Israel, the contrast.

by seanyoneill

It’s not too often that anyone crosses the Jordan/Israel land border by bike which made things a little more complicated for me, I suspected as much. Jordanian military wouldn’t let me through until the Israeli side were notified and I was given the green light. How do you ease the tension in a tense situation? In my experience having a bird shit on you while being quizzed by Israeli border security worked a charm, never thought of it as good luck until then. Israel is as you’d expect quite different than Jordan, first impressions were people were not as friendly and things cost twice as much. I crossed into a town called Eilat and had originally planned to ride up to Jerusalem but due to the delay with my bike I needed to condense the route. So I hopped on a bus (didn’t hop) and headed to Haifa in the very north. The revised plan is a shorter ride to Jerusalem from Haifa, through Palestine/West Bank.

Don’t I look happy to see the Baha’i gardens in Haifa.
Pretty sweet beaches and bike lanes in Haifa

I camped in an actual campground just outside Haifa, turns out the Israelis quite fancy a bit of camping. While scouring the area for a good spot to set up the tent I crossed paths with a pretty large black snake and a few lizards, the locals. Next morning I headed off to Jerusalem, the shortest road would take me through the West Bank, from speaking to locals I figured it was safe enough. Riding through Palestine is a pretty surreal experience, there are large fences either side of the road to protect vehicles (and me) from possibly being attacked. You hear about this region so much in the media but when you’re slap bang in the middle of it, hard to explain but personally I felt pretty safe. Every now and then there are little reminders of where you are. There are checkpoints entering and exiting but on the bike all I got was prolonged stares followed by a gesture ushering me through.

A not too subtle warning

Jerusalem is an utterly fascinating city. Where do I start, firstly here’s another solid tip, don’t do what Sean did and rock up on a Saturday, everything is closed.. everything! It’s like rural Ireland on a Sunday in the 80s. I did get to see the old city, you have to cross through towering gates to gain entry. Awaiting you on the other side is a vibrant, bustling bazaar full of mostly Palestinian vendors, not to mention some monumental religious landmarks of serious significance. With Jewish, Muslim and Christian sacred sites so close together comes an odd mix of pilgrims trudging through every corner, snapping photos of every square inch. My religious days are long since gone but it’s easy to get caught up in the history of the place.

Temple Mount at the craic of dawn
Entering Jerusalem
The western wall (wailing wall)
Damascus Gate to the Old City

Next up was the final leg of my journey, 70 or so kilometers to Tel Aviv back through Palestine. Depending on where you get your news from you may believe there’s a danger from Palestinians when if you travel through the West Bank. In my case that danger came in the form of an Israeli driver, who prematurely ended my journey by colliding with my bike and sending me flying through the air, 2 days before an airplane was scheduled to do the same thing. Lucky to walk away with a few cuts and scrapes, he transported me and my broken bike to the next Israeli town outside Palestine, one of the more awkward car rides I’ve had. Onwards and upwards to Tel Aviv.

The aftermath

I spent the next two days in bike-less. Comparing the two cities is like apples and oranges. they feel worlds apart. Jerusalem is conservative, sacred, religious and historic. Tel Aviv is vibrant, modern and liberal, full of hipsters, expensive coffee and bike lanes. All in all Israel was an intriguing experience, if I wasn’t deprived of 5 days due to the delayed arrival of my bike I would have seen more of this alluring country. I feel very privileged to have traversed this part of the world the way that I did, I’d been seduced by the history for many years and have always wanted to experience it. Thanks for reading along!