In September of 2000 I traveled alone to Jerusalem, just prior to the second Intifada. My plan was to stay in The Old City, rent a car and take day excursions throughout Israel and Palestine. I’d read that if I rented from a Palestinian agency I wouldn’t be able to drive freely through Israel. I’d also read that if I rented from an Israeli agency I might have rocks pelted at my car in parts of the West Bank. I decided to rent from an Arab-Israeli company, which seemed fairly neutral.
I stayed in an old Armenian hospital that had been converted into a small hotel, just inside the Damascus Gate. I took day excursions as far south as Masada and as far North as The Golan Heights, stopping everywhere in between. Driving was lively and I lost my way on every trip, usually ending up where I’d planned, often where I didn’t. At one point on my drive north I took a wrong turn and ended up on a dirt road that bordered Syria. There were yellow triangle signs with writing and exclamation points, but I couldn’t read Hebrew. When I finally realized the magnitude of my error the road was too narrow to turn around, and I didn’t want to drive off of it for fear of land mines. I drove in reverse for about a mile. When I made it back onto the highway I was stopped by a military vehicle and told that I needed to leave the area immediately, with which I earnestly agreed. Upon returning to Jerusalem and parking my car I wandered through the Old City and lost my way again, only this time on foot. The only tourists who seemed more lost than I were the endless lines of Christian cross-bearing pilgrims, following what they believed to be the route that Jesus had walked to Golgotha. The correct route I had been told was actually through the butchers market on the other side of the city.
I’m not religious and can’t explain why I chose this specific destination. I wasn’t looking for anything in particular, just fascinated by the region itself, and the extreme and seemingly surreal intensity that surrounds it. What I did find was that profound experience while traveling alone is still profound, but can also be lonely. I honestly thought it would be good for me to go away and miss my family. In the end it was and I did. On my next adventure however, I brought them along.