I NEED A HOT BATH
I’ve met two German guys today and we were talking about what they could do around Tiberias tomorrow morning when Polona broke in the living room complaining about her back. She wanted to go to a hidden hot spring but she doesn’t have a car. Luckily, these two Germans have a rental car and they’ve offer to drive her. Now let me tell you a bit more about my co-worker Polona: she’s a 55 year old woman with a young soul and mind, she’s constantly full of energy and willing to help everyone. The four of us are on the road now following Polona’s directions when we see this sign:
Her only answer to our faces of terror is: ‘don’t worry! It’s all fine. Sometimes the Jordan military close this road but now is okay’. We choose to believe her and keep driving through a road that is getting darker and narrower every mile. Suddenly, Polona ask us to pull up when we see a couple of cars parked on the side of the road and I can only thing that this is it, I’m getting kidnaped or sold in some organ black market. She gets off the car grabbing her towel and inviting us to come while she follows a path into the woods. The two Germans and I exchange a look wondering if we should run, get into the car and leave this place as soon as we can but for some reason, we shrug the shoulders and follow her.
After walking a few meters, we find a derelict building with steam going out through the entrance. The building has 4 walls, no ceiling and the floor is completely flooded, forming some kind of an indoor pool. There are 5 more people in there, some swimming around and some others drinking beer sitting next to the pool. The only source of light are a few candles here and there and the stars. The fear of being kidnaped is gone and the only feeling left is the purest joy and happiness.
I’m leaving Tiberias Hostel tomorrow, what has been my home for the last 40 days, after spending my last week focused on finishing an art project on the walls of the main corridor. I’ll be heading South through the West Bank and visit Jerusalem along the way. Although I spent great moments in this hostel, I can’t wait to have total freedom to explore new places on my own.
With all the farewells done, rucksack on my back, I’m waiting at the bus station for the bus that will take me to Jerusalem. I’m the only foreigner on the line and it might be because every single Israel travel guide advise to avoid traveling across the West Bank, especially if you’re Jew and/or American, to avoid any confrontation with the Palestinian forces. I’m neither of those two things so I’m relatively calm and, let’s be honest, very excited to see if all I’ve heard about this place is true. The Israeli-Palestinian conflict is very laborious to understand in its entirety as it goes back to the 10th century B.C.E., when the Jewish people, who inhabited the current countries of Israel, Egypt, Syria, Lebanon and Jordan, were invaded by the Assyrian. After that, this territory has been conquered and reconquered by many different forces including Babylonians, Greeks, Romans, Persians, Byzantines, Muslims and Christian Crusaders. The Jewish people have been repressed or favoured depending on who was ruling at the moment and many of them emigrate to Europe and other areas of the Middle East. With the advent of the Second World War, many of these emigrants came back to Israel, reclaiming a Jewish state of Israel in a territory where Muslims have been living for centuries. Now imagine that the great-grandson of the person who build your house come and tries to kick you out, breaks into your house and just sits there until you move out. How would you feel?
The bus was stopped only twice: once for the Israeli military forces who asked something to the bus driver and for the Palestinian forces, who jumped on the bus and walked across the aisle whilst looking at everyone. I’ve never been more grateful for having Arabic heritage in my entire life.
In the morning, I rose early after a short night sleep to explore the holiest city in the world for the 3 biggest religions: Christians, Muslims and Jews and one of the most disputed places as well.
The main peculiarity about Jerusalem is how the old city is divided in 4 quarters plus The Temple Mount, with each quarter inhabited for Jews, Christians, Muslims and Armenian separately. This severe division between territories creates the sensation of being in different countries every time you cross from one quarter to another. Jewish men with long sideboards in black cloths and carrying a small Torah attached to their forehead by black strings; chatty Muslim people trying to sell you everything all the time; Christian people passing by in total silent and seriousness.
After all day out wandering around the old city in the morning and hiking to the Church of Mary Magdalene in the afternoon, I’m finally back to the hostel where I’m staying one more night when I receive a message from a friend asking me if I’m okay.
‘Of course I’m okay! Why shouldn’t I?’
‘I saw on the news that there has been a shooting today in the old city’.
The shooting took place in the afternoon, when a dispute started between a Muslim and a Jew and the israeli forces acted shooting down the Muslim man when he stabbed the other. My hands started to shake even though I was alive and I hadn’t witnessed anything. Being aware of how fragile life is after this event made me change my next destination, originally Jericho, for Eilat in the last moment.
I had certain obligations since I arrived in Israel that made me feel kind of tied to the place where I lived and work but now, I find myself completely free. I have all my belongings in my rucksack and I could just literally go wherever I want and do whatever I want. I’m in the terrace chatting with my roommates for tonight in the Jerusalem hostel where I’m staying; there is one person from each continent, we’re all laughing and alive. I’ll treasure this moment for the rest of my life, this moment of total freedom and happiness.
I’m at the bus station trying to find Wi-Fi connection so I can text the Couchsurfing guy that is hosting me tonight. It’s mid-March but there is already 33 ºC and I’m desperately looking for a shade to drop my backpacks and wait. My host is Noam, a 23 year old guy who lives with his dog in the outskirts of Eilat. This is my first time using Couchsurfing and probably being a female solo traveller in the Middle East isn’t exactly the best situation to start doing it. I decide to have faith in humanity and it paid back with the best Couchsurfing host I could ask for.
Noam took me to explore the mountains nearby, lend me his diving equipment and showed me the best beaches, he introduced me to his friends, family and girlfriend and got me an appointment to get tattooed so I’ll keep Eilat always with me. I planned to stay in Eilat just for one night but ended up extending my visit for four nights before going into the Negev Desert.
INTO THE DESERT
Mitzpe was build next to the Ramon Crater, the world’s largest erosion cirque and it’s inhabited mainly by young artists and goats, with some Bedouin desert camps nearby. Aylam will be my host for the next three nights since my friends don’t have extra space in their house.
After paying a visit to my friends, I spent the next 2 days hiking the crater, wandering around the desert with Aylam searching for aromatic herbs to make tea from, and enjoying the peaceful character of this town. He lived for many years with a Bedouin tribe and he also took me to visit them and show me how they live. This nomadic Bedouin tribe moves their camp every season in search for pastures for their cattle; they are Muslims and they allow me to drink coffee with them in the main tent only because the elderly are out with the cattle and the new generations are more open-minded, otherwise I should go to the women tent, located in the far end of the camp, and be served by women only.
Today is my last day in Mitzpe Ramon and my flight back to Spain is in the next day, but I can’t leave before seeing a desert sunrise. I woke up at 5 and started walking towards the endless desert until I found a good spot to settle down and enjoy the spectacle. The first light of dawn gives the Negev Desert a strange out of this world look, it makes you feel small and insignificant in this vast sea of sand and rocks.
I’m at the bus stop after saying goodbye to Aylam and my friends, waiting for the first out of six different transportations I’ll take in the next 36 hours in order to get back home. I need 2 different buses to get to Tel Aviv, from where I’ll get a train to the airport and board the plane at 6:45. The first stop is Istanbul, where I’ll wait 3 hours for my next and last flight to Barcelona. Once in Barcelona, my mother will pick me up and drive me home, Reus, two hours away from Barcelona. Just the thought of it makes me want to cry.
This is coming to an end but I’m far too tired to be aware of how sad it makes me leave Israel.
HOME, SWEET HOME
I had a well-deserved fifteen-hour sleep and I’m packing again to catch a late flight to London, sleep one night there and fly again to Croatia where I’ll stay for a week.
I already miss Israel, the country that has taught me so many things about life and my own person. I’ve learned to trust my guts and believe in myself, to respect and understand other people’s opinion and belief, to be free and find happiness on it, to enjoy every second and accept that things may not go as planned.
I don’t know why, but I have the feeling that this won’t be the last time I walk through this spectacular land.
See you soon, Israel.