This excursion took place on the fourth day of our stay in Israel. We crossed into the West bank with the intentions of visiting Bethlehem and coming back within a few hours. Reality hit us when we passed through the check point and realized Bethlehem was not as close as we originally thought. i was instantly surrounded by a mass of taxi drivers each insisting on using their service. We eventually gave in and after some intensive bargaining were on our way to Bethlehem. One will really sharpen their bargaining skills when visiting the Middle East…While driving to our set destination, the driver offered to take us further into the West bank; to Ramallah where I had a relative of a friend which I could visit. After a short discussion with my mother, we decided to go for it. What I thought would be a terrible decision, ended up being the highlight of our trip.
The day ended up being full of overwhelming surprises. My mother claimed her trip would be incomplete without a camel ride which resulted in our first stop. A beautiful sight with an astonishing view of St. George Monastery. Here, a local man offered camel and donkey rides. We both took advantage of this opportunity considering the incredible low price of only 10 shekels. A deal breaker considering a similar experience would cost much more at a camel farm.
After snapping a few photos, our journey advanced to our next stop being what else but the World’s oldest city Jericho. Upon arrival, I was not sure what to expect. The result was a set of a few ruins. Even though they did not make significant visual impression, I really respected the place due to its historic significance. In the short time we had to explore the sight considering our taxi was running the meter, we met a nice couple from California. After a brief yet friendly conversation, we joined into a cappella singing “The Battle of Jericho”. Certainly without any connection to our singing , all the birds decided to flee. I assume they had important business to take care of elsewhere.
Perhaps my favorite part of this excursion was riding the narrow streets through the desert. Every so often we would pass a small settlement of people who spent their lives in the desert. The driver also served as somewhat of a tour guide. While passing several important yet well hidden sights, he would give us a very in-depth explanation of their importance. One significant sight was one of the Qumran caves ; the please where the dead she scrolls (ancient Hebrew writings) were discovered…
When we finally arrived in Ramallah, I was quite surprised how busy the city was. Many shops displayed their inventory in front of their business resulting in a “bazaar” kind of feeling. However the part of the city where my friend’s shop is seemed completely cleared of any traffic. We eventually learned that a presidential meeting was taking place between the president of Israel and the president of the West Bank, resulting in large quantities of soldiers positioned throughout the streets on which the presidential convoy was planned to pass. While standing in front of my friends shop and observing the soldiers, without much thought, I pulled out my SLR which resulted in several rifles pointing directly at me. What latter became a laughing matter, was quite serious. I was instructed to have the camera instantly put away or otherwise…God knows what….
As time was running out, we said our good buys and headed for Bethlehem. Once there, we visited all the proper sights one must visit in Bethlehem. Since everyone in Palestine has a brother or at least a relative who owns a shop, we stopped by a shop owned by the brother of our taxi driver where we sipped on some tea and purchased a few souvenirs.
Since it was getting late, we headed back towards the checkpoint. The entrance to the checkpoint was surrounded by local venders selling a variety of fresh products. The first section of the checkpoint resembles a long line similar to six flags. A set of Long zigzagged passages intended to keep the people in formation. Guess what? We didn’t have our passports with us!!! (TAKE YOUR PASSPORT!) After a few minutes of doubt, our American IDs did the trick and we were allowed to proceed. After yet another document check and yet another explanation, we were allowed to pass.