O blog, I have not deserted you!
We have visitors from the United States now, in the form of my mom and stepdad, who traveled across NINE time zones to be here. They bounced back quickly, though, and within a couple of days we were all heading down to the Dead Sea in two cars (ours and a rental).
The Dead Sea is the lowest place on earth, about 400 meters below sea level. Though the descent from Jerusalem is quite dramatic and there are tiled markers in the cliffs as you travel past (-150 meters, -300 meters, and so on), there are high hills on either side of the Dead Sea, so it just seems like a valley. Supposedly there is more oxygen and better barometric pressure there than elsewhere, but since we were coming from maybe 30 meters above sea level to start, it wasn’t particularly noticeable.
It does, however, seem like a journey to get there. Although the northern tip of it is perhaps a half hour’s drive from Jerusalem, after the city-suburb of Ma’ale Adumim, the road twists and drops and the hills look brown and bare, even after the winter rains. The salty sea shimmers in the distance. Cars with Palestinian license plates appear. There are camels tied up on the side of the road.
This last point really gave my mom pause. “Camels!” she exclaimed a few times. This is the Middle East, and camels are a valid form of transportation for a small segment of the population here, so I didn’t really have the same sort of reaction. Finally we reached the sea and made a right to go towards Ein Gedi, a national park with trails clustered around a spring that tumbles down from hills.
“There’s another camel!” my mom said. Indeed there was, tied up just outside the gas station at the intersection of routes 1 and 90. “I want to take a picture!”
“So pull over,” I said, “here, into the bus stop.”
But instead she made a U-turn. On the highway. With oncoming traffic. Ok, a two-lane highway, but the speed limit (frequently broken) is 80 km/hr, and there was a car coming?
Then she pulled into the gas station parking lot, though the driveway was flanked with the international highway sign for “do not enter” (see photo above). The rest of the family was in our car, driven by Taxman, a minute or two behind. I had instructed him via phone to pull into the gas station, but instead saw him make the same mistake as my mom and pull into the parking lot the wrong way.
Whatever, no big deal, right? It’s 10:30 on a Thursday morning, there’s hardly any traffic, just some tourists who want to gawk at the camels on their way to the Dead Sea.
Then a white sedan pulled up in the parking space to our left. Two men in jeans got out and knocked on my mom’s window, which she lowered.
“Mishtara,” they said, flashing their police credentials. One proceeded to explain (to me, the pathetic excuse for a Hebrew speaker) that failing to heed the do not enter sign is very dangerous. He asked where we’re from and wanted to see my mom’s license.
“We’re from Modi’in,” I explained, “but she’s from the United States.”
“Is this your mother?” (My mom said this was the one thing she understood from the whole conversation, and was proud that I didn’t disown her on the spot.)
The second policeman made some snarky remark about do not enter signs looking the same all over the world, nachon? “She made a mistake,” I said.
Then they went to bawl out Taxman for doing the same thing.
They came back. “We don’t want to interrupt your tiyul,” the first one said, “but this was very dangerous.”
“I understand,” I said, and added, “and I agree. It was a mistake.”
“Ok, well, enjoy the rest of your trip.”
Somehow neither driver got a ticket, my mom got her picture with the camel (which she realized was totally there for the gawking tourists) for 5 shekel, and we got an unplanned bathroom break. A miracle in the desert, truly.
Takeaway irony: Not more than 10 minutes before, my mom had said to me, “I don’t see any police vehicles on the road. Do you think they’re all undercover?” I assured her that I had seen them on the road, and probably she didn’t recognize them because they look, obviously, different than the police vehicles she’s used to. I guess they’re undercover after all.