Israel Solo Backpacking Journal (Part 1)
Sunday February 8:
I'm on the road again! For a small town momma’s boy I do seem to find myself on a number of extraordinary adventures. Today I leave for 3 weeks in Israel and Jordan. Why? Why not? I subscribe to a FB group which posts outstanding travel deals and there happened to be an offer posted for $400 return flights to Israel. So on a whim I purchased a ticket. The catch is that the ticket is from NYC to Tel Aviv via Moscow with a 10 hr layover in Moscow. But it's $400 so who cares? My initial plan was to take a megabus from TO to NYC however that plan was shattered when I received a text at 10am informing me that the bus was canceled due to bad weather. "Sorry for the inconvenience" it read. No kidding. But all was not lost as I have some brilliant "3am" friends (or should I say "drive me to New York City on a moment's notice" friends). So now the plan was for Luke Frey, Matt Horst, Darrin Brubacher and myself to travel through the night to NYC and then for them to haul right back and be home by Monday night. It's worth mentioning that after recruiting Luke, I discovered that Greyhound offers a bus which was not cancelled and I could have gone on that instead. However when I informed Luke about this option he told me I would be "lame" if I did that and insisted they drive me. Who's doing who a favour here? Anyway, we headed out around 11pm just as the snow began to fall. I packed everything into a medium sized daypack so I wouldn't have a lot of weight to carry around. The guys were really impressed as they had packed more for the one day drive than I did for the three weeks but I learned the hard way on my euro trip that heavy bags are a pain. I essentially had two outfits and a few other necessities. The drive wasn't horrible but it was very wet and slushy the whole way and there were more than a few scary moments of sliding around on the freeway but we survived. We even watched a car in front of us swerve all over the road as it lost control during a pass. The Lord is gracious to me even in my stupidity and we survived the journey.
Monday February 9:
Today was a blur. It's now 7:30pm Elmira time (I have no idea what the local time is as I'm hanging over the ocean somewhere). We arrived safely in NYC. What a horrible city to drive in! I really hate cities and do not understand why anyone willingly chooses to live there. It’s like regular life but worse in every conceivable manner. It took a while but we managed to find JFK airport, got parked and had a ridiculously overpriced breakfast (see previous comment about cities). For the price of three slurp and burp breakfast specials I got enough food to satisfy a guinea pig that had already eaten. By now it was around noon and after playing with a bouncy ball for a while (you’d understand if you knew this crew), I said my goodbyes to Luke, Matt and Hoost and went to check in. It appears that at least half of this flight is bound for Israel, judging by all the Orthodox Jews I saw in line. I'm clearly not the only one who loves a good deal. I’ve always been curious, If there was a battle of the thrifties between a Jew, a Dutchman and a Mennonite who would win? We boarded the plane around 2:45pm and then we were on our way. The flight thus far has been pretty typical except for one beautiful display of God's glory. I just happened to look out the window when the lights were off and saw one of the most incredible displays I have ever witnessed. Below us was a blanket of fluffy white clouds, above was a brilliantly clear sky full of stars shining as bright as ever, millions of them, each competing for my eyes attention and on the horizon of the clouds and stars, was the ghostly wavy green of the Northern Lights, rippling through the sky like the waves of the ocean below. God is good.
Tuesday February 10:
It's still dark out, I'm still on the plane and my phone says it's 21:35 but I'm being served breakfast so I guess it's Tuesday now. Along with my half cooked eggs and "orange juice" which most certainly had neither orange nor juice among it’s ingredients, I was offered tea or coffee. Being the classy guy that I am and because tea is harder for them to mess up, I asked for tea with a bit of milk. To my surprise instead of reaching for her milk she grabbed a lemon slice and plopped it in my tea! Perhaps it's a Russian thing or perhaps she misheard me and was as surprised as I was to make tea with a lemon slice, but regardless it was actually delicious and I really must try it again back home.
Now it is 8:30pm Russian time and I am back on the plane and am waiting to take off to Tel Aviv. Finally! Today ended up being a bit different than I was expecting. It turns out that one needs a visa to go anywhere in Russia. I just assumed that I could get out and explore for the day but no such luck. I walked confidently to the gates to enjoy my day in Moscow but was promptly scolded and sent back to my bench with the fear that only a very large, armed, bald Russian can instill in you. I’d make a joke about Russians but I’m assuming they are reading this and probably have the means to kill me wherever I go, so instead I say “long live mother Russia.” So now I had 13 hrs to kill in a Russian airport (which for my Russian readers, I was of course so excited about as every moment in your country is thrilling and an honour). Fortunately there were some other travellers in the same situation as me. I met Tina and Jonathan and we decided to spend the day together. We swapped stories and got some food and drinks together throughout the day. Tina spoke Russian which was really handy for ordering lunch! Jon was fascinating. He owned a software company and traveled all over the world in his spare time. Jon eventually left for his flight to Beijing at around 1pm and then me and Tina just lounged about and napped until our evening flight. I have now just been informed that we all have to get off this plane and switch to a new plane in one hour! We have not even taken off yet but Mother Russia knows what is best for us of course. Oh the joys of travel. It's going to be a late night.
I finally made it to Israel at around 1:45am and to my delight I was through customs and out the door by 2am. I guess the best time to enter Israel is in the middle of the night! I got a sherut (shared taxi) to the Abraham Hostel in Jerusalem and arrived soon after 3am. Now I am going to lay down and may very well die. Goodnight.