Yalla! Yalla! Scenes from my Wadi Qelt hike

While staying in the West Bank of Israel, I went on a guided hiking tour of part of the Wadi Qelt. Wadi Qelt is a spectacularly dramatic crevice in the desert hills between Jerusalem and Jericho. (In Arabic, “Qelt” means valley or sometimes riverbed.) It follows the spring of Ein Qelt, which provides the route with lush greenery. Wadi Qelt used to be used as a major travel route in the Roman times. The tour was led by Hijazi Eid http://hijazih.wordpress.com/. There were three of us tourists, two American women and one German woman. Hijazi picked us up in Bethlehem and drove us to the beginning of the hike, at the top of chalky, undulating desert hills.
In this scene, D refers to me (Debra), H to Hijazi, and T and K to the other tourists (in order to protect their privacy.)

We all get our backpacks , water bottles, hats and sunglasses in place and start to hike.

Two minutes into the hike:

H: The valley of Wadi Qelt used to be used as a main travel route between Jerusalem and Jericho. We will not hike the whole valley today, though. Our hike will be about 15 kilometers. If you look below you’ll notice….

D: Look! A camel! Can we stop and take a picture?


K: Yes, let’s stop and get a picture.

T: Oh, I love camels. Hi, sweetie. [Pets camel on head.]

D: Hmmmm…that camel looks really dirty, but is still awfully cute. [Pets camel gingerly.]

Camel does the camel equivalent of rolling eyes and thinks, “Oh, brother. More tourists. It’s such a drag to be so picturesque.”
(Several minutes of picture taking and cooing ensue.)

Seven minutes into the hike:

H: So, as I was saying, if you look below, you’ll notice….

Small child walks up to us carrying scarves and says something in Arabic.

H: Does anybody want to buy a washaha [Arabic word for scarf)?

D: Kahwah? Did you say coffee? Yes, I’d love some.

H: Not coffee–scarf, washaha.

D: Oh, sorry. This one’s kind of pretty. [Fingers the scarf.] But no thanks. I don’t want a scarf.

K and T shake their heads no.

Ten minutes into the hike

H: OK, ladies, yalla, yalla [Arabic for “come on, let’s get going.”]

[Everybody starts walking.]

Twelve minutes into the hike.

H: If you look below, over there, you will see the remainders of an aqueduct. It was built over 2000 years ago by the Romans and was used by the Hasmonean rulers to carry water from the Ein Qelt [Spring of Qelt] to their palaces and to the city of Jericho.


D: Oh, wow! Look at those pretty flowers! What are they called?

T: Anemone

K: They are lovely. [Takes out camera.]

D: Yes, they are. And they are so, so…..red. [Takes out camera and stoops down low to take pictures.]

D, T, and K stop for a few minutes to take pictures.

T: It’s so beautiful here.

D: Yes, it is. I’m glad we’re here in the spring when everything is in bloom.

Sixteen minutes into the hike:

H: Ok, ladies. Yalla! Yalla!

Lady hikers start walking again.

Twenty minutes into the hike:
D: Look! There are the remains of some old structure over there. What is it?

H: The remains of a Roman aqueduct.

D: Really? The Romans built an aqueduct here?

H: Yes. They built it to lead the water from the Ein Qelt spring to Jericho and all the homes in

D: Oh, look at the lovely tree. It’s so green. K, could you please take a picture of me by this tree?


K: Sure, if you could take one of me, too. T, would you like us to take one of you, too?

T: Yes, please!

Several minutes of picture taking of lady tourists in front of tree ensue.

Twenty-five minutes into the hike:

H: Yalla, yalla, ladies. (Begins to sing a song in Arabic that has the refrain “yalla, yalla.”)

Ladies begin walking again.

H: Below you will see the remains of a flour mill from the 19th century. Today, a Bedouin family is living in the house and taking care of it.



D: (looking at her camera’s record of the 35 hiking pictures she’s taken so far while trying to hike at the same time) thinks, I look like a dork in this hat, but I need it to keep out the sun.

Thirty-one minutes into the hike:

T: Could we stop for a few minutes, please? I really need to go to the bathroom.

H: OK, just find a rock and we’ll wait for you up ahead.

D, K and H continue to walk a little bit to give T some privacy. They stand around and wait for t to finish. D thinks her foot might be starting to hurt a bit.

D: Hijazi, what would happen if I tripped and hurt my leg and couldn’t walk back?

H: I would have to carry you back. (He says this with a look of absolute terror in his eyes.)

D: Bummer. (That’s English for “that would be quite unfortunate for you.”)

Two minutes later, H presents D with a walking stick that he made from wood found near the path.


D thinks, That was very thoughtful of him!

H thinks, Please, God, please, please, please don’t let her hurt herself today!!! Not on my watch!

D: Hey, I think I saw a woman in that house over there. Does somebody live there?

H: Yes, a Bedouin family lives there, next to the remains of a flour mill from the 19th century.

T comes back from the powder room.

Thirty-eight minutes into the hike, the group have advanced about 300 meters and have collectively taken 72 photos.

H: Yalla, yalla, ladies. This is a four-hour hike without breaks. At the rate we’re going, though, it
will take us three days to get to Jericho. We need to pick up the pace.

T: Sure, of course.

D: No problem.

K: I’m ready.

H: Please be careful! Watch your step!

The ladies focus on hiking for several minutes. Progress is being made.

But then, 45 minutes into the hike:
D: Oh, look! There’s a Palestinian dog! I wonder if he speaks English? I really need to get a
picture of him. . . .

(Several minutes of “nice doggies” and “good boys” and “oh, I missed him in that shot” ensue.)
. . . . .
Fast forward eight hours. The group is still hiking.
D: How much longer before we’re there?

H: Just 15 minutes or so.

D thinks, I’m hot. My feet hurt. I’m thirsty. This hike is taking sooooo much longer than H said it would. He really needs to be more accurate in the future.


Author: DebraB

I am a Professor of English at Concordia University-St. Paul. I have a Ph.D. from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. My research interests include American literature, contemporary literature, Middle Eastern literature, African literature and feminist theory.

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