hilly, rocky, and dry. We saw more agriculture as we entered warmer climate, people working the fields, and herdsmen driving flocks of sheep and herds of cattle through the hills, usually on donkeys with the help of herding dogs. Most residents in this area aren’t Israeli, with the exception of about 120 Jewish settlements. Thirty-three percent are Palestinian, and the rest are Arabs.
We descended into the Jordan valley, which is 1400 feet below sea level, alongside Samaria, to Jericho where we visited the monastery of St Gerasimos. This was the stopping place for Joseph, Mary, baby Jesus, and James the brother of the Lord on their flight to Egypt. There was an underground cave church built on the place where they slept, and above, a larger church with beautiful mosaic floors, Western-style icons, and many relics of saints. The Abbot, Father Chrysostomos, gave us blessed candles to light at the Holy Sepulchre when we visit there, and saw us off by throwing flower petals at our bus.