Adventures in the Holy Land
by Jonathan Adams
Like many young people, I was faced with the eternal dilemma after finishing school: To Gap or not to Gap? I chose not to, and entered university in September 1996 to study politics. However, the urge to travel was strong and after a year of academia that urge had become an obsession, so my friend Mike and I decided to pack our bags and head for Israel, for no other reason than we had heard it was somewhere that travellers went to. Did we know what we were letting ourselves in for? Well, not exactly. In fact, not at all. This is part one of my adventures in the Holy Land, including extracts from the diary I kept during this time.
We tumbled out of Ben Gurion Airport, Tel-Aviv at 6AM on Friday, May 30th 1997, each with a handful of US Dollars, a backpack and very little else. Seriously, we were low on everything; experience, common sense, resourcefulness... all we had were cigarettes and money which, as most 18 year olds would assert, can bring you happiness and security in the short term but are no basis on which to undertake a three month sojourn around one of Planet Earth's most dangerous "civilized" nations". My initial optimism was succinctly summed up in the post-script to my first journal entry, which read:
"One last thought: the chances of us surviving this alive are probably about 2999 in 3000. Hmmm."
The Americans refer to Tel-Aviv as Miami Beach East, and it is not difficult to see why. The city itself may be a mad mix of Nouveau Riche, Americanised bars and eateries and crumbling buildings (caused by neglect and the occasional scud missile) but the strip that is Tel Aviv's eastern extremity is beautiful Mediterranean sandy goodness, overlooked by a plethora of pubs, clubs and restaurants, from the cheesy Americana of Planet Hollywood to the venus flytrap that is The Buzz Stop.
The latter is a shameless money making venture which caters mainly to foreigners (with money) and Israeli girls who love foreigners (and their money) and is chiefly populated by visa-dodging Brits, sunburned American Jews and the afore mentioned gold diggers, neatly encapsulating the ethos behind Tel Aviv's tourist industry.
After just three days in Tel-Aviv we decided to move on, as the desire to venture east to Jerusalem had grown irresistible. Now don't get me wrong; I'm not Jewish, nor even in any way religious but, having left the seclusion of Stirling University's picturesque woodland campus just 5 days previously, being an hour's bus ride away from one of Earth's' most sacred and enigmatic cities was nothing short of tantalizing. Anyway, Tel Aviv had been exposed as a hole, a waste of time and drain on our precious money, which would surely not be true of Jerusalem.
Journal entry: 2/6/97, New Hashimi Hostel, Old Jerusalem
"This place is just another front to separate foreigners and their dollars. The beggars can work out what nationality you are from a hundred paces and demand your donation in the appropriate language (and they know them all, if you're from Mars they can still say "I'm hungry and homeless" in your native dialect) and the street bazaars are more concerned with lies and money than milk and honey."
So that was Jerusalem. If you want to experience it then I suggest that you look at postcards, read the bible and heat your front room to 35 degrees, it will save you a hell of a lot on airfares and you wont grow to hate its modern shortcomings. Meanwhile, the time had come to say farewell to our holiday and get down to some hard graft, so we headed south to the tourist hell of Eilat. Most people I speak to who have been to Israel take on a faraway look in their eye when reminiscing about Jerusalem, yet are cynical and even spiteful about Eilat. True, the place does wear its heart on its sleeve, but I found this somewhat refreshing after the grim facades I discovered in the more traditional parts of the country.
Employment was easy enough to come by, in the form of night shifts in a pub kitchen, and the hostels were cheap and comfortable. However, just when things were beginning to settle down, all hell broke loose. The first insane happening was a chance encounter with some old friends at 2AM in the morning. To be more specific, while drunk and attempting to find my way back to the hostel after getting separated from Mike, I befriended an equally soused English guy called Ben. The next part still seems surreal, but as we caught up with his friends, I realized they were Bruce and Jason, two friends of mine from work the previous summer. Twelve months ago, I would finish school, go home and get changed and then go down to Bruce's' flat to get drunk or stoned, as the mood dictated. Now here he was in the middle if Israel and I was freaked. However, I managed to shelve my disbelief and ended up moving into their hostel a couple of days later, a slightly less salubrious but cheaper version of my previous lodgings. BIG mistake.
Journal Entry: 11th July 1997: Hostel Shula, Eilat
"When is a hostel not a hostel? When its a house with some glorified bus shelters populated by bunk-beds in the back yard. And when is a hostel owner not a hostel owner? When she decides to take a weekend break in Tel-Aviv and leaves the keys with her neighbour, who get his mates together and raids the place at 2AM, leaving with the safe. The entire safe. Passport? Gone. Police? Useless. Me? Screwed. Watch this space..."
Naturally, I had to inform Mike, who (being the seafaring type) had found work on a glass-bottomed tourist boat operating out of Eilat's sprawling marina. At this point we hadn't seen each other for a couple of weeks, so I decided to take a stroll down to the boat and catch up with him. Expecting to find him scrubbing down the decks, I was somewhat shocked and surprised to learn that Mike was no longer an employee of the Jules Verne Experience, nor a resident of Eilat. According to the ship's captain, Mike had fled with an Australian girl after apparently getting her pregnant and was last seen heading north with his thumb in the air some 10 days previously. Even a phone call home provided little comfort, as I was informed that my car had failed its M.O.T. and would have to be scrapped. Feeling thoroughly alone, not to mention shat on from a great height, I pondered my next move. Things just HAD to get better than this...
About the Author
Jonathan Adams is 22 and from East Lothian in Scotland. He is a politics graduate, a charity worker and a part-time Freelance Journalist. At the time he went to Israel he was 18.
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