It was around 5AM when I got through customs in Israel. This overnight flight from Riga, Latvia had me completely drained. This teenage girl decided to recline her seat into my lap throughout the flight. An airline designed for people in the northern Baltic region of Europe shouldn’t have such limited legroom.
My directions to the hostel from the airport were saved on my smartphone but were impossible to understand once I was actually there. Combined with my fatigue and irritated state, it was a huge disappointment when I finally got there and find that it was closed until 9AM. I was 3 hours early. I had to kill 3 fucking hours. Maybe I can go use the internet at McDonalds. Nope. The closest one I could find seemed like it was burned down. It’s sign out front was in perfect condition, but after getting close enough to see the actual restaurant, it seemed like a bomb was recently detonated.
After a few laps around the surrounding blocks of the hostel, a guy in his upper 30’s approached me almost out of nowhere and told me that he saw me on the plane from Riga. I was easily recognizable in a place where Asians are rare and nobody but myself is carrying a large camping backpack.
Toms Rozenbaums. A prodigal Jewish son returning to his homeland. Something of a heritage trip for him to see the homeland of his people. Currently on holiday from his job as a yachtsman on international seas. After a red eye flight, Toms’ idea of a refreshing morning would be to go for a swim in the Mediterranean ocean at the crack of dawn. The sky was still a dark blue from the sun rising behind us. Further along into the sea, the light faded into darkness. Since he felt that he could trust me, he asked me to watch his belongings
I sat on the rocks that surround the beach and drifted in and out of consciousness. Warm rays of sun heated my back as I sat hunched over my bag with Toms’ things at my feet. My mind would imagine the countless wars and historical events that would happen where I currently was. Tel Aviv felt almost spiritual, but not enough to bring me back to believe in Christianity. The events that transpired here over the years only affirmed that God doesn’t exist.
Toms was on his way to Jerusalem the next day so I followed in order to get one step closer to Petra. My plan was to go down to Eilat and cross over into Jordan. The road from Tel Aviv to Eilat went through Jerusalem anyway. A world famous city that I would’ve regretted not seeing if I was in the area.
Like many places in Israel, security was on another level that I was ever used to. Young pretty girls wearing military fatigues were wielding M-4 rifles. Maybe around 19 years old, they are enlisted into compulsory military service to defend their country. Their beauty was almost as lethal as their weapons while they stood watch on street corners. A noticeable blue set of eyes would stand out against their dark uniforms. The serious nature in which they took their jobs was an admirable trait. Other kids at that age would only be firing weapons like this in video games. Really astonishing to consider from what I was used to.
There was a hostel that I researched based on Hostelworld that was charging around 12 dollars per bed. In a crowded market, the building had only one route of access in between a couple food vendors and a drug store. It was quite busy in this area that was located right outside the old city. I walked up to a group of older men who were drinking and one of them claimed that he was employed by the hostel. A perfect stranger could have been just as much help in this situation. When I presented my proof of reservations, he basically took my word for it and brought me to a large hall that reeked of unwashed towels. Instead of beds, there were camping pads laid across every foot of this large hall. Despite the amount of open air space, the odor seemed to hang in the air and the circulation was inept. We had to be careful not to step on someone else’s luggage or sleeping bag while walking in between the pads to find an open spot for me to sleep on. There are refugee camps I’ve seen on National Geographic that had better conditions.
Reluctantly, I left my bags there and went off with Toms to view the old city. Since it was the beginning of Passover, many beers were not available for sale due to the way they are brewed. I don’t think “kosher” beer exists. Instead, there was a sale on some really nice Passover wine that we purchased and drank out of paper bags. Toms had some Latvian friends from home that currently lived in Jerusalem and we met them at a cafe. Lolita Tomsone , who is a language teacher, has been residing in Jerusalem for a few years now. Cheerfully spirited, she regaled us with tales of the terrorism and high tensions in this old city. Palestinian and other terrorist bombings were commonplace during the previous few years.
Lolita learned of my conditions at the hostel and invited me to stay on her couch as well. I was glad to accept. Toms and Lolita asked me for permission to speak in their native language of Latvian. Not to be rude or to exclude me, but to practice the language she loved. It was a rare occurrence to meet another Latvian in the country of Israel and they wanted to speak in their native tongue. The rest of the night was spent absorbing the culture with flowing wine and cigarettes.
That evening, I slept on a comfortable couch in a clean living room with a blind dog that howls on command. At Lolita’s house, we had a late dinner and continued to take in more wine as well. My kind host invited her friends as well and we all shared in food and wine.
The bus to Petra left from the central station and I was determined to walk there. I’ve accomplished a few long hikes in places like Portugal and Turkey with all of my stuff and this would literally be a walk in the park. There was a large park between Lolita’s house and the bus station that didn’t take long at all.
About 5 hours on a bus headed south, I caught a glimpse of the famous Dead Sea. Levels of salt concentration that could enable a person to float easily in the water.
Eilat was a tiny resort village that sat at the northern tip of the Red Sea. Most remembered for a leader of Jews splitting it in half with a stick so that he can organize a mass immigration. This place was not what I was expecting in my mind. Mid-rise hotel buildings with a mall and a food court. The beach itself was littered with garbage and leftover drink cups.