Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Random Travel Update 45

Last locations: Eilat, Israel; Jerusalem, Israel; Bethlehem, Palestine; Tel Aviv, Israel; Jericho, Palestine; Siesta Beach, The Dead Sea
Arrival Date: June 21, 2009
Departure Date: June 29, 2009

Current location: Amman, Jordan
Arrival Date: June 29, 2009
Departure Date: June 30, 2009

Next Locations: Petra, Jordan
Arrival Date: June 30, 2009
Departure Date: July 2, 2009

Our goal was to avoid the incredibly expensive ferry directly from Nuweiba, Egypt to Aqaba, Jordan by crossing into Jordan by land via Israel. We were going to head north through Jordan and cross back into Israel via the Allenby/King Hussein crossing through the West Bank. Upon arriving at the Israeli border of Jordan however, we were informed that there is an incredibly high departure tax when leaving Israel. So, we quickly changed plans and got a bus out of Eilat the next day to Jerusalem where we enjoyed the hospitality of one of Jon's old friends, Dan, from their days in The Sierra Club.

It's hard to write about Israel and Palestine without getting into politics and religion. It is easy to want to pick sides in the matter. On one hand you have an elite class of wealthy occupiers severely oppressing the less prosperous former land tenants, on the other, you have a nation of individuals whose land has, since the beginning of time, been disputed. As our cab driver in Bethlehem put it, "All I wonder is, after the Israelis, who's next?"

It is impossible to deny that the Israelis have done amazing things with their little strip of the Mediterranean desert, turning it into a no-holds-barred first world resort destination. There is air conditioning, well-serviced public bathrooms and superior infrastructure. For this, you pay about five times as much for everything and have to put up with the Israelis. I am not convinced that it is worth it.

Despite being multitudes richer per capita than their neighbors to the South and East, the Israelis won't hesitate to add a little extra to your bill, whether it be for going three minutes over time at the internet cafe to adding "too much" salad at a salad bar. Transgressions that wouldn't even garner a baksheesh request in one of Israel's poorer Arab neighbors. Racism, as in most countries, is alive and well here, which isn't so much surprising as it is ironic.

On a suspicion that I would like it more, we planned two mini-trips to the WestBank. We spent the first day touring Bethlehem and reminiscing over all of the sitesthat made for the basis of much of my Christian education growing up. We saw the places where Jesus was born, cradled, crucified and buried. And I did like it. The people who we met, from a group of little girls to a convoy of soldiers, were all marvelously friendly, warm and welcoming.

The second trip, on our way from Jerusalem to the Israeli-Palestinian border with Jordan was to Jericho where we spent the evening floating on the Dead Sea and coating ourselves in the mineral rich and addictively squishy Dead Sea mud. We spent the night in the city and woke up the next morning to see Hashim's Palace, a gorgeous ruin where we were the only visitors. In fact, we didn't run into a single other tourist in Jericho. Despite it's vast share of Holy Land sites and historical religious significance, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict has near annihilated tourism in the West Bank. The only trouble we ran into was when we befriended a local youth living next door to us in our budget hotel. He turned out to be crazy, and spent the better part of the late night banging on our hotel room door and picking at the lock pleading for us to hide him from the Israeli Police.

The border crossing the next day was a disaster. After spending two hours and our last 100 shekels to get to the Jordanian border, we were told, for the first time, that we were at the only border crossing with Israel that could not issue a foreign visa. Two more hours of waiting confirmed that we would have to go back to Israel and re-enter from the northernmost crossing, 60 kilometers away.

Getting back into Israel was a whole new nightmare which required passing through an infinite number of checkpoints all bottle-necked with Palestinians impatient to get home. Another two hours got us through this mess and to a pull-off where we waited patiently for a bus that would take us north an hour later. We hitched the final few kilometers from the bus drop off to the required border crossing and eight hours from our departure from Jericho, we arrived in time to watch the sun set on the beautiful northern Israeli countryside and passed effortlessly through the deserted checkpoint.

And that is how we arrived in the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan.



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