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Published: September 28th 2009
The whole clan
All the Berke's and Epstein's meet up in Israel
Welcome back to my blog!!
Its been a year and I'm happy to say my travels have started once again =)
If everything goes as planned, this next adventure will take me through Israel, Nepal, Tibet and India! Actually that was the original plan and already I've added 2 more countries....so who really knows what lies ahead!
This trip started quite differently from all the others. My parents dropped me off at the airport...like usual, I got on the plane myself...like usual, but unlike every other trip, they were there when I arrived in Israel! And being the most experienced traveler I took charge of little things like arranging transportation and hotels. It's not quite the same organizing 5 people as it is 1....especially since my trips don't usually involve too much planning ahead of time! But somehow it worked. Considering I didn't have to pay for these fancy hotels I was booking, I was more than happy to find them and sleep comfortably in them....since I think I have yet to stay somewhere with a bed thicker than a yoga mat!!
But I digress.....the purpose of the whole family coming to Israel was for our cousin Noah's Bar-Mitzvah. We met
up with all the Epstein's in Jerusalem and headed south to Masada, where Noah became a man. Having had such a shitty summer in Montreal, the heatwave they call Israel was quite a shock! Thank god for personal mini fans! But once the body realized it was here to stay (and with the help of air conditioning of course) the constant heat got easier to deal with. The Bar-Mitzvah was an amazing celebration....the most attention I've ever paid at one (sorry Ryan and Jason!). And even though I took the lazy man's cable car to the top, it was still incredible to be on top of Masada with my whole family. I was surprised though to take a walk through one of the ruins and find a modern toilet built into the infrastructure....kinda killed the vibe! What was great, was staying at a hotel right on the Dead Sea. To be able to randomly stand up, take a stroll and end up floating in the Dead Sea is a luxury I'll probably never have again!
After dinner at a Bedouin tent, camel riding and visiting water falls at Ein Gedi in the middle of the desert, we ended our time
in the desert to embark on a sightseeing tour in the north of Israel. I say north, but don't get any crazy ideas...the temperature didn't drop more than 1 degree! We still had to end some days early to cool off in a pool....that was probably warmer than most baths I've taken!
The coolest thing for me about touring the north is being able to see 2 other countries from 1 spot. I guess being from a country where I have to swim across an ocean just to get somewhere different makes that seem cool to me....no I'm not stupid, I know the US is technically a different country only 40 minutes away, but it still doesn't count. It looks the same, everyone speaks our language....it doesn't count to me as an interesting foreign country! Another highlight was the more than hospitable owner of the B&B we stayed at. They were our nighttime chauffers, money lenders, educators and all around entertainers! He had such a big crush on my mother, he would have moved Canada closer to Israel if he could have, in order to be closer to her!
The next stop was Caesarea or Qasarya....no one can figure out
the signs in this country. They are so undecided on how to spell things in English, you can get confused exiting the highway! We took almost a week relaxing on the beaches of Israel, to enjoy some vacation time and each other's company. Although I still got woken up so early that once everyone left, I slept 14 hours straight! It didn't happen all at once though....the sleeping did, the leaving back to Canada didn't. Ryan left first....something to do with work, responsibilities, I don't really understand it, but apparently he has this thing called a j o b (did i spell that right!!) Later on the rest of the family left, except for my mom who was brave enough to fly home all alone to spend 3 extra days with me. I made sure it was worth her while, by taking her to Eilat and Petra. Unfortunately, she took home all the pictures from Petra so you'll have to talk to her to see some, but it was amazing. Actually, if you google it you'll probably see exactly what my pictures look like! Our tour guide was really cool and gave us a little background on the Jordanian people.
The Dead Sea
Floating in the dead sea altogether....not as easy as it looks to be so coordinated!
It made me realize how little I knew about the country. He told us that 97% of Jordanians are educated. And that during Rhamadam, since smoking is not allowed, most non religious people don't smoke either out of respect. Another tour guide offered my mom 5 camels in exchange for marrying me. I have no idea what the value of a camel is but my instincts told me to be insulted at such a low number, so we didn't take the deal!
After a sad goodbye, my mom flew back home and I began my quiet week of relaxation on the beach in Tel Aviv. I met fellow Canadian, Leo at my hostel and quickly convinced him he had to see Sinai.....I heard it wasn't safe for girls to go alone and wanted a travel companion! Not the worst place to be convinced to go! We spent 5 days snorkeling and eating some of the best food I've ever tasted. I never knew what I was ordering...which could be dangerous for my oh so picky taste buds, but even I loved everything I was served. The first area we stayed was called Nuweiba. It was a tiny paradise with mini
Dinner at a Bedouin Tent
The best meal yet, at a Bedouin tent in the Negev...with a little musical entertainment first
(and I mean MINI) huts on the beach. And that was it. The place just had those huts and a restaurant/reception. There was nowhere to go but in the water. Across the street was all desert. It was both beautiful and confusing to see bright blue water on one side and the brown dusty mountainous desert on the other. Since most of the tourists visiting this area are Israeli, all the locals spoke hebrew and either little or no English. I actually spoke more hebrew in Nuweiba than I did in Israel!
The other place we visited was Dahab. It's been built up quite a bit more with hostels, restaurants and shops. But most further construction has been put on hold the last few years since a few 2006 bombings have scared off tourists. Less tourists = less money, which means no more hotels. As a result, half of the city's buildings are just shells. And there don't seem to be any plans to continue the construction.
Some random things happened in Sinai...the guy that ran our hostel nicknamed himself Eminem! He took us to look at another hostel before we decided to stay at his and while we waited
to be shown around he picked up a random water bottle and took a sip. We asked if there was any way he had left that bottle there earlier and he said he had no idea who's it was but what's left out is open for the taking. He didn't understand my shock at this, even after I tried to explain to him our rules of hygiene and cleanliness in Canada! Either we're really paranoind or he's got no idea what "contagious" means. Another weird experience was with a nice man who invited us over to his house for dinner. It being Ramadan, his family ate at 6:20 right after the day's fast. But he only invited us over at 8:00. So when we got there, he basically just served us dinner and watched us eat! The taxi diver on the way back to the Israeli border was the best though....with no explanation aside from the word Ramadan, our taxi stopped for 20 minutes at a butcher (and by butcher I mean a man with a carcass hanging in his small shop) to pick up the night's dinner. And finally, our strangest Ramadan experience...drumroll please........as we walked across the Egypt/Israel
border, the customs booth was empty. Rather than wait for a stamp simply to leave the country, we just walked on through. Of course someone later on stopped us for not having the stamp, so we walked back and still, no one at the booth. 5 minutes later, a group of about 20 men walked out of a room and resumed their posts. I can only assume they took a midday break to pray. What shocked me was that it meant leaving the border completely unguarded except for those 2 men that sat 50 feet away and rechecked passports!!! That's Ramadan for ya! Everything else must come to a halt!
Once back safely in my Jewish state, I began my volunteer work on an army base. The work itself was simple and boring, but the soldiers and the other volunteers made the time on the base worth being there (you know, aside from being able to help out the country!) The group of 30 volunteers were from all over the world and ranged from 18 to 70+ years old. Aside from one younger girl, my favourite people to hang out with were the older men!! These people had such
"To infinity and beyond"....ok so only a select few will get this...not important!
interesting life experiences, I just couldn't hear enough. What surprised me most though, was that about half the group wasn't Jewish. They all felt some sort of connection to Israel and never mind loved visiting the country, also wanted to volunteer and contribute to its development. I tried to ask why but I never really got a great answer other than "I love it here"!!!
We had to wear the army uniforms while on the base, but unfortunately were not given guns or any weapons training!!!! So I had to sneak off one night just to take a few pictures with one of the soldiers guns.
My volunteering ended Thursday, so I spent the first 2 days of the weekend on the beach with some of the other volunteers. The past few days, my last here, I'll be spending in Jerusalem. It's Yom Kippur today, so the city is really quiet.....it's actually illegal to drive during the holiday. So I've spent most of my time here at the wall. One of the times I was there was quite special since there were only about 5 other people there when I arrived. It was amazing to just sit there quietly, by
myself. For the breaking of the fast, one of the other girl's and I will be eating at Sbarro's in Jerusalem where a Christian man is hosting the meal for his Jewish friends....how random!!!
And tomorrow I head to Jordan, where I catch a flight to Nepal to meet Lindsay and start a new adventure.
Shana Tova to everyone. I hope you had an easy fast. I'm off to end Yom Kippur at the Kotel and then eat some Sbarro's!!!!
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