July 08, 2007 GMT
Hummus makes the world go 'round

As the picture implies, I managed to get myself and the bike to Israel. I was so happy and still couldnt believe it worked. Seeing road signs to Jerusalem just felt unreal.
The crossing involved getting an exception for riding the bike over the Sheik Hussein Bridge (usually forbidden), surviving the very, very sincere security check of the Israelis (they feared my second battery is a bomb!), avoiding both Jordanian and Israeli stamp in my passort (otherwise the return travel through Syria would be rendered impossible) and flirting with the cute chicks at the Israeli passport control. I'm telling you, it was hard work :-) ! And more of this kind was to come.


But first I had some very relaxed days.
From the boarder I went to the next bigger town to get money and food. A phonecall to Nir (Afula? What the hell do you do in Afula?) revealed that I managed to go to the least desirable spot in Israel. Anyway, I found out that my close friends Sigi and Tanja were nearby in the port town of Akko. So I headed there and we had a merry get-together and looked around the old arab center. In the evening we went to Nir and Irenes place in Tel Aviv.
This and the following days I enjoyed the luxury of feeling at home, just hanging out. The hardest thing was shopping for shoes with the girls and recovering from that at the beach. Tough life!


Chilling in Tel Aviv


Tel Aviv Beach

One thing that is hard getting used to is the fact, that hebrew is read from right to left. Since I cant decipher hebrew anyway that is usually not so much of a problem, but when you sit on a computer with a hebrew operating system things get weird. Click on the picture below and try to locate e.g. the START-Button or the back button in the browser or where to click to close the program?
These things really make me feel that I'm somewhere else now, even though the lifestyle in Israel is very western and I naturally felt much closer to home than in neighbouring Syria. Since the military service is compulsory for females also, another sight getting used to are the young girls, some of whom I first met at the boarder, dressed in military uniforms, carrying around a fucking machine gun everywhere! (e.g. when shopping in town or sightseeing Jerusalem). At the same time they're quite cute, some of them incredibly hot, as are the Tel Aviv women in general. (Unfortunately they are well aware of this and stick their nose pretty high in the air - not that I want to generalize...)
My remark about the decoletage many girls are proudly showing off provoked one of Nirs friends to share some common knowledge with me: "Israeli girls have big tits - they eat a lot of hummus!".
Hummus! Not only is it a nutritious food source, also it later helped me a great deal with my boarder problems and will, according to Eldad, a very spiritual friend, be THE solution to peace in the middle east!
For the interested reader, find out here what this magical stuff actually is. Try it out, spread the word (and the hummus) and use it in any situation, for whatever problem comes up!


!swodniW werbeH

After 6 days in Tel Aviv, or more correctly on the couch, I got my crap together and left to go to Jerusalem and from thereon south, through the Negev desert to Eilat on the red sea, where I would cross back into Jordan. One thing I did achieve in Tel Aviv was to paint my originally black helmet white. I was glad for that in the heat of the desert - 44 degress Cesius read a thermometer on the dead sea!

Jerusalem! This city has so much history, it's very, very fascinating to see and feel some of it. On the other hand it's also frightening that the ever prevalent conflicts are still going on. I didn't know what I should feel in this town. Since I'm a fairly unreligious person, the significance of all the churches, mosques, synagoges and all the other sacred places are not that vivid to me. So when I came to Jesus (supposed) tomb and listened into myself what I felt (as advised by Gabriel, the romanian monk) all I could find was that I'd propably be travelling for some time longer. A more spiritual experience came later at night. As I lay on the roof of my hostel with a view all over the city, looking at the stars - I found mine I think.


Jerusalem: Dome of Rock and Jewish Cemetry on the Mount of Olives


Muslim women and orthodox jews outside the city wall

The sightseeing also brought me to the western wall (Klagemauer), the holiest place for the jews. An entire company of soldiers was just there. They were having a good time, quite relaxed, joking around. When I think of soldiers I do not think of people smiling. But this picture was different and I wanted to keep it so I asked for it. This is what I got, very mixed feelings believe me:


Female soldiers and little Andi in front of the western wall, Jerusalem

Contrary to what I thought, Nir assured me it's no problem for me to drive in the westbank as long as I avoid towns like Hebron or Jericho. With a bit of a funny feeling I did and was alright I guess. In Beer Sheva, the town on the fringe to the Negev desert, I couchsurfed a night at the place of Dan and Scharon, two of Nirs friends. They study politics and it was very interesting to hear what they think. I would have liked to stay longer, but I went to Masada the next day.
Masada is like a castle, built more than 2000 years ago on a mountain in the desert, close to the dead sea. It's one of the most important places for the Israelis and it's history very cleverly used for nationbuilding. The story is, that at the time of the romans there was a revolt by the Jews. It was ended with brute force by the roman army, but 973 people (zealots) held out at the Masada castle against a superiority of 15.000 roman soldiers. The castle was impossible to take, so the romans built a ramp up, on which they could bring battering rams and other war machinery close enough to finally break through the walls at the top. Now comes the heroic stuff: The zealots decided they'd rather kill themselves than falling into the hands of their enemies. Not everybody played along though and two women and 5 children (according to Flavius Josephus) survived to tell the story.
Nowadays a common phrase used to justify whatever Israel has to do to defend itself is "Masada shall never fall again!". Whichever way one thinks about that, seeing the ruins of Masada, the ramp that is still there after 2000 years and looking down to the stone squares of the roman legions on the desert bottom makes history feel like yesterday.


In the Negev



Slowly it was time for me to leave Israel, so I drove through the rest of the fantastic desert landscape to Eilat. Rightaway I tried crossing into Jordan, but the israel boarder post indicated trouble: "They won't let you in on the bike!". I had to try anyway, exited Israel and went over. I was quite persistent, but nothing helped, I was refused for bikes were not allowed in Jordan. End of discussion! So I reentered Israel, of course enjoying the complete security check again and also the sympathy of the boarder staff.
A bit of research (with support from Nir and friends, thanks a lot again!) showed four possible options of how to go on:
1) cross to egypt, drive down the Sinai to Nuweiba, take the ferry to Jordan. Others have succeeded that way.
2) try to get special permit for riding in Jordan
3) take the ferry to cyprus and from there to Turkey
4) try other boarder crossings

The weather was so hot I slept the next night on the red sea beach without clothes or cover. I started the boarder process at noon and left, unsuccesful, at 8pm back to Eilat. Short History:
- Exit Israel
- Enter Egypt
- Egypt Security check
- Refusal by Egypt custums due to missing tryptik (carnet de passage)
- Possible solution: get tryptik on Israeli side of boarder
- Exit Egypt
- Enter first gate of Israel
- Discover Egyptians kept my bike registration
- Back to Egypt gate
- Egypt security check
- Retrieval of bike registration (thank god!)
- Entering Israel without bike (stays in nomansland) passport check takes the longest 2 hours of my life
- Uncertainty about egypt regulations, cannot get tryptik
- Exit Israel
- Another unsuccesful try at egypt customs
- Retrieval of bike
- Enter Israel
- Security check
- Passport check
- 3rd time: WELCOME TO ISRAEL!

That did me in! I decided no more boarder crossings without proper research and went back to Tel Aviv the next day. A visit to the jordan consulate revealed: If I applied for a permit in Tel Aviv it would take 3-4 weeks to get one. I could go with bus to Amman and maybe get it in 3 days. Or entrust a jordanian travel agency to do it for me.
After a good Thursday night party on the beach I decided for a last try at the boarder where I came in. If that failed I'd do the bus trip to Amman. Last resort would be the ferry.


Camping in the Ramon Crater, Negev desert

On Saturday morning I packed my stuff again, said goodbye to Ene and Nir, pretty sure I would see them when I return at night. My hopes were high but realistically I gave myself a 10% chance. The day before I had talked to Eldad. He said to me: "Go to the boarder and buy some hummus. When you get to the boarder just hand it over to the people and you will succeed!". Since it was saturday (shabbat) everything was closed, but I managed to get two small boxes of hummus from the last petrol station before the boarder. It was processed and packaged stuff. But I guess that doesn't matter.

At the boarder the israelis tell me again I would be refused by Jordan. I went on anyway. Next, Passport control. Officer: Naomi Campbell

Naomi: "Where do you go?"
Me: "To Joran and on to Turkey!"
Naomi: "Can I come with you?"
Me: Gulp...
Me: "Aehh, I have a free seat. How long 'till you packed your stuff?"
Naomi: "Just a minute. Did you pay the exit tax?"
Me: "Ahem no, hang on."

I went to pay the 67 shekels for the third time! Back at the office:

Me: "Ok, paid the tax!"
Naomi gives me the exit stamp. Two more girls are in the office.
Me: "Ok, lets go! Are you still coming?"
Naomi: "Where else do we go?"
Me: "To china, in the winter to India. Do you have your Syrian visa ready?"
Naomi and the other girls: "SYRIA???"
Naomi: "I cant go to Syria!"
Me: "I know. What a shame! Bye"
Naomi: "bye.."

I'm starting to get the hang of these boarder crossings!
I get back on the bike and stop on the bridge over the Jordan again. The barrier lifts, I drive to the first Jordan gate. Passport! The guy checks, gets on the phone. Waits. Gets a response. Waits. In the meanwhile we talk little. I get off the bike. He gets another call: I can't enter! Wait! I explain my situation more thoroughly, show him the insurance I already paid. He gets on the phone again. I'm thankful he's actually trying. I get out a box of Hummus, ask him if he'd like it? He makes me sit in his office. I put the Hummus on the table and wait for the response. 2 minutes, 3 minutes, 4 minutes. A call. I can drive in, go to captain Yussuf, the the chief of custom. YES, I thought triumphantly, that was the first barrier! But keep cool, anything can happen yet.
The captain confirms everthing. No problems. Again I get my stamp on a piece of paper. In all the crossings I have managed to not have a single trace of Israel in my main passport! The road is paved now, the security check and customs are only a formality. I simmer with excitement, joke with the officers. They are just having lunch and make me eat with them - I get my second box of Hummus out and put it on the table for everybody. I enjoy the situation, eating with the officers. I have no hurry now because I know I'm through.


Posted by Andreas Naumann at July 08, 2007 04:01 PM GMT

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