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December 2, 2011

2

The Three (un)Wise Men, Episode 5

by drivingfarce

Yet another chapter in the never-ending saga of an excursion taken to Isreal and the West Bank.  Episodes 1, 2, 3, and even 4 can be accessed, if so desired.

Mark made sure El Jefe and I had all of our belongings packed before we went to bed.  We’d be catching the Paper Taxi by 6AM, and he didn’t want us to be late.  Mark made a call to confirm the reservation, and we were set to go.  All that was left to do now was walk down to the fried chicken place and grab a late snack before heading to bed.  (Warning:  If you want fried chicken in Jerusalem in a timely fashion, do not call in your order ahead of time.  The only thing that assures on-time chicken is if you are a regular customer and a taxi driver.  This was evident as we watched literally dozens of men walk in, order, and receive their meals before ours was prepared.)

Waking up on time for the taxi was not an issue, having an excellent alarm clock in the form of the PA system used for the Islamic call to prayer.  We grabbed our bags, headed out into the still-dark city, and waited by the curb for our ride.  Not having any idea what a Paper Taxi looks like, I assumed that any vehicle coming our way could be it.  The Paper Taxi, is not a car created out of Mache, but simply the van used to courier a newspaper, printed in Jerusalem, up to its distribution point in Nazareth.  While we could have taken a bus or hired a shiroot (whether it be Shen’s or not), the Paper Taxi was certainly the cheapest route.

The driver arrived right on time, pulled up to the curb and opened the rear doors of the van to place our bags inside.  He had a massive space to choose from since his cargo consisted of only one bundle of newspapers placed in the middle of the floor.  I looked at that bundle and questioned the worth of driving a van 100 miles through the desert to deliver one bundle of papers; however, I kept that judgment to myself.

We climbed into the van and headed over the hill, through a rolling checkpoint that marked our entrance into the West Bank.  We descended through sweeping turns meandering through rock formations, past tent-villages of nomads, and toward the Jordan River/Jordanian border.  The highway eventually led us through the desert lowlands, unsuitable for any sort of agriculture except for the occasional oasis of deep green palms or the orderly rows of irrigated banana groves.

Eventually reaching Nazareth, we set out to find the flat where Mark’s wife, Andrea, would be meeting us.  Our bags in tow, we climbed the wide, modern streets that were setup in a sort of switchback pattern; the slope was far too steep for a normal street grid.  Almost at the top of the hill was the flat and, thankfully, Andrea.  We left our luggage there and trudged back down the hill, over one block, then back up the hill to take in the fascinating Nazareth Village:  a relatively new interactive museum/archaeological site/historical recreation center based on life in the first century AD.  Out of breath and with the late morning sun beating down on my head, I looked to the west and saw the flat from which we just came, only a couple of hundred yards away.  That’s the strange thing about Nazareth—you can’t get anywhere without first going back down the hill you’re on, down the main street, then back up the same hill you just came down.  It is very frustrating.

Mark and Andrea in Nazareth Village (note: Andrea is on the left)

I confronted Mark about this idiocy, and he asked a local why there are no cross-slope streets.  The answer:  the streets are based on old donkey paths.   This immediately led to more questions on my part, namely:  are donkeys fond of climbing hills, or are they just allergic to logic?  Also, when paving these paths, did no man ever decide to question the donkeys’ judgment?  Did they consider them some sort of long-eared deity?  For one reason or another Mark refused to ask the local any more of my questions, so I was forced to come to my own conclusions.

Andrea had secured a room for us at the Fauzi Azar Inn, so we decided to check in there before it got too dark for us to find our way downhill.  The hostel was located deep in The Old City, bordering the Latin Quarter (not to be confused with The Old City which we had just left several hours before) . It was a short distance to our hostel, just a little over a quarter mile from the Village or approximately 3 miles and 4,000 vertical feet when you factor in the elevation change in the trip back to her flat to collect our luggage.

Making the climb up the hill past the Basillica of the Annunciation, The Old City was a much darker, quieter place than its Jerusalem namesake.  The streets were even narrower, some only wide enough to fit a sacred donkey through.  We eventually found our hostel and entered through its needle eye* door to discover lovely accommodation with a beautiful balcony encompassing a tiled courtyard.  We trudged up the stairs to our room, settled in and left for the dinner that would be waiting for us in Andrea’s hosts’ flat just over the hill, a mere eternity away.

After a restful night listening to El Jefe and Mark argue about chess, we met up with Andrea, rented a car for the day, and headed for Tiberias and the Sea of Galilee.  Mark was willing to take Jefe and I up the west coast of the sea, so we could climb around on several ruins and Biblical historic spots, but was very keen on his Big Plan.  The Plan essentially boiled down to the three of us renting bicycles and leaving his very pregnant wife for dead in Tiberias proper.  We three baboons would attempt to circumnavigate the 55 miles of shoreline bordering the Sea of Galilee.  I immediately had my doubts that this plan would work.  Once we found the lone bicycle rental shop that would rent to us (the first one claimed to know nothing about this concept, even though the sign outside the door clearly said “Bicycle Rental”), my concerns were confirmed.  I took one look at our bikes and realized there was no way we would make it around the lake in one day.  The build quality made a Huffy seem worthy of the Tour de France.

Mark would not be so easily swayed, so the three of us headed south along the backsides of the resorts, each bike with its own set of character flaws.  The stopping power offered by Mark’s brakes was best left to the imagination.  Jefe’s steed was in bad shape; the right side crank was so badly worn that it would spin on the lower crankset when he pedaled with any force more than cricket-squashing.  My own ride had a very rhythmic graunching sound emanating from the crankset with each pedal rotation, spurring me on.  The problem was that anytime I pedaled hard enough to make the hideous noise go away, the rear derailleur would allow the chain to jump off the sprockets, sending me pedaling furiously but going nowhere.

The bikes were so bad they even affected picture quality

Jefe was frustrated enough by the mechanical inadequacy of his bike to stop and stare at it, hoping it would rectify itself.  Seizing this opportunity to make a bad situation worse, I offered to “help.”  Try as I might, I could not stop myself from pulling off the crank and reinstalling it “clocked” 90 degrees from its original location, changing the pedals from an “I” to an “L.”  I assured him it was fixed and sent him off down the road.  I quickly caught up to him and followed for a while, snorting with evil glee as I watched him try to propel himself with lumpy pedal strokes.  Again, he pulled to the side of the road and informed me with great certainty that “You know, I think it’s worse.”

After approximately 3 miles of rolling comedy, we convinced Mark of the bleakness of the course ahead.  We turned around and noisily lurched our way back to the rental shop.  The Big Plan was not going to happen after all.

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