Ever been to Palestine? No. Want to go? Ok!
I am all for trying new things and will usually say yes or OK to most things. Hence the headline of this blog post is taken from the conversation I had with Scot from T2VC. After seeing a presentation of mine, he saw the value of what I could bring to some of the companies he works with in Palestine. So on the 7th August we set off to Palestine. I was quite happy that I was travelling with Scott on this occasion as I had originally planned to travel the week before on my own. The trip though is perhaps the biggest part of the adventure, as unless you have done it, you can’t really appreciate it. Nevertheless I’ll try to convey what a unique trip this was.
As some of you may know, there is no way to fly directly in Palestine, and you have to go through Israel to get there. With this in mind, a full day was allocated for travel. This meant an early start to catch the 7.30am flight. No problems there, other than the alarm going off at 4am! Costa provided some much needed caffeine and we were on our way. The plane wasn’t particularly full, so a painless flight to Amman airport in Jordan, the first stop on the journey. Stepping off the plane the weather was gorgeous compared to Dubai. In Dubai it’s the height of summer, even at 4am in the morning when I left it was 38 degrees with 70% humidity – yuck! Amman was a balmy 30 degrees with no humidity so it was lovely stepping off the plane. The airport was quiet and we had collected bags and on to the next stage quite quickly. A Taxi ride from airport to the Allenby bridge crossing. I thought it might be strange asking a taxi driver to drop me off at a bridge, but it’s a common destination and one of a limited number of ways to actually get into Palestine. The journey takes about 45 minutes to an hour and we were dropped off outside the border crossing area. Got our bags out of the taxi and walked in to the compound and into a departures area. There doesn’t seem to be much process from here on in, and if I wasn’t with Scott, there is a good chance that I would still be in no mans land between Jordan, Israel and Palestine! Basically as you go into departures, you find a teller window with someone behind it. Don’t worry about other people being there before you, as it’s quite likely they don’t know what is going on or where they are supposed to be. Next you write your name and passport number on a piece of paper, put that bit of paper in your passport, hand it over and wait. 2 mins later, after the guy you gave your passport to, passes it through a hole in the wall to his colleague in the next booth, you get your passport back and get on the bus. And wait………….. There is no actual timetable, and there is a semblance of AC on the bus but it’s getting warmer and you aren’t quite sure when you might get under way. A conductor jumps on, you pay the bus fare, 4.25 per person with 1 bag, you get asked at least 3 times whether you have your passport and 30 mins later we head off across the bridge. Looking out of the window we are surrounded by stunning barren desolate landscape, it really does look like another planet, as the bus trundles along, we come to the first set of border guards playing chess/chequers in the back of the mounted heavy machine gun in the shade, they aren’t interested in us and we carry on.
Then we get to the first proper check point and a border guard gets onto the bus, checking passports and the little bit of paper you put your name and passport number on – So don’t lose it! (noticed. there is a VIP service which whisks you through very quickly. Arrow business services, saw the sign at Jordanian departures and now I know what kind of business services they offer – apparently it’s about $100USD and they will get you through all the checkpoints very quickly in an air conditioned mini bus). Might be worth it, but I am glad I took the bus and saved the $95 difference 🙂
Everything was in order for the first checkpoint and we moved along. The next stop seemed to be an unoffical one, as our bus driver spoke to someone out of the window, started to then drive forwards and then stopped, reversed and parked at the side of the road for about 15 minutes. Then with no direction or anyone seeming to say anything, he drove on through to the Israeli border post.
We were dropped off at the building, picked up our bags from the pavement and then fought our way to the front of the queue to give our bags in and get a sticker. Depending on how things go, this is the last time you will see your bag for anything up to 5 hours! Once the bag is in, join another queue where pilgrims and women will push past you, don’t worry to much about that, just try and stand your ground. At the window you’ll explain what you are doing there and all going well will get another sticker on your passport. (so far aside from baggage handlers, all employees are attractive young women! ) Inside now and make sure all metallics are off, step through the xray machine and into another queue, immigration. Explain what you are doing there again and then go and sit in the naughty corner until another young lady in military uniform comes to ask you some questions about what you are doing and where you are going. I gave the information I had, but apparently as the contact I had given lived in Jerusalem, this was a problem and I needed to give them the details of someone that lived and worked in Rammala! Gave some further names and numbers and hoped for the best! After about 2.5 hours we finally got our passports back and we went through to join another queue to get out. After that, picked up our baggage which was just sat in the middle of the floor with a number of other bags by the carousel, and found our taxi who had been waiting for 2.5 hours. None of the ‘I’ve been waiting so I have to charge you’ rubbish you get in the UK when you book a cab! Just a warm friendly greeting for Scott and a firm friendly handshake for me.
The drive to Rammala takes you through some harsh looking terrain on a road that is in no mans land. No one has claimed it so it just exists. In spite of the harshness of the terrain there were a number of Bedouin settlements dotted around how they live/survive is beyond me. About 45 minutes later after travelling along another unclaimed road, with burning skips dotted alongside ( normal I was told, as it’s no ones road. No one empties the rubbish or things like that) we were dropped in front of a very modern, clean Movenpick hotel. Incidentally it is very surreal driving along a road that has The Wall running right alongside it, dividing the Jews and the Palestinians. It was easy to tell which was which. The Israeli’s limit the water supply so all Palestinian houses have big water butts on the roof!
With it being Ramadan I hadnt eaten anything since breakfast in Costa at 5am that morning and was hungry. So a short trip up the road and we found a small cafe that wad open. Iftar had just been called and the hotel restaurant was packed. A couple more hours work were planned but I think I got to 10.30pm and my eyelids would not stay open. Sleep at last!