Thursday, November 10, 2011

Backpacking the Dead Sea and Judean Desert

Lately I have experiences random acts of kindness from the most random set of strangers. Whether it was trying to find a cab during the holiday rush last weekend, or hiking through a mountain valley and being invited to stay in a Bedouin's camp, the kindness off strangers here has helped me out so many times. Just wanted to share that before I start on my holiday adventure.

I guess I'll begin with the Eid. Its the biggest holiday here, a little like Christmas, especially in the shopping rush capacity. We just stayed in Nablus for Eid, and then on Monday made the decision to travel. Me, my two housemates Amy and Lindsey set out to meet up with fellow teacher from Australia Ella, her friend from home Patrick, and another teacher Tim. We later decided on the title : the Intrepid 6...or the dirty half dozen. Who needs a set label anyway? I got to be the translator,as I was the only one with a background of Arabic. I enjoyed being the one who had to talk to people and ask questions. The best was when we needed to figure something out and I was able to translate from Arabic to English and figure it out. Not that I am anywhere near fluent, but I guess I know enough to get the point across.

We set off from Nablus for the Dead Sea. We had heard of a place where you could pay to camp on their property along the coast (I wouldn't say beach because its all mud). So we got ourselves there just in time for sunset. It was beautiful! Me and Lindsey got some volleyball in with a couple people spending the day there. We were one of only a few groups spending the night. After the sun set (at like 5 pm) we had a whole night and not a whole lot to do so we chatted and then did the inevitable: go swimming at night in the Dead Sea!!! We got some cuts and bruises from not being able to see the rocks too well, but it was totally worth it! There were definitely some quirks to the place: like playing awful US pop music until late at night and then starting it up again at 730 am (I never want to wake up to Bad Romance or any Lady gaga for that matter ever again). I actually didnt end up in the tent with the group. Long story short, the night manager talked to me until 2 in the morning and then gave me a little hut with a sleeping bag and pillow. I came to find out I got the best night sleep of the group.

Before I continue I have to say one of the best aspects of the trip was the group: we ha d a great dynamic, traveled so well together, and didn't once have a guide taking us around or a program manager holding our hands. We did the whole thing spur of the moment on our own terms. It was fantastic.

The next morning we set off early for Jericho. There we had a delicious and much needed breakfast feast of hummus, foul, falafel, salad and most importantly Nescafe. We picked up some food and LOTS of water and then headed off for Wadi Quelt, which is basically a gorge/ valley running through the Judean Desert. We started at the St. George's Monastery right outside Jericho. The monastery is built into the mountain, and is quite a sight. Then we trekked on through the wadi. Apparently a lot of people hike up on the top along the old Roman aqueduct (which we did for a little on the second day), but we went on through the rocky gorge. It  was challenging but so worth it. We got to do a little rock climbing up the side of the gorge (we left our gear at the bottom) to check out some greenery growing in the rocks. I think in the spring there will be a little basin there, but coming out of the summer it was pretty dry. We hiked for several hours encountering a few rocky obstacles that we had to climb with our packs, which made the adventure all the more thrilling. We had a great group and made lighthearted jokes along the way. We even busted into "hit me baby one more time" at one point. Interestingly enough Patrick knew it better than the rest of us. The hike was incredible. I've never been anywhere more breathtaking, or done anything more spontaneous and adventurous. I'm afraid now that I've got a taste I won't ever be able to get enough!

As the sun started to set, we began looking for places to pitch a tent for the night. As we were looking we cam upon a little Bedouin camp (Bedouin=an Arab ethnic group known for living in deserts and the like and often being of a nomadic nature). His name was Mohamed, and he invited us in for some incredible and much needed tea. He lives there seasonally shepherding goats and sheep, while his family lives in Jericho. I think quite a bit of backpackers end up at his place and I think he likes the company.Then he offered to let us stay the night at his camp. We decided since he had some mats and a bigger tent that we might as well. We hiked up a pretty vertically mountain, or mount rather and watched the sun go over the mountains. It was an incredible view as we could see the Judean Desert mounts, the Jordan valley and we could even see the lights of Amman, Jordan! It was an incredible view after an intense sprint up.

We ate the food we had brought and watched a little bit of a movie and fell asleep. Thank God we were in Mohamed's tent with his blankets and mats because we were FREEEEEZING with all that. Had we been in a tent on our own with 2 sleeping bags to share for all of us, we would have been in serious trouble (aka we would have gotten up and kept walking). So after 2 nights bad sleep we got up, had some of the food we had left, and set of for a shorter hike to a spring. This time we hiked along the aqueduct. There was one point we had to walk through the aqueduct because it bridged two mounts and it would have taken longer to walk around or down and up. It was quite refreshing actually, even though my boots were wet for the rest of the day. The spring was gorgeous although previous travelers had left some bottles behind which really took away from the scenery. We chilled there for a while and talked to some other travelers that arrived after us (they had just come down from where we were about to exit the gorge). We then made the strenuous but not long trek out of the gorge to the main road. It was quite a view: we were able to see the whole wadi curve out to the Jordan Valley (where we had come from the day before). We drank some water, had some fruit and set off for Ramallah and then Nablus. We had met an advertising exec and his mechanical engineer friend who works for a company opening a reusable bag factory to help reduce the use of plastic bags here (which is a seriousssss problem here!) who offered to help us out with rides. They took us to Ramallah and then Nablus, which was really nice of them.

It was a totally exhausting trip, but soooo worth it! I had an amazing time with great friends, met a random group of really awesome strangers, and saw some of the most beautiful landscapes in the world. I am so blessed!

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