Wednesday, 10 September 2008

Pilgrimage from King Hussein Bridge to Jerico 06/09/08

Steph's call to let me know she's leaving wakes me at six. the taxi driver explained to her they only let a set amount of people through each day so we are keen to get in early.

I only just manage to pack up my gear in time, as I sit down on the roadside a big van screeches to a halt next to me...

"Shit, you were quick!"

Pointing to the driver "Tell me about it" :)

Five minutes later I'm back at the bridge, surprised there's already a line up of cars. The good thing about being on foot is it doesn't matter, we're straight to the front.

The place is empty and we find out the immigration office, for people without their own vehicles, doesn't open till eight. We have an hour to wait. One of the cops takes pity on us and lets us sit in his office, happy to chat before the other workers start arriving.

Without too much fuss we're on the bus heading over the bridge and into Israel...

Yes, that's right...BUS! Once again I can't walk across the border, but this one I can understand ;)

Chaos greets us on the other side with noone knowing what's going on anywhere. Finally figuring out their system, which could have saved us 20 minutes with one simple sign, we manage to get through to the Israeli immigration. Now the fun begins...

Steph gets straight through but with two trips to Lebanon and five months in Syria during the last year I'm obviously going to have some problems. Taking a seat a young guy comes over with my passport in hand...

"So Ben, you like to travel?"


"Why did you not fill out this form completely with the countries you visited before here?"

"Because I've just walked from England there's not enough space to list them all" I give him all the details of my pilgrimage including studying in Syria and give him my blog address so he can check for himself...

"You have been to Lebanon twice! Why?"

"Once skiing, once walking through"

"When you were in Syria did you have friends take you around to see anything?"

Laughing "Yes, I have Syrian friends and yes, sometimes we went sightseeing"

"And after you finish in Jerusalem where will you go?"

"Don't know...maybe Yemen"


"Yes, I need some time out and want somewhere that's cheap"

Shaking his head with a slightly bemused smile he instructs me to wait and leaves me to it. So I wait, and wait, and wait...but I'm not the only one there's a whole seated area designated for people like me. I Chilean woman sits next to me...

"I can't believe it! They're all kids. All of them!"

Which is true. I can't see anyone who looks over twenty five in the whole office, no wonder there's such chaos. And the really amusing thing are the guys doing security. Wearing civilian clothes and walking around toting their M-16s like thugs it's quite a sight.

Finally I get the "okay", meet Steph on the other side and try to work out a town to meet up. Asking at the taxi office the guys not impressed...

Barking at us "What, you want to go to Jerico!?! It's Palestinian!!! What will you do there"

Shrugging "Eat lunch"

I'm glad he doesn't have anything to say to that :) Steph books a bus ticket and I set off, not impressed it's now 11:30 and super hot. One of the gun toting teenagers cuts me off as I'm leaving...

"What are you doing?"

"Walking to Jerusalem"

"You can't do that!"

"Of course I can, I've just walked from England" :)

"Nah, I don't believe you. Your legs are too skinny!"

Laughing "They may be skinny but they got me this far"

"I'm just kidding, but you can't walk through here. It's military for the next two kilometers. You can get a taxi to the edge though"

"How much will that cost?"

"About seventeen dollars"

"Seventeen dollars!!! How can it be seventeen dollars for two kilometers"

Shrugging "That's just what they charge. Good luck"

Luckily they only charge me ten dollars but still, $5/km crazy anywhere in the world! :) Hopping off in the middle of nowhere I set off towards Jerico. The first thing to hit me, well second after the heat, is the stillness. The slight purr of a tractor can be heard in the distance and apart from a bird chirping overhead the only other sound is the squeaking of my backpack. All alone and covered in sweat I start to wonder if this is total madness.

What the fuck is that!?!

A huge yellow gate appears across the road, this must be one on the Israeli checkpoints. Approaching cautiously there's not a soul to be seen...

I stop, wait, call out. No response...

I walk around the side to see if it's possible to bypass it only to be met with a huge wall of cement and barbed wire...


Returning back to the gate I spot a small intercom. I press the button imagining a doorbell ringing out through Jerico...

The gate glides silently open. Looking around there's still noone to be seen. Thirty meters later I make out some soldiers behind a thick layer of bullet proof glass, which some kind individuals took upon themselves to test...just to ensure they are safe inside I'm sure :)

Now inside Palestinian controlled territory people start appearing. I'm surprised with the carefree way I'm greeted, the enthusiasm shown by the other Arab countries I've passed through has disappeared. They are still extremely friendly yet greet me with nothing more than a wave before going back to what they are doing. I suppose they've seen it all before.

Dragging myself into the center of town a locate Steph and after a quick discussion find the "oldest hotel in the West Bank"...well, according to the owners anyway. Hisham Palace is way over priced for what it is but with the heat outside we can't be bothered searching for anything else.

Much to our relief Ramadan ends and we head to the square for dinner. After a quick stint on the net we make our way back to the hotel and I psych myself up for my walk to the edge of Jerusalem starting tomorrow morning... :)

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