Thursday, November 15, 2001

Hi there. A small piece of advice for you. When the security at Tel Aviv airport ask what your business is in Israel, and you mean to say "tourism", don't stutter and accidently say "terrorism". It is for this reason that myself and Simon currently find ourselves in a Tel Aviv prison.

No, of course not, but it's good advice nonetheless.

So indeed we find ourselves in the country that is the suicide bomber capital of the world. Already I've witnessed over twelve Palestinians blast themselves to chunks. And though I've so far escaped injury, I'm considering claiming compensation for the mess they've made of my T-shirt by exploding their innards all over me. Besides the condensed mass of suicidal Palestinians however, both myself and Simon are fine. Surrounded by Jews sure, but completely fine.

Hmm, the drink is pretty expensive over here however, so I could be finer.

You last heard from us in Marmaris, after the fiasco that was the Marmaris to Rhodes ferry connection. It's been the first "disaster" of our trip so far - about 40 quid wasted, plus what might have been an enjoyable ferry cruise to Haifi via Cyprus - but like the true heroes we are, we've converted disaster to unequivocal success. Well, perhaps. Still, we are going to appear on Israeli TV now. Yup, no joke.

More on that in a bit. First of all, our return to Istabul. Obviously, this return was a humiliating one, having to return to Melissa and "crew" (ie, anybody who happened to be residing at the hostel which was increasingly belonging to her after her extended residence) so on the hellish overnight bus journey back, myself Simon and Owen concocted a story of such brilliance that no-one there would ever suspect us of miserable ferry connection failure.

And our story would have stood, if our good natures had not relented.

It was a simple one. Owen was to simply act confused. When asked why we'd returned, he was to say he couldn't quite remember, but that the important thing was that he was back in Istanbul. Pressed further and he'd continue to be confused and say "Ask Niall". Simon was to act jittery when asked and insist that he really didn't want to say. He just didn't. If pressed he'd get very agitated and ask to simply drop the subject. And me, I was to be more laid back and to just repeat that we really couldn't tell what had happened but that it wasn't important and that the important thing was that we were all ok and back in Istanbul.

Incredibly, this pile of garbage actually worked to great success. Upon returning to the large dormitory room, to a variety of surprised people, we kept to our story and managed to stir up a great deal of concern. Helped greatly by Owen, when dealing with Melissa and Tim (from Canada - the new United States), and managing to pull off a great piece of acting that apparently had Tim's face contorted in such a degree of concern that he looked like he was going to cry. Me, Simon and Owen then went out to get our tickets and everyone else did the rest of the work, wondering what on earth had happened to us. Apparently the story going round was that we'd been drugged on the bus to Marmaris, and a number of the hostel residents began to fear for their own safety on Turkish buses.

We slept or rested or "recovered" in bed for much of the afternoon, thus helping our story along. The simple truth was that we were knackered after some child of Satan screamed and crapped the entire journey, not productive to a night's sleep. The crazy old man who woke me up to ask if he could sit next to me, then walked away, seems incidental.

The big event of the day was Melissa's 21st. She was out most of the day with "they guy" (ie, her Turk), but at 8.30pm we were to all gather and go out for a meal. After a few drinks in the hostel bar a group of us managed to gather for this, although closer to 9.30pm really. A very international group it was too. From memory there were the two Scots of course (myself, Simon), only two Australians (Melissa, Owen), a Belgishman (Eric), a Mexican (Claudia), a Turk ("the guy"), a Canadadaian (Tim), an Englishman (the 50ish Chris, who'd seen less bellied days and had a highly worrying propensity for wandering around in horrifically skimpy underpants) and an American (David). Plus two Turks who joined us later, but how am I expected to remember foriegn names?

We had our meal, eventually, after locating a place that could actually cope with this big group assaulting them at such a late hour (appraoching 11pm when we got there). Perhaps it was for this reason service was excruciatingly slow and the food, hmm, average. Obviously I've been too used to kebabs recently and anything that isn't carved directly from a mass chunk of revolving animal flesh seems less than satisfying these days.

The curious event of the night was our next choice of venue. Chosen by one of the Turks, it was a nightclub with a live band who were very proficient, if with appalling musical taste. Walking down the corridor it struck me immediately - I'd been here before. But in a much less sober state. The week before. With Bambi and Barbie, while so ferociously drunk I couldn't move or speak. Happy memories indeed.

Alas, I didn't get the chance to repeat this feat of drunkenness and myself, Simon and Owen had to leave early (well, about 1.30am), as we had our flight to Tel Aviv the next morning, and no way were we risking missing another voyage to the Holy Land.

And so this time we did make it. After numerous checks in Istanbul's airport, being questioned and metal detected (no deep cavity probing though), we took to the air and landed less than two hours later, with not a single bomb having gone off. And the much reputed heavy Israeli airport security proved very disappointing. I didn't have to strip at all.

It was as we waited for our bus into the centre of town that we happened to meet a girl so crazy that I still haven't begun to figure her out yet. Me and Simon have discussed this and she may be the craziest person we've met travelling yet. Well, this is aside from some of the more obvious lunatics you see, such as the guy in the mulitcoloured suit and fez, with glittery bits, and openly carrying a shotgun who got onto our Istanbul to Marmaris bus and barely got a glance from the other passengers (mind you, you should never stare too long at a crazy guy with a shotgun). No, this girl was crazy in a far more subtle, and rather charming, way. Pleasant - but a fruitloop.

She's called Shevonne and she's South African, but ethinically Indian. She's disappeared now, but if I do go and work on a kibbutz then it's very very likely I'll see her again.

She did start off pretty normal. Very softly spoken and gentle, and it was only the very fact she was in Israel at all that would have given suggestion of madness. That is, she'd never left South Africa before and Israel was the first foreign country she;d ever been to (yeah, a real obvious choice there) and she'd decided to go and work on a kibbutz for four months.

Anyhow, we were going to the same hostel so all got on the bus and arrived, as darkness fell, at "Gordon Hostel" - so called because it's on Gordon Street and not, disappointingly, run by several men all called Gordon. An Italian with the unlikely name of Donald also joined us, but he didn't really feature. I only mention him because I didn't think Italians were ever called Donald.

Following Shevonne's "instincts" we wandered aimlessly for a while, until we found a sort-of restaurant we could eat at. Shevonne went on a madwoman ramble about her not entirely accurate life history, which included being 16 years old with a 3 year old kid, engaged to a pilot called Sanjeesh and later on her theory (which she believed in utterly, and seemed surprised we didn't go along with it) that Germany and China were secretly plotting to take over the world. Right now she'd probably sitting back, smugly waiting for them to declare war so she can say "told you so".

You'd have had to have seen her to fully appreciate some of the craziness, although she was quite fun with it. The night drew to a close on the rooftop of the hostel, drinking pissy lager and her pretending to drink coke.

The next morning we were up early (too early for Simon, when Shevonne woke him up at 8.15am and he angrily told her to go away. The angriest I've ever seen Simon perhaps - never wake this man unnecessarily). Myself, Owen and the girl Shevonne all went to the kibbutz office together and Shevonne chose her desired kibbutz and basically forced poor Owen to join her there. For at least the next two months. I had the get out clause that I'm not intending to go until December, although in all fairness I'll likely join them there.

Things move fast in Israel - they've got to when you could be exploded at every possible second - and they only had two hours remaining in Tel Aviv before having to catch their bus and go to their future in their kibbutz. So with our short time left together we had a picnic on the quite impressive Tel Aviv beach, in the scorching sunshine (it's November and the weather just about eclipses the heights of an Aberdeen summer), before Owen and Shevonne managed to catch their bus.

Not before becoming famous in Israel however. The fame that we stumbled upon in Bulgaria has obviously followed us to Israel, and we're now appearing on Israeli TV. This Sunday or Wednesday I believe. A camera guy and some bird were around the hostel, filming stuff and conveniently, the four of us were about. Would we mind being filmed a little? Well, of course not, and so footage was taken of us acting "natural" in our room, then on the hostel rooftop, and then of the four of leaving the hostel (this bit was natural in fact, Owen and Shevonne had to catch their bus and the cameraman just chased after us). Finally, later on, me and Simon were captured enjoying a sunset together. Looking deep into each other's eyes... (or not)

That's about it then. Early tomorrow we aim to go to Haifa. As long as we're not too hungover as today is our 3 month travelling anniversary. In Haifa we're going to meet up with Zahi (hello Zahi, if you're reading this), who we met in Budapest all that time ago. We'll be there for a few days I expect. Then Jerusalem probably. Jerusalem and me in the same place? Man, we're talking major holiness.

Yeah, and the kibbutz stuff. I'm about 85% certain now. Basically, all I have to do is turn up in December and they'll find me somewhere, that somewhere probably being where Shevonne and Owen being if there are still vacancies. As it's the off-season and as casual tourists aren't flocking to Israel currently, I expect there'll be no problem. So I'm still going through with the full Frankfurt to Egypt plan, just going to Israel from Egypt, and not Scotland. But the decision partly rests on being able to delay my flight home, and also on how I feel in a few weeks time. But right now it's odds on the kibbutz.

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