Today is our last full day in Israel, tomorrow we fly out at 10am and arrive back at Grace Bible College around 10pm. The flight times are longer than that since there is a seven hour time difference.
We left Tamar at 9am, allowing for a little more rest before a long drive to Beit Guvrin, also known as the Bell Caves. There is not much biblical significance to the site. There are some Roman era remains (when the town was called Eleutheropolis), but the real treat is climbing down into the caverns carved by the residents of Maresha. From the top, they do not look like much, there is a narrow entrance into what looks like a basement, but it is actually a large cistern carved from the soft rock. I told the group of thirty five to go on down, and they wondered if we would all fit. I told them it was “bigger on the inside,” and so it was. The series of connected halls could fit many more people than our group! In fact, in the second cave house we walked through there many Israeli families with small children enjoying Shabbat at this national park.
Walking back down the hill we visited the Sidonian tomb of Apollophanes. The large family tomb is decorated with wild animals and a few mythical beasts, including Cerubus. This three- headed dog guards the underworld, but if you play him a bit of music he just goes to sleep. The paintings have been restored but the tomb remains a fine example of a painted Sidonian tomb.
After we managed to pry everyone away from the ice cream vendor, my intention was to drop everyone off at the Jaffa Gate for final shopping before heading to our hotel in Tel Aviv. My driver suggested we go instead to Bethlehem and shop there. He was persistent so I spoke to the group and the concensus was to visit Bethlehem and do our final shopping there. The group was extremely tired but this point in the trip and we were really “slouching towards Bethlehem” (and I know that is not quite the way Yeats wrote it, but I am mixing high-brow literature and Harry Potter references here…)
The original idea was to shop in a very nice shop with great security, then walk up to the old city of Bethlehem and do more touristy shopping. The nice shop had items ranging from inexpensive trinkets to massive olive wood carvings the Vatican might be able to afford, but out of the price range of college students on their last day of a Long tour. Some of the gifts were really embarrassing. One student bought a set of Jesus-icon air fresheners for her boyfriend (I will not use the name so it is a surprise).
After the nice shop, a guide walked us up into the market area. We had a few overlooks of the shepherd fields and key churches, even if the walk was punctuated with cars squeezing through the narrow streets locals slowing down to look at the tourists. The guide led us too far into the regular shopping district, which is not what we wanted, but ended up being a good cultural visit for the students. This was a busy Palestinian market with all the sounds and smells you might expect. We eventually found the tourist area, and everyone finished out thier gift shopping. We found a sign for Starbucks, which was clearly not legit. The first clue was the 13 year old kid running the shop. I did buy a Starbucks Bethlehem mug with a Palestinian flag on it for my international Starbucks collection.
We had more than an hour drive to Tel Aviv. The hotel we originally had was overbooked, so we were upgraded to a very nice hotel a few blocks from the Mediterranean. This is the second excellent upgrade on the trip, I am not always so lucky. Maybe tomorrow I can get a bump to first class?
I will post a final reflection on the trip after I get back home. I plan on editing all the posts (sorry for any errors. iPad typing is not always easy). I will also insert more pictures and eventually videos produced by some of the students.