The Bell Caves at Bet Guvrin:
ancient quarries for building-stone
Today we set off as a group of 15 plus two guides on our first day tour, to National Park Bet Guvrin–Maresha (a UNESCO World Heritage site) and the ancient port city of Jaffa. So many stories were told! About Abraham and Isaac, about Napoleon, about Cassiopeia, Andromeda, and Perseus, about Jonah the Prophet, about Saint Peter—and about Jews, Arabs, Christians, and many other groups, of course. It is thrilling to be at this crossroads of civilization. The Phoenicians, the Babylonians, the Egyptians, the Greeks—they all came through here. And later, of course, the Arabs, the Crusaders, the Ottomans, the French and the British. The first Zionists arrived in their Promised Land at the port of Jaffa, where centuries before cedars of Lebanon had been offloaded for transport to Jerusalem, only forty miles away, to build the First and Second Temples.
The old port of Jaffa
My grasp of history (never mind mythology—Cassiopeia and Andromeda, seriously?) is rather tenuous. I've heard a lot of the names, of places and of people, of course, but I'm not sure how well I put them together. Our guide, Avsha, is a great storyteller, though, and today a few pieces of data floating around in my head got consolidated in a more meaningful way than before. Avsha said some of these stories—the biblical ones in particular—will keep coming up, as we travel to significant sites. Maybe with repeated exposure, I'll gain a better understanding of this land both ancient and modern, and of the many, many peoples who have claimed it or conquered it or used it or loved it. I also, thanks to Avsha's map, am starting to understand just what names like Judea, Samaria, the Galilee, etc. mean. In addition to seeing some beautiful countryside and interesting sites, I might just get an education on this trip.
Hummus ful + masabcha
Meanwhile, for lunch we had hummus. That's it, just hummus, plus pita and onions for dipping, of course. It was delicious and filling, and a non-touristy experience, in a noisy little restaurant with very quick turnover: the good sort of fast food. I also had "black beer," which Avsha said was like root beer—which, okay. Sort of. It's made with molasses, though, so has a very different character from root beer.