Ramallah, West Bank

06.29.2010

Today I thought it would be fun to go on a little bit of an adventure.  I wanted to go to Ramallah for no other reason than because I can.  I took a servee to the bus station in Bethlehem and found another servee to Ramallah for 18NIS each way.  I was the last person in and we took off before I could get my seatbelt secured!

If you look on a map of Israel and the Palestinian Territories, it looks like Bethlehem is very close to Ramallah.  As the crow flies, it is.  It shouldn’t take more than 30 minutes to get there if there was a direct route to get there.  Part of the Israeli strategy in dealing with the Palestinians is to make getting anywhere as difficult as possible.  For the most part, the Israelis control who goes in and out of the West Bank and Gaza Strip.  There are several security checkpoints along the route to Ramallah that can be open or closed on a whim.  The roads are built like they followed a snake, although they are in pretty good condition thanks to U.S. funding from USAID, according to the signs I saw.  So, pending not being stopped at any security checkpoints, one can estimate it takes a little over an hour to get to Ramallah.

As my luck would be, the servee I was in was stopped at a security checkpoint.  We all got out our papers and handed them over to the Israeli security officers.  They took everything and then went through everyone’s paperwork.  It took about ten minutes, then they gave us all our stuff back and we were on our way.   We didn’t get stopped at the second checkpoint just outside of Ramallah, thankfully.  It took almost 90 minutes for us to get to Ramallah, and this was with the servee driver going as fast as he could…..thank God for seatbelts!

I didn’t have a real plan for Ramallah, except to find breakfast at one of the places recommended in my guidebook.  I went to Stars & Bucks (yes, you read that right) to get a coffee and figure out my plan for the morning.  Stars & Bucks is probably the closest thing to a true, intentional rip-off of the Starbucks logo and coffee shop you will ever see.  I couldn’t resist going in.  I ordered a coffee and sat down for a bit to plan my walking route for Ramallah.

After coffee, I continued walking, taking it all in.  Ramallah is basically the center of the West Bank.  It’s where people go to party on the weekends.  It’s where Arafat is buried.  There aren’t really any “tourist” destinations to go to, so I just walked around.  I stopped at one of the places recommended for ice cream.  The Arabs use Arabic gum in their ice cream and it makes it a lot thicker than what I am used to.  It was pretty good and reasonably priced, compared to the gelato I had in Jerusalem.

I continued walking and found Stones, the restaurant recommended by the Lonely Planet guidebook.  They had free wi-fi and were still serving breakfast so I was in heaven!  I ordered a continental breakfast of toast and fruit with a fresh orange juice.  I think I sat there for two hours, working on emails and getting caught up on a few things.  When I was paying my bill, I struck up a conversation with the cook and mentioned I had found out about this place from my guidebook.  He wanted me to show the owner the book so I did.  I ended up having a really pleasant conversation with her before I left.

I continued wandering around, heading back in the general direction of where I thought I could pick up a servee to go back to Bethlehem.  I accidentally found the bus station and made a mental note for a bit later.  They had an outdoor market (or souk) going on, so I walked around there checking things out for a bit.  It was quite obvious by the looks I was getting they don’t get a lot of Westerners around there and those they usually see are aid workers, not tourists.

After I had seen enough I went over to the bus station to figure out how to get back to Bethlehem.  I found some helpful people and was taken to the second floor where I got into a servee headed for Bethlehem.  We made really good time back to Bethlehem, so I had time to have a late lunch/early dinner at Square, a restaurant on Manger Square.  I ordered a lemon/mint drink (I am quite addicted at this point!) and an Arabic salad.  The salad was HUGE!  I was barely able to finish it.

I went back to the apartment to find Abeer so I could pay her for the room.  She was home so I went upstairs.  The awkwardness was still there. I don’t know what I did, or if I did anything, but it just felt weird.  I paid her and asked her about the best way to get back to the border, planning to just take a servee or bus back to Jerusalem in the morning.  She told me if I was ready by 7:10a, Fadi could give me a ride to the border crossing and I could walk over and catch either a taxi or bus back to Jerusalem.  I left to get packed up and get to bed so I could get up early to get the ride with Fadi.