Israel Encore

Trip Start Mar 04, 2004
Trip End Jul 02, 2005

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Tuesday, February 1, 2005

Mike and I arrived in Eilat and he heaved a huge sigh of relief to be in a Western country again. I was amazed he made it, I thought they were going to arrest him at the border for sure. First we are in line and he goes, "Do you think I should declare my pepper spray?" which is hanging inside his jacket. I just didn't know what to say, I've never travelled with someone who carries pepper spray across borders...Then they saw his laptop and his two learn to speak Arabic CDs and I thought for sure Shin Bet was going to grill his ass for a couple days. How dodgy is a backpacker carrying a laptop, an expensive digital video recorder, Arabic CDs, and pepper spray?
So anyway, Eilat was standard partying for two days. Highlight for me was the best damn burger I've had in a year: huge patty, bacon, cheese (sooo not kosher) and all. Yum. And going back to the same restaurant Sarah's family had taken me to, for 15 different kinds of salads. I was in gastronmic ecstasy and Mike kept telling me I am weird.
In Jerusalam we took a day trip into the West Bank. We walked through a hole in the Separation Wall the Arabs have made that Israel either doesn't know about or doesn't care. Caught a sherut (shared taxi) to Jericho, one of the oldest continually inhabited cities in the world. The town centre was a trip, with little kids riding horses and donkeys, continually setting of firecrackers and waving their toys AK-47s in the air like Hamas fighters. The constant bangs were a tad disconcerting at first but then became just annoying. We visited the ruins of an old Ummayad-era palace with some important mosaics. However, the Umayyads just couldn't measure up to the Byzantines in my opinion and it took the Abbasids to really elevate Islamic art and architecture.
Then it was back to Tel Aviv. We hit up some nice lounges and met a cool Columbian kid named Cesar with a very open, happy nature. A highlight was seeing the Diaspora Museum. We were there for 2.5 hours and could have been there for another 1.5. The Martyr's Book is powerful stuff. I fully recommend making time to go there.
I saw Mike off on his return journey to NZ and headed north to see the Galilee. It was great travelling with Mike, having someone to talk strategy, politics and social values with.
First, I tried to get to Cesarea, pronounced Kay-sar-ee-ah apprently, which was a disaster, ending up with me stuck in Atlit and not getting within 30km of the ruins. Argh. Hours later I arrived in Haifa and saw the Bahai Shrine of the Bab. Impressive gardens and locations. A massive security guard from Fiji saw my NZ patch on my backpack (not having a hostel I carried the whole shebang with me all day) and we stopped to chat about the glories of the Pacific and rugby for a bit. I spent the night in Akko -
also know as Acre, the fortress city of the Crusader's. Oh sweet sweet historical detail, vaults, underground passageways, seaward-looking pilgrim churches. Oh yeah, its all Arab and about half Muslim, but frankly my mind was firmly 800 years in the past, except when it was 300 years in the past, recreating Napoleon's unsuccessful seige of the fortress. Boom, Boom! Chargez! Sacre Bleu! Tabarnacle! Returnez a Egpyt!
The plans to develop the presentation of the Crusader sights are impressive and I'll be back in 15 years to check it all out.
In the afternoon I was picked up by Rotem, the Israeli who I met in Delhi and flew to Israel with. He first took me up to Rosh Ha Nikra to view the sea-side cliff and pounding surf inside the caves. Sadly, I can't say the 38 shekel price is anywhere near worth it. Don't go unless cable-cars really get you off.
I stayed on Rotem's kibbutz, Ga'ton, for two days which was a grand experience, understanding the lifestyle there, how it has changed from its founding inspiriation to its current incarnation as only semi-communal and getting less all the time. Still, at the bar all the young people certainly showed the type of cohesion and ease with each other I have only seen at my military college. Rotem took me up into the Golan Heights which was a buzz. Quite the area for a strategic studies major to visit. Nimrod's Fortress is an enormous ruin to explore and worth if for the views and the understanding of the Crusader and Ayyubid/Mamluk military mind. We also passed a hill where only a couple years before, Hezbolah snipers had snuck into Israel and overlooking a highway, shot 5 people driving home from work.
Saying a fond goodye to Rotem's family and many thanks for the tasty cooking, I headed to Tiberias. As soon as I got there I rented a bike and went hard out for a 40km round-trip to visit all the Christian sights on the western side of the lake. This is where Peter's house is at Capernaum, where the Church of the Primacy of Peter is and also where Jesus fed 5000 people with two fish (small ones even) and 5 loaves of bread (possibly stale and not easy to multiply on the spot). I soaked in the holy vibe and soaked my feet in the Sea of Galilee, where Jesus walked on water. That night I met an Egpytian/Canadian named Mag who has promised to hook me up when I get to Cairo. He sort of looks like Lenny Kravitz, guitar and all.
Next day onto Nazareth. The weather turned rough but thankfully much of my time was spent inside the cavernous Church of the Annunciation and associated shrines. I'm not sure I'm down with those Catholics trying to make Mary co-redemptor with Christ, just doesn't seem to fit logically. But then Christianity isn't really about logic is it?
I stayed at a French Convent, with wonderfully friendly old nuns. Following morning, I woke up and it was pouring but I pressed onto Beit She'an, location of sprawling Roman ruins and a good lot of information spread amongst them. I was presently surprised, thinking nothing could come close to Jerash, but this was just as good. Thank God I had my umbrella though, cause the wind was whipping the rain into bullets. The mosaics, extent of the excavations and model-recreations were all top-notch. Then, a small miracle. Just as I was leaving, standing on a hill overlooking all the ruins, the rain stopped and a perfect rainbow emcompassed the entirety of the site within its arc. Wow. Very, very lucky.
After Beit She'an I bussed it back to Tel Aviv to get ready to head to India. I caught of with Yael and did all those necessary things like laundry, phone calls, etc. that constitutes more of backpacking life than I care to write about.
Now I'm writing from Bombay. Tina gets here in 24 hours and 35 minutes. Butterflies in stomach. Smile on face.
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