Friday, April 30, 2010

Tel Aviv and Petra

Thursday, February 25, 2010 was a rainy, rainy night. The birthright tour brought everyone back to the airport, so those of us staying in Israel had to make our way back into Tel Aviv. We hired a taxi and got to the hostel we were going to stay in. It took a little while to sort out the room situation because there were so many of us but we got it all figured out. Then I was able to get onto the internet and video chat with my parents. It was great to be able to see and hear them though it made me a little home sick, BUT, there was still lots of fun to be had. Even though we were all so tired after only sleeping 3-5 hours each night of ten, we stayed up talking and reminiscing about our adventure through Israel.

The next day I slept and slept and slept. I think I woke up around 11, ate breakfast and then took a nap. It felt so good to be rested and have more than a half hour to shower and get dressed. To be honest, I cannot remember what we did that night.

Whatev's, I'll talk about the next night when we went to our tour guide's house for Shabbat dinner. We all rented two cars at Jay's prompting, so that we could get around to places outside of Tel Aviv. After a half hour of driving in circles, we realized that our GPS was set on pedestrian mode, and finally figured out how to leave the city. Eventually, we made it to the Moshav where Irad lives. His house is gorgeous and it turns out Irad and his wife designed it themselves. The highlight was definitely the toilet seat which was sand and sea shells set in resin. The meal was so delicious, I ate enough for three. That turned out to be a mistake because I didn't leave enough room for desert which was also amazing. We hung out for a little while then said thank you and goodbye and left to go meet up with some of the Israelis we met on the tour.
We got lost again but eventually found the bar, called Hobbit Pub. When I saw that the place was Lord of the Rings themed, I knew it was going to be a good night. The sign says "פוב הוביט" which is how you transliterate "pub hobbit" into Hebrew.It was the night before Purim so everyone in the bar was wearing hats; which is something I still don't fully understand. I think it's the Israeli equivalent to wearing animal ears on Halloween. Anyway, we got a table and drank and talked for a while before we started a dance party, complete with lifts.
The next day was Purim so I wore my nerd costume all day. Less out of excitement for the holiday and more out of a lack of clean clothing. I think I may have cheated in picking my costume, because all I needed to buy for it was a pair of socks. Maybe I really am a nerd. In any case, it was still raining and we spent the day with some of the soldiers from our trip. We got lunch at Mose's which is a hamburger place. Everyone said the meat was really good, but I got a veggie burger so I don't know if that is actually true. After lunch we went to meet the sailors Nitsan worked with when she was in the Navy at their boat. They seemed happy enough to pose for pictures.I got a sweet shot of me in my costume on the boat.Night time rolled around and the Americans (plus Gal, his girlfriend and Nimrod) decided to have a real, live Purim adventure. Sure, I could write about how we had fairly decent pizza outside of New York, how we walked for 45 minutes to get to a thumpin' club party on the pier, how we all decided in the same moment that none of us wanted to be at a thumpin' club party on a pier, and how we walked the 45 minutes back to go to a bar that was right next to the pizza place. Or, I could just show pictures of us in our Purim hats.
Katie was a 'detective' and I think Zev was a cowgirl?
Arin's costume was 'Arin in a fez' and Alexandria was an angel. (Another costume that really wasn't a costume)Gal and I weren't wearing hats, but we were wearing glasses, and I think that counts too.
The next day was still rainy and very windy. I spent it with Arin, Alexandria and Grant who were all leaving that night. We walked next to the beach where we saw lots of wind surfers. They were doing some pretty cool tricks and Alexandria and I went out on the beach to get a closer look and were almost sliced in half by a rogue parachute's strings. That was the fastest I've run in a while.We kept on, making our way to the shook (market). I saw this which I thought was beautiful.At the shook Arin and Grant both bought sweet Fedoras (probably still on a Purim hat high). Then we walked down one of Tel Aviv's boutique shopping streets where it rained, again.
Happy about all the rain:We decided to wait out the rain in a cafe. This was a good idea with bad execution. As the four of us huddled under the small awning of the cafe with only outdoor seating, we gazed longingly across the street at the cafe that not only had an actual covered porch but indoor seating as well. Here's a view from our dry(ish) corner.When the rain let up, we started back to the hotel. On our way we passed a piercing parlor. After much deliberation Arin decided to get another hole in her ear rather than in her face. It looked great but, in all the excitement, she forgot her brand new fedora at the parlor.
For dinner that night everyone wanted something fast and close so we went to a hotdog place. I didn't get anything there but I did look at the menu and was surprised to see that you could only get get either chicken dogs or pork dogs. This was first of many observations on how Israel is simultaneously religious and secular in very strange ways. (This will be a subject of a later post.) With dinner behind us it was time to say goodbye to part of the group. Arin, Grant and Alexandria were leaving for home and Dan and Natalie were heading off to Petra. As we worked out our plans for the next few days I made a last minute decision to join Dan and Natalie in Petra. I reserved a ticket and went with them to the Tel Aviv bus station to catch a midnight train going, not just anywhere, but to Eilat where we made our way to the Israeli/Jordanian border crossing. The street lights are on in this picture because it was 6 in the morning when we arrived.

Dan's guide book described the border crossing as "sleepy" and I can't argue with that. We made it through in under 45 minutes and hired a taxi to take us to Wadi Musa, the Arab town next to Petra. I think it's fair to say that they do things a little differently in Jordan. The taxi driver started off and instead of heading for the highway took us on a detour to Aqaba, Eilat's Jordanian counterpart on the Red Sea. We turned down a quiet residential street where the driver told us to get out and proceeded to unload our bags. Before my heart could jump out of my mouth, he explained that his brother (I think) was going to take us the rest of the way. Great. I suggested to him, in a very nice way, that he should probably make the effort to tell his costumers that they will be switching cabs before it happens.
That day there was a very thick fog and the 2 hour cab ride through the mountains was pretty terrifying. The driver seemed to know the road really well though so, in order to not have to think about how I could only see 10 feet of road in front of the car at any given time, I went to sleep. We stopped at a rest stop along the way, where I went to the bathroom. At first I thought that it wasn't finished yet because the building looked new and some of the stalls lacked doors and others lacked toilets. I picked a stall with a toilet and a door and then realized that Jordan is one of the countries where the people don't use toilet paper. Instead, there is a nozzle on a hose that is smaller than a shower head but bigger than a kitchen sink spray attachment. I've never understood why people prefer bidets, it seems to me that even after one has washed, one would still desire to dry/wipe. Well, I don't think it needs to be said that considering how I don't even touch the door handle in a public bathroom, I certainly didn't touch the hand held bidet. I was never so happy in all my life to have had a cold because it led me to bring a roll of toilet paper with me.
When we reached Wadi Musa, the fog was beginning to clear but it was still very hazy and a little cold. We checked into our hostel called the Valentine Inn, which was awesomely kitschy and had a strange mix of available technology (like WIFI and a huge movie collection) and a general lack of modern convenience (like heat, hot water and bed sheets). The people who worked there were very friendly and helpful and told us where a good place to get food was. Dan, Natalie and I added an additional member to our group, an Australian named Mitch who was staying at our hostel as well. The four of us went to eat and then start our day of hiking. It was only 10am when we walked through Wadi Musa to the park.The sky began to clear up as we entered the park and we joined a tour group because they made us. Our tour guide was a local Bedouin and told us that when he was a kid he used to live in the caves that are in the park until his family was relocated to a nearby town to preserve the historical site by the Jordanian government. Apparently, he is loosely related to this woman: Petra was an ancient city and contrary to popular belief, what is left of the city are actually temples and tombs. The freestanding buildings that stood in the middle of the valley have been destroyed over the years by a series of earthquakes. It wasn't until local Bedouin tribes occupied the landscape that the caves of Petra were used as homes.
The ancient people of Petra carved the tombs into the sides of the mountains by starting at the top and working their way down. Leisure time was really different back in the day, I guess.
Boring tourist shot.The only freestanding building left in Petra:Ruins from the town in the foreground, tombs in the background.Luxury Donkey. Natalie bought a keffiyeh at one of the souvenir stands in the park. We chatted with the Bedouin, Abram, who owned the stall and drank some Turkish whiskey which is actually tea. I didn't sip mine until I saw the local guys drink some of theirs. They noticed, and we began to discuss the cultural differences between Americans and Bedouins. Apparently, they think Americans are distrustful of strangers. I said that I agreed and I think the reason is because in America trust is something that is earned and not given. They seemed to have no use for setting up barriers like that so I brought up the idea of self-preservation. That's when they stopped talking to me and focused on Natalie who wasn't being quite as contradictory as me.
Here she is on Solomon's mule. The trail to the Bedouin village.The park closes at sundown, so we headed back to our hostel just in time for the last 20 minutes of hot water. The management turns the hot water on for showers only twice a day for two hours. I got in the shower with 10 minutes to spare and turned the hot water knob. No water. "Okay," I thought "I'll take a cold shower. Just like at camp." But when I turned the knob for the cold water only a weak trickle of residual pipe water came out. So, I washed my important parts with what little water I had to work with. Thankfully, the hostel makes great food and after my unsatisfying shower I ate a delicious dinner. The after dinner movie was Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade. It turns out that, despite the aforementioned video collection, Indy gets played every night.

The next morning, back in the park and inspired by the movie I took this photo:Dan was feeling sick, so Natalie, Mitch and I had left him in bed at the hostel and started our day early. The morning light was great for picture taking.
Aqueduct in the canyon. Self-timers are fun.Porno donkey.Taken from the High Place of Sacrifice. Those dots on the ground are people. The Bedouin village is in the background.Hour 3 of 9.Cafe.
Erosion!The last leg of our hike was an assent up 800+ stairs to the Monastery, the biggest tomb in Petra. Were the surroundings not so beautiful, the hike up the stairs would have been more boring than exhausting. 800 is a lot of stairs.The sun was setting so we had to head back. We walked with some of the Bedouins who were still around. They offered us a ride on their donkeys but I was too scared to ride one going down the stairs so I walked most of the way. It was dark before we made it out of the park so the Bedouin guys insisted on giving us a ride to the gate. Riding a donkey is a lot of fun! We made our way back through the winding canyon as the stars peeked out between the tall natural walls and our escorts songs filled the silence of the night.
Me drop kicking the sun:Unfortunately, I missed the hot water again, so when we got back to the hostel I enjoyed dinner and a beer. I sat around with some people staying in the hostel with Dan (who was feeling better) and Mitch. We met three girls from France, a Brit and an Icelander. We talked into the night and went to sleep late.

In the morning we took a bus back to Aqaba and then a cab to the border where Mitch was held for thorough questioning since he had been to Syria.
(He eventually got out ok and is now backpacking through Africa. His blog is much better than mine, check it out -
Dan and Natalie were going to Egypt next and I was going back to Tel Aviv, so I said goodbye at the border and took a cab to the bus station where I waited for a bus back to Tel Aviv. While I was waiting, a Jewish religious man approached me and started talking to me in Hebrew. I told him I spoke English and he asked the guy behind me to translate, in French. So the French guy translated into English that the Israeli man wanted to know if I would drive an extra car of his to Tel Aviv. Of course I declined and after the Israeli man walked away the French guy (Ben) and I started making fun of what a ridiculous request that was. We introduced ourselves and it turned out we were on the same bus. We spoke for most of the 6 hour ride north to Tel Aviv except for when we were sleeping. Ben was in Israel working for a French guise book company so when we got to Tel Aviv, he helped me figure out how to take the bus back to where I was staying. After three days without a proper shower, I got back to my hostel in Tel Aviv and took the longest and most amazing shower of my life.
I reconnected with the rest of my friends from birthright who were still in town, and that night we went to a really great show in Florentine. Florentine is to Tel Aviv as the LES is to New York. The band we saw is called HaCartel. The show was awesome! Everyone there was into the band and the music was really good. After the show Jay somehow managed to get us all backstage to meet the band. The band and their friends? girlfriends? groupies? merch girls? were all really nice. I suggest you go listen to this band now.
No really, go do it.
The rest of my time in Tel Aviv was pretty tame. I stayed with a family friend that night and we hung out the next day. I went back to the Shook HaCarmel again. I went to the beach again. I said good bye to my Birthright friends who were going home. I walked around Tel Aviv again. I hung out with Ben and my friend Billie Dawn on the beach and I made sand art with my feet. It's a bird's head. I stayed with my cousin Sela for a few days. I went to a very nice Shabbat dinner at my cousin Dity's house and met her boyfriends family. I went shopping with Sela for shoes and I had a night on the Town with my cousin Yossi.
I didn't think that I actually did as much as I did in the ten days between Birthright and getting to the Kibbutz, but there it all is. Here is Jay and Sara on the beach at sunset on their last day in Israel.

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