Another Friday and I’m on the road once again. The streets are almost empty during day, so the streets of Amman. You hardly see anyone jogging, in the early morning hours there is nobody on the street. I’m taking the same road which directly goes downhill to Dead Sea as I did during my previous travel in Jordan. You need to take the same road to enter Israel. There is a control post at exactly 0 m altitude. Well, at that check point there is a fork. If you don’t take the road towards Palestine-Israel but the other you go down to minus 400 m. If you take the left road the signboards take you to the border. Yet, the distance is short but I hadn’t ridden on this part in Jordan before. It is possible to see hundreds of agricultural fields and greenhouses along Jordan River. Compared to the south the soil is more fertile in this region. Coming to the issue of water shortage, there have been countless battles throughout the years for water. For the time being the water resources in this region are under the control of Israel. But nevertheless, even these resources are far from enough! Water is purified from sea for agricultural irrigation. I’m sure the state of Republic of Turkey is aware of this, but at the meetings concerning the water resources of Middle East states, the Turkish dams on Euphrates and Tigris rivers come in question and Turkey is blamed for holding water back behind its own dams. I got this information directly from the participants.
By the way, Israel and Palestine together stretches 150 km from west to east and 500 km from north to south having 6-7 million inhabitants. Considering that people have been killing each other fighting for fresh water resources for many years, my concern on Turkey’s fresh water resources grows. Various precautions have to be taken to save fresh water resources urgently and the government must support critical scientific investments. Someone might say: “Bro, there are already” : ) Yes, dude yes. After seeing what has been undertaken in Japan five years ago, I don’t think that anything in this direction is done. Well, it has been three years past since I’ve left the country. Things might have changed. Would Melih Gokcek still the mayor of Ankara when I return?
As I mentioned before, reaching Dead Sea from Amman direction there were a good number of up and downs. I rode down to minus 400 m from 900 m. Riding down with a 60 kg load causes some draw backs. It is really hard to stop when riding down a 10% slope since there is a difference between the pressure applied on the surface of the wheel rim by an unloaded bicycle and that of mine fully loaded. Therefore, this high pressure heats the wheel rim. At snowy or rainy weather the rate of heating as well as cooling down when brakes are released become much faster. Well, what happens when wheel rim heats? If the inner tube is a cheap brand then it immediately blows out, BOOOOM. It blows out either at the tube joint or at the valve joint. This happened to me a couple of times. (Please don’t tell me that I’ve to use disc brakes, I’ve already written on my web page why I prefer V-brakes.) Dude, what if I have a tube puncture now. The last time I had a puncture was when Enes Sensoy accompanied me in Morocco. Mentioning Enes Sensoy, he told me he will share his latest article about our road memories of the Morocco leg. You may read and see what we did in Morocco. I’m going to share also my last Morocco memories soon.
While riding down with a speed just above 40 km/h I got a tire blowout with a loud bang. The tire stuck on the rim within a second and bumping on the paved road it ripped the inner tube. The sound of the breaking spokes came up to my ears. Fuck, this time I’ll fall down too fast. And the rim got sandwiched into the frame. I lost the rear control. I have to free my feet from the cleats. Dude, the moment of falling down has started. While falling down my face downwards I stretch my arms out to the front to meet the first stroke. Well I don’t know at what speed I hit the ground. Hugh that sound of breaking bones comes familiar to me and then I hit my head. Well, at least my head will stay intact (I was wearing helmet).
Hmmm, no no. Most probably I will fall on the heavier loaded side when the wheel jams into handle bar where I was carrying fruits. Or while freeing my feet from the cleats my balance may change. At that angle it will be hard to break my arm. Will I? Hmmm No… I have got plenty of experiences on falling down from bicycle with this load. My legs, my ass, my arms got black and blue.
Let me slow down and look at the conditions of the tires. Just in case, man. Too much time has been past. The front tire has a slit which made more then 10 000 km. I’m continuing with tire patch. It helps. I changed the rear tire in Spain. The inner tubes are Schwalbe. Well, the conditions of the tires look alright. Dude, what I daydreamed in two minutes haha : )
Let me go on. Booooommmm. Fuck, I really got a tire blowout. Whoaaaa. No matter what, I smelled a rat. Wow wow wow. Just a few minutes ago I was riding with a speed of 40 km/h. I got a tire blowout as soon as I stopped, how well. The rim bumped on the tarmac. I take off the tire and check. Just as I have thought. Due to heating valve joint had opened. Well, I made 10 000 km with this inner tube, time to change it. I take the spare tube and go on. : ) But it happened just as I have mentioned.
After a short ride in Jordan, I came to the border gate at the north of Dead Sea. Wuuhuuuu what a crowd bursting at the seams. Dude, I had known for the Moslems or Arabs were not crossing the border. No, I don’t think that the crowd is going to Israel but to Palestine. At the end the border gate also goes to Palestine, West Bank. 130 km to the north there is another border gate directly connecting Israel to Jordan. (I returned from that gate). By the way I got informed that the people crossing the border possess a kind of Palestine ID and not a passport!
Aha tourists! Let me leave the bicycle there, nobody would take it. : ) Who will be going grasp it and run away, we entered the gate. Dude, what a crowd, whoaa. After 15 minutes it was my turn. I handed my passport. Then, I handed my Israel visa applied on a piece of paper.
You might already know, with an Israel visa on your passport you are not allowed to enter some countries. Honestly, Israel and Jordan was not in my mind when I came to Jordan after traveling in Tunisia. I added these countries to my route lately. The reason is quite simple. I’m waiting for Saudi Arabia visa since 5 months to which I applied when I was still in Tunisia. On top of it, I applied for Jordan visa and already have visited this country. Well, I returned to Amman still not a single sign of visa. So, I decided to add Israel and Palestine to my route. But at this point, a problem arose. : )
Well, coming to check point in Jordan, if you don’t want a stamp on your passport you have to show some documents. Especially, if you plan to enter Israel fill in the documents before you enter Jordan! I traveled in Jordan and came to the border and showed the visa on a piece of paper but let an exit stamp applied on my passport since I had already an entrance stamp.
Afterwards exiting Israel from the border gate on the north, I let the entrance stamp for Jordan applied on a piece of paper and not on passport. Well, I know you got mixed up…. Now, here is a small problem. The gate I exited is on the Palestine-Israel border. When my passport is to be checked the entrance stamp to Israel can be recognized. Let’s see what will happen. I come upon with such situations during my tour from time to time. For example, I traveled in Austria without applying to Schengen visa (I know it sounds nonsense. In other words I traveled in a country without visa) or I exited Morocco 4 days after my visa got expired or stayed in no-man’s land between two countries for a week. It is good to perform such small experiments.
Jordan requires 10 JOD (14 USD) for country exit. Then, you have to cross the border between Palestine and Jordan by car which costs also 10 JOD (14 USD). At the last minute I had to pay 20 JOD.
I loaded my bicycle and boarded a tourist bus. Between the two border gates passport control was done twice in the bus. I came to Palestine that is to West Bank gate and saw Israeli soldiers. Well, there are two land passes to this country both controlled by Israeli soldiers. There were 10 more buses besides our bus. Luggage were put down, I took my bicycle out and reloaded it. Then, I joined the line. The line for barcode application on the passport at the front gate was at least 400 people long. Two woman soldiers came to me.
I beg, Moldova came to my mind. Don’t laugh Gurkan, don’t laugh. Don’t fuck up. DON’T LAUGH (but they are so pretty)
– Did you ride on bike all the way from Turkey?
– Yeeeeesss. But I passed the border by bus.
The girls were so pretty, you must hear my accent (Yeaaaaaaa)
– (she smiles) Welcome. I was in Turkey last summer.
– Wow, how nice. Where have you been?
Said I but she did not give a damn about me
– What do you have in your bags?
– Winter and summer cloths, tent, camping gear, spare equipments
– Do you have gun?
– Of course not (I smile)
– Go to the line and get a barcode for your passport. Leave your bicycle here we scan your bags through X-ray.
At first I have to put my bags on X-ray device and then line up. My bags will go to another room, don’t know who will take them. There is a special place for luggage claim. Well, there is no way to get along there among this crowd with my bike. I handed my passport and asked them to read the document in it. After the document was read: At first I was taken to the front of the passport line, then to the front of the visa line, then back and that it was. Also counting this small talk I passed the border in 15 minutes and entered West Bank. That’s good. Destination Jerusalem. Good to go, but just at that moment, a voice behind me:
– Hey, hey!
– Yes sir?
– You have to take the bus till the second gate.
– But there is a road. I guess I can ride on it.
– It is forbidden zone, you cannot pass it on bike or walk.
I didn’t want to mess up with those well built soldiers. I took the bus, the driver wanted 10 Shekel. I had already known that the currency used was pronounced as “shekel”, otherwise I would have thought what he was saying like sheker (sheker in Turkish means sugar).1 Shekel is about 0,26 USD, but this country is really expensive. Paying 15 Shekel for fruit juice and muffin I really swore.
After passing a couple of gates I got off the bus. Well, which direction to go. I got it, Jerusalem is towards that direction. Go on Gurkan. A climb from minus 300 m to 600 m waits for you. A pretty good road with a broad emergency lane. : ). And the cars passing by leave enough empty space. Dude, if all the roads in this country are like this, wuhuuuu. As a matter of fact, during my travel in Palestine and Israel I had easy bike ride and was not faced with vehicle abuse. Especially Israel is a highly developed country in terms of bicycle riding.
I entered Jerusalem through the Arab district and went till Jewish district. Hmmm, the difference is distinct. Actually, during my four years of travel I’d never before come up with such a quick cultural and ethnical change in my life. There is a distance of only 107 km from Amman to Jerusalem. Let me list the first things which caught my attention:
1- Everyone stops at red light
2- Walkers and cyclists have priority
3- Aside Arab district it is very clean (not a matter of municipality! People don’t throw their wastes all around!)
4- In Arab district you hear loud music whereas Jewish district is silent.
5- There are public buses and trams
6- There are recycling centers
7- There are waste baskets
Dude, I can just continue to count. Well, are the citizens of Amman poor? The city is expensive. That is, there are taxi drivers taking money as much as they want! Their working hours are clear! There is a tourist trap policy. If you protest the sellers either say “As you like” or “I don’t sell anything to you”. There is an abnormality. This changes immediately when you are outside Amman. Dude, fix the Hejaz Railway and carry passengers! Shame on you! There is almost no public transport in Amman.
I met National Railways director of Jordan during the Turkish days arranged in that country and asked him: “Why don’t you reconstruct the Hejaz railway?” This was the answer: “This railway is yours. Come and fix it!” There is so much money founded to your country, 4 milliards USD came from Saudi Arabia when I was there, well just do it yourself!
I made four days reservation at Jerusalem Abraham Hostel. There is also a depot where I can put my bicycle. Breakfast is pretty good and there is good WİFİ connection in rooms. The ambience is good, you’ll make friends. It is possible to join free tours which start at 09:30 a.m. departing from old town. It is said free, but I paid 10 Shekel to the guide after a 3 hours tour. If you chose the red tour among the free tours they take you to nice spots suitable for good photo shooting.
Armenian and Jewish districts are generally silent and calm. The district of Christians becomes alive and in Arab district you break through. It is very enjoyable to stroll around in Arab district.
I spent 3 days on the streets of this city. Although I hate to walk, it was really enjoyable to stroll around in Jerusalem. I had heard from here and there: “The municipality doesn’t take care of Arabic district” Well my friend, but you don’t clean in front of your street-door. Garbage on the streets, rotten fruits below stalls, although I saw a garbage truck moving around with three men only in Arab district. You must first clean in front of your street-door than you get the right to complain about municipality. I didn’t see any dustmen in the other districts! There weren’t, because there was no need for them. People saying: “Tunisia was clean before the Arab Spring, but now very dirty” comes in my mind. My friend, don’t change the subject. You must start with cleaning in front of your street-door. Dude, waste collection is done by Turkish businessmen in Algeria what else to say? And I have travelled through the whole Arab geography. Please, don’t talk through your hat, go and see.
(The one on the right with white t-shirt)
A boy among the sightseeing group I joined carries an M-16 with night vision scope. A real M-16 dude. During my military service I had used G3, MP5 but always wanted to see an M-16.
– Will you accompany us?
– Yes, my mother and father are also within the group.
– Body guarding huh?
– May I ask you a couple of questions?
– Yes, of course
– How old are you?
– You are a soldier, aren’t you?
– How long does it take?
– 3 years
For 3 years, all the girls and boys go for military service, at the age around 17. The boy walking next to me carries a long barrel gun. Honestly, I don’t feel myself save. There are hundreds of people walking around like this, especially inside the walls of Jerusalem. Let me give some more information about these soldiers. The state pays 15 000 USD to each of them for 6 months public duty after military service. Once they receive the money they go abroad for a holiday for 3 to 6 months even a year. Talk to any Israel citizen, he/she traveled abroad for sure. They return at an age 20-21 when they start with education at a university. Dormitory expenses or the rent are covered by the state for one year as well as a scholarship is given. Men until 40 are recalled for military duty, but women when they give birth to child are exempt.
There are now Israeli soldiers where Ottoman Empire’s soldiers had policed for 400 years.
In 1968 a Jewish person tried to occupy and put on fire Al-Aqsa Mosque. Therefore the Moslem governance forbade the entrance of Dome of the Rock and Al-Aqsa Mosque to any non-Moslem since then.
There are Israeli police officers at the entrance gate. I look at the guy not looking like Israeli but like an Arab. Well, I was coded for years in my mind that all Arabs are Moslem. I traveled and experienced. There are Christian, Jewish, Druze, Atheist, even Buddhist Arabs. They all live on this territory, a colorful mosaic. Here, the ones at the door are Druze. Our grandpa’s in Turkey swear “the son of Druze” meaning the son of pagan. But Druze are not pagans, they have their own religion.
Anyway, the police officers stopped me at the entrance. Tourists are not allowed to enter.
– Hey, I’m Moslem, why am I not allowed to enter god’s house?
– Your passport!
I handed my passport, he looked at me once more
– Are you Turk?
– Yes, I’m
– Then you are Moslem?
– Yes, I’m
– Then recite Shahada!
The oral exam starting with reciting Shahada ended with Fatiha. In the end, they believed that I’m a Moslem and let me enter. It was like asking the password at the entrance. Then, they called the guide inside. He was insisting in guiding me.
– Dude, I don’t want a guide. No need. But let me know, how much you take.
– 300 Shekel. I’ll tell the history of both mosques.
– Whoa? I went sightseeing the whole city for free. Furthermore, I’m a Turk and Moslem, I know about the history of these constructions. Thank you.
Be aware and stay away from such guys. They will always try to rip you off. Of course these are also Druze Arabs. By the way, I didn’t enter during the period when tourists are allowed to enter the courtyard. During that time period nobody will ask you anything entering the gate.
Anyway, I entered Dome of the Rock. As you may already know, I don’t pray 5 times a day, but that doesn’t mean that I don’t know how to pray!! Yet, let me pray while being here.
Did you see the Foundation Stone Gurkan? ( Where Hz. Muhammed ascended from earth to heaven, Mi’raj). The central part was on restoration, what a pity… Don’t ask me whether the stone is suspended in the air! How can I see the stone suspended in the air which even Evliya Çelebi (an Ottoman Turkish traveler who travelled over a period of forty years, writer of Seyahatname/book of travels) wasn’t able to see. Then, I recognized the stairs going down below the stone. In front the altar found there holiness Omar had prayed. There, in the thought of this I prayed also.
I go up and walk around inside. Dude, very strange, you feel as if you are in your living room. People are lying on the floor, sleeping or eating. Women at a corner are gossiping. At another corner, there is a group of women. As everywhere there are more women than men in the mosque. I also sit down on the carpet. Do the carpets smell? Yes, they really do. But it’s normal so many people are coming in and going out, they probably are cleaned periodically but must be more frequently cleaned! Meanwhile, an attendant comes to me seeing that I’m photographing the ceiling. After asking whether I’m Moslem or not, he asks whether I’ll bestow a Quran to the mosque? Ok, I’ll buy, how much? 40 USD. WHOAA.
Here the sentence of the imam should have been “as much as you want”. 40 USD, man! How come they let such people in? Why such men work at such places?
In this region it is really hard for a foreigner to differentiate who believes in what, who belongs to which nationality. Well, if a Palestinian living in Jerusalem will read this article, he would most probably say: “Gurkan, that guy trying to sell you the Quran is not a Moslem but a Druze or an Israel citizen Arab” Might be true, but it doesn’t matter who he is!
Praying halls should be open to anyone from any religion and nationality since we take such praying halls as god’s houses. And anyone inside these halls is expected to behave properly. I remember what Muhammed amca (uncle in Turkish, used for elderly men) said: “It has been past a long time since Islam deserted this land.”
Armenians, Jews, Christians and Moslems all have their own prayer halls and living areas within the walls of Jerusalem. I would really have wanted to say that the people inside the 4 km long walls constructed by Ottomans live in peace.
I came up to such a spot in Jerusalem where Church of the Holy Sepulchre, in front of me crying wall, to the left Dome of the Rock, to right Al-Aqsa Mosque were all be seen. I came to this place at exactly noon time and witnessed a very special moment. While Jews were praying at crying wall, Orthodox were passing behind them while the bells of the Holy Sepulchre Church were ringing and voice of prayer call from Al-Aqsa Mosque was arising…
During my world tour I had witnessed many moments, you know such moments which you remember closing your eyes. So was this, my eyes wide open and smiling, I let these memories pass through my mind once again. This was what it had to happen. At that moment I wanted to have the power to end all those wars on the planet. How come to possess such a power? How to become world’s peace ambassador? So many thinks passed through my mind at that moment. Then, a deep sadness set in.
At another day, I went again to the area of mosques where I was watching people sitting at the courtyard. On that day tourists were permitted to enter the courtyard.
There was a group of women chatting while tourists were strolling around. The women were saying Allahuekber after the woman in center of the group finished her preach. The tourists were photographing this moment. I was also here yesterday, at the same place. Nothing like this happened. I set down and watched. Really, each time as a tourist group entered the courtyard, the woman increased her voice, the others were repeating after her all together. While performing ablution I watch the old men sitting under the olive tree for a while. All were down to earth. While I was walking towards the gate, a woman started to shout in Arabic. Dude, what’s going on? I walk slowly keeping my speed. A woman all in white chador is shouting towards the gate where police officers are staying. All the police officers are staying inside the gate. At the same, tourists hearing the shout moved towards the gate. 4 young Jews are trying to enter inside. The police officers are not holding them back. The gate is open, the boys can enter if they want to but do not dare obviously. At that time, two young Arabs come and start to record the scene. I had my cameras with me but didn’t want to use. I keep my eyes on the woman and the guys. Whenever a tourist came to the gate the Jews moved two steps forwards under the gate. Police officers were still doing nothing. Some other women came next to the woman in chador. They all are shouting. The Moslem men coming to the women record the scene. On the back some other 50 foreigners are also recording the scene.
A young Moslem coming to record the scene looks at me and says: “Khan, how are you?” I got surprised. We hug each other. I don’t remember where we met but I’m sure not in Jerusalem or in Jordan. That was a strange moment. The only people calling me Khan were in Algeria. At the same time he continued to record the scene.
“You see, they always try to provoke us like this”
Meanwhile, new tourists came to the scene and the show started once again. The young Jews using body language opened their hand to the side as if saying “look we aren’t doing anything bad. We just want to get in. You see how the Moslems are shouting at us. You can walk around inside but we are not allowed”
This was a real show to foreigners for shooting.
I said goodbye to the young guy and left. I walked towards the door. I wanted to exit from that door to stroll around in the Arab district. Just a moment ago I had greeted an Arab. Therefore, they got irritated. The policeman is looking at me. I’m carrying a camera and I’m not an Arab. The policeman at the door knows that I’m Turk. The peyots (the side locks of Jewish men) of these youngsters are short. Young guys with jeans, rucksack, wearing kipa (Jewish hat). I pass by them to walk on the streets of Arab district. Just at that moment four youngsters round on four girls walking in front of them in Arabic. The girls don’t bother. Such abuses are everywhere in the world. Dude, don’t assail woman!
The back streets of Dome of the Rock, though the disorder of the Bazaar place, is pretty clean. The liveliness and warmth on the street catch attention. I’m sure if I would ride on bike through this street, I would be invited to some of the houses. I walked till Damascus gate. There are authentic and nice cafes. You can sit in one of them and watch the liveliness on the streets.
By the way, there aren’t any Starbucks cafes in Israel yet, they were about to open one in West Bank. There aren’t also Shell, BP, Total and the other known brands. Even, many of the world known brands are not found here. In short, Israelis discarded any brand campaigning against them and not by word only. One night I met sergeant Ayhan. We went to a cafe like Starbucks. Really, those guys created their own brands. The sites as well their country is overcrowded.
I read the book “Mount of Olives” of Falih Rifki Atay before I came to Jerusalem. I advise this book to the ones who want to visit this city. The Ottoman period, Cemal Pasha Regime and many other details will catch your attention. Watch Mount of Olives from Dome of the Rocks or Jerusalem from Mount of Olives.
The journey goes on. Wonder all what I’ll witness…