It was so hard leaving Jerusalem. I stood at my window in Room 11-Chai and drank in the Old City one last time, memorizing stone on stone as best I could. Even as I write these words, I think the scene in my mind, again.
I felt like I was leaving home when I drove away from the hotel today. I had gotten to know two of the shopkeepers fairly well, plus Odeh the Chief Cashier, and Orit of reception. Since the hotel was nearly empty today (El Al would be ferrying all those UJA people back to the States), I even got to see them with their hair down, playing and horsing around. Fun!
Everything took longer than planned, and the noon departure turned into 1 p.m., finally 2 o’clock when I left. One more glitch with the hotel bill: On Shabbat, someone had charged their Ninth Gate dinner to my room. I told Odeh I had eaten Shabbat lunch, with supper at the Yemenite Step. He believed me (we had been through enough by now), but the manager of the Ninth Gate Restaurant was hot. He came to the front desk to challenge my challenge.
Since no one is allowed to write in public on Shabbat, the bill was not signed. Odd taste, whoever did it. A Greek salad, two screwdrivers, and ice cream. Odeh confided that this is an ongoing problem at the hotel.
Ilan at the front desk showed me how to get from Jerusalem to the Dead Sea. It looked easy enough on the map, but I was so tense driving. I turned where I was supposed to, but saw no signs anywhere directing me to Road One. The map didn’t have street names, and the street signs had no highway designation.
When Haim Bar-Lev Street dead-ended, I U-turned and headed back to the city, sure I had missed the street. I ended up on Shveit Israel, a road that (according to the map) paralleled Road One, but just as it was supposed to intersect it, there was a forced left turn, heading west instead of north. I followed the map, and where I knew I was supposed to turn left onto Road One, I could only see… Haim Bar-Lev. I figured then that that had to be Road One, signs or not.
At the dead-end (this time it didn’t surprise me, I was ready for it!), I turned right, knowing that left would take me back to the city. Suddenly I faced a five- or six-point intersection, and nothing pointed to the Dead Sea.
A gas station occupied one of the points of the intersection, so I decided to ask for directions. Once I’d pulled in, I realized everything was in Arabic. I therefore did not ask any of the men standing around for help, but approached a woman. She was very nice and told me to drive half a mile up the road, where I would see soldiers. She assured me they would be able to help. What a relief to see the drab olive-green of uniforms!
The first part of the drive made me nervous, once I realized I was in Palestinian territory. Additionally, it’s the middle of nowhere, with very little traffic. “Desolate” takes on a whole new meaning when a body drives from Jerusalem to the Dead Sea. But the longer I drove, the calmer I became. Soon the barren beauty began to filter into my consciousness and I grew more aware of my surroundings.
I could even be amused when I passed the marker announcing that I had reached sea level. Everything from that point is a geological wonder, descending to the lowest dry point on earth.
It was 4 o’clock before I reached the Ein Gedi kibbutz, so I didn’t have much daylight to explore the grounds. Since Ein Gedi is an oasis in the middle of a wasteland, I’m looking forward to exploring its treasures.
Good supper, good walk after supper – and I even enjoyed stretching out on the very narrow bed and watching the Steelers beat the Jaguars, yesterday’s game. Now if only the silly cricket outside my door would go to sleep!