• Camel crossing signs dot the roadways

Our guide, Yoni, has pointed out dromedary as well as Bactrian camels (the two-humped variety that Abraham would have been familiar with.) As for the popular notion that camels spit? Yep, it’s true, but that’s nothing compared to what else they can do to you when they’re agitated.

  • You’re crossing the desert and the only water for miles around is what you’re carrying with you.

Wells and water rights have been a major topic of discussion in these first few days of our trip as we’ve crossed the Negev Desert visiting Be’er Sheva, Masada and Ein Gedi. No wonder water is such an important symbol in scripture.

  • Every Jewish tour or school group by law has to have someone packing heat.

Concealed carry? Nope – right out in the open. As a group of kids scrambled out of the Zin canyon just ahead of us, we noticed their chaperone toting a requisite AK47. These folks value their security. And who can blame them?

  • Shabbat elevators stop at every floor. A wonderful invention.
  • Border crossings are an adventure.

Members of the Israeli defense forces boarded our bus at a West Bank checkpoint to ensure we were the tourists we claimed to be, asking us to hold aloft our permit cards. Grinning, they waved us on.

  • As in Chicago, it’s prudent to know which neighborhoods to avoid when.

One of our highlights this afternoon was visiting a Samaritan village on the West Bank and standing atop Mt. Gerizim. We tried to cajole our guide into taking us to see Jacob’s Well in the settlement below (the location where Jesus told the Samaritan woman about living water), but he refused for the Arab bus driver’s sake. “We just might get shot,” he explained cheerfully. “Let’s pass on that today.”

  • You recline on rather than swim in the water.

We spent the past two nights in a hotel on the Israeli side of the Dead Sea, and after a hot, dusty morning in the Negev we were eager to enter the sea yesterday afternoon. The lowest land elevation on earth at nearly 1,400 feet below sea level, the Dead Sea has 8.6 times the salinity of the ocean. You simply lean back, place your hands beneath your head and float on the surface of the water. Incredibly relaxing as well as therapeutic. All those minerals (a valuable export for Israel) are great for whatever ails you too.

Mike and I have far more stories to tell than time permits. Our experiences here will inform his preaching and my teaching for years to come.

Tomorrow? Caesarea Maritima, Mount Carmel and Megiddo!