Here is Egypt like we experienced it!
Hey pieces of ham and vegetarians sausages. Two month and a half only after we left Jordan, it is with outrecuidance and oronymie that we offer you the first part of our Jordanian adventures. We decided to change a little our writing style and to juggle with the personal pronouns, mixing our points of view into one character.
Until I’m dropped at the Israeli-Jordanian border, everything was fine. From there it became a huge party of mistakes, of offices and queues, of border policemen slightly stupid that stamp my passport despite that I asked forty times to have the stamp on a separate paper. At the exit it is the fair of taxis all over the place, the famous “border effect”. I manage to find a truck going slowly through the small villages until Amman. BOUF, it’s a shock! Turkey surprised me on quite a few aspects but remained in comparison very European, we were far from this pile of donkeys and mess, some roads having a bigger proportion of holes than asphalt. On each side people spread their sun-bleached plastic gadgets, their shiny chocolate bars and their dusty but magnificent vegetables. After being used, each package is neatly put in order to occupy all the public space, the road edges being of course a place of choice for the crisps and cigarettes packages.
In Amman I spot the young guy who walks the coolest way. Marie, who I was supposed to meet does not give any sign of living, so after having imagined all possible scenarios of what could have happened to her, I just start following this dude and his friends who take out the Arak while watching the lights of Amman on the hilltops, and I end up in this apartment full of shisha smoke and young males. Marie shows up the following day, not realizing I waited for her all night asking myself where she was. We simply made the appointment with one day difference.
Second night in Jordan for me and we do the Arak session again, together this time. Our host and guide is lost between two cultures, between Pink Floyd which he mimics one by one all instruments, his facial expressions following the music’s intensity, and between the Ramadan that starts soon, a masculine and religious society, somehow archaic in which his dreams do not make much sense.
The main axis in front of the apartment open the road to adventure for us while we quickly reach the first village hitchihiking. The hardware store offers us the bread. Further on a small road that zigzag through a park, a family forces us to come and to eat barbecue with them, cozily installed on their carpets. Five minutes after having left the tribe it is whiskey and beer that fall upon us with two young engineers. Probably finding that time passes slowly when mummy is preparing dinner, they make a 20km detour to grab a beer for each of us, while relaxed by the first one, while a chill wind is blowing, we watch the sunset carving out Ajlun castle on the other side of the mountain. Under the stars around a fire, I listen to the coyotes howling while asking myself if they would dare to attack me. If Jordan continues this way, I don’t see the point of buying food.
Taking advantage of my naiveness one of our driver manages to put me aside for some minutes, and taking the hand of Marie, wants to bring her further down the forest. He understands quickly that she doesn’t want and ashamed to death he sped away while I was running to the car. It’s sad, but it is probably better for a girl not to stay alone.
The police-hitchhiking day starts. I actually think that in Jordan, half of the people are either policemen or military related, and I cannot figure out if it is appeasing or not. Before crossing the desert to Azraq, impossible to get bread or water without being offered some watermelon. Policeman or military we had one chance out of two, so it is a military who offers to host us. We take seat under the big tent in the garden in front of three glasses of Coke and the entire family extended to the neighbour kids. I am nailed by the twenty-four eyes. Follows an intense communication face-to-face, really taking off when we start to use paper and pen to help our young military’s English, and when we learn how to write our names in Arabic. The patriarch rolls a cigarette and goes in the garden next to the water hose which overflows his plants. He stands up, puts the hose on another tree, sits down and rolls an new cigarette. We go to imitate the scream of the donkeys and camels parked behind the house, and when we come back the dad has changed the hose’s position and has rolled another little one again. On the menu tonight, French fries-fish. Fish in the desert. I wonder if it something usual when receiving guests, some luxury sign. In the mean time, old man is smoking one or two more. Everybody sleeps outside, men under the tent, women and children next to the house.
This desert is quite unwelcoming and I am not displeased to leave it behind. On the road the desert castles are coming one after the other. I imagine, drowsing, the merchant caravans going through the desert and taking a break in the castles. I think again about the refugees camp we saw the day before, huge, as far as the eye can see, surrounded by fences. With the Palestinians and the Syrians, it’s one third of the Jordan residents who have the statue of refugee.
The crazy one who takes us after is a bit frightening… He overtakes everybody, brakes at the police controls doing big friendly signs and then triples his speed 500 meters further. He gives me three times the phone so that his cousin, who speaks English, can repeat me twelve times that her uncle is an awesome guy. Once arrived in Madaba, the Christian reference in Jordan, we play the differences game with Muslim towns. In fact, not much compared to the other cities except the big church that has the upper hand on the mosque and the little fish stickers on the back of the cars. Tomorrow, Ramadan is starting. We refuse the hosting offer of our next driver and we go to squat four walls and a terrace in between the well-rounded hills that open themselves in front of our eyes just enough so we can see the Dead Sea. The great food managers that we are did not take enough water and food, which is actually good, because we decided to do the Ramadan. We unclimb our terrace and from there the descent into hell starts. The throat is dry and every step is hard under the weight of our backpacks, and the car ridging down to the -427 meters of the Dead Sea drop us in an area empty of life. Empty of all energy I take a look at the sun disappearing on the Israeli side, where we were only few weeks ago. The releasing call of the muezzin rings while we are passing next to security guards waving at us, who will not need to convince us to come in order to empty their water and chicken with rice.
We walk five minutes to find the less horrible place of the surrounding. I tinker a shelter against the sun for the next day. The water coming from the pipe probably had something fishy. We all get sick under a sun that doesn’t allow us any kind of movement. We still go floating with a heavy heart, the head blown up and the stomach messed up. The place is so unhealthy that we cannot stay, and this despite our state. So we take the hard way of the South to go back to the heights and leave this basin of death. I dreamt a lot about it since the beginning of Jordan and it happened: we got a ride from a woman in a Muslim country. Two students who, because it’s Ramadan, have to find an occupation. A classic one is to take the car and take a ride with no aim.
My all body is upside down, but I am really happy when I get to see our destination, the castle of Karak, and when in the city the three fruit shopkeepers offer us a crate to sit down and to share the Iftar, the fasting breaking. The Ramadan is definitely over for us since yesterday, but we proudly managed to do it one entire day. The good news to sheer us up is that the traveller is exempted of Ramadan, like women during period, the old people and the young ones, or the ill. The bad news is that in the coming year we are supposed to make up all the days we missed. The others do like they want, personally I will make up my days maybe the year after. Or the next one.
The next day, still feeling bad, we meet two policemen clever as policemen, who decide that today’s mission for them is to bring us to the swimming pool. It’s just an outside swimming pool, quite basic with nice green reflections offered by its algae. Marie of course cannot show any piece of skin (it would be indecent) so she swims fully dressed among the cowboys doing many tricks and jumps into the water to impress the only feminine attendance. The policemen want to host us, but we find a trick so they let us go. It’s in the next village that we discover the magical technique. When I go out of the toilets of the mosque, I realize that the others have disappeared, and before I can even panic, a guy takes me to a house two streets further where I found them seating around a tea. If you are hungry or in need of an accommodation, you just need to hang around the mosque at the time of Iftar. After the meal we are invited from house to house. It’s really the first time that I meet a polygamous, and it’s quite normal here, an old grandpa surrounded by his whole family and indeed has two wives. But we are told that it is very rare among the new generations. Third day of Ramadan, third time we are invited to eat.
Back on the road the day after and quickly a policeman stops. Is there any other profession in this country? Until Al-Tafile the scenery is incredible. I lay my head against the window of the small car and I dream looking at those mountains passing by. They are beige, empty and dry, with from time to time a Bedouin tent overlooking the valley. I get out of my daydreaming when we arrive in the city and we find easily cars to get to the small village of Dana. The big valley stretches in a straight line up to the desert far away which we can catch a glimpse of, and at the start of this valley a small village with stone houses sits on a hill next to the cliff. The inhabitants abandoned the houses which slowly became ruins. Only some of them were rehabilitated and transformed into hotels. The spring not far transforms into a small river giving water to the village, the water is good.
Quickly I decide that I like this place. After two seconds of intense negotiation, we find a hotel for one dinar each, or one Euro twenty, acceptable even for our budget. I like our time spent on the terrace basking under the sun, preparing coffee being the most important mission. Mohammed the hotel guy makes me smile, I like him as well, he spends his days cleaning the terrace and watering the few plants he’s growing, and he is not hot-blooded like the other men in the country. I like a little bit less Bilal the “manager” who shows off too much and try to flirt with Marie explaining her how he’s young and successful in life, and that women could never do in a lifetime what he already did. We stay a few days here resting in this beautifully calm place. Everyday I ask Mohammed if the Internet connection he promised us is finally working, and every day he answers that it’s coming. I think he decided to build Internet himself, it should take some time. The second group of tourist in the village consists of a Saudi Arabian man who brings us apricots every morning and discusses with us with interest about religion, culture, sex, and his viewpoints are close and open minded in a strange mix. These talks divert me a lot. For Rémi’s birthday celebration we go to the hotel’s restaurant, youhou! Not a drop of wine, no cake, it’s a first, but it’s like this and everything is alright.
It’s all for now and the second part is under construction. Tchuss!
We are often asked since how long we are traveling, and we answer eight months before realizing that no it has not been eight, but nine months already. Some weeks ago as we were camping on the side of the Nile river, we decided to make a list of the people who marked us during our trip. The people we spend time, we converse and create links with are a big part of this trip. Some of them marked us genuinely and we would like to see them again if randomness of life allows it. In our list many of these people are Israeli encounters.
We talked about what we perceived of Israel, Palestine, the conflict, a good part of the culture, but we didn’t talked about the trip itself.
From the start to the end in Israel we didn’t had to think much, the encounters chained themselves all naturally. Before getting there we had a contact: Rémi met Lauren in Albania during a hitchhikers gathering last summer and she made an impression on him when she arrived and decreed, full of energy, that we had to collect the trash with the kids of the village. Mission they totally fulfilled! She lives now in Nes Harim with Alex and Johnny where the three of them take care in a farm of a goat herd and some plantations. We spent quite some times in Nes Harim with them, the cheese and the goat yogurt being a blessing and the long nights spent drinking and talking on the terrace happened to elapse too quickly. One hard morning we struggled to extricate ourselves from sleep at sun rise, not without the help of the shepherds armed with water, in order to walk the goats together, all of them taking advantage of our mollusk’ shape to do what they wanted. It is a great place, peaceful with a warm welcome and good food/ We also helped a bit, for example playing the guinea pigs for the curry ice-cream. It is Lauren who advised us some places to visit south of Haifa on the way to the farm and how we got to know Ein Hod and Jisr az-Zarqa.
Ein Hod is an artist village chilling on the side of a hill. Everywhere many quite fancy houses rise together with works of art, sculptures of any kind, installations and galleries. While struggling to find a place to camp, somebody called us from his balcony and ask us in Hebrew if we are doing the « Shvil Yisra’el », a hiking path going through all Israel from north to south. A bit everywhere on the way one can find the “Shvil Angels”, camps or simply people welcoming the hikers. The one of Ein Hod being certainly a bit different from the other ones with its big teepee and its giant eagles sculptures. Great, we got there and shared the evening with few hikers who for once sat up a little later and who had left long time ago when we woke up.
The next days we got to Jisr az-Zarqa. It’s a small Arab village and also the poorest of Israel. To enter we passed through a tunnel under the highway whose facade is painted with all colors and announces « Welcome to Jisr az-Zarqa ». Going through this tunnel is a little bit like taking an inter-dimensional door that makes you change space-time. And there we are, transported to a typical Arab town, with its regular amount of mess, cars honking and trash a little bit everywhere. People are outside, say hello to you, kids play in the street and everybody knows each other. It’s an other face of Israel that we discover here which has nothing to do with the rest.
On Nes Harim heights, which is located between Jerusalem and Tel-Aviv, while watching the sun set we can catch sight of Tel-Aviv’s buildings and even the sun diving into the sea when the sky is clear. On the other side of the hill we see the first habitations of Jerusalem‘s periphery. It was time to leave the goats, so we rose our thumbs for Jerusalem and Elisha, a university mate of Lauren; hosted us. Both study oriental music and we got the chance to listen Elisha playing on his Saz and to try it as well. For Elisha, no way we sleep on the floor, so he gave us his ultra comfortable double bed and slept himself on the floor. Any guide will tell you very well how not to miss the unmissable in Jerusalem so we will not talk about it. Still from our opinion, some things are worth seeing. During our wandering through the small streets of the old town we went up on the roofs after trying several stairwells and it’s really nice to this the city from an other point of view. We also liked the Jehuda market that changes completely atmosphere when the sun sets: during the day a colorful and lively market, it transforms at night when the bars open playing music on their speakers and when youngsters come to hang around and make their instruments resonate in front of the closed iron curtains. During this transition time at the end of the market, we had to keep control on ourselves not to get more veggies and fruits, judged a bit too old, that we can use. In the Nachlaot neighborhood next to the market, we loved to discover the small streets and other hidden gardens. Another night we went to a concert of Bint el Funk, an Israeli band that rocks, mixing Yemenite music, funk and other styles with lyrics in Hebrew, Arabic and English. Jerusalem is a very religious and very touristic city, but also a lively city that still leaves many things to be discovered. The city surprised us when we tried to hitchhike at night, in the city, and a very kind small grand-pa drove us to the tramway station.
After Jerusalem we wanted to see Tel-Aviv, Israel‘s capital city, but as well the cool, alternative, on the move city, where for example gays and lesbians often emigrate to escape from the other cities’ conservatism. Alex the shepherd came with us and introduced us to Oren, our first host in Tel-Aviv, a big teddy bear currently training to catch objects with his feet. Alex took as a duty to bring us to the best hummus of Israel and to make us visit the places he likes. Alex took the bet not drinking beer until he will brew his own: the last news were that the equipment was ordered and we hope that he didn’t give up, because for a guy like Alex, not drinking beer is like not eating cheese for Frenchman. When we left Oren, we found a refuge close to Karmel market, this time at Maxim’s; while his girlfriend left us for the ‘Backstreet Boys return show‘, we went with Maxim to listen to a crazy pianist and his band at a nice jazz bar in the same street. Yonathan, a friend’s friend, who introduced us to Maxim joined us a little bit later. In this market, just like in Jerusalem, the amount of abandoned avocados at the end of the market overwhelmed us. Be careful to arrive before the big mega bulldozer that comes to clean everything. Ok, a bulldozer to clean a market sounds a bit weird, but it’s a weird country anyway. Yonathan and Maxim will put all their efforts so we could do longboard, eat at a hummus place (yes again), giving us some clothes or helping us to sell beers when we broke Rémi’s computer and Arthur’s bag got stolen.
In Tel-Aviv, we like the Yaffo/Jaffa neighborhood of Arabic origin, much prettier than the new and big buildings Tel-Aviv is made of. In its really cool flea market, we bought our new mocha pot, the most indispensable tool of our journey.
With Manu the real Brittany guy, just like we like them, found in between two potatoes and a lemon at the end of the market, we met one night Laura on the beach. She was coming back from the Midburn and the days she spent there made here change her vision of the world, she wanted to help everybody, not care of anything and screw everything. She therefore hosted us without further questions.
When one travels, it is a common saying that people always meet twice. And sometimes even more! In Tel-Aviv we met again randomly Scott who we already met in Cyprus, and Freddy with whom we shared Christmas in Turkey, and already met randomly in Cyprus as well. Zincredible.
From a random research online, we saw that Driss was playing at the Groove Attack festival. The festival was way too expensive for us but we know Driss because he was the director of Hadra festival in Grenoble where we often volunteered. A quick email and the invitations were in our pockets. So there we went to party hard and destroy our ears with Infected Mushrooms and other very good artists. Driss also put the crowd on fire under the water vaporizers of the dance floor. One thing leading to another, we found back the contact of the Exodus organizers, festival where we volunteered in Cyprus. On the beach where the party was organized we met all the crew, except the big Shaman who we will see again later. A crazy one, but also a bit touching once the first impression put aside. It’s where we got our bag stolen and where we discover that the computer screen is broken.
Sometimes we are tired of hitchhiking. And then something happens to remind us why we do all this: Rimoch and Jeky are part of it. At this time we already wanted to leave Israel but Rimoch promised that we could come and drink some good beer if we came to visit their kibbutz. Because we never went inside a kibbutz we allowed ourself this detour. Rimoch and Jeky are this couple that make concerts dressed as giant space lizards. Rimoch speaks with no pause if you don’t manage to control him, which probably takes years of training, on all different topics and in detail. Jeky doesn’t listen anymore since long what Rimoch says but still looks tenderly for head lice in his hear.
Kibbutz watizat? Kibbutz are collectivist villages created by Zionist movements during Israel’s colonization. First mainly agrarian they developed later industrial activities. Historically, kibbutz members were known to be engaged and militants, advocating egalitarian values, cooperation between members and the absence of private property. With time kibbutz changed a lot and many of them did not keep much from their values while their industries and agrarian activities have been mainly privatized. The kibbutz’ importance in the Israeli society as well as their number is in clear decrease since 1970. Today one can probably still find kibbutz with these original values while the others range from village a bit more communitarian to a simple memory of the past.
Ginegar, the kibbutz in which we stayed some days keeps some traces of this history. The common laundry or the dinning room are still here, and if they were yore important components, they are nowadays optional. The newcomers don’t necessarily share the egalitarian values and are not really part of the community while the kibbutz population is getting older. Nevertheless it is true that we feel a particular atmosphere, the feeling of community is here, people look happy and get along well with each other, and religion is almost nil, astonishing for this country.
Ginegar is a very green place where the buildings have a strange aspect (who said Soviet?), and adjoining the village a huge cattle exploitation with cows that see only concrete all their lives. Proof that industrialization got the better of traditional farming. We also keep in our minds the image of the golf carts that parade everywhere, only a few cars pass by, which we adore to observe the coming and going.
It is Rimoch and Jeky that advised us the spot next to the Dead Sea were we hitchhiked to with Johnny. Remember Johnny? It is our friend shepperd. If Alex and Lauren are young in age (like us), Johnny is young in his head (like us). It is this South African dude who at one point asked himself what the hell he was doing with his life. He decided to leave everything behind and to go meditate in the Sinai mountains. He then found his luck with the farm that he brilliantly manages. A great soul who learns by experience, his cheese getting better at each batch while the sheep heard is everyday more behaved. Even with his curry ice-cream he gets better. The coast sides of the Dead Sea are very impressive. We went not far from Metsokei Dragot where people swim naked, where nobody comes to harass you or sell you a regenerating spa. There it is chilled, with a small pool of clean water to rinse that we shared with the passing people. This is where we met Rivi and Katja who took us back to Jerusalem to spend the evening at the light festival of the city. Rivi studies in the US at Naropa University in Boulder, a pretty special alternative university that she seems to enjoy. And if we get there one day we might say hi.
In Israel people are cool and open. Maybe a bit too speed, a bit too much cutting your speech off and not listening to you (isn’t it Rivi?), but we like them anyway. We are as much in disagreement with the government and its way of managing the situation and the inside issues we talked about in previous articles, as we felt well with the people we have met. There is in this country a kind of solidarity hard to re-transcribe by writing, some kind of trust and easy and straightforward communication. Israel was a great moment of our trip.
This is for our forth and last article about Israel, if you still have any questions just shoot them us.