Tuesday, November 04, 2008

Wednesday 14th January 1942

Today we attempted to explore the stream in the gorge, discovered yesterday. It comes from the mountains, vaguely from the direction of Ein Fawara (our map is a very poor one) and actually flows through the outskirts of Jericho.

It was a dull day, mostly sunless; I didn't take any photographs. As we approached the hills we debated whether we'd explore the river-bed itself or the path which wound along the cliffs high above it. We ultimately chose the river-bed. What would have happened if we'd chosen the path? Indubitably we should have gone farther. We had a good, tiring, arduous time, with some surprises, in the depths. On the path above too, we'd have wandered into some little adventure, I'm sure!

Right from the start, progress along the river-bed was slow. Mainly we scrambled over boulders or pebbles; but every now and then we had to climb the rocks at the side, to get around parts where there was no dry path; or else had to take off our boots and socks and wade through, maybe knee deep. Gradually the rock walls on either hand became higher and more precipitous – we reckoned the river was about 600 feet down, although that's only a rough and probably inaccurate estimate.

About noon we got to a large flat rock in midstream and sat down for a breather. There was a bit of a waterfall here and some deepish spots so I suggested a bathe. Jack at once agreed and got in – blast you, I said, at bay – so I had to get in as well. It didn't seem any colder than the Dead Sea and was beautifully fresh and exhilarating. It was not possible to swim upstream – current was too rough and strong – but I swam down a bit, canoe fashion, with many shoutings and blowing of imaginary ships siren. “Mind your behind!” shouted Jack as I approached a sharp shingle bank which he had already located, painfully.

We dried ourselves on our vests and pushed on. Around the next bend we saw a dozen or more dwellings on the cliff side. Some had windows, and there'd been some attempt at rude plastering. “A wog village,” I said. We expected the inhabitants to come out and stare at us (macoon Ingleesi) as some Arabs on the mountain path had stared in puzzlement, an hour previously. But nothing stirred. The place was uninhabited.

Without much difficulty we scrambled out of the river bed and found there was a very rough track winding from each dwelling) I can't say “building” for some were only caves) One hole in the rocks, with a neat front of woven rushes, was gained by a crazy mid-air ladder of the most primitive design, half of which was missing. We just eyed this and passed on! To our surprise we presently found the place was not a native village at all but was a deserted Greek monastery! We deduced this from Greek inscriptions and crosses and things, on a tomb or vault (empty). There was a date – 1917.

The monks who built this rough shelter must have sweated blood. Heavy blocks, made into steps; a group of strong, well designed buildings of great granite cubes, cemented. This group, weirdly appeared solid! There was no door but one hole in the roof, which looked down into a very small but deep chamber. One would have to get in and out by means of a rope. And where had everyone gone? Perhaps to the far better monastery on Quarantana. There were strange hooks and wire loops, obviously to help one in climbing the cliff face. Jack found a little cranny thus, in which there was just room to lie down. Some of the caves and what not were hard to reach and isolated.

“Mass hermitry has been practised here, boy,” I pronounced.
“Hermitry can't be mass!” “Well, you know what I mean. Lots of hermits...”

We sat down on a nice flat slab in the river and opened our luncheon pack. We were deuced hungry but there was plenty of stuff – sandwiches of egg, meat, cheese, potted meat, and lots of fruit. Far above our heads, an old petrol can dangled in mid air, suspended on a wire. “They'd let that down for water.” “Yeah.” At risk of life and limb I climbed up to the perch whence the rusty can hung. There was nothing there except for the long wire cable, wrapped around rocks; not even a cave, just a cracked, crumbly, not-very-safe-looking ledge.

Baffled we pushed on. The river, as though resenting our intrusion, was chuckling evilly now. There was much wading on a bottom of sharp stones, and hauling each other over great boulders, and staggering gingerly along the edge of waterfalls. The gorge grew narrower, the rocks more steep, the stream more rapid and impassable. There seemed no hope of climbing out. After about an hours journey past the monastery, we gave up, turned back. The river roared it's mirth.

We climbed, on and off, for about a mile, seldom going down to the river bed – our feet were sore! - until we came to a point, well below the monastery, where we could scramble up to the cliffside path. So we turned homewards, defeated, at sunset. We hadn't found where this intriguing path went, or got through the gorge; we hadn't taken any photographs, because there'd been no sun. Defeated! And our last day! As we went around the final corner which would bring us ut onto the Jericho plain, I looked back and shook my fist. “You sod! Alright, you think you've won! But I'll come back!”

As our stride lengthened and we swung along over the easy ground towards the hotel and dinner, Jack told me about the events leading up to the Glencoe Massacre of 1693.

We reached the hotel at dusk, half an hour before dinner. The glasses of beer, just before the soup, went down well!

When we were in the sitting room reading and writing, afterwards, an aged and dignified Arab, also a resident, came and sat down beside us, talking about the beauties of Palestine and Trans-Jordania. “You must go to Petra, one day,” he said, “A very old Roman city. Beautiful.” “I've heard of that,” said Jack at once, “In Trans-Jordania. It's known as the “rose red city, half as old as time”!”

We had previously noted that in Amman (“the chief settlement.” according to my atlas) there was a Hotel Philadelphia. “What a name for a dive in a TlJ village,” we'd sneered, “How did it get it? Maybe the owner once saw an American film, in Jerusalem!” We were therefore shaken out of our complacency when the old Arab casually mentioned that Amman had once been the Greek city of Philadelphia! Many centuries before America was discovered! Our sneers had been wasted.

The old Arab said that the place in the wadi had been a monastery and a resting place for Russian pilgrims. “Long ago,” he said, “there were thousands of hermits in those hills. Many were massacred by the Persians in the 4th and 6th centuries” (“AD 600, actually,” said Jack confidently, later on). He was surprised to hear we'd found the dwellings empty, as he thought there were still two or three monks or hermits hanging around there. The old boy ended his discourse with a talk on the evils of modern life, and how the cinema, dancing and jazz were ruining the young generation, we broke away.

As soon as he'd gone we hurried into the bar for beer, whisky and gramophone records!
He was a nice old fellow though, and as he talked he held the Arab's equivalent of a rosary (a saleep) in his fingers, the beads clicking soothingly.

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