Yeah, I’m in Israel – and I’ve been keeping busy. Doing what, you ask?
Well, the first day I was here, I slept a bit and so did Zach (he had just gotten back from his own world tour and hadn’t slept since) and when we both woke up, he took me around Haifa with his ex girlfriend, Moran, and we visited some of the city’s major sights. A lot of Haifa is up on a hill and so you get some spectacular views from above. We visited some really nice temple made by the Bahais (look them up on google) and then went out to the Kibbutz. The Kibbutz are various farms in the Israeli countryside where people live and farm in exchange for food and housing or a modest pay. Kind of like an experiment in socialism, but (imagine this) they all seemed to be failing and so now they are more commercial in that people get paid and have to pay for food and housing. But the farms are really nice and relaxing and the people are friendly. We stayed in Moran’s dad’s house and drove her grandma’s golf cart around the grounds while Zach and Moran showed me the various crops and animals. It was pretty cool and that night, Zach and I played some chess (just like the good old days in Nepal). We also went out and got some killer Arabic food (schwarma: a pita with all sorts of spices and vegetables and meat roasted rotisserie style).
In the morning, Zach and I headed back to his place and then to a little beach city called Akko. The city is surrounded by an ancient wall that actually held up against one of Napoleon’s conquests. It was nice to wander around the cobbled streets and take in the atmosphere. The views of the ocean from atop the wall were incredible. So then it was back to Haifa for a nice family meal and then got ready for Jerusalem. The plan was this: go to Jerusalem by bus, meet up with Zach’s friend Hen, stay at her place for two nights while exploring Jerusalem during the day and on the third day, visit the dead sea and go swimming in it.
So that is basically what we did. On the bus ride over to Jerusalem, I met a really cool girl named Inbal and we chatted the whole way over there. Israel seems to have lots of really hot girls. A lot of them have bellies and have an “S” shape though. It’s kind of hard to describe. It’s like their bellies come out and, at the same time, so do their asses and they like to jiggle while they walk, so as I’m sure you can imagine, it’s a pretty funny thing to watch your typical prissy Israeli girl walk around. I’ve never seen anything quite like it in my life. But Inbal didn’t have the “S” thing, and she was beautiful, so the bus ride went by pretty quickly.
When we arrived, Zach and I tracked down Hen’s house and she welcomed us in and gave us food. We then went to the Holocaust Museum and spent a few hours there. To be honest, I thought it would affect me a lot more than it did – although it was really well done. They had a lot of videos of personal accounts and stuff from the war – and displays with a lot of history on it, but what happens is that there is so much information that the brain gets kind of overwhelmed and you just start glossing over it. It becomes like a history book, and those aren’t known for being super personal. There is so much going on in it that you can’t really wrap your mind about what it’s really about. I think the movie “The Pianist” affected me more, but I think the point of the museum is to educate, not to make you cry. And as far as that goes, I did learn quite a bit.
So after that, we went to the Old City of Jerusalem and wandered around the market in the Christian quarter. As it was getting dark, we didn’t have much time there, and we very quickly left to meet Hen at the apartment. Only we got lost and ended up spending an hour wandering around the city before we finally just got into a cab and went there. That night, Zach and I went with Hen to her friend’s house where a bunch of her friends had gathered to watch a movie for a class. Only no one had rented the movie. We ended up picking some random one off the shelf and watching it, and I was happy because I got free food.
In the morning, Zach and I went back to the Old City – only Zach wasn’t feeling well, so he ended up going home early and left me to my own devices. I saw the Tower of David museum which is a really old part of the original city wall that hasn’t been destroyed and rebuilt – and that was cool. And then to the Western Wall which is another original (and holy) segment of the wall. The Western Wall was interesting in that there were a bunch of really religious Jews praying at it and bowing while reading scripture or banging their heads into the walls. They had a separate section for men and women and I had to cover my head with the little Jewish hat (a kippa) before entering the area (the kippa I wore was basically just a little paper hat, which could have easily doubled as a French fry holder). After that, I spent a few hours just wandering through the thousands of cobbled stone alleyways that make up the Old City of Jerusalem. It was a pretty surreal experience to wander around streets that Jesus himself probably wandered around several thousand years ago. I wasn’t using a guide book, which was nice because occasionally I would stumble upon some really nice church or mosque or some other religious place. One place I found claimed to be the Prison of Christ, which is where he was supposedly kept while on trial. It was pretty crazy seeing as it was several floors below ground and even if it wasn’t this one that he was kept at, it was something just like it. The cool thing is that people still live in all the random alleyways and you can wander for hours going down dead ends and having to turn around and go in a new direction. That’s the kind of stuff I live for – none of this tour group “now we go here and now we go there” stuff.
That night, I went back to Hen’s place and we all went out and got some food before going back home and crashing. We were all pretty tired. In the morning, Zach and I woke up early and headed to the Dead Sea. Man…it was so cool! The bus ride over there was pretty uneventful, and when we arrived, Zach went hiking for a while which I opted out of since it was far too hot. When he returned with the Finnish girls we had met, we wandered down to the shores of the dead sea and hopped in. It was great! You really do float and it’s actually hard to keep your feet down. When you look in the water, you can see the salt floating around in it (it’s kind of hazy but clear at the same time) and the rocks on the shore are all covered in crystallized salt. I got the photo with me floating in it and reading a magazine and we all just spent a while floating around in the water and making jokes. It was pretty surreal just being able to float around and paddle. It’s like you are your own boat!
After that, we hiked to a fresh water spring and waterfall and washed all the salt off our bodies. Then we caught the bus back to Jerusalum.
There I met and American girl named Judy and we chatted all the way back to Jerusalem. I don’t know what it is about Israeli buses and incredible girls, but I seem to sit next to them on all my trips. You know, I really have met thousands of people on this trip. Maybe if something happened and I remembered a funny story about some random person, I could tell you about quite a few of them. But then I have a special part in my memory for a few people who are really different. Of course, there are those who say that all people are special and different – and to a certain extent, they are right. But then there are a class of people beyond that, I’ve noticed. These people love life and make the most of it, and you can see it in their eyes and their smiles. They usually seem to be really intelligent people and it’s almost as though they have made a conscious decision to get as much out of their lives as they can. You can feel the life in them, and sadly, this is something that a lot of people don’t have. They just are there, floating around. I can’t really put this into words that well, but if you were to travel with me, I could point them out to you as we met them – but be warned, they are far and few in between.
So in this whole trip – I’ve met maybe, I’ll be generous, 10 of these people. This girl Judy was one of them and she could easily light up a room just by looking around it. And just to be clear, I don’t mean this in a sexual way. There is a difference between sexual beauty and poetic beauty. They are very, very different, mind you. One makes you think of sex and is usually based solely on looks. Poetic beauty (although these girls are usually beautiful to begin with) radiates from within and seeing it makes your heart beat like seeing a beautiful work of art or an incredible sunset. I’ve been pretty lucky in that I’ve been able to meet so many people and appreciate these nuisances as they are and it’s satisfying to meet these people and see such rare beauty first hand. It really is.
Or maybe I’m just making this all up 🙂
So Zach and I got back to Jerusalem and then headed to Haifa, then took a bus to his house and then had a really awesome dinner with his family again. I like Israeli meals. Everyone sits around and eats pita bread and hummus with olives and cheese and maybe something else and chats. It’s great. I then played Zach and then his dad chess and after that it was off to bed.
Today is just a relax day. We aren’t really doing anything because Zach’s parents need the car. But tomorrow I leave for Greece to start my European adventures. It’s gonna be pretty hectic traveling because I’m trying to cram a lot into two months. Then it’s back home.
But before I end this post, I’ll say a little bit about what I’ve seen in Israel.
The people here are great – very friendly and very social. When they meet you, they greet you with a genuine smile and a handshake and welcome you to wherever it is they are. Zach’s friends have given me free stuff from their stores and let me stay at their houses (and given me free food!). His parents have really gone out of their way to make me comfortable. Even with random people you meet on the street, you get the feeling that you’ve met these people many times before. And I guess a lot of that has to do with the fact that there are so few people in this country. Jerusalem, the capital, only has a half million people in it and I guess that kind of contributes to a small town mentality with regard to how people interact with each other. The other side of it is that everyone seems to have a gun. The military is mandatory here for teenagers and everywhere you go, you see soldiers going home, or to work or vacation – but always with their guns (which I am assuming you have to have with you). Sometimes they don’t even have their uniforms on and so you just see some random guy walking down the street with an M16. In the bus station in Eilat, there was a guy who had his gun on his lap and it was pointed directly at me across the building. I’m sure it was on safety, but it was still a bit unnerving. In addition, every time you go into a building, you have your bag checked and you have to go through a metal detector. The mall, the bus station, you name it. They search you. There are also cameras everywhere.
It’s just the way they live.
But I have really enjoyed my time here and will be sad to leave it. But onward I go. To the next random set of adventures – and hopefully, more beautiful girls!
I took the bus to Dahab. It wasn’t that bad and the ride was only 2 hours or so, so it could have been a lot worse. They had the AC blasting when I got on the bus, but then decided to open all the windows – and then shut it off, which (imagine this) caused it to get really hot. On the bus, I met Karen, a Danish girl who had done quite a bit of traveling herself. Her parents had bought a house on the beach in Dahab and she was meeting all her friends there for a nice month long vacation (still studying). She had an extra room and said I could have it. Hell yeah!
My plan was to get moving early the next morning toward Israel, but I ended up falling in love with Dahab. I was thinking that Sharm El-Shekh would be a good place to go on vacation, but I realized that it wouldn’t. Dahab is a nice little beach city that isn’t developed at all and they are just barely beginning to get a few good beach front backpacker restaurants and net cafes. It’s very relaxing and not crowded, and the diving and snorkeling is better than in Sharm. The restaurants are cool – basically, couches and cushions under umbrellas right on the beach. The food is cheap and there is coral 20 feet out from the shore so you can just snorkel over to it and observe the thousands of different types of fish and corals. Just across the bay, you can also barely make out the sandy mountains of Saudi Arabia in the distance. It was awesome. We all went snorkeling that evening and just hung out, had dinner and smoked sheesha. The next morning, we got up late and had breakfast at the beach and then snorkeled all day. When I went back to the house to get something, I noticed that my hammock had been stolen from the palm trees, so I tracked down some kids and offered 10 pounds (a little under two bucks) to the person who could “find” it. They found it. I always knew that money talked – but it never ceases to amaze me how many languages it can speak.
I got thoroughly burned that day, which I noticed back at the house and after reading for a bit, we headed back to the beach for dinner and more sheesha. I met Waleed, the guy who takes care of the house when Karen and her family aren’t there and he was a really cool guy. That night, after watching the moon rise up over the mountains, we headed back to the house and spent the evening eating popcorn, drinking beer and making jokes.
In the morning, I woke up and checked my email to see what the plan was for Israel with Zach. It turned out that his parents were on vacation in Eilat, on the border of Egypt and Israel, so we arranged for them to meet me because they might be able to give me a ride to Haifa. I took the bus to Taba and after a few hours was at the border with no Egyptian pounds. I had worked it out so that I would have no extra money when I left and would thus not waste any with bills I didn’t need.
Well, that bit me in the ass because I needed 2 pounds to cross the border. I had to run all around with a Brazilian guy in the same predicament to find someone who would give me some pounds for a dollar. So once I got that squared away, I went through customs and they searched my bag, thinking that my Maxim magazine was porn. When I finally made it out, it was time to enter the Israeli side. I met an Israeli girl inside the customs on the Egypt side and we chatted as we walked the 200 meters of “no man’s land” between the two countries. I told her about my plan for “Caseystan”.
What is Caseystan, you might ask? Well, seeing as these two countries aren’t doing anything with this land in between them, my plan is to conquer it and start my own country. I’ll let the US put a military base on it so I have protection and I’ll just slowly take chunks out of the other countries as I amass my empire. I’m sure it will be slow going, but you have to start somewhere, you know? I mean, wouldn’t it be impressive to have “ruler of small middle eastern country from 2005-present” on your resume? I’ll be accepting citizenship applications soon.
So we walked across the border and into the Israeli side and were then subjected to an hour long search. They rub a cloth over your bag and scan it for traces of bombs. They x-ray your bags, then search them and take out the electronics, then scan them again. Then search them again. Then rub the cloth over them again. They were really curious about my passport seeing as I had so many stamps and spent 20 minutes interviewing me about my trip to try to trip me up – but it really just turned into them trying to ask me about my trip, “I’m just asking for myself…is it hard to travel for two years???”
But eventually I made it out and Zach’s dad was waiting for me on the other side. We waited for his friend to come with the van and while we waited, I watched a guy and a girl walk naked along the beach looking at rocks. It looked like it was kind of awkward and they were just looking for an excuse to be naked together in public. I imagined the conversation was like this:
Girl: “Look at this rock!” Guy: “Yeah, nice rock. Look at this one!” Girl: “Yeah, that’s a nice one. Look at this one!” Over and over, until they both eventually said in unison: “So are we going to have sex, or what?”
I asked Zach’s dad if this was normal in Israel.
“In Tel Aviv or Haifa, no. But here at the beach, ehhhhh, maybe.”
So the guy came with the van and Avi (Zach’s dad) took me to his hotel to meet Zach’s mom and so that I could get a shower and rest. It turned out that they had no space in their van and couldn’t take me to Haifa, but would take me to the bus station and let me stay in the hotel until that time. So I did. Zach’s dad lent me 200 sheckles and we split up. I had to hang out at the bus station for several hours and it was cool just to see the people here interact.
The first thing you notice is that everywhere you go, someone is suddenly recognizing someone else and running over to them with a huge smile on their face. This country is really small, and seeing as everyone has to serve in the military, everyone seems to have some sort of a connection to everyone else. The next thing I’ve noticed is that the girls have stunning faces, but they all seem to have a bit of a belly. I don’t know why, but it’s not so bad. Israel is a relatively new country and the people in it came from a lot of countries to start it up – and the mix isn’t so unattractive. This place seems really social. Everyone talks to everyone, even strangers it seems and it’s quite comfortable. The cities look like any other city in America and so that’s not so different.
After three hours at the bus station, I hopped on the bus for a 6 hour journey from midnight to 6:00AM and Zach met me at the bus station and brought me to his house. And so here I am.
I’m tired. Time for bed.