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An Unforgettable Journey
Written by Dai Lougher   
Wednesday, 23 February 2011 14:45

An Unforgettable Journey

In April 1979, at the end of my teaching contract at Kalabo Secondary School, Western Province, Zambia, I flew back to the UK via Kenya and Israel, spending several days in Mombasa and then, Jerusalem. This turned out to be the most memorable journey I have ever taken.

I travelled from Nairobi to Mombasa on the deluxe overnight train. This train is a survivor from colonial Kenya and still reflects something of the splendour of the colonial period under the British. I booked in at the Diani Beach Hotel where I enjoyed a few days sunbathing on the white sandy beach and swimming in the warm Indian Ocean. This was capped with a visit to the old part of Mombasa where I visited the quaint historic Fort Jesus, and some curio shops.

The next stage of my journey took me to Nairobi Airport to catch the El Al flight to Israel. The El Al security at Nairobi Airport was very tight (this was nearly three years after the Entebbe Hijacking) as I was soon to discover. I was casually dressed, sporting a beard, and carrying a duffle bag on my shoulder. After the usual security questions, my bag set off the metal detector alarm, so I had to remove its contents for examination. The first article out was a rock sample wrapped in newspaper, followed by several others. I was taking them back for my brother Dan who was studying geology. I had to unwrap each one (did they think they were hand-grenades?). Worse was to come! I also had a few Zambian-made knives in my bag. I somehow managed to convince them that they were souvenirs. I was then asked to go over to one of the cubicles where they carried out a strip search. Oh the indignity of it all! I felt like saying “If you’re looking for a terrorist he’s most likely to be in the group of tourists over there” but resisted the temptation. Surprisingly they did not confiscate the rock samples or the knives.

I arrived at Ben Gurion airport and got a taxi to Jerusalem where I booked in at an Anglican Hospice near the wall of the old city All the rooms were occupied so I shared the dormitory with two interesting characters . One was an English civil servant on holiday from the army base in Cyprus. The other was an Australian who was a presenter, if my memory serves me right, on the BBC “Today” program. We, together with a vivacious young woman from South Africa, decided to book a taxi (driven by a Christian Arab) to visit the various historical sights. The driver turned out to be an excellent guide.

Jerusalem is one of the most interesting cities I have ever visited. It is the centre for three major Abrahamic faiths – Islam, Judaism, and Christianity. This is reflected in its diverse culture, religious sites and buildings, and three Sabbaths (Friday, Saturday, and Sunday. Its atmosphere is charged with religious emotion and its wall imbued with memories of its  past. A fragile peace exists which can be broken at any time. It is surrounded by a wall with seven gates and divided into four quarters – Christian, Armenian, Jewish, and Muslim. We visited the holy sites including the Via Dolorosa, the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, the Garden Tomb, the Western Wall Plaza, and saw the Dome of the Rock.

Other highlights were swimming in the Jordan River, floating in the Dead Sea, and a visit to Masada, where a mass suicide of rebels took place during the Roman invasion of A.D. 72.

The final leg of my journey was a flight to London, a train to Swansea, and a long cold wait for the valley bus to Cwmtwrch.