Biking 2016 - Palestine/Jordan - Day 1

 - by Fred Schlomka -

13th June
Jerusalem — Almog Junction -  En Gedi

I spent the night of the 12th at a friend’s house and awoke at 3am to begin the trip. I drove through almost empty streets and passed through the Mount Scopus Tunnel into the Judean Desert. The ridge opposite was alive with lights as the ever growing tendrils of the Ma’ale Adumin settlement continues to eat into the desert and the lands of the Jahalin Bedouin.

After the obligatory stop at Sea Level, I descend to the Jordan Valley and park the car at the Almog Junction gas station. As I unload the bike and pack the gear I wonder about leaving the car for two weeks in the parking lot. Well, too late to worry now.

I pedal off to the east as a soft glow starts to spread over the tops of the hills opposite, across the Dead Sea. Then south on route 90 with the sea not far away. The bike is like a Christmas tree with blinking lights atop the flagpole and dual front headlights. Together with the billowing white flag I am determined that the night time traffic will see me from a couple of kilometres away. It is a good move. The few cars and trucks are giving me a wide berth.

It’s cool with a light breeze. Great weather for biking. The first part of the day is quite flat. I stop for breakfast near Qumran, the discovery site of the Dead Sea Scrolls. Sunrise is quietly serene as the golden arc rises over the hills. It gets hotter.

I stop and make breakfast - fruit salad and home-made granola. Yum. I get back on the bike. It’s just 8am and it gets hotter. I pass the checkpoint back into Israel. There’s one huge hill. It’s a big one. Pushing again. Reminds me of Turkey. By the time I roll into En Gedi I am dripping with sweat. But that’s it. Only 9.30am and I’ve done my 50 kilometres.

I settle into a bench at the shaded plaza in front of the En Gedi Oasis/national park. Free spring water. Clean toilets. a convenience store with cold drinks. It doesn’t get much better than this at the end of a hot bike ride. I change clothes in the restrooms and launder my biking clothes which are sodden with sweat.

I recharge my big battery with the solar panel and settle in to a work session on the Laptop. Lots of tourists coming and going. You can tell the bikers. They eye my rig approvingly, and a few venture over to discuss the finer points of cycle-touring. A couple looked shocked at my footwear. For biking I wear the same simple leather slip-on sandals that I use year round at home.

Jos calls. He’s on the way for our planned meeting. Jos and I are business colleagues. He is fluent in sign language and brings groups of deaf people to Israel and other countries. We are collaborating on Ethiopia tours. He’s currently guiding a deaf couple on a Holyland tour from the USA, and we had planned this meeting while his clients are lounging at the nearby spa.  Jos arrives driven by Rami, a Green Olive driver, and we have a productive meeting.

After they leave I head up to the youth hostel to see if I can camp on their grounds. “Absolutely not” I am informed. They seem surprised by the request. The ‘Youth Hostel’ rooms are priced like a 4-star hotel. Weird. Anyway I’d rather camp so I head down to the ‘closed’ En Gedi beach. Once a thriving tourist destination the beach area has been plagued by ‘sink holes’, the sudden subsidence of large areas of ground due to the lowering of the Dead Sea water - a result of the drying up of the Jordan River.

Who would have thought that 200 kilometres away the residents of Haifa get part of their water from the Sea of Galilee, resulting in almost no water entering the Jordan river, which therefor can no longer replenish the Dead Sea, thereby causing the sink holes, which forced the closure of the beach and its camping facilities, and a minor inconvenience to this cyclist. Such is the social ecology of the region.

The beach resort buildings are derelict with electric and water disconnected. Tufts of grass, weeds, and young trees are sprouting from every crack on the parking lot paving, and poking out of the buildings. It would make a good set for one of those end-of-the-world movies.   One other one camper has staked out a spot. I pitch my tent, cook dinner, then head back over to the Oasis to fill up on the free water. The rock hyraxes are out and about since the tourists have gone for the day. These creatures are kind of like fat rats with friendlier faces and no tails.

I work a little more on the laptop, then as the sun declines, I go back to the campsite, crawl exhausted into the tent, set the alarm for 3.30am, and sleep intermittently since a blustery hot wind builds as the night progresses.

Fred Schlomka is the CEO of the Green Olive Collective. He spends months adventuring on the road with his bicycle each year, while managing the organisation via phone and laptop. If you are interested in joining Fred on one of his adventures, please contact him through this link.


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