Flying into the hustle and bustle of dusty Amman, we pile into a taxi, hoping for relief from the heat in an air conditioned cab. No luck. We stick to our seats as we make our way toward the King Hussein Bridge – apparently the easiest border crossing from Jordan to Israel. Not being too familiar with our new currency, I tip way too much (about $11AUD) to our driver who beams at me like I have presented him his first child.
Peeling ourselves off the worn leather seats, we begin our mission to cross into Israel. We are escorted by military personnel in fancy uniforms with important looking badges as sand whips our faces and we push on against the hot desert wind. Our bags are snatched from our hands and tossed onto a conveyer belt to be scanned. We are hustled through to the Jordanian departures area where we wait for around 40 minutes for a bus. It is the middle of August. We are standing in the searing sun and have no water or food. Where is this bus? Why is there no shade? I glance around. Children happily play in the dust with sticks, mothers covered from head to toe don’t bat an eyelid at the searing heat, the smell of middle eastern spices floats through the dry air. My stomach growls.
Finally, what I assume is a bus, (it sort of resembles the shape of one and does have four wheels) rattles up in front of us. It groans and sighs as we climb on-board only to not start once we are loaded on. The ‘bus’ more like a trodden on tin can, coughs and splutters for 20 minutes and then with a lurch and a shudder, we are off. We cross a bridge – I assume it is the King Hussein Bridge. It’s nothing fancy. Just a bridge. We are now in no-man’s land. Patiently, we wait, dripping with sweat, another half an hour before we are shuffled through to the Israeli side of the border.
We are filed into single lines and are told to present our passports. Females sit behind the desks wearing the latest trend of bullet proof vests and the men flaunt semi-automatic rifles, casually slung over one shoulder. We slink through the two boom gates to what we think is possibly the exit. Nope. Not yet. We join yet another line for more waiting where we witness the most shocking customs clearance I have ever experienced. We are marched into another queue and line up again in the 40c heat with hundreds of people pushing and shoving each other. People’s sweat flings us across the face, we are squashed into sweaty armpits and against slimy, damp bodies as we try to keep our balance. Our luggage is roughly snatched off us and screened yet again. We loiter awkwardly waiting for our luggage to be returned. We are suddenly yelled at in a foreign language – not yet sure if it’s Hebrew or Arabic and we are jostled into another room. “What about our bags?” I try to say. I am ignored and shoved forwards. Bye bye bags. Thank god for travel insurance I think to myself. We have now reached a hand luggage screening area which is surprisingly quick and efficient. We enter another room with no air conditioning. The air is heavy and damp and musty. This cramped room, is filled with at least 1000 people trying to get their passports stamped.
We clearly state to the girl at the desk that we need our Israeli stamp on a separate piece of paper and not in our passports to avoid any problems in the next lot of Middle Eastern countries we are going to be travelling through. And when I say girl, this ‘government official’ looks about 12 years old. She politely smiles and then disappears with our passports. This process takes another 40 mins and we still have no idea where ours bags are.
Battling jetlag, dehydration and fatigue, we drag ourselves into a room the size of a primary school hall. The floor littered with luggage. Bags are tossed from a nearby door straight onto the floor. No worries. It takes us a good 20 minutes of stepping over backpacks, dodging flying luggage and hurdling suitcases before we find our backpacks.
About to die of starvation and heat exhaustion, we spot a convenience store and grab a quick sugar fix from a familiar Snickers bar. Elbowing our way through the crowds, we manage to pre pay for tickets in a shared taxi and we are finally on our way to Jerusalem.
We hit the road. There is nothing to see. No sign of life let alone a shrub. Just white, rocky and dusty. Lunar like.
Every now and then we pass a camel or donkey, even a crooked shanty town with family’s living under tents and bits of broken wood.
We fly over a steep hill and then right before us is the most beautiful city. The outskirts lined with flat roofed mansions and old sandstone walls embrace the old town.
We walk through the vibrant David Markets which are bursting with colourful cushions, carpets, leather Jesus shoes. We reach our accommodation and begin our hike up never-ending stairs until we are at the summit. The rooftop. We have a simple mattress on the rooftop and the most spectacular panoramic view of Jerusalem. The Gold Dome is right in front of us, minarets pierce the skyline and the call of prayer welcomes us as it rings through the ancient city.
We wander through the Jewish Quarter. Men with their kippahs pinned to their heads and miniature cowboy type hats with their long perfectly curled sideburns bouncing as they wander past. We have finally arrived in Jerusalem and it is beautiful. The nightmare of the border crossing is behind us. The city before us yearns and begs for us to search and uncover its secrets. This historically rich and culturally fascinating city, tugs at our hearts to explore. It’s time to discover how beautiful this city really is.
This category of tours involves light trekking, walking, cycling, rafting or kayaking for a few hours each day with a small amount of inclines and declines. You will require a reasonable level of fitness and good health to participate. It is important to note that due to the nature of some of our trips, they may take place in remote areas (with basic facilities) and can involve long travelling days on various modes of transport.
Suggested preparation : At least 3 months prior to departure, it is recommended that you undertake aerobic exercise (this may include jogging, cycling or fast walking) for 30 minutes, three times a week. It is also advised to walk on variable terrain and in variable weather conditions. For a cycling adventure, road cycling twice a week is recommended and for adventures which involve paddling and kayaking, it is important to gain confidence and rhythm rather than speed prior to departure.
This category of tours involve trekking, kayaking and cycling for period of 6 to 8 hours a day at a fairly consistent pace. Ideal for people looking to slightly increase the heart rate. For our moderately rated tours, you must have a good level of fitness and also be in good health. It is also important to be prepared for variable weather conditions. Altitude may also come into play. This category of tours may involve visiting remote areas where facilities can be quite basic. Accommodation may also involve camping, homestays or basic accommodation where facilities may not be considered of western standards. To enjoy this style of travel, it is suggested for travellers to have a reasonable level of fitness and health, a positive attitude, as well as a fairly active lifestyle. An open mind is also required.
Suggested preparation: At least 3 months prior to departure, it is recommended that you undertake 45mins – 1 hour of aerobic exercise, three to four times a week. Some potential exercises that could be beneficial include hill walking with a backpack on over variable terrain and weather conditions, as well as running and cycling dependent on the activity you plan on undertaking.
This category of tours involves trekking, kayaking, cycling or other adventure activities in remote areas for up to 8 to 10 hours a day. It is important to note that with the remoteness of some regions comes a variety of other challenges such as variable weather conditions, accommodation as well as facilities. You must have an excellent level of fitness and good health to be able to partake in this category of tour. You must have confidence in your own ability and be in good physical condition. Includes extended periods of endurance.
Suggested preparation: At least 3 to 4 months of strenuous exercise, four times a week. When preparing for treks it would be beneficial to participate in hill walks with a weighted day pack (approximately 5-8 kg) once a week for aerobic fitness and strengthening of leg muscles. It is also important to do this on variable terrain to prepare for challenging adventures. When preparing for cycling adventures, regular bike riding (at least 4 to 5 times a week for 1-4 hours is essential). It is also important to cycle on uneven surfaces or even participate in other aerobic exercises such as running or swimming to build up strength and stamina. Altitude may also be a factor in these tours.
This category of tour often involves extreme trekking, cycling or other extreme adventure activities. It is important to expect remote and poorly defined tracks and to be prepared for variable weather conditions for 10 to 12 hours per day (may sometimes be more depending on weather and altitude). These adventures are suitable for travellers who have prior experience in strenuous travel and activities, are extremely fit and have excellent health. It is also important to note that some of the terrain on these adventures will involve trekking in snow, at high attitude levels and may require technical equipment.
Suggested preparation: It is important to note that physical fitness should be an ongoing activity, commencing around 5-6 months prior to departure, or even before if you have no prior fitness. Exercise should focus on building maximum endurance and stamina. Four to five hard sessions of 40-60 mins per week should be completed and can include exercises such as going to the gym, running, swimming or cycling to focus on building aerobic stamina. It could also be beneficial to prepare by hiking on rough terrain, in extreme weather conditions or partake in altitude training.