Tuesday, July 13, 2004

have i really been so bad about updating? i guess so. still, things have been good. nothing too much has changed in the past two or three weeks except i got my plane ticket to spain and i went to jordan last weekend. i left with D and his girlfriend A. We took the 12:30 am bus from tel aviv to eilat. 6 hours later we arrived there after a long and tiring busride. i managed to bring along a little smokable relaxer for D and i that came in handy on those few short stops. there were a bunch of high school kids that made noise all night in the back of the bus, and one of them lit up a cigarette which pissed off the bus driver who turned on the lights and yelled at everyone. not pleasant at 1:30 in the morning. i watch the two guys in front of me sleep on one another. i couldnt figure out if they were lovers or just good friends. i was too worried that when i fell asleep i'd fall over onto the soldier sleeping next to me and hit my head on the butt of his rifle. it was nice to think long thoughts on a night drive through the desert. the world was black like an oil slick and the lights of be'er sheva never seemed to get any closer. D and i made vague ruminations about what we'd do when we got across the border. catch a cab to petra (where they filmed indiana jones...the one with sean connery in it) and find a hotel there. A slept the whole way, just about. They make a great couple, i'd like to see them stay together. I dont know if anyone else could put up with him the way she has, and he says he's never had a relationship like this before. they're complete opposites, so maybe that helps. complimentary shapes and all. The sun shows up uninvited as we pull into eilat. it's only about 6, so it's still cool outside. We grab our bags and i strap on my boots. we dont know how long the walk is to the border, but they tell us it opens around 7 or 8, so we have time to walk it. turns out its a long walk. about 45 minutes worth. not a particularly colorful walk. most of it was along an airstrip and past what appears to have been the remnants of a minefield.

the border is still closed when we get there. a guard shows up and tells us it will be another hour. we hunker down to play some sheshbesh (backgammon) and have a bite to eat.

he's sitting on the bench next to us. white as a ghost and as european as they come. he looks a bit trendy, and is making a sad attempt at blending into his surroundings. the noam chomsky book doesnt help. D and i peg him for some ISM goon. he looks like the complete stereotype of the ultra-left anti-israel euro-scum that gets themselves run over by bulldozers when they stand in front of terrorist arms smuggling tunnels. but patrick will turn out to be one of the sweetest, nicest, gentlest people i have ever known.

We all go through the rounds at the border. Passports, exit tax, questions, blah blah blah. pretty quick stuff. I strike up a bit of a chat with the euro-ghost to feel him out. if anything, i figure he'd be good to split a cab with. besides, he seems so lost trying to figure out what the israeli's want from him that i feel obligated to help him out. seems nice enough and i toss out the offer of splitting a cab. he's honestly incredibly grateful and i start to get the feeling i've got him pegged all wrong.

We cross the border walk across the 50 meters of no-mans land between israel and jordan. the only real threat to the border is that palestinians want to get across onto the jordanian side. Israel doesnt even guard the border until the west bank. The jordanians have watch the border like hawks. we have no problem though, and the jordanians have no problem stamping my american passport only, just so i wont have to ever flash the israeli one. not that i think it would be a problem. i never felt any danger. but still, you never know.

we bargain with the cabbies and get a decent price to petra. it's a long drive, and we have to change taxis and drivers. i'm not sure why, i guess that's just how they work it. D and i try to make some use of our arabic. we're able to strike up little conversations, and our second driver (it was a long drive up to petra, so we had to do something) was a really cool guy. he gave D and i these Iraqi Dinars from when Saddam was in power. He told us that he drives all the way to baghdad sometimes. He also says that the drive was always dangerous, both before and after the war. He gets us to a hotel in Petra, where they offer us rooms for 7.5 dinars each. Not too bad. that's about 10 american dollars (yes, the Jordanian Dinar is worth more, can you believe it?). It was worth it, considering that the 2JD dinner was all you could eat, and man did i eat everything in sight.

Petra was great. we did a lot in just 5 hours. walked the entire time. a lot of it was a serious uphill climb. Petra is both a city and a giant park. the walking was all in the park. inside are nabatean ruins of the city, much of it is buildings carved into the red stone facade (see indian jones). Giant builings carved into the mountains. absolutely amazing. absolutely tiring. especially in the noonday heat. still, it was all worth it. the only annoying part are all the jordanians in the park trying to sell you camel and donkey rides (a funny moment was when 4 guys, one right after the other, maybe 2 meters apart, asked us if we wanted donkey rides for the same price...you'd think they'd at least offer something lower!). they also try to sell you touristy jewelery, keffiahs, and other crap. one little girl tried selling us rocks. i shit you not. rocks. keep in mind, the ENTIRE place is made of rock. just acres and acres of rocks. they also tried selling us Euros. yes, euros. some of them were incredibly persistent. one guy followed us for about 10 minutes before giving up.

back at the hotel D and i tried Petra beer. 8% alcohol if you can believe it. didnt taste like it, but sure felt like it. not recommended though. in fact, i dont believe any alcohol in the arab world is recommended. I havent tried Arak (the local brew of the muslim world, but i hear bad things. the only one who had anything good to say about it was Zaydan the bedouin, but i'll get to him later)

The next morning we took a bus to Wadi al-Rum, in the middle of the desert. It was a part of a tour set up by this bedouin guy named Zeydan. We first went to his place where we sat around for about 2 hours. D played sheshbesh with Zeydan, and then Zeydan's kids came in to say hi. They were absolutely adorable. The three of them were all quite young, about 3-6 i'd say. Zeydan pointed at the little one and said he was "about 3 or 4, my wife remembers." Very funny guy. he gave us tea and we talked a bit. he wrestled with them and they pulled at his mustache. It was very sweet. There were pictures of Zeydan with King Abdallah, and his father King Hussein. I never got around to asking him about those, although i wish i had. Some other westerners showed up and we were ready for the trip. Zeydan's young cousin Mustafa took us all in the pickup truck. It was the four of us, two belgians, a californian who's been travelling from china to madrid, and a frenchman with his 10 year old son. Mustafa turned out to be younger than me, he's only 21. A really nice guy. LIttle english, which gave D and i more chances to use our arabic. it felt great to put it to some practicle use. made it feel like there's an actual point to learning all this! Mustafa drove us around the desert and showed us some interesting sites. Neat rock formations, big sand dunes, and the whole desert there is very red. like a glass of merlot held up to the sun.

we finally arrived at a couple of bedouin tents where we would have dinner and sleep. Zeydan showed up and played some music for us. d and i were able to get some funny stories out of him in arabic/english. we all watched the sun slink down behind the desert rocks. Zeydan and Mustafa did a traditional little song and dance number for us, bedouin style. i cant describe it, but it was quite funny, and zeydan took liberties to do a little beatbox. perhaps bedouins were the true innovators of hip hop. dinner was excellent (they actually cook it all and keep it under the sand to stay hot). Although the highlight was definatly coming out of the tent after dinner and seeing the infinate number of stars in the desert sky. you would just lay there and let them surround you.

we woke up early in the morning to coffee, jam, pita, and cheese. Zeydan drove us all across the desert back to wadi al-rum, but halfway there the truck made a huge popping noise and we all knew we were fucked. the day before mustafa had driven very slowly, and had checked the engine several times. not surprising considering how old the car is. Zeydan was not one to play around and had it in 3rd gear the whole way. that's some fast offroading, particularly when youre in the flatbed bouncing up and down. Zeydan fucked around with the engine for awhile and shied off any offers of help. d finally got out and went over to the engine. he had been a mechanics assistant for a while so he at least knew his way around a car. zeydan apparently was not so skilled, as he began hooking up the car battery the wrong way, and somehow managed not to electrocute himself. you'd think getting stuck in the desert would put a damper on things, but everyone was in remarkably high spirits. it was funniest when zeydan pulled out a cellphone to call mustafa to bring the other truck. this one was much smaller, and i got the honor of sitting bitch with the stickshift between my legs. yes, zeydan and i became very close on the ride back.

we all got dropped off on the highway to wait for the bus to aqaba. off we went, now just the four of us and the two belgians, in a bus full of jordanians. when we arrived in aqaba the four of us headed off to the border. we had found out how to say "border" in arabic, and d managed to pull out in what sounded like perfect arabic, "how much to get to the border?" we had been told it should cost 5 JD, but cabbies like to make tourists shell out 7 or 8. we barely had enough for 5. so d and i could barely contain our laughter when the cabbie said "3 JD" we spoke to him in arabic on the ride there. he asked us if we were israeli's, and we told him no, americans, czech, and austrian. we asked him where he was from and he told us "palestine" i paused a moment before asking "where in palestine?" "haifa" he answered. we all stayed silent for a moment. i was glad for erring on the side of caution and sticking to saying i'm american. d kept up the conversation, and asked him if he thought there could ever be peace, a long time from now. the cabbie was silent. i wasnt liking where this might go so i just threw out "alhamdulilah" (which translates roughly into praise god) the cabbie repeated it in apparent agreement, which was enough for all of us. crossing back was smooth and easy. the ride back from eilat to tel aviv was unremarkable save for the beautiful desert scenery.

all in all an excellent trip, full of fun cab drivers, great people, and wonderful scenery.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

This was a wonderful story. If I had a chance to visit any place in the world I would visit Israel and Jordan. I think Petra would be a wonderful experience. I am only familiar with these places through reading the Bible. Thanks for writing about your trip. Ruth in USA

July 20, 2004 at 5:48 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Yaaaaaaaaa-Dozza! How I miss you and the whole stinking place.

That was an utterly beautiful piece of writing. Almost always, I never regret leaving Israel, but when I read something like your post, I do get a flicker. There's an Israeli film festival here, and I may be forced to boycott it - ISM style... nahhh: boycott it because I have serious shit to do here and can't afford to devote any space to regret.

I went down the coast on a weekend road-trip with friends. I said while driving, how all that green freaks me out. If there's gonna be nature around, make it desert! Anyway, email me, man.


July 20, 2004 at 4:14 PM  
Blogger ~d~ said...

alex! ah...it's a wonderful summer here. hot, but wonderful. and not too stinky! even in yaffo! yes, good times all around. green...green...hmmm, i vaguely remember green. perhaps i'll see some in spain!

ruth in the good ole usa...you should certainly come visit if you have the chance. The amount to see (particularly if you're a bible fan) is incredible. Don't ask me how so much was squeezed into here. I recommend coming late fall or early spring. If you have any questions you can email me.

July 20, 2004 at 5:34 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Doron, I really enjoyed reading the account of your trip to Petra. I just found your blog and I will continue to check it out. Keep it up!


July 21, 2004 at 2:24 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

great stories - i'm envious. allah akhbar, kid. ;)

"Neat rock formations, big sand dunes, and the whole desert there is very red. like a glass of merlot held up to the sun."

stop turning me on...ooohhhhhhhh you hit the spot

any pics? i'm thirsty for some merlot, monsieur.


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