Wednesday, 10 September 2008

Pilgrimage from Jerico to East Jerusalem 07/09/08

Another 4am alarm has me up and about before the sun, but knowing this is likely to be my second to last day I'm not bothered. Steph wishes me well and I head of into the empty streets just as the Imam starts up his call for prayer.

The money changers weren't open yesterday and the local ATM only spat out Jordanian Dinar so I don't have a Shekel to my name. Could be a slight problem if I get thirsty.

Spotting a shop owner I get to ask a question I've been dying to ask for more than 6000kms...

"Good morning. Is this the road to Jerusalem?" :)

Passing a big building check to see if it's a hotel. The armed guards lounging around the front give me a start by diving for their weapons. I suppose they don't see too many people walking around at this hour. The good news is I can see the sign, "Intercontinental". I'm in luck :)

"Good morning. What do you want?"

"I need to go change some money"

"Sorry, you can't. It's closed"

"It shouldn't be closed. I will just go and ask reception"

"No, I can't let you in. Wait here and I'll call"


A minute later he returns with bad news, they don't want to let me in :( Time to act like the arrogant white Westerner I am...

"Look mate, this is a five star hotel. Of course the reception is open. I've stayed at Intercontinental hotels all around the world and I know they can change my money. I'm going to talk to reception"

Walking off the security starts to yell and I think that out of all the places I could choose to storm a five star hotel with a backpack this is probably the worst. I have a slight paranoia in the back of my mind...

Will they really shoot me???

The security guard's getting more irate and I can here him start to chase me. Stepping up to the front door the little voice in my wins out and I pause to let him catch up. Turning with a big smile...

"Look, I'll be two minutes. Just let me talk to the receptionist"

He doesn't answer but it appears he isn't quite prepared to manhandle me out yet. Following me to the counter he stands close as I greet the guy behind the counter...

"Good morning. I need to change some money"

"Good morning. I'm afraid we can only change money for guests"
Fixing him with a hard gaze "Look mate. I understand you are not meant to change money but I also know you can. It is possible! Yesterday the money changers weren't open and the ATM doesn't give out Shekels. I'm walking to Jerusalem today and that's a very long way without being able to buy a drink. I really need to change some money"

Smiling broadly "Okay sir. How much would you like" :)


The security guard suddenly turns in to my new best friend and couldn't be more interested in my journey...or at least he pretends to be anyway ;)

Hitting the road and passing through the checkpoints without a fuss it's into no-man's land. An easy walk to the highway and there's nothing but desert as far as the eye can see.

From four hundred meters below sea level I know I have some climbing today, as the sun emerges from behind the Jordanian hills I start the slow process upwards. It's already hot and and now I'm really glad I began so early.

Intent on getting to the edge of Jerusalem today I make great time. The "sea level marker" comes and goes and by the time I need a rest I'm at 150m. Lying down in the shade of the road cutting, the only shade around for miles, I soon drift off only to wake a couple of hours later sweating and in the full force of the sun.

My water's getting low but I know I only had to make twenty kilometers before finding some facilities...can't be too much further. And it isn't, under an hour later I'm sitting in a great little cafe eating shakshuka, a typical Israeli dish made from eggs and tomato. Delicious :)

After a big rest I get back into it, making another four of five kilometers before staggering into another cafe and collapsing absolutely soaking in sweat. The owner looks slightly amused and a slightly unsure, but after finding out my story is extremely welcoming.

Emerging from the cafe a new man, the sign out the front cheers me up even more...

"Jerusalem 20"

Twenty kilometers to go! Unbelievable, that leaves ten to fifteen tops for the evening. With the slight breeze which has just started and the pleasant temperature the weather is perfect!

Hitting a fork in the highway I decide to take a risk. The road to the right indicates it leads to Jerusalem but from the map I saw yesterday the town to the left should be perfect for me to stop the night in.

My confidence isn't boosted by the first people I talk to...

"Where are you going?"


"Wrong way! You can't go to Jerusalem this way. It's forbidden...forbidden!"

"But for a foreigner is it okay?"

"No, impossible! You have to catch a bus and go back to the highway"

I know I have to pass the dreaded separation wall at some stage and it must be getting close. If I'm going to have trouble I'd prefer to pass today and not have to worry about it tomorrow. My main concern though is the feel of the area I'm in isn't good and it will soon be dark.

As the sun disappears so do all the people, all home to feast with their families. Out of the blue a big church appears...Bingo!!! :) It's been a while since I slept in a religious establishment and I couldn't think of a better place to spend my last night. After knocking a couple of times to get some attention I start to walk away but the creak of the door draws me back. A middle aged priest is there to greet me but is sad to inform me the place is a nunnery and no men can stay overnight. Pointing down the road he lists a couple of other places I might be able to try.

Slowly people start returning to the streets and I'm pleased the tension in the air has all but disappeared. It's amazing what a little bit of food, nicotine and coffee can do for a person ;)

All the churches are closed and none of the mosques will take me, with no hotels in town I'm starting to feel a bit desperate. Following another guys directions I finally come face to face with the wall. And what a sight! One of the more unfortunate uses of modern day engineering...the separation barrier.

Stretching without an entrance as far as I can see in both directions I decide to make my way north. At least if I can't get through I will have to hit the highway at some stage. Without a road I'm sometimes walking through olive groves, sometimes through alleys and sometimes climbing over big rocks all the while with this monstrous slab of cement and barbed wire to my left...and all the while feeling very vulnerable. Starting to get a bit stressed I'm not sure what to do, I don't really want to camp here but I'm running out of options.

An old guy spots me and asks what I'm doing...

"Trying to get to Jerusalem...but I can't find a door through the wall. Is there a door anywhere?"

"Yes, of course. Down that way" Pointing in the direction I've come from "Here, I'll show you"

The guy speaks great English and I'm relieved he seems to know what he's on about. Leading back to a point 100m south of where I started a small gap appears guarded by some soldiers. I call out to the guy in the watchtower...

"Hey mate, what's the chance of me getting though here?"

"Sorry, what?"

"Is there any chance of me getting through here?"

"You want to get through?"

"Yes, into Jerusalem"

Waving me through and giving me a look like I'm slightly mad "Of course, go, go!"

After a quick search of my bag the soldiers on the other side let me past. So here I am! I'm in Jerusalem!!! What a feeling :)

Right next to the checkpoint is a gate to a big church. Pressing the buzzer I'm pleased when thirty seconds later the gate glides silently open. A few priests greet me on the stairs and after hearing what I'm up to are more than happy to put me up for the night. Champions!

Setting myself up Father Roberto appears and asks if I want to have a look on the roof. I'm pretty tired but why not. Winding my way up I'm stocked with the view...there in front of me are the lights of Central Jerusalem!

Only four kilometers to go...



Jenni said...

yay Ben!

totally stoked for you. I was getting a bit worried about all those border crossings but can see I needn't have been!


Nicu Panaitescu said...

You did it, and I cannot be anything but happy for you, man! :)