Monday, May 21, 2007

The kindness of strangers

Blame it on multi-tasking. Or maybe just a brain burp.

I arrived at my Jerusalem hotel, only to find (forgive the allusion)…no room at the inn. Which somehow seemed appropriate for an afternoon when nothing has gone exactly as planned.

Earlier in the day, I arrived at the Jordan-Israel border with plenty of time to spare before my flight. I’d been warned that the Israelis can be extremely thorough when you re-enter – “they give you such as hassle,’’ one friend told me – but all the formalities went delightfully smoothly.

And then I got to the airport.

The friend who joined me for a few days in Jordan – an American woman – and I were grilled by the security people. They asked about our itinerary, why I was here, who paid for my trip, how she and I were related, how long we’ve known each other, where we stayed each night. When I told them I’d stayed at two different hotels in Madrid, they seemed completely befuddled– until I explained it had to do with budget. (My boss told me to save money.)

We were questioned separately for about 30 minutes, then the two security people conferred. Then they asked each of us more questions. They asked me to sign on to the Miami Herald’s website; seeing my blog seemed to give them some assurance that I really am a travel writer.

They were infallibly polite and professional. Their biggest concerns, it seemed, were my friend’s detailed grocery list for an upcoming dinner party (code only for, “Honey, can you go to the grocery and get all this stuff before I get home?’’) and the idea that perhaps we had unwittingly fallen prey to evildoers. (We hadn’t.) But the security concern is entirely understandable, given the situation in this part of the world, and we were happy to let them go through our bags. (“You’re the most organized traveler I’ve ever seen,’’ the guard told me.)

Free at last, we hopped on our plane … only to be delayed. We boarded, then got off, then got on again, arriving in Tel Aviv about an hour late.

Next, the Nesher Shuttle to our Jerusalem hotel. Turns out we had just missed the previous shuttle, and another hour later we were at last on our way. We were, of course, the second-to-last people to get dropped off, just a few minutes before midnight.

Which wouldn’t have been so bad except for the reservation problem. There wasn’t one.

Turns out that I made the reservation for the right days….but the wrong month. At the very moment that I will be taking the 48-hour train from Beijing to Tibet, I was booked into the Little House in Bakah in Jerusalem. Ouch!

The two incredibly nice gentlemen at the Little House in Bakah called around and found us a room in a nearby hotel where the price was right. This was no small favor as Jerusalem is entirely booked for a holiday, and tomorrow night our digs are going to be a bit tight, to say the least.

But we will have a room; the two men at the Little House made sure of it. So here’s to the kindness of strangers.

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