15th March 2008
After a surprisingly good ride through the Sinai mountains in a crazy Egyptian taxi, who overcharged me and made me pretend I was his wife at security check points (I’ve just stopped asking at this points), I arrived in Dahab. At 1am, yet again an hour too early, I was whisked away. I was given the white-knuckle ride of my life through the Sinai mountains in the middle of the night. Bear in mind, this really is the wild. There are no streetlights, no phone reception and just flat out no one around. The driver drove on the wrong side of the road the whole way to Taba, including around blind corners and over hills! This is bad, even by Egyptian standards; this was the driver the tour company organized!
I was let out at the Egyptian/Israeli border at 2:30am and the guy just pointed and said, “Over there” and drove away. Great! Of course, because he had picked me up way too early the rest of the group who were coming from Taba, were not there yet. I went through Egyptian security on my own in the middle of the night, with about 10 guys with M-16’s all crowded around me…. Hoping that on the other side my tour company rep would be waiting. No such luck. I sat on the border in no man’s land for two and a half hours, between Egypt and Israel waiting for someone to turn up.
Finally, the rest of the group showed up and they helped me get through Israeli security, thank God for that. Their security is unbelievably tight, they treat everyone like a terrorist suspect. More questions from guards with big guns, AK-47’s I think this time. Finally got over the border and got on a nice bus with my tour guide Oded and about 25 other English people…no more Russians, thank God.
We drove away from Taba to Eilat, the first city in Israel, where I could see Aqaba city in Jordan that I had visited a week before. We drove for ages and ages until we got to the Dead Sea, we were allowed one hour for a swim. The Sea stank! Its full of sulphur. Its fun to swim in though, because there is so much salt in it you can’t sink, no matter how hard you try. It’s also warm, it takes on the outside temperature, and it’s the lowest point on the Earth, 400m below sea level, I tell you what, between the Dead Sea, mountain climbing and diving, my poor ears are never going to forgive me for all these changes in altitude!
I then went to the atm to get out some Israeli cash, shekels, they spend, which actually look more fake than monopoly money. We got back on the bus and then drove past Kumran and saw the cave where they found the Dead Sea Scrolls, as well as Jericho, the oldest city in the world. We also drove past the supposed site of Soddom and saw Lots wife, a giant pillar of rock. We then drove, up and up and up, my ears hurting again, until we got to Jerusalem. What a sight!
We got off the bus atop the Mount of Olives, I felt like an ant in the scope of time and history, looking out over this city of the ages and the golden Dome of Rock. We walked down to the city and walked the Via Dolorosa, which Jesus walked when he carried his cross before his crucifixion. We ended up at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, the spot where Jesus was both nailed to and taken off the cross. The Unction stone, upon which Jesus body was washed still rests in this spectacular church, which from the outside doesn’t look like anything special. Pass over festivals had already begun and I ended up locked in the church, while they were conducting a ritual, the air was electric. Priests chanted and swung ornate incense burners, candles were lit, and older ladies bowed down and kissed the stone on which Christ’s body was washed.
We walked further through Jerusalem, the sounds of the place are absolutely unreal, you can hear church bells ringing, Jewish people chanting and mosques calling Muslims to prayer. We also made a short stop at the Wailing Wall, sorry no photos as I went on the Sabbath, also a great place to visit with awesome atmosphere!
Our last stops were the room in which the Last Supper was held and the tomb of King David, which were also amazing to be in. We also climbed Mt Zion which was great.
We then got back on the bus and drove past the Knessett, the Israeli Parliament house and went for a short break in a winery. We then were driven to Tel Aviv, and to the Airport to get a flight back to Eilat. I thought the security at Sydney was impossible, this was insane. Of course, I copped it as I always seem to at airports, only this time, it actually delayed the flight for half an hour! They wanted to know everything, why am I traveling alone? Do I have a boyfriend? How can I afford this trip? What is my occupation? Do I know anyone in Egypt? Do I know anyone in Israel? What is the purpose of your stay? Hell, I was only there for one day. They made me wait around while they made call after call, deciding whether or not they were going to let me through. I found out it was because, everyone on the tour was British, but me and my Australian passport upset them.
We got on a bus to be taken to the plane and I get a phone call from Vanessa at Fez travel, Oh my god I applied for this job in August, so here I am sitting in a bus, in the airport at the height of Israeli security, trying to show them my passport over and over and attempting to do a phone interview at the same time for the best job of my life, a tour leader in Turkey. I think I did ok, they want someone to be in Gallipoli for ANZAC day, so if I get that I’ll be wrapped!
We flew back to Eilat, and there was no security to get out of the airport, amazing. We got on the bus and drove back to Taba, and crossed both borders, which all went smoothly. I got straight back into the car with the same mad driver, for another night white knuckle ride through the Sinai mountains, I actually fell asleep during the trip. Getting a little blasé about that kind of stuff now, I think.