A warning: this post is going to read much like those really annoying posts that go blahblahblahPICTUREblahblahblahPICTUREblahblahblahPICTUREblahblahblahTRAVELING IS AWESOME. But I won’t do exactly that, partly because I don’t think down-sizing pictures to fit within that format does them any justice, and partly because this epic tale needs to be told in some vaguely interesting way even though nothing could do it justice.
The story begins at 11:30 on a Thursday night, boarding a bus along with fifty other younguns – civilian and soldier – headed for a party party weekend down in the beach oasis of Eilat, or headed to Sinai to break loose in the scorching Egyptian sun. My assigned seat (what?!) was the aisle, next to a tall, dark, and handsome Air Force officer. With a machine gun. Fine, because it stayed between him and the window. I was stoked about the aisle seat until the bus had more passengers than seats, and aisle next to me was apparently prime sleeping-on-the-floor space. Not just anyone slept their, either, but an Army kid and his machine gun were bumping against my leg all night. AND he was watching Inglourious Basterds on his iPod but kept turning so I couldn’t even watch with him. Insult to injury, damnit.
Getting to Eilat, I grab a taxi to the Taba border. The taxi driver quickly discovers I don’t speak Hebrew, only English, and immediately asks if I speak French – and we speak French all the way to Egypt.
After paying some bizarre fees (98 shekels to get out of Israel), explaining my possession of two passports to the Egyptian border guards (how did they know?), and being proposed to (ahlan wa sahlan to the Middle East, eh?) I get a bus/minibus/van/shared taxi with a bunch of Israelis anxious to begin their vacations outside the Promised Land. We pay 75 Egyptian pounds to some guy in a kiosk, drive recklessly for hours over desert, between sun and sand and salt, variously passing by Bedouin villages, Hilton-type resorts, and kitchy sea-side “camps” and “wellness retreats”. When we eventually reach Dahab, about 2 hours and 100 LE later, I find I have to walk the last few blocks because my taxi driver was lazy, my room isn’t ready, and there’s not a cloud in the sky. Ah, well, could be worse.
We change into our bikinis and hit the beach. [I must interject here simply to say that, if nothing else, the Sinai peninsula is a place of stark contrast: abject Middle Eastern poverty playing host to international jet-setting affluence, donkeys on the streets and scuba divers in the sea, resorts fit for a king and cities of half-built buildings.] We find lounge chairs and settle in with our beverages: Nescafe, mango juice, liter upon liter of water. And sunblock. Important point: I DID use sunblock, of course, being concerned primarily with areas-of-concern I, like always, neglected the backs of my legs. So after three or four hours of lounging, swimming, photographing, and napping, my lobster-red thighs were pointed out to me. I should learn to use a timer like in Gidget.
I must also acknowledge my own negligence and stupidity: after being shown the error of my ways, I still didn’t put any on, and snorkeling for another two hours only made things worse. But it’s okay, because the snorkeling was awesome. I saw a fish with feathers, a fish with spikes, a swordfish-y fish, a fish with a horn and a grumpy face, a giant fish, lots of pretty tiny fish, and an octopus. And the water is beautiful and the reef is beautiful and the sky is beautiful and now I see why people love Sinai. * Sigh * … A delicious, decadent dinner at a discount, walking and talking and merry-making along the shore, Egyptians grow better weed than Israelis, one of those things like a night to remember.
We get on a bus, asleep in an instant, and next thing we know we’re at the border. In line. In the sun. With various levels of sunburn, hangovers, dehydration, and anxiety for our border crossing. Luckily – magically – it was uneventful and VICTORY! my visa is bueno again. Taxi, bus station, Jerusalem! Sleep, not long enough. Bus, bus, old city! Meander, weave, wander, here we are in East Jerusalem. Cross a street and board a van to Ramallah. Palestine, here we come!
Crossing the line is a shock to the senses. You leave the area defined as part of Israel and enter the area defined as Occupied Territories and it becomes drier, dustier, more haggard and depressing. A sign warns people (Israelis?) that they are not permitted to bring their cars here for repairs. But in Ramallah we can speak again, Arabic everywhere. We circle the streets and are directed towards the parking-garage-cum-bus-station where we find a taxi going to Taybeh (and on it – surprise – a friend from Haifa!).
Taybeh is delicious and amazing, good food and drink and people and music (Golani reggae!) and dancing (dabka!), a hilltop village overlooking…everything. The best of vibes, it makes me miss everything about music festivals and communities and all those things that I just haven’t had in so long. A fabulous place, and they make good beer so who can complain? And then, and then…the stomach ache. And it gets worse. And worse. But we leave, because we have to, because we have to get back to Haifa. The car ride makes it worse, emergency stop at a hotel in Ramallah, walk to the parking-garage-bus-station and stop – nausea – turn around and puke in a trash can. (Can I make one recommendation; if you are feeling ill, definitely drink Arabic coffee before you puke because then your puke at least tastes really good, relatively speaking.) Our taxi driver (God bless him) bought me some tea which I sipped, I napped, and we got to the checkpoint. So much traffic! So much paranoia and fear! But our taxi was all internationals so…luckily we got right through. I dropped my passport in front of the soldier and told him I was sick and he said he could tell. Nice guy, really. Too bad he’s a soldier at a West Bank checkpoint.
Let me just summarize: in one day, I went to a beer festival in Palestine, puked in a trash can in Ramallah, and survived an infamous Israeli checkpoint. Still the pinnacle of my life to date. Because it was amazing, and it makes me badass.
So we get back to Jerusalem, I am feverish and can barely walk, we get to the bus station only to find that there are no more buses to Haifa, and if we take the bus to Tel Aviv we’ll miss the last bus from there to Haifa, so after much angst and debate and death wishes (on my part) we decide to stay at a friend’s house. (Much love.) I can barely sleep because I’m feverish but at least no longer expelling the entirety of my innards from my system, but in the morning – as it turns out – a compadre, too, has come down the same exact case of food poisoning as I have. Poor girl. So we straggle as a team to the bus stop (5:30 am), get on the next bus from J’lem to Haifa (6:30), and straggle home (9:00).
Then, we sleep. And here we are.