Search This Blog

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Entry 5: CouchSurfing and Hitchhiking in Israel


Holy cow eveything that's happened since my last blog update has been a wild ride, almost constantly moving place to place thanks to tons of CouchSurfing and Hitchhiking.

This blog post won't be as literarily styled as my last, as there's way too much to talk about and I want to spend more time expiring Greece than editing. Perhaps in the future I will come back and revise it after its posted publicly, so keep in touch.

The way I do my blogs is that I keep a diary in my iPhone's notes of brief words and phrases of each day's events to jog my memory. Later on when I finally sit down to write my blog I expand on each of these notes, fixing spelling and grammar, adding detail, better language, fancy metaphors and the like. Expanding on my notes like this takes a lot of time, and I simply haven't had many large chunks of time available in the past month. ...ok, that's not completely true as I still struggle with internet addiction so lots of this free time is spent browsing reddit. But I did (and still do) have planning to do for Greece and Northern Europe this summer.

By the way, I'm considering going to the UK this summer, I'm thinking Scotland, because it's out of the Schengen Area: a group of countries in Europe where those from outside of it can only be in the Schengen for up to 90 days. After those 90 days you must spend 90 days out of the Schengen before coming back in.

So I need a schedule that allows me to visit France during November and December for the 2015 UN Climate Change Conference in Paris, helping with organizing the protests there. The UN hasn't done shit about climate change, so we're there to protest that and start changing the system ourselves. But that's a story for next year.

Sun Feb 1
Arrive at Hostel in Ramallah

Mon Feb 2
Uh, this day was blank in my notes as are some others, so I'm just going to skip over them.

Tue Feb 3

Did you know there's a Krusty Krab in Ramallah? Yes, that restaurant from SpongeBob SquarePants caters to patrons of the West Bank. Hardly anyone was there though because the food sucks when tasty falafel and lamb are all around.

That night I went to a yoga class in Ramallah with an Australian aid worker, who has spent much of his time in Gaza, and James, an English guy traveling around the Middle East. It was a typical yoga class, full of Westernized appropriations of Indian culture, attended mostly by Palestinian women. It was very relaxing, and during the meditation part at the end my mind was bouncing off the walls, as I couldn't focus on the instructor's voice at all.

That night I met a Palestinian veterinarian atheist Richard Dawkins fan from Hebron invited me to his place, though I never did. We talked about atheism, and our experiences of being an atheist in each of our own cultures. I've never felt persecution for my beliefs whereas he has.

Wed Feb 4

The Hostel in Ramallah has activities everyday, and today's was a hike. We saw Tel Aviv from the top of a castle upon a high hill, as well as a nearby settlement.

Thurs Feb 5

Fri Feb 6

Today's activity at the hostel was a "political tour," which meant visiting and participating if desired in one of the weekly demonstrations that take place in Bil'in, a town near Ramallah. I met Roi, a Tel Aviv Israeli Jew of Anarchists Against the Wall who comes to demonstrations every other week.

The Palestinians march as close to the apartheid wall as they can with the ultimate goal of tearing it down. On the opposing side are the Israeli military blocking the Palestinians from advancing, mostly by launching tear gas in a high arc to land amidst the protestors. Occasionally the IDF will fire rubber bullets and even more dangerous weaponds like projectile tear gas canisters, which are designed to penitence buildings to spread tear gas within closed walls. There's a monument erected for Besem, someone who was killed when one of these projectiles hit him in the chest.

Toward the end of the protest the IDF advanced very rapidly, and we all retreated rapidly in response. Tear gas landed in front me as I was walking quickly away from approaching IDF, I felt tear gas for the first time. Despite how little gas was around me it stung pretty badly.

Sat Feb 7

I had to leave the West Bank back to Jerusalem because of visa complications. A bus took me from Ramallah to the checkpoint, and when I got off the bus I was pretty confused. What exactly was I supposed to do at this checkpoint? Where do I go? It was very crowded, with lots of lines and gates everywhere. Fortunately a Palestinian noticed my confusion and gave me free taxi ride, as he bought a taxi for himself to go to another, easier checkpoint at which I didn't even have to show my passport.

He dropped me off on the outskirts of Jerusalem and I still had ways to go, so I turned around and stuck out my arm to hitchhike and immediately found a ride. That never happened to me before but it was pretty cool finding a ride so quickly in a city.

He dropped me off at the Old City from which I easily walked to Abraham Hostel, where I ran into James, who I met at the Hostel in Ramallah.
I met yet another Birthrighter at the hostel, one of the many I've ran into.
My friend Zoe took me to an underground (literally and figuratively) death metal show, lots of loud noises with no rhythm. Not my style but it was fun knowing that exists in Jerusalem.

Sun Feb 8

Mon Feb 9

The Israelis must be very proud of Kafka's judaism because they stole every bit of his nightmarish bureaucratic themes. My appointment at the office for Ministry of the Interior in Jerusalem ended with them claiming that I needed the original copy of my birth certificate in order to extend my visa. Fuck getting that mailed here, there's no way I'm going to travel around the world with that in my possession. But they said I could stay until I get berth cert even though my visa expired the following day, so I figured they don't care that much anyway so I can spend as long as I want here with an expired visa just because I'm Jewish, so I left Jerusalem for Ramallah. Only once I got there I realized that having an expired visa in the West Bank is not smart because there's checkpoints everywhere. While my white and Jewish privilege can get me pretty far, there may be that one time they decide to examine my visa and give me trouble. So I need to get out of the country and come back.

Tue Feb 10

Left the Hostel in Ramallah, dropped a book my CS host Mohanad loaned to me off at Ramallah Cafe, took a bus to Jeru, found my Mexican phd researcher friend on bus, went to Citadel Hostel a her just to charge my phone, left to try hitchhiking to Eilat, people said I was in wrong spot, took tram to other spot without paying for tram, got busted for not paying, but screw that I'm not gonna pay the over 100 shekel fine. Got lost in Jerusalem. Made it to Abraham Hostel. Found James White again. Eavesdropped on a Jerusalem LGBT club member who mentioned free pizza, went there for the pizza, went to CS host and stayed the night there.

Wed Feb 11
Stressed about visa situation but friends got me to relax.

Thurs Feb 12
Bus ride to Eilat. Someone gave me a free ticket that would've cost me 80 shekels ($20)
Went to wrong border, too late for border crossing, which closed at 8pm. Camped on beach

FrI Feb 13
Charged phone got water at local Eilat bar, met Israeli who worked at Towson Mall selling Israeli products. She's been to that now closed Falafel shop in Maple Lawn.
Went to Border crossing. At that point I was three days over my visa, this border cared about that more than the Ministry of the Interior did, gave me a strict talking to but let me go.

Taxi to Aqaba because they don't allow walking to there.
Met CS host Ibrihim, talk with him at cafe, he's Palestinian, his family left Palestine in '45 by *choice*, that is: they chose to leave because they were farmers and had no match against the military. This destroys the black and white thinking of whether Palestinians left because they chose to or because they were kicked out, and paints a more complicated picture. Yes, some Palestinians left by choice but it was because they had no other choice, it was face the British/Israeli military or leave.
Met Mutaz Teto, studies accounting at works at bus station. Gave me the rest of his dinner. Drove me and his work buddy on a ten minute business run. No idea what was happening but got milk and oreo cookies.
Ibrihim bought me falafel for dinner as we watched Training Day.

Sat Feb 14
Left Ibrihim's, crossed border crossing, Israel gave me one month instead of the usual three because I had overstayed my visa three days and I only spent one day in Jordan. I'm Jewish and have family in Israel, which might have been a factor in them letting me back in Israel.
Found Liran on CouchSurfing. Hitchhike there with old couple who drove me straight there. Met German girl and Araik from Russia. Went to pool bar, Liran's friend harassed German.

Sun Feb 15
Liran asked me for massage. Creepy.

Mon Feb 16
Left Liran's and hitchhiked with Araik to Mitzpe Ramon. Three different rides, noon to five.
Saw Makhtesh Ramon, a huge canyon. Very pretty.
Visited hostel, met Simon from France. Met Noam our CS host, his two cats, two kids, and a homophobic woman surfer from Russia.

Tue Feb 17
Left Noam's for Beer Sheva, said goodbye to Araik.
Got to Beer Sheva and met up with James White who I had met in Ramallah and coincidentally in Jerusalem too.
Surfed with Nataly and her two American-Israeli flatmates, one of whom went to a house party with a NOLS Amazon buddy. Went to awesome music jamming session with her friends.

Wed Feb 18
Left with James to hitchhike for Ein Gedi. This was the first time I headed for a place without a secure host in place before hand. Hitchhiked with an awesome guy who fed us lunch and connected us with a host in Arad on the way to the Dead Sea, stayed night with them.
Check out my friend James' blog entry of these events!

Thurs Feb 19
It was supposed to snow in Jeru and flood roads on way to Jeru, so James and I did a day trip to hot springs in Dead Sea.
Luckily, hitched with a geologist on way there who told us about the terrain.
Another hitchhike ride was the third person I met from Silver Spring (a town very close to my home town in Maryland) in one month in Israel. Very friendly, fed us pizza during car ride. Drove to far but no big deal, hitched back to find hot springs. They were hot. Now I smell like sulfur despite rinsing off in the Dead Sea and taking a shower.

Fri Feb 20
Hitchhiked with James from Arad to Beer Sheva. Got to out host Aaron Zalcman who wasn't there but his flatmate Micah was. Went to dinner with Moshe, another CS guy in the city.

Sat 21
Spent day planning for Greece
CouchSurfed w Aaron Zalcman

Sun 22
More planning for Greece.
Bakery w a friend, went to Asham Hazman, a cool bar/music scene. Made campfire, had beer, roasted sweet potatoes in tin foil in the fire.

CouchSurfed w Moshe

Tue 24
Hung out w friend in middle of the day shopping for Purim costumes
CouchSurfed w Moshe

CouchSurfed w Ram, a student at Ben Gurion Uni

Left Ram's to hitchhike to Tel Aviv. First time I got picked up by a truck.
Arrived at Milk and Honey Hostel, stayed night there

Did lots of emails, aka surfed reddit.

Sat Feb 28

Sun March 1
Still at Milk and Honey hostel
CouchSurf w friend from All That's Left, Jewish activist group against the occupation, she gave me free ukulele! Very, very happy about the ukulele.

Mon March 2
Stayed w Tomair Friedman.
I met this guy summer 2011 at Landmark College. I was a tour guide and he was a prospective student I gave a tour too. He never went to Landmark but we stayed fb friends since.
He saw I was in Israel and messaged me saying he lives there. We tried for a while to meet up then it finally become convenient.
Played basketball and watched Walking Dead. 

Tue March 3
Train back to Milk and Honey
Hitchhike to Jeru
Stay with friend

Wed March 4
Get stuff from Ari, a guy from america visiting Israel that my Mom and Dad gave a phone charger, power cord, harmonica, etc. to give to me as more supplies for Greece.

Through the end of Israel, stayed with friends and prepared for Greece.

Last day, one more night at Milk and Honey hostel.

Forgot to give key back to my friend, so I had to rush to do that before my flight.

Flight to Greece, met Alberto on the train and flight there, spanish-German traveling around the world.

End notes:

I often say to myself "Holy fuck what the Hell am I doing," as I travel, wondering why and how I'm actually going to survive. But I say this less and less as I'm continuously amazed at the hospitality of strangers.