Incidents and accidents: Holy land tourism, part 3

December 12, 2018

By Matthew E. Milliken
Dec. 12, 2018

So, about our time in Tiberias…

I’ve already chronicled many of the hitches and goof-ups that threatened to complicate my 2009 trip to Israel with Lady X. But I haven’t written about the sticky situation we got into on our first morning in the city nestled on the west bank of the Sea of Galilee, also known as Lake Tiberias, a.k.a. the Kinneret. (And it has a few other names to boot!)

After a leisurely breakfast, X and I drove down the hill and into town without much of a plan. After exploring a bit in our car, we strayed south of the main town and spotted an intriguing road leading toward the top of one of the picturesque grassy hills that loomed in the middle distance. We decided to head up the road without knowing what was there.

We got to the top of the hill and discovered a flat space that had been leveled, evidently in advance of some kind of construction. (I believe the site may have been selected to accommodate a recreation center of some sort.) There were, if memory serves, a bulldozer and maybe a few other pieces of construction equipment arrayed around the plateau, but no one was present.

Something else was missing, too: Solid ground. The paved road petered out shortly after we got to the top. And since a storm had passed through the previous afternoon, the ground was quite soft. Our Fiat Punto’s wheels lost traction a couple of times. We never became fully mired in the mud, but my anxiety began to spike.

Even worse, there were some loose bits of gravel or rock that the wheels occasionally kicked up. Some of these dinged off the body and undercarriage of the car, making frightful noises.

Would we need to call a tow truck? Would a tow truck even be able to reach us without getting stuck in the same impromptu bog that now surrounded us? The prospect of a very expensive off-road rescue loomed in my mind.

At one point, I contemplated putting the car into reverse and backing onto solid ground. I’m not sure if I actually tried that, however — it’s possible I feared being unable to back down the incline without running off the road, which would definitely have damaged the car. Or maybe I did try to back the vehicle onto the pavement stub at the edge of the plateau but found that the wheels just spun in place without propelling the car in the direction I wanted.

In the end, I just kept inching the car forward, never going too fast in an effort to avoid getting stuck and damaging the rental.

Eventually, we made it to more solid pavement at another edge of the plateau. When I got out of the car — possibly after taking the road down the hill and to the edge of the byway that had brought us to the foot of the rise in the first place — I discovered that the lower body and undercarriage of the car was muddy. There was also an indentation behind one of the wheel wells where, presumably, a stone had been shot up against the car.

Naturally, I was not very happy when I saw the dimple that the stone had made. How much was rental company going to charge me because of that? I wondered. I decided that I’d just have to cross my fingers and hope for the best.

The remainder of the day (and of our time in Tiberias) was wonderful. X and I drove back toward town, parked near the waterfront, and happily wandered around for several hours, pausing for lunch at an outdoor table at a restaurant called Little Tiberias. (Like many outdoor spaces in Israel, the seating area was accessorized with one of the country’s copious stray cats.) Later that day, we looked through the market. Some clouds rolled in, and we stopped to enjoy tea and some sweets and played Scrabble at a table outside a cute cafe.

When we dropped off the car at Ben Gurion International Airport a few days later, the rental company didn’t say boo. And that, friends, was that…

Except it wasn’t! One year later, a $10 charge from the Israeli rental car company showed up on my credit card bill. I thought about challenging it — how could I be charged 12 months after returning the vehicle?! — but never got around to it.

And those, dear friends, were all of the hitches, glitches and hangups of my 2009 trip to Israel.

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