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Here, there, everywhere... A modest attempt at chronicling my around the world adventure over the next year (or so).

the big 'I'

ISRAEL | Saturday, 13 June 2009 | Views [838] | Comments [1]

We said goodbye again to Bianca and Akram the evening before traveling to Israel because we were planning on an early start on Saturday. In Israel with the Sabbath on Saturday most things are not open from sunset Friday to sunset Saturday this also affects the border crossing between Jordan and Israel which has limited hours on both sides. When we got the North bus station in Amman we found a minibus that was going to the border and was cheaper then the shared taxi so we hoped on board. An hour and half later we made it to the Jordan border at the King Hussein/Allanby crossing between the two countries with 30 minutes to spare before things opened. After paying the departure tax again and taking the shuttle bus between the two countries (about 2km), we arrived outside the first Israeli border checkpoint. We waited in line with other shuttle buses and a few VIP vans for the border guards to search the bus. Then we all got off, they checked our passports and we got back on the bus to actually enter the immigration processing building. The most obvious first thing any traveler would notice is the heavily armed border guards walking around all areas with machine guns and a few dogs. One other thing we learned before coming to the border is that most of the immigration officials are women, this stems from the mandatory military service for all Israeli 18 year-olds and the government is just now phasing in women into more combat situations so before they did things like border enforcement and immigration. We also heard they can be real hardasses but we were not even inside yet so we had yet to even interact. When we got off the bus outside the immigration building there was a chaotic "line" to get your luggage scanned and tagged so you could enter without it and pick it up after going through immigration. We quickly learned that if you looked like a tourist and had a few spare dollars, Israeli shekels or Jordanian dinar you could get your bags taken quicker. Having traveled in the Middle East for over a month now we gave a few dinars to the bag guy and were on our way but not before they got yelled at by their supervisor because it seemed this "tipping" practice was not official policy. Once inside we went through our first metal detector/bag search before queuing up to actually talk with an immigration official. I had read that Americans get an automatic 90 day free visa so if they ask how long you staying just say the full amount. Well Jessica did not read the same thing so when the immigration officer asked how long we were staying Jessica said 5 days (which was not enough regardless of the 90 days) and then I said it is at least 7 days. Well of course that raised suspicion so we had wait until another officer came to ask us more questions. I guess we made him feel better since they let us go through after waiting for another 20 minutes. After collecting our bags we were finally outside working on our next issue of how to get to the Tel Aviv airport to meet Julio and Linda. Again, the Sabbath did not help as there not any buses running to the airport it seems everything went to Jerusalem first then you had to figure out a way to the airport since it was between Jerusalem and Tel Aviv.

We pulled into Jerusalem having no idea where we were at and it was past 12:00pm and Julio's plane was arriving at 2:00pm. After walking around a little we realized we were in the Arab section of Jerusalem and it would have to either take a taxi to the airport or a shared minivan to Tel Aviv then a taxi to the airport. After comparing the costs we bit the bullet and negotiated a taxi straight to the airport. It did not matter by then because we had already spent our daily budget just on transportation and I just wanted to get to the airport to meet Julio. The drive to the airport was rather quick since hardly anyone was on the road driving and we got to the airport by 2:00pm. We stumbled into the arrivals terminal exhausted but excited that we had finally made it to the airport after leaving Amman, Jordan at 7:00am. After finding the bathroom and then making our way to the flight arrival board I hear this 'Mikey' from behind and we turn to see Julio sitting in the seats in the waiting area. After exchanging hugs and hellos we learned he had landed a little early and had been waiting about 15 minutes. He and Linda were flying separately and her flight did not arrive until after 6:00pm so we just sat down and talked. We were so excited to see and hear a friendly face as it had been since January that we had actually talked to any friends or family in person (except on Skype). Turns out we were exhausted from the day but Julio was well rested having been moved to first class at his connection in New York so he flew all the way to Tel Aviv in first class and had lived it up! We talked about our plans to tour Israel/Palestine for a week then he and Linda were going to fly to Turkey for the second week before coming back to Tel Aviv and flying home to Utah. They had not made any reservations for Turkey yet so Julio started to check prices with some of the last minute airline ticket agencies located in the terminal. At about 6:30pm Linda arrived and after more hugs and hellos we grabbed a cab for downtown Tel Aviv and our hostel. It was after dark when we arrived and checked in, they in their double room and Jessica and I in our dorm rooms. Not too impressed with the staff, we wandered out for dinner, it was after sunset so things were starting to pick up around the city finally!

The next day Julio and Linda were ready to go early ( Linda got up at 5:30am) and Jessica and I were a little slower as our traveling schedule was more of a getting up later and going to bed later. After breakfast we followed a walking tour of some parts around the city then made our way to the beach. Tel Aviv has several beaches and as Jess and I discovered they were much nicer then others we had visited in the Middle East. During this time Julio and Linda also went to more travel agencies to firm up their Turkey travel plans. We finally caught up to the them with more information but still no reservations so we went to a few stores while they sorted out the money thing (American credit cards do not always work abroad) and when we met up the next time they had booked their flights to Turkey! They were leaving on June 12 for Turkey which gave us 5 full days to explore Israel/Palestine before they had to leave. Considering how much history exists in this country this is just a fraction of the time needed. (sounds like a return trip is in order!). We decided to not stay in Tel Aviv for a second night as they were coming back after Turkey so they had more time to explore so we caught the evening bus to Jerusalem and decided to use it has our base for exploring other areas. The bus was pretty typical except there were some loud and obnoxious teenagers sitting right behind us. Julio told them to quiet down which only seemed to make things worse especially since we do not speak Hebrew and had no idea what they were saying. Another Israeli also got into with them on our behalf and told us to walk with him when the bus stopped in case they wanted to 'make trouble'. Turns out they did not and we thanked him and grabbed a cab to the old city for our hostel. We arrived at the hostel and they only had a triple room left which meant they would have to drag in another mattress for the floor which I slept on after Jessica lost the coin toss for bed selection. Again, the next morning Julio and Linda arose early and went for a walk while we slept then we all got ready to tour the old city after finding some breakfast. The old city of Jerusalem is within the old walls that have been rebuilt several times since Kind David founded Jerusalem. We were also going to go on a free walking tour of the old city from the same company that does them in Europe (we took on in Berlin and it was great). During this tour we visited all of the quarters within the old city-Muslim, Christian, Jewish and Armenian and learned about 3000 years of history within 3 hours. The tour was given by a younger Israeli woman who had a master's degree in some sort of Hebrew/Israeli history, she was great and did her best too remain neutral as a Jew but it was hard with so much history in this city especially between Jews and Arabs. We did learn that over the centuries after Jews were kicked out of Jerusalem it has been the Muslims not the Christians who have invited them back to live. Somewhere that got turned around and Jews and Christians became friends and Muslims  and Jews became foes. After the tour we took siestas (Julio and Linda were starting to feel the 'heat' from our travel schedule and from the temperature outside we were in the desert after all). The next day they decided to take a tour to Masada, Dead Sea and Jericho and we opted to travel back to Tel Aviv to hit the beach since we would not be able to return to Tel Aviv during the trip. We finally got to Tel Aviv around 1:30 but had to be back in Jerusalem by 7:30pm to meet them for dinner so it was a bit of a waste of transportation money and time but hey it was the beach. I say this not because I am cheap, well I am but also because Israel was really expensive for our meager budget and things were adding up quickly every day so much so that we were going over our budget every day not by a little but by a lot. That evening Julio and Linda treated us to a nice dinner (they felt sorry for us!) and Julio, Lind and I shared a great bottle of Israeli Cabernet Sauvignon. We laughed, talked loud and generally enjoyed ourselves and each other's company. The following morning we made our way up to Mt of Olives to tour other famous sites like the Virgin Mary's tomb, old Jewish cemeteries and fantastic views of the city. That afternoon we took our daily siesta to avoid the heat and then made our way out for dinner. We also made plans to tour the Jerusalem in Lights exhibition that was all along the old city walls however my stomach was not feeling well so we saved it for another night. The next day we made plans to visit Bethlehem so we could see how the Palestinians were living and see were Jesus was supposedly bornفخBethlehem and crossed the checkpoint into the city after about 45 minutes. We got up early to catch the bus into Bethlehem and crossed the checkpoint into the city. As we wandered around the Church of the Nativity we also read literature about how Palestinians were being treated by Israel in their own land. It became pretty clear there were so many disconnects and conflicts between the two cultures that it was not surprising there has been conflict for hundreds of years. We also walked through a refugee camps located within the city. This was a bit surprising to all of us thinking there would be tents set up and more of a camp setting that is typically shown for a refugees. In reality it was more like a very poor part of the city were people live din run-down apartments buildings. After this we walked up the hill to find a tomb area that we had read about only to be thwarted by the enormous and utterly ridiculous wall that the Israeli's have been building to keep Palestinian terrorists out of Israel. The wall is 8 meters high, twice has high as the Berlin Wall and is over 2/3 built throughout the country. There is frequent Palestinian graffiti on the wall including a few words about America's continued funding of Israeli aid which indirectly helps build the wall. It is also covered with barbed wire and there are periodic guard towers. We also visited a house that the wall goes around on all sides and surround the entire house, and then realized the tomb we were searching for in the beginning is on the other side of the wall. This wall was the absolute wrong response to the issue of Palestinians crossing into Israeli lands to insight trouble and further enhanced the division between both peoples. After the wall we walked through the checkpoint back onto the Israeli side which involved going through numerous turnstiles, talking to immigration officers and generally being herded like cattle, again ridiculous. To think that people do this everyday to work on the other side is dehumanizing and unfathomable for most Americans or probably for most people in the world. We also met a Palestinian who went to the University of Michigan but could no longer go back to the US from Israel because he was not allowed to travel to the airport and could only travel to Amman, Jordan if he wanted to fly somewhere.

That evening we had our last dinner together as Julio and Linda were leaving at 5am for Turkey the next morning. Over dinner we talked more about the Palestinian/Israeli conflict especially in the context of actually experiencing it on the ground and not through the media. It is also telling because Julio has had an interest in becoming a Jew over the last year but I think perhaps he was beginning to question this idea. As we said goodbye to our friends we wished them safe travels, thanked them for coming to visit us in Israel/Palestine and looked forward to seeing them again in a few months back in the USA. We also reflected on how different our experience had been for us having spent of 6 weeks traveling through Arab countries. Generally, (with a few great exceptions) Jews that we had interactions with throughout Israel were not as warm or welcoming as Arab people we had met in various countries. I think Jessica and I both felt much more comfortable and welcomed in Arab countries compared to our visit in Israel/Palestine. This seems counterintuitive considering the long-standing

relationship and support the United States had had with Israel over the last 60 years. While we both enjoyed Jerusalem and Tel Aviv for their energy, history and more western feel compared to Arab countries, the people generally treated us differently. I think this comes from a new and real fear that Israelis have with President Obama. This became apparent in speaking with an Israeli woman one evening at dinner. She told us most Israelis liked George Bush if not his policies in other parts of the world, definitely his treatment of Israel. She was however very uncertain about how Obama would treat Israel especially since he had just spoken in Cairo to the Arab world the week before.  Whatever Obama's intentions are for Israel only time will tell. In speaking with Palestinians they are much more optimistic about their future with Obama as president. Regardless, it seems that the unequal support that has existed over the last 50 years in this part of the world seems to be shifting in a direction that makes some new groups nervous or happy depending on your situation. This is not my usual soapbox about the conflicts in the Middle East but more of a semi-informed reality of spending time on the ground in this part of the world. This also does not reflect some hatetred for Arabs or Jews but more my opinion on how I view things possibly changing over the next few years. To be continued…

We crossed back over the border into Jordan back to Amman (it is much easier to leave Israel then enter, hmmm…) for a few days to recuperate and relax before flying to our final leg of our journey. The mysterious, spiritual, and diverse country of India is our next destination. We have both been looking forward to visiting India for many months and can hardly believe this is our last stop on the world tour. The time has disappeared faster then anyone can imagine as a year is such a small fraction of you life, and while we are all very connected around the planet, the world is still such a big place to travel around. We are again staying with our Couchsurfing friends Bianca and Akram, this time for longer and hope to visit the Dead Sea from the Jordanian side before leaving for India on Tuesday. The pictures from Israel/Palestine are posted on the blog and any new ones from Jordan I will post in the Jordanian galleries. Cheers and ciao until and India.  صث

Tags: israel, jerusalem, old city, palestine, tel aviv, wall



What is the best way to enjoy reading about Michael and Jessica's travels? Grab a cup of tea, turn off the phones, get into a comfy chair and spoil yourself with their adventures.

You two!! This is an enormous treat, I've so enjoyed every word, every step of your journey, every bus ride with you, each tourist attraction, all your friends along the way....you are right, it is hard to believe you are on the last leg of the journey. We look forward to reading about your experiences in India...happy travels further x

  Barry and Francis Jun 24, 2009 8:51 PM

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