Palestine Series No. 3. Bethlehem to Jericho: a Crazy Desert Ride

Though I’ve been to some places already, I don’t really have many stories that I myself would call adventures. The inquiry  “tell me about your adventures” would always leave me confused. The times I was enjoying buckets of local whiskey in Southeast Asia? Or the time I was freezing on trains in India? They do constitute good times, but are they necessarily adventures – I don’t know, I really don’t know.

Mar Saba

But so I do have at least one story from Palestine that was one damn adventure. Ironically, I thought that day would be one of the calmest and uneventful in my whole Middle East travelling experience. “I’ll take a shuttle bus, go to Jericho, reach the border, cross it, and get myself to Amman.” Well, in the end, the majority of these things did happen. But the first half… Wooof.

Mar Saba 1So, the day started with my awesome host deciding he will take me, instead of me taking a shuttle bus, to the border himself. A cool ride was ahead, and he even decided to show me this incredibly beautiful monastery that was sort of on the way (it’s called Mar Saba, you can google it if my photos aren’t enough). We checked out the place, there was a series of me saying “holy shit holy shit, this is so beautiful” (oh, the eloquence of the impressed…), and then the time came for us to finally reach Jericho. I remember now those words that resulted into this whole story that I am still not close to finishing (hold on). My host said something  like this: “I asked the Bedouin kids about this road, and they told me that it does lead to Jericho. What do you think? I’ve always wanted to see where it leads.” And he pointed to this rather bad-quality, rather narrow, rather…not-much-road-like, road.  Honestly, my first idea was “maybe you could check that road out some other time, not the day I want to reach the border”, and yet, we did have lots of time anyways and, I thought, screw this, of couuuurse let’s see where it leads.

the canyonWell, a spoiler alert: DEATH is where this damn road almost led us to! We started going, first 5-10 minutes seemed, well, acceptable, and then…if someone had told me the car we were in could handle such roads, I would have never believed that. A steep declination, huge sharp rocks (which I could imagine already making holes at the bottom of the car, maybe even scratching the gas tank till it finally explodes…), and, in addition to that, a freakin’ edge of the canyon right by my side! Canyons: nice to look at, not that nice to drive around, I guess.

As if that wasn’t enough, in some minutes we found ourselves facing a creek we either had to cross…or…had to cross, coz with such a declination (which would have turned into an inclination), there was simply NO WAY we could have turned back. “So…going back is IMPOSSIBLE. OK then.” We looked at each other, looked at the stream,  and started going. Although it only took us several seconds to cross it, my imagination took its sweet time and I could see the car being turned on its side and washed away by the stream. I should really know how to turn that imagination off in the moments of panic, damn it.

the damn creek

The creek crossed, what’s next? There was a fork in the road (“road” is a generous word here). We tried one way and, after a minute, had to turn around. If the other way does not lead to Jericho then…THEN we’re screwed.

So our post-creek journey began. For some minutes, we were once again fighting rocky roads, and sometimes, when the car would start going back (closer to the canyon), and I would start creating strategies of jumping out of a rolling car (movies tell us it’s possible, I trust them), my friend would say: “So, with all that panic, what religion are you converting to now exactly?”

But then the road became more…hmmm…less rocky, and we found ourselves in what felt like the middle of a desert. Actually, it wasn’t just a feeling we had: we WERE in the middle of the desert. The only thing that served as some sort of guidance were small rocks with the colours of the Israeli flag on them.  Some minutes ago, the thought I had was this: “If we don’t die, it will be such a cool story to tell.” Now, it was a good ol’ “WTF are we?”

the desert itselfThe most ridiculous point in that desert ride was this: if the car broke down, or something else happened, or we got completely lost (even MORE lost…), how could we explain to anyone where we were? “Yeah, I see some sand around. But it’s definitely not a beach.”???

OK, this is the part I can speed up. We were driving through the desert for close to an hour, at the top of each hill (hill? sand dune? whatever.) expecting to see a “civilised” road. And – the unidentified gods have heard us! – we finally reached one. Oh, the joy that seeing some asphalt can bring! And, several minutes later, I never thought I would be so glad to see a military base in my life.

civilisation!!!What happened next? We asked some people which way Jericho was, got the answer, and reached the border in an hour or so. We said goodbye after an adventure that, at least how I see it, is one damn good experience to share. “It will be a cool story if we survive”. I think it is.

PS. Later, the same friend told me that, apparently, what we crossed in that desert were the so-called ‘firing zones’: areas closed for civilians by the Israeli military that are illegal to enter. Also, an acquaintance of his died (!) crossing the same creek we had to cross (in the winter, when the current was stronger). So…am I trying to justify my panic here? Maybe. Does it also mean I don’t want my life to end abruptly when there are so many interesting things to do and people to meet ahead? Yes sir. Is this, finally, the end of this entry? It is.

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