I was one of those super hot days with a scorching sun and basically no wind. With no rush I got on the greenish mini bus and took my place next to the nicely dressed lady. I remember I liked her earrings so much, but when she realized I’m observing her, she covered her head with a piece of colorful cloth so I couldn’t see her ears anymore, smiled gently and looked outside the window. Counting people getting on the bus, I was trying to kill the time as there was no schedule at all and I couldn’t even predict what time the driver might decide to set off. Finally, he closed the door and the vehicle moved. But wait, no – we stop after a while. There was a man running with a huge bag on his back wanting to go with us. The door opened, the man got in, the bus moved on again.
A group of young women was running after the bus waving and yelling to stop and wait for them. They were all hearing hijabs – really nice ones – with various oriental patterns, finished off with golden thread, and perfectly matching with their jewelry. They got on taking one of the last free seats and we moved on. A view outside the window was nothing spectacular I’d say… Plain road with couple of olive trees at the road side, tufts of grass here and there, and tones of rock pieces everywhere. It doesn’t really make you think about a cool summer resort, does it? But hey, this is a place I chose to be my travel destination!
The music in the mini bus was on. I even had a feeling the driver was turning the volume up with each kilometer, but it was probably my mind playing tricks on me. As we drove, it was slowly getting difficult to stand the sun shining bright through the bus window, but since I was not really sure where exactly should I get off, with my shades on I was obstinately observing the world outside. I could see a herdsman with a bunch of donkeys carrying some (probably) heavy bags on their back, a few camels not really afraid of standing close to the road, even more olive trees than before and a huge, massive wall. The farther we were going, the more of the wall I could see. At one point it started being a dominant part of the landscape.
„No checkpoint?”, I thought to myself after we’d been driving for a longer while. Honestly, I had expected something more…I don’t even know what. It was just going super smoothly. Too smoothly. I had heard all those stories telling how many issues locals had with crossing this „boarder” (now I know it’s difficult for one side only…). For me it had been only 40 minutes on the mini bus and there I was, getting off the bus in a city which name I didn’t even know. I immediately got surrounded by at least 5 taxi drivers offering me „the cheapest drive” and „the best price”. Yes, it’s one of those places when ability to bargain helps you a lot!
Welcome to Palestine
„Maybe I could have I walk”, I thought to myself, but this thought got out of my head as soon as it appeared. Since I had missed my stop somewhere „at the gas station”, I didn’t really know where I was, and with my heavy backpack I really didn’t feel like walking couple of kilometers to Beit Jala.
„15 dinars. Only 15 dinars. Good price!”, I could hear from one driver. I came closer to ask for how much is he willing to take me for real, and explained I was visiting a friend of mine (even though I’d never met Samer before). He lowered the price down to 10 dinars for the „beautiful lady” but we continued discussion ending up on 5 dinars, which was a price locals are being offered. I got on the car and the conversation started. Curious driver was asking me about everything. So there I went with my story about traveling the Middle East, visiting Israel, Palestine and Jordan, but never mentioning I’m alone. „I’m visiting my friend, but I need to call him so he could pick me up from the gas station”, I continued. The taxi driver started rummaging in his pocked – it looked like he was searching for something. A moment later he gave me his phone. „Give me your friends number”, he says with his Arab accent. I entered it precisely, digit by digit, and gave him the mobile back. He called him and precisely explained where we were and for the goodbye offered me a „free ride to Jericho” the next day. I smiled, kindly refused and left the car. One minute later Samer picked me up.
Couchsurfing among olive trees
Samer is a young guy, more or less my age, with black hair, super charming smile and extraordinary sense of humor. The last aspect is probably what makes us get along so well even now, after my trip is over. If you’re asking yourself now if I really couchsurfed in Palestine, the answer is YES, I DID! Together we had a walk direction his house, passing by houses of his other family members on the way. Apparently, all his relatives lived nearby. „This house was bombed some time ago. Nothing was left”, he says. „My uncle and his wife live here. Luckily they were all at our place when it happened and no one got hurt. But the house was gone”. I could see it was freshly build. Hundred meters farther we turned left, went through a tiny metal gate and ended up in a green garden full of olive trees. In the middle of the garden there was a white-painted building with a wooden bower. When we went in, a young boy came to us and introduced himself as Samer’s brother – not a twin, but they have birthday on the same date. Do you know this feeling you experience when you’re super comfortable with something and you get along with people you’ve just met? This is how I felt at their house.
They both knew I was starving after a long travel, so the first thing they offered me after I had refreshed was food. And believe me or not but Arab food is simply among one of the best in the world! Samer’s brother opened a huge pot and carefully poured a greenish liquid into my bowl. At first, it didn’t look tasty at all. „Am I really suppose to eat it?”, I thought to myself looking at the grass-alike thing waiting in front of me to be consumed, but as soon as I tried, I realized it was simply delicious!!! Is there anyone who can cook a Mulukhiya for me, please?
Couple of hours later Samers mum got back home and invited me to try another Arab specialty – a kind of dolma – rice and minced meat wrapped up in wine leaves eaten with a sour cream. We have something similar in Polish cuisine, but this one is extraordinary.
I spent 3 days in Beit Jala staying with Samer’s family, later meeting his sister and a lovely father who embroidered a purse with Palestinian pattern especially for me, as a gift. On the day two in the evening we had a walk to the home broker because Samer was helping one Canadian girl with finding accommodation in this area, so I had a chance to see the wall. Endless is the wall itself and unbelievably sad is the view. You can read everything what’s written on it and the most surprising is those are mostly slogans relating to freedom, not hate.
The history of Israeli-Palestinian conflict is long and the situation isn’t getting any better recently.
Sleeping on the hills of Bethlehem and fresh figs in the morning
On the day two we decided to spend a night in a tent on the hills of Bethlehem. After a walking tour in the neighborhood, we got back home, ate something quickly and took some blankets in a rush, because there was already Samer’s uncle waiting outside with car to take us up to the hill. I was honestly worried I might not survive that ride! If you know how Arabs drive, you can probably imagine what I mean 🙂
There was a nice bio restaurant on top of the hill – that was where we took a sit to enjoy sun going down and later an impressively starry sky. The fire place outside was on and our conversation seemed to be endless.
4 hours and 3 beers later we left the restaurant aiming to finally pitch our tent. Finding a place was tricky, you have to believe me! Bushes and super high everywhere together with steep slopes didn’t ease it at all. Finally, we managed to find a derelict bungalow with no roof and some kind of a concrete terrace which we decided to choose as our place to pitch. With one of the most stunning night views and definitely the coolest/weirdest/wildest place I’ve ever slept at has that night ended. We opened a bottle of Palestinian alcohol and listened to the music until our phones got totally off and there was only conversation left.
Morning brought another nice surprise – fresh figs!!! I’d never eaten them fresh before and had always been buying those dried ones they sell in the supermarkets. Now I can say, with no doubts, I love how they taste 🙂
9 reasons for you to visit Palestine at least once in your life
#1 To realize it’s not how they show it on the TV
#2 To understand what this whole Israeli-Palestinian conflict is about
#3 To get to know the history
#4 To start appreciating what you have in life and your opportunities to travel (most Palestinians never left and will never leave their land because of visa and passport issues)
#5 To swim in a Dead Sea at least for a while
#6 To meet such a warm and hospitable people like I did
#7 To try some amazing food
#8 To see Bethlehem, a place where Jesus is believed to was born (doesn’t matter if you believe)
#9 To see something more than only what’s recommended by top guide books