On the horizon were beige mountains and towering mounds of sand. A scattering of dark green desert bushes broke the rolling monotony. “I guess so," my new friend Sarit said, following my lead as the sun began its daily scorching ritual. I had only known her for a couple of days, after our paths crossed while independently traveling through Israel, and how we'd fare as traveling companions outside of the city was yet to be determined. Prior to the beginning of our Wadi Qelt trek—which would take us across the desert from Jerusalem to Jericho—Israelis and Palestinians alike advised us to reconsider our trek. An Israeli guide in Jerusalem told us there's safety in numbers and we should go with a larger group. A Palestinian man I befriended in the Old City thought the idea of recreational hiking anywhere was just absurd — “I'm Palestinian; We don't hike!" — while an American ex-pat gave me a different kind of cautionary advice: “You needn't worry about Israelis and their politics, or Palestinians and their politics. Worry about the Bedouins who have no politics," he told me. True, Sarit and I had heard stories from other trekkers, tales of encounters with gun-toting Bedouins. Under the soothing balm of hindsight, they actually laughed about their experiences, and admittedly — their stories of adventure on the trail only added to the appeal for both of us. Our guidebook was lacking in detail of the route, but we figured we'd arrive at the wadi (Arabic for a valley or dry river bed), and just hike it all the way through to the end. With a handful of trail bars and five liters of water in our packs, we set out, excited for some adventure and confident in our sense of direction. Above our heads, the sky was an imperfect blue, fighting to peer through a shroud of dusty haze. “Where is everyone?" I wondered aloud, after about an hour of trekking the path, which had led us through the valley by several encampments—all makeshift fences and abandoned-looking, patched-together shelters. Meanwhile, the desert sun cooked us from above, and suddenly those trail bars and water (especially the water) seemed woefully inadequate for what was turning out to be a much longer excursion than anticipated. Adding to the mounting frustrations at our own lack of preparation, the wadi, which had started as a clearly defined path taking us to Jericho, suddenly wasn't. Soon, every direction looked liked it could have been the right one. Lost in the middle of nowhere, dealing with the rising heat we started to pick at each other.
Soon, every direction looked liked it could have been the right one. Lost in the middle of nowhere, dealing with the rising heat we started to pick at each other."
“You know," I said, " if you drink and urinate immediately, your body already has the water it needs. You're over-hydrated." “I don't want to die!" she retorted, convinced we'd end up on the evening news somewhere—another two hikers lost in the desert. Just as our petty fight was starting to escalate, we came around a bend and heard voices echoing off the canyon walls. Our argument trailed off as we scrambled to pinpoint the direction from which the voices came. “There are people over there," I said in a whisper, pointing to two figures accompanied by several dogs along the trail. “Bedouins..." There was nowhere to hide. Suddenly all those tales of guns entered our minds. Meeting them along the path was inevitable here, and there was no one to come to our aid. “Uh, salaam," I called out to the Bedouin in a blue shirt. As we got closer, a herd of goats rounded a bend in the path. And then it started to become clear: the dogs were herding goats, and the figures were shepherds. We were still wary of the situation; Sarit made an attempt to ask for directions. “How far is it to Jericho?" she asked the young man. “Is it this way?" The blue-clad Bedouin just smiled, not understanding. Neither did his companion. Sarit asked another question. “How far is it to Saint George?" It was a monastery we'd heard was about halfway between the two cities. Nodding, he clearly recognized the name. He held out his ten fingers. “Ten minutes? Ten kilometers?" He nodded in acknowledgement—or just nodded, we couldn't tell. He simply pointed us in the direction. “Shukran," Sarit thanked him. We walked away from our encounter unscathed and not a little sheepish about our earlier trepidation. With a direction to finally follow, we trekked for several more hours, before arriving at Saint George's Monastery, dusty, exhausted and dehydrated. We were also done with the Wadi Qelt, electing instead to follow a much more direct road to Jericho. As we arrived at the outskirts of the town, the air filled with the Muslim call to prayer. The flag of Palestine waved from a pole, and Sarit and I couldn't have been happier to finally be somewhere rather than nowhere. “We did it!" said Sarit. “I can't believe it! We made it!" Indeed we had made it across the desert, just like the trekkers before us. It was not nearly as treacherous as we had originally thought. Most of our perils were our own fault, and we should have been more prepared. In retrospect, it might have been better to have a map or more food and water. At a restaurant in Jericho's town center, we filled our bellies with the nourishment we had failed to pack, and afterward, we took a car back to Jerusalem. We had arrived back to where we had started, this time with a Wadi Qelt survival story to contribute to the pool for would-be adventurers—and one that Sarit and I could laugh about after the fact, for years to come. For me, it was a once-in-a-lifetime kind of trek, but if I were ever to do it again, I'd do it with a little more preparation, and a little less trepidation of the bedouins. From our experience, you can't believe everything you hear.