Tripping columns offer readers a chance to share their adventures – those times when, far from what’s familiar, you must improvise in the midst of a wild travel moment. They are the stories you can’t wait to tell when you get home.
There are three essential ingredients for smooth travels: a working knowledge of the local language, good survival instincts and a healthy dose of street smarts. Between me and my two travel companions in Israel, we were batting 0 for 3.
It was a lack of the third skill that had us getting off a bus on the side of the highway under the scorching late-afternoon Middle Eastern sun this past summer. “Last bus at 7:40,” the driver yelled as he drove off.
Around us stood sandy mountains, above us hung a faded blue sky and beneath our feet lay sizzling asphalt. We headed toward the Einot Tzukim Nature Reserve near the northern tip of the Dead Sea, envisioning a rigorous hike to a freshwater pool. When we found the pool after only a seven-minute walk, we were surprised but not altogether disappointed. Already dripping with sweat, we eased into the pool and floated around lazily.
By 7:15 p.m. we were back at the side of the highway waiting for our bus. Three bodies animated by chatter in an otherwise still desert scene, we barely noticed that 7:40 had come. And gone. And then 8. And then 8:20. And then the unmistakable moment when the sun sets behind the horizon and the grey mountains and pale blue sky fade to black.
Then we became aware of how alone we were, three young women on the side of a highway outside Jerusalem.
We weighed our options: 1. Hitchhike. But it seemed that getting into a stranger’s car would easily nab the top spot on the list of Poor Decisions Made While Travelling. 2: Call a taxi. This would be expensive, and we were travelling on student budgets. 3: We faltered. Lists are meant to come in threes, but we were drawing a blank, so we defaulted to Option 2.
I called a taxi and the dispatcher told me the ride would cost 500 shekels, or roughly $135. Out of nowhere, I started to haggle with the dispatcher. When we had visited the bustling Mahane Yehuda market – where haggling was the most natural form of conversation – I barely negotiated. Why had I chosen this moment to try to bargain?
Unsurprisingly, the dispatcher hung up on me. When I called back, he refused to speak English.
I stared at my phone. My friends stared at me in disbelief. The dispatcher continued to ramble in Hebrew.
They say that the darkest hour is just before dawn, but thank all the gods worshipped in this Holy Land, our ray of hope was a pair of bus headlights.
Gleefully, I snapped my phone shut and we boarded the bus, claiming the three remaining seats at the back. My friends were still annoyed and the three of us were just nearing the point where we could laugh about our misadventure when the bus lurched to a stop. Passengers began yelling in Hebrew. Now what? The woman in front of me spoke enough English to explain: “People want to smoke, so they tell the driver to pull over.”
A smoke break in pitch darkness on a desert highway – I laughed at the un-Canadianness of it all. But there was no way I was getting off that bus.
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