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Travel – I am in Jerusalem. Today is 12/10-11/09

Wake at 7am – to find El Al emailed me my boarding pass. I thought that was cool. Shave, get dressed, double check packing and weigh my bags against carry on weight limits.

Jack an I head out in the FJ stopping first at Wells Fargo to take care of my credit card payment….

We drive onto the 73 toll road and cut into the 405 – traffic is a breeze and we make it to LAX in under an hour. Driving through LAX though is quite a bit slower.

At the airport entrance we are pulled over by security and questioned, apparently because Jack has a chrome skull and crossbones on his black on black FJ… that we are both wearing beanies doesn’t help –  we tripped suspicions.

In Bradley International I notice the SWAT security (in light blue no less)  around El Al ticket counter area. Automatic weapons with multiple clip holsters belted to their thighs, and spare clips are taped onto the rifles, there are canines too. (I am told that some one recently shot up that El Al ticket counter and SWAT is there now for every El Al flight). Yes, I attempt to take a photo… but do not. I am asked enough questions by security as it is.

Takes an hour to get through the carry on security line. I am pulled overbuy TSA for a search, as usual – the camera gear always gets me at the x-ray machine.

An hour of waiting and we are bussed to the plane. This is unusual. Security in white police cars follows our bus to the plane which sits in isolation on a tarmac.

Flight is delayed due to minor electrical problem.

It is a fairly full flight but there is an empty seat between me and Irit, my travel companion for this flight. She is a bit nervous although she has been to the states two other times and knows how long this flight is, still, she keeps asking every 20 minutes or so, “how much longer”…. at one point it becomes a joke between us. I think I am the only one on the plane who does not speak Hebrew.

Talk about food: El Al fed us a lot – a snack – two hot meals – all you could eat sandwiches and drinks in a help yourself arrangement in between meals. And people asked for double meals, and got them! I don’t see that too often. And never on domestic flights.

Each seat has its own entertainment screen with TV and movies and songs, and games and stuff to keep us occupied. People are all over the plane in groups socializing – especially in the very back of the plane.

At dawn there is a group of Israeli Jews in the back of the plane with Torahs, prayer shawls, yarmulkes and phylacteries praying as if they are at the wailing wall… (it seems) and I was tempted again to pull out the camera but was too tired to open the overhead and dig it out.

Long flight – over 14 hours.

Arriving in Ben Gurrion, Tel Aviv, the passport check lady questions where I am staying, saying, “Jeffrey, it is the ‘hiv’ of Jerusalem…” ) urging me to reconsider. Apparently  am in Palestinian part of the city at the Mount of Olives area. Jerusalem is split in half – one side housing the palestinians. Apparently, the convent I am staying at is in that area.

Well, that can be problematic from the way she is making it sound.

Took a sherut (group taxi) to Jerusalem stopping at different drop off hotels and homes of the other occupants… but ME – the driver did not know where the Sisters Bridgettine convent was and did not appear to want to drive me through the Mount of Olives area – and so I was dropped  off at a Palestinian buss/ shuttle / taxi area to find the #35 bus to Mount of Olives. Well- that was not working out. One bus driver told me to catch another and then another until I found my self by a taxi stand….. they wanted to charge me 150 shekels – too much (I ended up paying him 15 dollars in USD – and what a ride it would turn out to be… only in a movie!!!).

It started when he could not get his taxi out into the street because he was blocked by other cars in a lot, and there was a 10 minute yelling/arguing match between him and others to clear a space – when we had a space he got in and said, “Welcome to Jerusalem”. My Palestinian taxi driver took me all over (not as a tour, but because he couldn’t find the convent) and I got a first hand look at the impoverished Palestinian area at the base of, and scattered throughout, the Mount of Olives including section outside the old City Walls facing the Mount of Olives – and it was night too – so I was getting a very rich nightlife visual. VERY loud and the traffic was “make up your own rules and drive at your own risk”…  NY has nothing on what I just experienced.

After a while of driving in some areas where I wondered if I was going to get rolled, the driver confessed that he did not know where the place was either. But my being from California was a plus as he wanted to show off his stereo – so I can’t hear him and he can’t hear me as I am trying to get him to call the number for the Guest House for the directions, and the sub woofer makes me think I am driving East LA but with blaring Palestinian disco prayer music…..and Michael (Mohamed) half blocking the street, pulls over and stops to ask Ben (a taxi driver driving a shuttle van in the opposite direction) [who's mother is American (San Francisco) and Father is Palestinian (Jerusalem) and who has lived in Florida, and has a 18 wheeler license in the State of Florida, by the way]…..for directions.

Ben gives me his business card to take me around Jerusalem when ever I need it – though he never answers my question of ‘how much?’, and Michael, as it turns out, is given the the wrong directions.

After driving ever so slowly down a rocky hill in a taxi over off road terrain, we eventually end up at a wrong convent (by directions from another place Michael stopped in to ask) . The sister there comes out to meet us at the buzzer intercom of the convent gate, and tells him where the right one is, and tells me not to pay him more than 30 shekels, and telling him to be honest….

More off roading…. and finally arrive at the Bridgettine Sisters Guest House. I thank Michael, he tells me Ben is a good man.

I go check in (it is a long walk from the gate. All I am thinking is that this may work for some nearby churches but little else as it is remote and a fairly good trek up hill to return. It turns out I am also the only one staying here (and the heater in my room does not work and my fingers are currently chilled). But I am tired – one thing for sure – I would not have journeyed into this area … but since I am here, I am going to go document it.

But for now, I am going to sleep.

But I am too tired to worry about it and will sleep in tomorrow – eventually walking the territory with a single camera and maybe two lenses in my sling (if it is not raining as predicted).

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  1. Posted December 11, 2009 at 10:45 pm | Permalink

    I’ve experienced driving like that in India and Peru… your story is crazy.

    Keep your head down out there… I’ll be praying for your safety as you move about in the area where you’re staying. Glad you’re getting some rest. Looking forward to where you’ll find the transcendent peeping through amidst all that.

  2. Posted December 13, 2009 at 12:09 am | Permalink

    Dale – I am finding it!!!!

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