Jericho Camel Stop, or My First Encounter With the Negev

 The road from Tiberias to Jerusalem is long. I didn’t kow how long until I went to sleep as soon as the bus left Tiberias and woke up, refreshed, and not yet to Jericho. I went to sleep surrounded by trees and water and awoke surrounded by brown desert. “So this is the Negev” I thought. “And off to the right, to the west, will the oldest city on the planet, where Joshua fit the battle, where the walls came a’tumbling down.”

 Our tour group had 569 people, half of them women. There were long lines at the bathrooms everywhere we’d visited, and I had planned ahead for this trip. I’d drunk less coffee and almost no water that morning. Dehydration is better than being in extremis, which I’d tried our first morning on the bus. (The bus had no bathrooms.)

 After another hour, we hadn’t yet made the turn to climb the hill to Jerusalem and my bladder was, to be polite, over-full. Finally, our tour guide took pity on us and asked our driver, David, to pull over at the service station / café / parking lot camel ride.

 We pulled in and already the line to the bathrooms was a hundred women long. The women’s bathrooms, mind you, the men’s bathrooms never had a line. Ever.

 “Come on, we’re not waiting” I said to my girlfriend, Gloria.

 We stepped off the bus and walked what seemed like a quarter mile down to the end of the wooden café, gift shop, and gas station, turned the corner, and then turned the corner again and ran without running alongside the buildings. Our dismay grew the farther we shuffled. To our right the ground fell away steeply and opened out into the windswept Negev; the café and outbuildings were full of windows and gaps that showed through to the parking lot (and the long lines waiting for the bathrooms). A hot wind blew dust from the Negev into our eyes.

 Finally! A piece of plywood propped up against a shed offered some shelter. We darted around to the back of it and nearly ran down one of the bus drivers.

 “What are you doing here!” Gloria demanded.

 “Having a cigarette” he said, quickly pulling his hand out from behind his back and holding up as evidence the burning butt end of a cigarette. “We’re not supposed to smoke in front of the tourists.”

 “Well you can’t stay here” I said, “We have to go to the bathroom right now. And we are sorry to be so rude but we really can’t wait.”

 Without a word he walked away. He appeared grateful.

 We immediately dropped trou and squatted right where we were. The wind howled up from the Negev, hot and dusty across our bare behinds. We sat bare-bottomed in that wind so long we carried on a detailed conversation about what we were going to do in Jerusalem. We squatted so long we were certain that someone was going to come sauntering around a building, looking for a photo opportunity. They were probably stuck in the bathroom line.

 We stood, finally, smiling and laughing quietly, and walked slowly and comfortably around the end of the building. La la la, let’s sing a carefree song.

 I looked at Gloria. “I need a cappuccino. You?”

 “Some fruit juice, I think” she said, giggling. “Yes, some juice. I suddenly feel parched.”

 We got our drinks and went out to the picnic tables in front of the café and sat down. We were next to the bathrooms. Our tour guide, Mark, was standing at the entrance directing traffic and yelling to the people inside to hurry. “Remember where you were standing only a few minutes ago, my people!” he shouted over the howling Negev wind.

 “This is probably the best cappuccino ever” I said.

 We told the story to a few people once we were safely in our Jerusalem hotel and could never get through it all with dissolving into laughter. Desperation after the fact was funny, especially since it ended well. To this day if I want to get Gloria to collapse in laughter is to say “Jericho Camel Stop.” It was one of the highlights of a great trip.

Gloria, all smiles, after the Jericho Camel Stop scene

Gloria, all smiles, after the Jericho Camel Stop scene

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