A surgical strike

Trip Start Sep 07, 2005
Trip End Aug 18, 2006

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Flag of Israel  ,
Monday, February 27, 2006

Throughout our nearly 6 month old adventure we have gotten a lot of questions from folks on the road, perhaps the most common of which, when rudely phrased, is: "so, how are you two paying for this?" In light of the fact that we often look and sometimes act like teenagers, the question is at least somewhat valid. The answer, at least in part, is that part of the trip has been financed through hard earned and even harder to use airline miles. Our short trip to Tel Aviv is largely a result of the hoops we had to jump through to get from Cairo to India while satisfying the long list of conditions that governed a portion of the miles we had accumulated. Fortunately, Tel Aviv is a place we have always wanted to visit, so the 26 hour layover we planned to have there was a welcome change from the pandemonium and madness that is Cairo.

Unfortuantely, our friends in the Israeli immigration department took a more dim view of our short stay in their nation's capital. Although it was quite late in the evening when we finally hit the airport, we were grinning from ear to ear at the prospect of being in a more Western and more familiar society. Before boarding our El Al flight in Cairo we were subjected to the most intensive interrogation we had even imagined, an inquiry that took literally 30 minutes and covered a range of topics so broad that we twice had to reach into our bag of document to fully and accurately account for our previous and future travels in the region. The expected re-phrasing and re-delivery of routine questions was expected, but we were shocked when the agent asked to see photographic evidence of our time in Egypt, Lebanon, and UAE. We figured that after such intense scrutiny during the embarkation process, our disembarkation and arrival into Israel would be a breeze... we were wrong.

Once we hit the airport in Tel Aviv we eagerly passed by other passengers from our flight and took our place in the foreign immigration line of the Israeli customs section of the airport. By now it was about 11:45 PM and we were eager to get into town, find a hotel, and get some sleep so that we could see the city the next day before returning to the same airport after another 22 hours or so. When we got to the front of the line the customs official asked a few more questions about where we had been and what our plans were in Israel and then he picked up the phone and said something in Hebrew that went something like this: "Hallo, ?!@@!@& *@!!!@@ *&%%$@! Lebanon, *&**&#@@# @@# !@##> Dubai,...." He then told us to step to the side and wait. Remembering the plot of a movie in which Tom Hanks gets stuck in diplomatic limbo as a result of an unsuccessful customs transaction, we calmly and patiently stepped to the side.

A few minutes later a stern looking woman whose customs uniform was tightly stretched over a frightenly strong set of shoulders approached us with a stare that instantly struck fear into our hearts. In a sweet voice that simultaneously shocked us and put us at ease she asked that we follow her and she retrieved our passports from the original customs clerk. She took us to another section of the airport and asked us to take a seat. Four or five other passengers from our flight also found themselves in this precarious and uncertain state, but when we noticed that one of the men had already grown loud and indignant, we decided to take a seat on the floor several meters away from the rest of our fellow captives. Guilt by association, we reasoned, would only make matters worse.

At about 12:20 a mild mannered woman came out of another room with a form and a clipboard and asked to speak with us. She too asked us about our relationship, our travel plans in Israel, and, of course, our previous stops in the Middle East. She took down some information and asked us to wait. As the time passed we considered a course of action that would take us back into the customs office where we would simply explain that since they had consumed such a large portion of our visit with their bureaucratic hassle that we would now rather just spend the night in the airport and keep as much of our money in our pockets as possible before departing for India that night. Even at one in the morning, however, we knew this was a very bad idea. Better to wait it out.

Finally, after every single person in the holding area had been set free (including the irate man from Cyprus who was almost yelling at the officials at one point), the mild mannered woman emerged from the office to tell us we were free to go. She apologized for the delay, explained that it was mostly the result of our strange itinerary, and welcomed us to Israel. Blurry eyed and desperately in need of some sleep, we collected our belongings and found ourselves a taxi. By 2:30 we had reached our overpriced hostel and were rapidly drifting off to sleep.

We woke the next day a little latter than we had planned, but felt sure that we would make the most of the remaining 10 hours we had in the city. Because our hostel was well located near the beach and not too far from the heart of the city, we set out on foot walking north. Before leaving the Old Jaffa neighborhood we grabbed a fantastic piping hot bagel and explored this modern maze of antique vendors and small fabric stores. After another 20-30 minutes of brisk walking along a well paved boardwalk we caught sight of the downtown area and revised our course. Aside from a short stop in a nice coffee shop, we spent the better part of the rest of the day meandering around the city and slowly making our way back to Old Jaffa.

Clearly our time in Tel Aviv was too short to support any substantive commentary on the country as a whole or its people, but we did manage to cover a decent portion of the urban environs, so we can at least offer a few musings about the city itself. As you might expect, Tel Aviv is a modern bustling place complete with the attendant hassles and noise that a big city creates. In general, however, the city is both clean and orderly which, coming from Cairo, felt like a breath of fresh air. Several modern office towers and flashy apartment complexes line traffic infested boulevards and from what we could tell, the residents of the city also made good use of Tel Aviv's many parks and green spaces. All and all the city felt clean, safe and comfortable.

Despite our limited interaction with the locals, we were also pleased to find such a stark contrast between the Israeli people we had met on the travel trail and the people we encountered in Tel Aviv. Without exception, the people we talked to were warm, friendly, and polite. Several folks offered us help with directions and transit schedules and in contrast to the Egyptians, they did not expect anything in return. From what we could surmise in our brief time in its capital, with the exception of the customs office, Israel would be a great place to spend some time. Fortunately, we planned to do just that toward the end of our journey, where we intend to make another short visit to Jerusalum.
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