Merry Christmas from Bethlehem to all of my blog readers. Its weird to think that this time last year Zach and I had just finished with a huge storm and pulled in at midnight through a narrow reef pass into Yap. Wow, what a year it has been since then. I can’t believe everything that has happened and how lucky I am to be living this sort of dream, except all I want for Christmas is, well, maybe I’ll get to that later. Before I catch up though on the trip to Israel, I wanted to thank all of my readers and also all of the viewers and subscribers on you-tube. For some reason that still eludes me, I have gained so many the last few months.

I finished up in Istanbul and I think I’ve certainly had a good experience in that city. I recommend it to anyone. I also finally went inside the Hagia Sophia, which is a very old church that was turned into a mosque, but its huge and still has a great deal of Christian iconography alongside the Muslim stuff. My last days there allowed me to meet more interesting people, which is always a treat for me. One of the guys I met, an Australian, gave me his invention that he has been selling for a decade or two, to try to improve it. Pretty interesting, so I carry it around with me and stare at it, much to the bemusement of other hostel guests and border guards.

A fast flight brought me to Tel-Aviv in Israel. The first few days were not a ton of fun. First I got some extra questions at the border. Then I realized that Tel-Aviv and Israel in general are pretty expensive, so experiencing the local culture might be a little out of my price-range. In fact, I paid $30 for a bed in a hostel, and I thought it was way over-priced. But then again, this is the beach resort town. And what a beach and strip. Imagine if Berlin and Miami had a baby, it would be Tel-Aviv. I did get to run a bit though along the beach and that was worth it. The runs took me down to the port town of Jaffa. The port is one of the oldest in the world and also the site where that sailor of bad-luck fame, Jonah, set sail before he met the whale. The other highlight of the hostel was meeting some Fijian peace keepers that were hanging out away from the Syrian border where they patrol. The biggest let down though was that I went through three phone cards trying to get one to work in my phone, no luck, so I gave up.

I arrived in Jerusalem a few days ago, it is only like an hour from Tel-Aviv. Israel is so small. Well, that thing I have been running from for so many years was here waiting for me. No, I don’t mean life, I mean snow. I guess they had some huge blizzards here a few weeks ago, so everywhere in the shadows and on the north faces there is the cold white stuff. I made my first tour of the city in flip-flops, because I was too lazy to dig out shoes and socks, and well, now I have a cold. I guess I forgot the purpose of crystallized water.

Jerusalem, snow and cold aside, is probably the most amazing combination of awe and provocation of thought that I have seen, ever. I no longer get impressed easily, and the first site of the massive walls was enough to bring even my well-toured mouth agape. Some of that might have had to do with the clear skies and the light from the low hanging winter sun on the beige stone walls, but never the less, it is an impressive site. Once you enter the old city, it just gets better. Narrow streets, little stair cases, markets and history like no other abound as you walk. It’s so close that sometimes it reaches out to grab you or hides just around the corner for a dramatic entrance. As a tourist, the sites are truly impressive and as a believer, well, let’s just say I was unprepared.

The first time I went into the city I just sort of walked around and went where ever I ended up. The Western Wall was the first major religious site I came to. It is the most sacred site in Judaism and it is as close as Jews are allowed to get to the Dome of the Rock. The men praying there, well, they were so fervent and passionate, rocking back and forth throwing themselves inches from the wall. It is really a moving thing to see. I watched this for awhile and then walked on, back to get lost in the twisting little streets of the Old Town. After meandering about, hearing the call to prayer twice from the Muslim Quarter, I finally ended up at the Church of the Holy Sepulcher. Inside the church didn’t make any sense. Every few feet the motif changed from Catholic to Armenian to Orthodox. I was trying to recall stories from the bible that might indicate what I was seeing, and I could only guess. I was pretty overwhelmed and headed back to the hostel to do some more research. The whole church was built over top of what is believed to be Golgotha and where the crucifixion took place and where the tomb of Jesus was. When you are in the church, all of these things are visible, it is really moving.

The next day I made a much more informed tour and saw really amazing things starting with the Dome of the Rock, the third most holy site in Islam. After taking in the peace, I fumbled through the maze to find King David’s tomb and the room of the Last Supper. Then I walked down along the walls through the ruins of what David built and then along the Valley of the Kings. Finally this path led me to the Garden and Grotto at the base of the Mount of Olives where Jesus was betrayed and Captured. I hiked up the Mount of Olives and sat for a while looking at Jerusalem. The old city, while small by today’s standards, is huge and beautiful. Even if a person was completely atheistic, there is something about the place that is moving. Especially when you consider the three major western religions all existing (not always peacefully) within the walls. After I came down from the mountain, I walked the fourteen points of the cross (I think Catholics do this as a pilgrimage, but I don’t know) This ended at the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, the site of my previous overwhelming. I was overwhelmed again and went back home to think some more. That was probably a good thing, since that night, my team won pub trivia.

Today I made the 30 minute bus trip out to Bethlehem. This was my first trip into the West Bank or the Palestinian Territories for that matter. I guess I was sort of expecting it to be a bit of an ordeal to go there but nope, just a security check on the way back. The main site I went to Bethlehem to see is the Church of the Nativity. In fact this is the site that everyone comes to see. Sure enough, being Christmas it was a bit crowded, but I hired a guide to get ahead of the five hour line or so. Even then in order to see the birthplace of Christ you had to wait a while. It was a bit odd, since the manger site sits under the alter and you have to go down what essentially amounts to a funnel to get inside. On a normal day this might not be a big deal but being Christmas, the funnel was clogged. Once inside you have a few minutes to view the subjects of pilgrimage and then that’s it. I guess it was not as moving as all the other stuff here, either because I have been moved a lot and now am not so easily moved or because of the crowds, I’m not really sure which.

Israel is an interesting place so far though. Besides all the sites there is a weird dynamic of people. Obviously there is the Israel/Palestine conflict but then there is something more subtle and abrupt about the population. Combine this with all sorts of religious holiday makers and you have something interesting. I never realized, for example, how many Birth-rite Israel students there are until coming here and meeting so many young Jewish Americans making a fuss about things. You also find people here who came for a month and stayed forever, so absorbed by the history and whatever their religion may be. They are sort of bums that meander about trying to get a more firm grasp on their beliefs. I still have a few weeks left here, and then Jordan and I think I will go to Egypt too. This should only get more interesting from a people perceptive.

As for me, I have been thinking so much the last month and I feel like I have a pretty good idea of what and where and how I want things to be when I am finished. Now it is just a matter of working out the details and making it happen. That’s always the hardest part. It took me a long time to get ready for this trip, and now its time to start getting ready for what comes after Slick’s Adventure. For the first time in my life, I think I know where I want to be in five years, which is knowledge I have always avoided. Oh, and I finished the rough draft of my book.