Whenever I go on a Wild Frontiers trip I always seem to receive last minute texts from friends and family telling me to “stay safe”, but I was right to have no concerns about this part of the world. So confident was I in fact that I even brought my father with me!
Palestine - First Impressions
Palestine is already proving to be a fascinating land. Just three days into the trip and I have met an abundance of incredible people, each with their own story, but I am afraid it is impossible to do justice to those here. I am writing this while sat in the home of one of our local guides Habib, whose wife has just cooked us a fantastic supper and we have watched the sun set across the fields around his house. This is our second homestay in as many nights and the warm welcomes we are experiencing has surprised every one of us.
Our first day in Nablus was packed with sights which included a surprisingly interesting soap-making factory, some ancient ruins, a refugee camp, a walk across grasslands in the late afternoon to the town of Awarta and tea on the roof of our first homestay. Our guide Majdi left us at the home of Nulla; a widow of 17-years who has raised her family single-handed (including a teenage nephew who is a dead ringer for Christiano Ronaldo), and is embracing the idea that tourism can bring a change of opinion in the wider world of Palestine and its people. She is truly a special woman that Wild Frontiers are lucky to be associated with.
We were met this morning by Nidal and Habib, the former of whom will be with us for the next few days. We have covered around 18km today in near-perfect weather which has given us stunning views across the landscape as well as showing us several examples of the Israeli settlements in the area. We took lunch for the second day running in a local women’s cooperative, further enhancing my belief that this might be the most responsible trip we have ever run. Our local handler is a non-profit organisation and everywhere we go it is clear that we are driving funds back into the community. Of course, there are very few restaurants or hotels in the places we are staying, which is what is making this trip so unique.
Palestine's Alternative Accommodation
Never before have I slept under the watchful eye of a collection of French nuns, nor a genuine Bedouin camp, but thanks to Wild Frontiers I have now ticked these experiences off on consecutive nights. Another first is during our walk yesterday we managed to stop a game of football taking place a good 100 metres away as all the children ran to the edge of their playground to wave at us and shout the now standard: “How are you?” and “What is your name?” that we hear everywhere we go.
The weather turned a little yesterday after we left Habib and his village of Duma to begin the walk to Taybeh (right) – at the end of which was the reward of Palestine’s only brewery. The walk varied from some really stunning spots, including a sighting across a valley of the Jordan River, but we also saw first-hand the problems that the Palestinians face with such things as waste disposal. We have certainly seen more litter on this tour than we would have liked, but this is the reality here and one that we should not hide from.
Arriving into town we were welcomed into the brewery and shown a short video on the history of Taybeh beer, while enjoying a complimentary sample of course, and having a quick look around. The town hosts its very own Oktoberfest every year which has become a big date on the calendar. This is the last all-Christian town in Palestine and so drinking alcohol is not an issue, which is the opposite of the previous few nights and might explain the excellent business the brewery did out of our little group!
Although we stayed in a lovely little guesthouse, we ate in the home of another local family who produced a mountain of food (chicken, rice, bread and hummus have been the staples so far) and yet another warm welcome. This morning we had a look around the town and were joined by Father Nicholas (right), a French monk who had travelled overland all the way from Cognac with no money and relying purely on the generosity of those he met along the way. He was dressed in traditional robes (and less traditional walking boots) and was on a three-month pilgrimage along the path of Abraham.
We left the good father and headed on towards the Bedouin camp, driving down the hill before beginning our walk to Kuffor Malek and lunch at another women’s co-operative. This afternoon was a stunning walk through deserted valleys and served to press home once more the fact that, Father Nicholas aside, we have seen no other genuine tourists since leaving Nablus. Some of our group even tried their hand at goat-herding.
Finishing the walk we drove the short distance to our residence for tonight. Those who have travelled with Wild Frontiers before will have an idea what kind of Bedouin camps we tend to use – well this was nothing like those! This really was the most basic of accommodation (below), but also the most authentic of experiences and served to remind us all of the tough reality of the lives of many. This camp is just a 40-minute drive from the relatively large town of Jericho, but is a world away.
Once more we were amazed by the welcome. Our host Ali led us to his home on top of the hill overlooking the camp and his wife, Noura, who has three children under three years old, including one at just two weeks, proceeded to feed us all and provide continuous cups of tea. As I write there is a village meeting going on in the tent which will be our beds for the night, but we have had a gentle wander around, meeting a handful of people and plenty of sheep, goats and donkeys – all of whom I suspect will have an impact on how much sleep we get tonight!
Final footsteps of our walk in Palestine
The final few days of our walking trip through Palestine were, like so much on this tour, incredibly varied. Departing Jericho we had our final walk which was perhaps the most stunning of them all. Beginning with a drive to what appeared to be the very end of the road; we walked through an area so barren that it felt we really had been transported back to Biblical times. The only life we saw was a baby owl sleeping quietly in a crack in the rocks. With the sun on our backs we completed our four-hour hike with an astonishing view across a canyon to the Mar Saba Monastery which is built into the rock and is simply one of the most impressive sights we have seen to date.
After that it was on to Bethlehem for lunch and a visit to Manger Square and the Church of the Nativity - the spot where Jesus is believed to have been born is marked by a 14-point star. It was quite the culture shock to our group, having not seen any tourists since leaving Tel Aviv airport a week previously; we were now surrounded by coach loads. This would continue to be the case when we arrived into Jerusalem, but not before we had crossed through the wall in the same way that thousands of Palestinians do every day – going through the airport-style security. Thankfully, being a Friday afternoon the crossing was deserted and we passed through very quickly.
Upon arriving in Jerusalem we headed straight to the Mount of Olives and took in the impressive view of East Jerusalem, with the Dome of the Rock taking centre stage. In the evening we strolled out to our first restaurant experience of the entire tour and the following day entering the walled city itself, taking the Via Dolorosa (right) – which is the route Jesus is believed to have taken on the way to being crucified and ends at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre – where you can touch the rock which held his cross in place.
The final 24 hours of the tour was left to ourselves to wander freely and take in this most fascinating and complex of cities. A trip to the Western Wall (below) was the first stop for most of us, as well as a visit to the grave of Oscar Schindler which has become quite a pilgrimage site for people of the Jewish faith. With so many different cultures and religions living and working in such a combined space it is easy to understand why there is so much tension around and while we only scratched the surface, it is definitely a place I hope to return to and get to grips with.
Wild Frontiers has made the point of running adventure holidays to destinations that many people would be sceptical about, and Palestine is just the latest addition to our repertoire, but I can honestly say that I have never been more warmly welcomed into the lives of the local people nor have I felt safer in the areas in which we trekked. Palestine and its people have a complicated history, and when hearing the stories it is very difficult not to form opinions, but we are aware that there are two sides to every story and we have been keen to stress throughout that this is neither a political nor a religious tour. What I can say however, is that it is certainly an educational one.
Wild Frontiers is a multi-award winning independent travel company specialising in stylish and original
tailor-made holidays and small group adventure holidays
to some of the most interesting countries in the world
including Ethiopia, Pakistan,
India, the Congo and
Two captivating and contrasting highlights of Israel - the fascinating old city of Jerusalem and the stunning landscapes of the Negev Desert.
A visit to the West Bank's only brewery in Taybeh near Ramallah, producing the best beer in the Middle East.
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