Goodbye Pinky, hello Jerusalem

When I was researching car rentals for Jerusalem, I read that most of the big agencies (Hertz, Eurocar, etc.) don’t want renters to go into the West Bank. This was disappointing. That huge, roughly oval chunk of territory is the focus of so much of the tension that coils around Israel today we wanted to drive through it (plus the path from Nazareth to Jerusalem runs almost due south, down the eastern border). Fortunately, one of my guidebooks extolled an Israeli company, Eldan, that permitted it, and sure enough, when we got our little Fiat (which we soon affectionately dubbed “Pinky”) in Tel Aviv and asked the super-helpful (Israeli) manager which route he recommended between the two cities, he said the best way was to take Highway 90 south along the Jordan River. We asked him if we would have anything to be scared of, should we go that way, and he said not at all; he drove it himself all the time. So when we left Nazareth Thursday afternoon, that’s where we headed.

We didn’t leave until almost 2:45 p.m. because we had such an amazing time in Nazareth — so amazing I’ll have to save it to write about on the plane home. But folks said it was a two-hour drive, and we didn’t actually have to return the car until 9 a.m. on Friday, so we felt relaxed, and the road condition — well-surfaced and with only no traffic — did nothing to disturb our jolly mood. The road blocks and walls and barriers that separate the Palestinian Authority territory from that of Israel are infamous, but the one on the 90 south of Beit She’An was trivial — less imposing than a California ag-inspection stop and not even manned (except by an automated camera). Then we were driving through lovely, almost deserted rolling hills that grew increasingly golden in the late-afternoon sun.

We admired the green band of the river valley and made good time, passing turn-offs for Jericho and then the Dead Sea. Soon we were climbing west on Highway 1 through the winding turns that lead to greater Jerusalem, and at the checkpoint leading back into Israeli territory, we sneered at how ridiculously easy it was to cross (compared to the one between San Diego and Tijuana). We had hit some traffic leaving Nazareth and in Afula, but we felt certain we would reach our hostel in the city (where we planned to drop off our suitcases before turning the car in) well before dark.

Things got ugly when we were getting close to the turn-off onto Highway 60, which looked like it would take us quite close to the hostel. Traffic clotted and we crept and then barely crawled along, but the rush-hour traffic of Jerusalem is notorious, and we figured we were getting a taste of it. Finally we could see the on-ramp up ahead. At the intersection just before it, however, a glowering policeman was forcing everyone to turn away from it. We speculated there must be a terrible accident. I was tracking our progress on Google Maps on my phone, and I figured if we made our way north, we could get on the 60 at the next entrance up. Again the traffic was nightmarish, but after an eternity, we seemed to be approaching a bus station or other transportation complex; the barely moving lanes of cars stretched ahead of us as far as we could see. Then off to our left in the distance we spotted a crush of people. Demonstrators! It was a political demonstration, precisely the sort of thing you’re supposed to avoid in political hotspots. Yet we were stuck! Amused, we watched the driver in front of us urge his car over a curb so he could get on the 60 going north (away from downtown). It seemed a fairly outrageous move. But as we inched forward into where he had been and then sat… and sat… and sat, unmoving, it began to seem more sensible. Ahead in the distance, we could make out more people running toward the demonstration. I yelled at Steve to go over the curb and follow our fellow driver. “This thing won’t make it,” he snarled. “Try it,” I urged, and he did. He was right; the rear wheels didn’t want to climb up over the curb. But when I got out and pushed, Pinky rocked forward, and we were free.

The adventure didn’t exactly end there. Steve was quite dashing, executing a tricky illegal move to actually get us on the highway, and then I (and Google maps) did some heavy-duty navigation to thread our way to the hotel through the incredible spaghetti-tangle of Jerusalem thoroughfares. We made some wrong moves but finally limped up to the Abraham Hostel around 7.

We were too whipped to try to return Pinky then, but instead parked her near the hotel for 25 shekels (about $4.50). Friday morning we rose early to drop her off at the Eldan parking lot, which looked like it would be about 5 minutes away. Once again we were thwarted — this time by a massive bike race which just happened to close the streets around the shopping center containing Eldan’s parking garage. But we parked and strolled to the walls of the Old City and waited for the cyclists to clear out. We found no attendant in the garage (where we’d been promised that one would await us), but we parked Pinky and left the keys in her. (You have to input a code to start any rental car, so we figured probably no one would steal her.)

As soon as we got back to the hotel, I checked the news to see what the demonstration had been all about. Certainly this was the sort of disturbance that would fill the front pages of any US city. All I found was a brief story indicating that it hadn’t been angry Palestinians, but rather Ethiopians protesting police abuse (shades of Ferguson et al!)

Since then, we’ve had two days (Friday and Saturday) so crammed with mind-boggling sights and information that a) I frequently felt my brain was going to explode and b) I did not have one minute to write. I got up at 5:15 to work on this, but now we have to run to breakfast. After that, we’re spending the day driving to one of the tensest cities in all of Israel, Hebron. This time we’ll be on a bus, with a group and a driver. With luck this time the ride will be unremarkable.

2 thoughts on “Goodbye Pinky, hello Jerusalem

  1. Jenny Mudge May 3, 2015 / 1:34 pm

    Good grief! It all sounds mind boggling. What an adventure! You sound like an excellent team.

    Sent from my iPad


  2. Christy Zatkin May 4, 2015 / 12:27 am

    I was visualizing the route you were driving until you got to the traffic jam and off-roading. Wow! Impressive job getting to your hotel.

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