This week we spent a memorable evening lying underneath the stars in the Judean Desert. If it sounds idyllic: it really was.
We had heard that the annual Perseid meteor shower was taking place and decided to head down to a site near Nabi Musa with a gang of friends to check it out.
Nabi Musa is the site that is thought to contain the tomb of Moses and it is a holy place for Christians, Muslims & Jews. It sits nestled in the desert, about two thirds of the way between Jerusalem and Jericho.
This road is one of our favourites and leads downhill to the Dead Sea, which at 400m below sea level is the lowest place of earth.
As soon as you join the highway leaving Jerusalem, you pass through a tunnel underneath the Mount of Olives. In all the world, this tunnel is the closest thing we’ve seen to going through the magic wardrobe into Narnia. When you emerge you are in another world.
Small Bedouin encampments are dotted around the landscape and it is common to see shepherds herding their goats across the hillsides. There are donkeys, camels on the horizon, and all the props of a biblical scene and a simpler existence are here.
The desert here isn’t composed of silky sand dunes, it is rockier and grittier. The ripple of golden, wind-blasted hills stretches into the horizon. With certain twists of the road you catch a glimpse of the Dead Sea sparkling in the horizon and on the far side lies Jordan.
All the time your foot is on the brake and you are heading down, down below sea level and the temperature is creeping upwards. It is not unusual for the area around the Dead Sea and Jericho to be 10 degrees hotter than it is in Jerusalem and the drive only takes 30 minutes.
Blink and you would miss the brown sign indicating the turn-off for Nabi Musa. As you leave the highway and round the corner, the low, sandy coloured structure of Nabi Musa reveals itself with its smooth white-topped domes.
As well as holding the tomb of Moses, this site has been a stopping point for travellers for thousands of years. The caravanserai surrounding the tomb has recently been restored simply and beautifully to showcase the original architecture and stonework.
On this occasion, it was the night sky we had come for. We walked for about ten minutes up the rocky path behind Nabi Musa to find a dark vantage point from which to start the gazing.
There was palpable excitement in the air as we all found a corner of the large rug to lie down on. Eyes fixed upwards, we waited for the show to start. Almost immediately, a bright ball shot across the sky leaving a shimmering trail in its wake. I gasped, amazed at the brightness and distance it had travelled across the sky.
There was a mixture of excitement from those that saw it and annoyance from those that hadn’t yet settled into place. And then we waited, and waited. The kids grew impatient and there was the rustling of crisp packets and the giggle of jokes.
‘There! Over there! Ah, it’s gone’, the energy ebbed and flowed with real and imagined shooting star sightings. Over the next few hours, the lucky ones saw more than twenty meteors with one or two spectacular highlights.
There is something very calming and grounding about looking up rather than down. It is not too late for Jerusalemites as the perseids will be active until 24 August. It seems there are regular other astrological events throughout the year which is yet another bonus of living in this special place. So grab a blanket to lie on and head outside, you might see something incredible!