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Family Trip: 4 Countries in 10 Days

June 23, 2010

The trip started with me going to Jerusalem to pick up my parents and sister, Teri, by the Damascus gate after they flew into Ben Gurion in Tel Aviv. I was sooo excited to see them! We went straight to Ramallah because they had a lot of bags. I showed them my apartment then we went to Pronto -an italian restuarant in Ramallah- and they met some of my friends.

The next day I had my appointment at the Ministry of Interior -also known as hell on earth-. I had a letter from PMRS Jerusalem counterpart, MRS, saying I was a research volunteer there and they should give me a work/volunteer visa for 6 mos. The lady I got was a total bitch, typical Israeli, and yelled at my family for standing to close to us as I was explaining everything. Ughh…Anyways, I was missing a crucial document that I didnt know I needed so I escaped from her and made a new appointment, which is a de facto visa extension…so I have a new appointment on the 6th of July–which will hopefully help me get back in the country when my sister and I cross Taba border on the 2oth.

Then we had lunch in West Jerusalem and headed back to have dinner with Jaber and his family in Bilin. Jabers mom made a huge pot of stuffed grapeleaves, kussa -stuffed squash or something similar, chicken, and soup. We were all too full to move by the end of the dinner but it was amaaaazing food. My family loved Jabers family and we all had a great evening as Israeli apache helicopters flew by doing some sort of military practice in the area, hahaha.

The next day we did the Old City in Jerusalem. We started at the Austrian Hospice, a really nice old mansion where pilgrims can stay and tourists are allowed to go up on the roof for a great view of the Old City. Then we walked around and saw Al Aqsa/Dome of the Rock, the Western Wall and the Church of the Holy Sepulchar. Afterwards we went to Gethesemene and the Mt of Olives before going home to Ramallah.

In the morning, we drove to Jericho and saw the Monastery there, then tried to go to Bethlehem, but the soldiers at the notorious -container- checkpoint wouldnt let us through -because of our yellow plated car-. Meanwhile, yellow plated cars are driving in and out of this checkpoint. So I argued with the soldiers for a while but in the end they wouldnt let us through, of course without giving any kind of logical explanation.

So I had to drive all the way back through Izarriya and Abu Dees basically to Ramallah to go through Jerusalem. Of course, the traffic in Jerusalem was terrible and we ended up driving in circles for a while trying to figure out how to get to Bethlehem. I tried to drive through the Silwan neighborhood -one of the Palestinian neighborhoods facing evictions- and after a while we stopped to ask someone who looked like Jesus ironically, where Bethlehem was, and he showed us the -way-…hahaha.

So finally we were on the road to Bethlehem, went through that checkpoint for the first time–realllllly really strict checkpoint between Jerusalem and Bethlehem where you have to get out of the car and do the spin move, open the trunk, etc…so that was interesting. Went to the Church of the Nativity there then did some souvenier shopping and had some icecream.

I was planning to take my family to see Hebron and the crazy settlers but because of the soldiers at the container checkpoint we didnt have enough time to get to Hebron. We went back to Ramallah and some friends of mine, Wajdi, Frida, and roommates made Mansaf for me and my family. So we had a nice big meal, some wine and good conversation before going to bed.

The next day we started our Northern Israel roadtrip. We took Frida with us and drove out the Nilin checkpoint and up to Megiddo -Armageddon-. Saw the ruins and had a lovely time there, haha. Then we drove on to Lake Tiberious and had lunch on the sea. Drove past the Mt of Beautitudes, then up to the Lebanese border, then over to the Golan.

We stopped at Lake Ram, this really beautiful lake surrounded by mountains. Then went to Majdal Shams– a druze village in the Golan. We stopped there and walked around and did some shopping and had coffee. Saw the -Shouting Hill- where Syrian druze living on the Israeli side can shout to their families on the Syrian side since they cant ever meet in person. So terrible…

We drove on the dark and curvy Golan roads surrounded by signs saying -Danger Landmines- back to Tiberius. It was such a dark road…but luckily an ambulance turned in front of me and I followed him all the way back to lighted streets. My parents said it was another -angel type character- like the Jesus guy from Silwan. Haha…we had all been in the car for too long by that point!

We made it back to Nazareth in time for bed. Got up in the morning and did some sightseeing, saw the Church of the Annunciation and the Old Market. Then we drove up to Akko and had lunch on the sea. We went swimming for a while, watched the Arab guys jump off the high crusader walls into the sea.

Then we drove to Haifa and saw the Bahai gardens and the amazing almost 36o view of the ocean from the top. Next we drove back to Tel Aviv and had coffee and lunch on the ocean front.

We drove back through the Nilin checkpoint and stopped by the wall in Bilin where the demos take place so my parents could see where it happens since we got to Bilin after dark the last time we were there. While we were looking around we noticed that lots of the olive tree fields were black from being set on fire by the teargas canisters earlier that day during the demo.

We saw on olive tree on fire and my dad and sister tried to go put it out but it was hours too late and we decided to go before people thought we were settlers setting more trees on fire, hahaha. So we drove out of the village and got stuck in a huge traffic jam where a wedding was taking place and a car had stalled on the one lane road. It took like 3o minutes to get through–we were planning to visit Al Amari refugee camp in Ramallah and see some of my friends there but by the time we got back it was too late.

The next day was Saturday, and I freaked out because I planned the trip so intricately that everything had to go according to schedule or else the whole thing would be messed up. I forgot about Shabbat!!!! So the rental car agencies in Jerusalem were closed–and the car I planned to get to drive to Eilat that day so we could get across the border that night into Jordan was unavailable. And of course, no busses were running.

So after a while I figured we could take an evening bus to Eilat, stay there for the night and go across to Aqaba early in the morning instead. So we took the 5 hr bus to Eilat, which was surprisingly pleasant since it was still technically shabbat when we left at 5 it was half empty and very quiet. We saw the MacDonalds in the middle of the Negev desert and took pictures : P

Found a hotel in Eilat and went to sleep. The next morning we crossed the border to Aqaba–the soldier was about to stamp my passport but then something came up on her computer and she read for like 5 minutes with a serious expression on her face. She asked me some questions about what I was doing in -Israel- and I went with the story about MRS in Jerusalem I told the Ministry of Interior and showed her my application for a visa and everything and she stamped my exit visa. Im not sure how its gonna go when I try to get back in…but I expect theyll at least give me a transit visa to take my sister to the airport. Inshallah.

Then we checked into our hotel and left our bags there. Then we rented a car and went to Petra. Walked around there for a few hours, met some bedouin guys who still live in caves there–street one, cave two- hahaha…then we drove to Wadi Rum. We wanted to go have a bedouin dinner in a camp there in the desert but took the wrong road that ended in the sand…so we found some bedouins who took us in a jeep to their camp 12 km in the desert and watched the sunset.

Then cooked dinner over the fire and watched the amazing stars there for a while. We got back to Aqaba that night and went to sleep….then we took a ferry across to Nuweiba. The guys on the ferry recognized me from last time when they took me up to the bridge and showed me how to drive the boat..haha. So they took me and my family to the -VIP- section and took us up to the bridge to see the captain for a few minutes.

Hahaha, it was fun. Then we got to Nuweiba and Sababa and are now relaaaaaxing finally.

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