Saturday, December 29, 2001

Hey guys. Can you guess where I am now? Israel? Nope.

I’m in Scotland. In Dingwall. Back home.

Yes, that’s right. I’m home. A fairly last minute change of plan and instead of going to work on a kibbutz for a few months, I reckoned on going home for Christmas instead. Yeah, sure, not the decision of a hardcore traveller I know but hey, what can I say? I’m a lightweight obviously.

Ok, you might want some details. Here you go then.

So ok, the decision was fairly last minute but I won’t pretend one foot was in the bus to the kibbutz and I suddenly thought "Heck" and jumped on an aeroplane instead. No, the first inkling I had of not kibbutzing it was last week, the day before the desert trek. I just woke up one morning and thought about a few things. Still, I hadn’t decided then, but I had time to think during the trek (when not singing a variety of foreign language songs) and I talked about it with a few of the trekking group. And by the time I’d finished I’d decided that home it was to be.

So the morning after the trek I went to a travel agents and got the first cheap ticket home, which happened to be late Sunday 23rd December. I was home by 4pm on Christmas Eve.

So why did I decide to go home? I’ll tell you the truth. Something I should have told you all a long time ago.

I have multiple sclerosis and I don’t know how much longer I have left. I’ve decided to spend my final moments home where I grew up, beneath the torrent of tears of my beloved friends and family.

No, of course not you bunch of retards. No, there were a number of reasons. The simple fact is that I’d only ever planned to go away for about three and a half months. I was away about four and a half. And this had consequences.

I have a house back in Aberdeen, which ever since I left in August has been rented out. I tried to sort out as much as I could in advance but inevtibably had to leave a good deal for my brother and mother to sort out. Which they appear to have done very well. But it’s unfair to ask them to continue sorting stuff out indefinitely. Especially as I delayed a number of bills till December/January before I left. I want to deal with all the paperwork myself.

Aside from house finances, my personal finances are a bit messy. I haven’t yet seen the exact state of my credit card’s health, but I’m expecting to be doing some serious weeping quite soon. According to my brother the bank are wanting to see me on a "non-urgent" matter. Somehow, a "non-urgent" matter seems more ominous than an urgent one. I think some financial recouperation is in order.

But for all this, I don’t deny I could still have worked on a kibbutz and have sorted all this out from a distance. I could have got mail sent to me and I’d be able to deal with
my Scottish finances in Israel. A bit of a hassle but hardly insurmountable.

No, I’m home because now, quite simply, is the best time to return. Talking with a few of the group I was hiking with - Bala especially - I realised that going home now, for Christmas, was far better timing than going home in about March. Christmas is definitely a good time of year for me to head home. Plenty of free food and drink. All the relatives are converged. I can just wind down for the remaining week of the year, not having to worry about real life for a little longer.

And you see, Israel can wait. By not going now doesn’t exclude the possibility of ever working on a kibbutz. Or travelling again. In fact, in the few days I’ve been home I’ve realised the prospect of travelling again has become an absolute certainty. And this maybe is the clincher as to why I decided to come home now. I was prepared - financially and psychologically - only for three and a half months of travel. But this time I can gear myself up for a greater period of time. I’m home now and so have a few months to sort out my finances and life in Aberdeen. And gear everything up. Gear everything up for being away for a greater time than four months. This first adventure has merely been a taster.

So I’m home now because, paradoxically, I want to travel more. 2002 is not going to be spent entirely in Scotland. Give me three, maybe six, maybe nine, months - and I’ll be away again, and ready for it. To where I don’t know, though I do intend to be seeing Croatia and Israel again. I might do Africa. Not India though, definitely not India. Too many damn hippies.

I’m going to do a big final sum-up entry in the next week or two so I’ll save all other details for then. For now I’ll just cover the final days of my travelling.

Saturday and Sunday the 22nd and 23rd December were my final two days abroad, although it wasn’t until afternoon on Christmas Eve that I actually entered that fine land of Scotland. These days weren’t spent doing anything terribly exciting or interesting aside from walk about Tel Aviv or hang about in the hostel talking to someone, or listening to David the crazy Australian Jew’s CD player - which was a total Godsend. On Saturday afternoon I did meet up with Bala though, to see "Lord of the Rings" at the cinema. Her grandmother had died just a few days before so she wasn’t exactly buzzing with joy, but she seemed in fairly good form. I think she was glad to get out of the house with someone and to somewhere completely removed from the sad family events. We were joined by a friend of hers, a guy with some impossible name that I think began with "S", but was really too complex for any native English speaker.

Myself and S---- enjoyed Lord of the Rings, but unlike us Bala wasn’t familiar with the book and found it rather long. I think she’s more of a Harry Potter person. And apparently Saruman looked very like some Arab singer which got an amused murmur from the audience. At the end there was a small but significant round of applause. I’ll definitely see the film again.

Anyway, this is a travel diary and not a film review section so I’ll shut up. After the film we went round to S-----‘s house. His father was from South Africa but had studied in Scotland for a few years and English was his first language, so I got the opportunity to talk about Scotland to a fellow English speaker. I think he was glad of the chance to be able to speak English to someone and he gave me a variety of stories. The house also hosted a pair of very enthusiastic dogs.

We stayed there a while until myself and Bala left. It was time for our sad farewell too, as it was her grandmother’s funeral the next day so obviously she wouldn’t be able to see me before I left on my flight home. So with a final goodbye hug we departed.

There was news about David the crazy Australian Jew when I got back. Apparently his "wife-to-be", that he’d only ever met once and we all presumed was trying desperately to shrug him off, had phoned him and invited him round for a meal with her parents. This was shock news, coming just days after his previous excitement of nearly fighting some manager of a bar because he’d been working in the kitchen of the restaurant and the manager had refused to give him a whisky. This had apparently led to much shouting and breaking of glasses until the manager had conceded the whisky. David was pessimistic about the chances of his job remaining.

Anyway, I saw him the next day and his meeting the parents evening had gone very well indeed. His girl’s mother was a doctor and had given him medicine for his (ahem) bronchitis. David was now dead set on proposing to the girl by the end of December. As I left him and the hostel for the airport, he was in the process of wondering whether to go to the zoo with his girl, or to go to Egypt to make himself seem exciting to her. My advice was valued, albeit ignored. I did quite like the guy strangely enough and I was utterly fascinated how such an obvious mess of an individual to everyone that met him actually appeared to be succeeding in life.

I had flights from Tel Aviv to London and from London to Inverness, the time from start to finish altogether being almost 24 hours. I was at Tel Aviv airport in plenty of time and so sat about for a while waiting, giving Bala a phonecall with the remainder of my phonecard credits. I also bought some deoderant as I was stinking. Although the duty-free deoderant is a load of bollocks. It’s just this really expensive poncy stuff for gays. Eventually I found a packet of two roll-on deoderants for $6 which I was forced to buy, but roll-on isn’t exactly the same as proper spray stuff. I mean, you can’t make a flamethrower with roll-on deoderant. Anyway, the flight was ineventful, with not a single passenger trying to a light a fuse on his exploding shoe and I landed in Gatwick airport about midnight, UK time.

My flight to Inverness was 14 hours later, but from Luton airport. Here I rediscovered the joy of British prices. A taxi quoted me 110 pounds to take me there. When my mouth dropped he added helpfully, "We take Mastercard." To be fair, the airport was an hour and a half away, but the price was still more than either of my flights. I got a train, eventually, costing almost 17 pounds - which is still a comfortable day’s existence anywhere else.

But the cost - who cares? All around me was the sound of English being spoken, with lovely British accents. All around were signs written in English. I paid for things with British money actually worth something. The train conductor was a lovely old man with a flat cap and a crinkled train timetable in his shirt pocket. I got a rare glimpse of seeing Britain through the eyes of a foreigner. And it was lovely.

I can’t say the wait for my flight was as lovely, with time passing slower as the flight grew nearer and my anticipation increased. But it came and soon - and with great joy - we were in the airport of Inverness, my place of birth (as my passport will confirm). Scottish accents all around. I got a lift from Justin’s mother (Justin, you will recall, joined me and Simon in Cairo for a short while) back home.

I should say now that I hadn’t told anyone about my arrival home. Those reading now who weren’t aware of my plans certainly aren’t in the minority. I deliberately left everyone in the dark. Only those in Israel and a couple of friends in Aberdeen knew as I’d contacted them with regards to transport from Inverness back home to Dingwall. So my family were completely unaware that I would be home for Christmas.

And so I think they were all a little surprised when I strode jauntily down the driveway. I actually reduced my usually cold, harsh and perhaps even evil, mother and sister to tears. They even hugged me. Better still was the reaction from my aunt when we all went round to her house. She fainted. Yes, she actually fainted when I walked in the room. I admit this is the first time I have ever made someone faint just by being in their presence. Though, of course, many women swoon when Big Nev is about. She also told me something really rather excellent. I’m apparently the reason for the existence of her kids, my cousins. She didn’t want to have children but then I was born and I’d been such a delightful and beautiful baby that she was inspired and voila - two grotesque children were born to her that could never begin to even hope to compete with me. Bad luck Malcolm and Esme but hey, I think I probably deserve a few pints. After all, you do owe me your existence.

So I’m home. It’s not travel so I won’t go into detail, but it has involved the eating of a great quantity of chocolate, and the consumption of a variety of alcohols. Often together (which we all know should never happen with chocolate and beer) which has made me feel somewhat ill. I drank until I passed out last night, at a friend’s house. It snowed not long after I got home, and currently there’s a ton of snow outside, which has disrupted a heap of roads but does look rather pretty. My clothes were all washed too. The washing machine water was turned brown as the clothes got their first wash in many weeks. And joy of joys - my music. I’ve listened to my music for the first time in four months and what a delight it is. For me anyway. The rest of the family aren’t yet convinced.

That’s it then. I’m home. Tomorrow I go to Aberdeen and plans beyond that are vague. This isn’t my final entry - there should be one final one in a week or so. Be patient. But then that’ll be it. Until…

Friday, December 21, 2001

You meet some strange people in hostels. Israeli hostels especially, it seems.

All I've been doing for the last few days, and will do for the next couple, is just hanging around. I find Tel Aviv a pleasant enough place to hang around, although like Aberdeen I feel it's a better place to live than to visit, as there isn't much in the way of tourist attractions. So much of my time is spent just lazing around, with the inadvertant consequences that I've been getting to know those fellow hostel residents around me.

A Jewish-Australian called David is the one I suppose I've got to know best, although the effort has been all on his part. Four months ago he broke up with his girlfriend of 10 years, and oh boy, don't I know it. I've heard the story oh... 76,000 times? After ten years of being perfect (except for that one time he cheated on her of course...), being a big achiever with a full life, they broke up because she started seeing another man. And David crumbled. Even though he knew they were going nowhere and he refused to marry her because she had low self-esteem and wouldn't get a job, he had a total nervous breakdown but decided that instead of killing the guy she was seeing, he'd take a break from work and go to Israel to "find himself". This has involved the use of several prostitutes, but by happy chance he's fallen madly in love with this Israeli girl called Nilli. That he's met once. Yup, once only, and a few phonecalls that from what I gather have been him asking her out and she making excuses as to why she can't go. Undeterred however, David is already planning his marriage to this girl, convinced that she'll change her mind. They're "just perfect" together, you see. Somehow though, he's managed to land himself an accountancy job in a Jewish firm in London, starting at 30,000 pounds a year. He got the job today so has been very happy and has said repeatedly how glad he his that he broke up with his old girlfriend. His life is now perfect. He's going to make enough money in 10 years to be able to retire in Israel, married to Nilli, and send his kids to a private school. Nilli fits perfectly into all of this. If he can just make her see...

I may have become David's best friend by virture of a technique I got from H, back in Aberdeen a couple of years ago. As David talks and talks and talks, I just nod my head understandingly and say "Hmm, yes", "Quite right" and "Tell me more..."

I've also told David I'm a reporter for Lonely Planet and not only has he believed this, but I think he may have spread the word round the rest of the hostel.

Also in my dormitory is a very peculiar little Iranian guy who unbelievably has lived in the hostel for five years. Saving money to return to Los Angeles apparently. Though five years may seem a long time to save this one airfare, it makes sense when you realise that all he actually does in Tel Aviv is potter about the hostel making coffee for himself. He speaks in staccato and also believes I'm a Lonely Planet reporter.

There's Vlad the Ukranian guy. He's quite cool. He had a serious car crash three years ago that affected him in the horrific way that he's unable to drink alcohol as it gives him dangerously painful headaches. But he seems normal and he's obviously an intelligent guy and it's people like him that make me realise how lucky I am because I'm from a country with money and that lets me go just about anywhere in the world. The British passport is a powerful tool. He actually offered to buy mine. If I'd had a spare one I'd have given it to him.

There's an English guy Warren who seems alright but seems to get frustrated with little things, and there's a pile of other people - mainly South African - whose names I don't know, including the (mainly South African) staff, who all seem alright too. It's a friendly enough atmosphere and an ok place to relax.

Apart from swanning around the hostel, I was out a few nights ago with Bala and a friend of hers called "Gal". These Israeli's have crazy names. I got a pint of Kilkenny for the bargain happy hour price of 18 shekels (3 pounds). Oh Lord.

I haven't seen Bala in the last few days due, very unfortunately, to a death in the family but we're still in contact and have agreed to see Lord of the Rings tomorrow. Maybe something on Sunday too, depending, as Sunday will be my last day in Tel Aviv as I really should get on with things.

That's the situation then and this may be the last entry for a week or so, as I don't know where exactly I'll be then and how readily available internet access will be.

Merry Christmas for Tuesday by the way.

Tuesday, December 18, 2001

I'm clean right now, and I've actually changed my clothes (all of them). Yesterday I wasn't. Yesterday I was comprehensively filthy.

For me to say I'm comprehensively filthy is quite something. One thing you may not have entirely derived from this diary is just quite how unclean I am. Those who know me well know that I'm not exactly the most hygienic of people, but at least back in Aberdeen I washed every couple of days and changed my clothes... sometimes anyway. But my standards have been slipping steadily in the last four months of travel. During Croatia I wore the same pair of socks for an entire month. Believe it or not, they didn't smell, but due in large part to a very big blister on my heel they did become exceedingly crusty. Several times I have gone a week without washing. I have about 4 T-shirts with me - I've only ever worn 4 and they're not exactly on rapid rotation (before today I'd worn this one T-shirt for over a month). Don't ask about my pants. My policy has been if it doesn't smell and isn't visibly dirty from 10 metres away, then it's fine.

I haven't even begun to mention the state of my toenails. Needless to say, they have not been cut since I left Aberdeen in August.

Anyhow, all this is to stress that when I admit to being filthy, it means I really really mean it. However, this time my filthiness does have a justification as I was fresh back from a four-day trek in the Israeli desert. Sand, dust and no water. Spraying some deoderant twice during the expedition was the closest I got to washing, and as the can has been virtually empty for weeks, I doubt it did a lot of good.

But regardless of this, the desert trek turned out to be something rather special. In four months of highlights, this was one of the greatest.

After my last entry, I phoned Arnon again and a pick-up time and place was arranged. I was to phone a friend of his, a girl called "Inbal" but generally called Bala, and I did this and she picked me up (plus all my stuff) at 4pm outside the hostel. There were a couple of hours to wait until Arnon and the rest would arrive in Tel Aviv from Haifa so she took me to her house and we talked for a couple of hours. She was a lovely girl with some curious notions. She'd finished her military service (female soldier with a gun... oh yeah...) but had decided she couldn't be bothered with university as she couldn't be bothered with the commitment and level of concentration. So instead she was working her way around a number of jobs that weren't exactly mainstream. Such as being a shepherd, and painting pylons. Currently she's "between jobs" but she had some ambitions as to her ideal jobs. Either just talking on TV, or naming things, such as new streets, chemicals, or whatever.

She was going on the trek too, but was arriving later on in the day/night/morning from myself, Arnon and the rest. The rest? Yeah, this is what I haven't told you. The rest was a busload of children (about three busloads in fact). Well, I say children, they were all between 16 and 18, but Arnon always referred to them as his children. The trekking was part of some national organisation that met up every couple of weeks to go away for a day or so, hiking somewhere in the country. But because it was Hanouka (an eight day holiday involving lighting candles), it was a big four day trek (longer for some, who had started earlier). So yeah, I was trekking with a pile of schoolkids...

It turned out to be a lot of fun.

We arrived at the starting point after midnight, and everyone got ready to try and catch a few hours sleep, as it was a long day the next day, beginning at 5am. I was wholly unprepared, obviously not anticipating a four day trek in the Israeli desert when I set off from Aberdeen four months ago, so my entire range of hiking equipment was a sleeping bag. And not a terribly warm one at that, as I woke in the middle of the extremely cold Israeli desert night (it is winter after all) freezing my damn bollocks off, which is something I'd have worried about more had my damn bollocks not taken a heavy pounding while riding that ancient bicycle in Luxor, Egypt. Even with the gay Norweigan fisherman jumper I was cold. I was almost glad when 5am came, and our group was ready to go.

The set-up of the event was that one guide led groups of about 15 "children" for the day, and at night everyone would rendezvous at a set camping destination so the mess would be concentrated to one area, as the organisation was quite environmental and litter in the desert lingers a lot longer than it does in Scotland, where it gets battered to submission. Arnon was guide to this one particular group, and so I was just tagging along, plus Bala for a few of the days. Rinat (Arnon's girlfriend) only trekked a little with us, but was very much involved in transporting all the stuff (ie food and everyone's bacpacks as we only carried smaller packs during the day) to each camping destination. Oh, also present was Arnon's large dog called Sheba, who looked like "Falco" from The Neverending Story according to Bala. As the last time I saw The Neverending Story was when I was about 9, I didn't argue.

The first day was the longest and was sort of my breaking in day. Although everyone in the group spoke very good English, they obviously talked Hebrew among each other and so a deal of the time I was lost in a sea of Hebrew, with it's unrepeatable sounds for the common English speaker. Sort of like the ch in "loch" but much harder. A bit like "Hhhgggg" but without sounding the ending of the "guh". That make sense? I did begin my attempts to learn the names of everyone, which proved a most difficult task as Israeli names appear to be mostly unrelated to any name I've heard of, so I was effectively trying to memories a series of random words dotted with bizarre sounds. But by the end of the four days I managed it so here, for the record, is the names of everyone there.

The guys: Yotam, another Yotam, Oded, Guy (a mericfully easy name), Haguy (pronounced Hhhgggaguy), Nir and arriving at the end of day 1, the wonderfully named Weissman.
The girls: Efrat, Lee, Irys (she'd actually visited Scotland before, but couldn't remember where), Hila, Mirav (or however the hell it's spelt) and arriving at the end of day 1, Michal, Abigail and Maya.

I'm very impressed with this feat of memory and feel I deserve a reward. Credit card donations welcome.

At the end of day 1's trekking, the group all gathered round a campfire and spoke in rapid-fire Hebrew. On the most part. A curious thing was the amount of English that slipped into normal conversation. Not just random words like "tuna" but entire sentences and phrases and song lyrics. Such as "Aggghhh ggghhh gghhh ch gghhh Would you like to take this outside? chhhcg ghgcg hcghgchg". There was a lot of singing too - despite not necessarily possessing the most harmonious of voices, the group were enthusiastic singers, mixing traditional Jewish songs with stuff like Queen and the Beatles. Later on in the trek, they even entertained themselves with a little Geri Halliwell upon hearing of my admiration for her very very obvious songwriting talent.

Here's a song I was taught that night.

Ner-li, ner-li, ner-li, dakik
Ba Hanouka, ner-i adlik
Ba Hanouka, ner-i ya-il
Ba Hanouka, sher-i ashil

It translates something like:

My candle, my candle, my candle, my little candle
On Hanouka, we light the candle
On Hanouka, we do something to the candle
On Hanouka, something or other also happens that is probably candle related.

It's meant to be a gentle song but I kept emphasising the last word of each line strongly, so would say "dakik" very forcefully, thus turning this gentle Hanouka poem into something resembling a war-cry, and this new interpretation of the song ended up proving very popular with the group.

So, with my education of Jewish Hanouka songs, I had to share with them the most important song in the world, the Scottish national anthem - Flower of Scotland. I did toy with Leonard Cohen's Famous Blue Raincoat, but reckoned it was too downbeat. Besides, even though I haven't listened to the song in months, the tune and lyrics still often find their way into my head quite frequently. Here, for your education too, is Flower of Scotland.

Oh Flower of Scotland
When will we see
Your likes again
That fought and died for
That wee bit hill and glen
And stood against them - AGAINST WHO
Proud Edward's army
And sent them homewards
Tae think again

Obviously a great song, but it took even me by surprise how much the kids all took to it. It effectively became the song of the trek, sung many times a day and while trekking rarely an hour seemed to pass without me hearing some distant voice sing at least one line of the song.

Day 2 was an early start, but 7am as opposed to 5am, so felt like a lie-in. Or would have had my damn bollocks not frozen off again. How much punishment can one pair of bollocks take? After the first day I think the presence of a strange Scottish foreigner had been accepted by the group and I began to get along with them really well. Efrat even taught me yet another new song, this one Indonesian (allegedly), about a hunter catching a frog.

Thong thong thong(yes, seriously, and no, Sisqo was not involved in the writing)
Pa-ku tongi tonga li-mon go... zhaim-bamboe
Ah-li akala...
(this next bit said really fast)akalamakakala!

To which I could only respond by teaching her a good Christian Easter hymn - "There Is A Green Hill Far Away". But in Zulu. It goes:

Kuli akawamba ukatali
Pa kaya kakulu
Pano Jesu waffwizilay
Pa kukula wantu

I was taught this in school when I was 10, and although I've managed to rid my mind of every little biochemical fact I learned over the last few years of university, I still recall this Zulu version of an Easter hymn. Apologies to all my Zulu readers, by the way, as I'm sure I've warped their language horrifically.

I also thought it worthwhile to teach Efrat an old Ross County song. About an ex-player called Gary Wood, who used to play up front for County. He was alright, but as the song might suggest, he had a penchant for dying his hair. Here's the lyrically and musically complex song that was sung on the terraces.

Gary Wood, Gary Wood, Gary Gary Wood
He dyes his hair but we don't care
Gary Gary Wood

To think that John Lennon's "Imagine" can go to no.1, yet the Gary Wood song can't/

So day 2 was fun, and possibly the most visually impressive day. All the days were impressive - the mountainous desert landscape was stunning, bare, craggy and bold. But most memorable was climbing up a fairly high hill, and suddenly reaching the top. It occurred very suddenly and in an instant I was presented with this awesome panoramic view over the entire surroundings, which included the town of Eilat, the neighbouring Jordanian city of Aqaba and the impressive chain of mountains running behind it, the mountains and desert of Sinai in Egypt, and the finger of blue amid the dusty yellow surroundings that was the gulf of (I forget the name) that leads to the Red Sea. A few times a panoramic view would suddenly appear, but this was the most impressive. I did take photos, though I wouldn't hold out too much hope for them doing any justice to the view.

The evening of day 2 was spent round a campfire with Arnon, Rinat, Bala (who hadn't trekked with us that day) and a friend of theirs, Anat. Plus the occasional extra who would appear. They made a ton of rice so I'd no choice but to stuff my filthy damn face so full that I was unable to eat the surprisingly superior food made by the children. I showed the "adults" my Bulgarian magazine appearance and Rinat was able to translate a little as she originally heralds from the Ukraine and Ukranian has similarities with Bulgarian. According to her translation, the magazine claims we'd visited France. France?! What an outrageous lie. I'd never voluntarily visit France, although I was there once on a family holiday I admit, but that was hardly my fault.

Day 3. Uh... these days are blurring into one here. But Day 3 was the last full day of trekking. I think it just carried on as usual really, lots of great scenery and talking to the group. Weissman seemed to know a good amount about English football so filled me in on recent events, and I was asked various questions about Scottishness. Being Scottish has huge advantages I've discovered, as it confers all the bonuses of being British but with the novelty value of being Scottish. Israelis don't traditionalll drink much so they had this view of the Scottish being total drunkards, a view I certainly didn't discourage. In fact, when you consider that this four day trek is the first time in four months I've not drunk alcohol for more than one consecutive day, I'd have found it hard to argue otherwise. But some of the group looked as though they'd have drinking potential in them - Yotam for one looked like he'd have been at home in a Scottish pub.

It was Yotam's 18th birthday the next day too, the last day. I believe they did go out for some drinks too, but as they were in Haifi and I in Tel Aviv, I was regrettably unable to join them. But anyway, Haguy got me to write the national anthem on a large sheet of paper for him, to which I also added the Scottish and Israeli flags because I'd a blue pen and that's all you need to draw the flags on white paper.

And so early the next morning, on the final day, I was roused upon hearing the Hebrew version of Happy Birthday to Yotam, and woke up fully when I realised that there was cake going about. He'd got a number of presents I think, but the most bizarre (aside from the Scottish national anthem) was a condom in the form of a Christmas tree. They were all Jewish remember. Maybe he'll save it for when he gets lucky with a Christian girl.

The final day was shorter, finishing at before 4pm, when we all piled onto a bus destined for Haifa, via Tel Aviv. Here, homemade paper magazines of the organisation and the route and stuff were distributed, and traditionally each kid writes a little on the magazine of their fellow group members, so I had the difficult task of trying to write something different and original to each member of the group. I just stuck to drinking tips mostly. I got my magazine near the end of the drive back, and actually found myself quite touched by what they'd all written. Man, is this what travelling has done to me. Made me all soppy? More like it was just the result of four days without alcohol. But the magazine is a really great souvenir of the occasion, and I hope to keep in touch with a few of the kids. I should stop calling them kids really - it's Arnon's fault. He always called them that.

So, that's that. Myself and Bala got off at Tel Aviv on Monday evening and right now I'm just spending a few days relaxing at the youth hostel on my small financial resources, before making my next move. I'll describe the last couple of days in a later entry, maybe Friday, because I've written plenty already.

Wednesday, December 12, 2001

This entry is dedicated to the memory of "Amoury", a Frenchard who likely lost everything during a vigorous stripsearch at the Egypt-Israel border.

Here I am then, finally getting off my ass and moving from Cairo. And into Tel Aviv. I was beginning to get scarily settled in Cairo, building up a little routine that went something like "get up, buy two little pizzas from the bakery round the corner, achieve a minor goal for the day, buy the cheap but filling koshary from the koshary place round the corner, sit about talking, go to sleep". It was a cheap existence, but ultimately one which was going nowhere, and so the incentive of meeting with Arnon and Rinat and hiking forced me to break the cycle I'd entered into.

And so I've moved from Cairo to Tel Aviv and it occurred to me as I did this that it was the first time I've travelled alone. Almost four months with Simon there, and even the last week with Simon gone I was effectively travelling with the Spaniard Susannah, but this time I was by myself. It's a strange feeling really. Part exciting, part scary but for the most part just different.

Even so, I still wasn't really alone, not until actually getting to the Tel Aviv hostel. The Liverpool guy, Andrew, who'd I'd been sharing a room with in the Cairo hotel was leaving Cairo likewise, getting a 10pm train to Aswan (as opposed to my 10pm bus to Taba on the Egypt-Israel border). So we got a taxi together which I'm hoping wasn't an error on his part because although I was delivered to the bus station with several minutes to spare, the near-stationary traffic situation meant that it would have been very tight for him arriving at the train station on time.

Ok, so I got there, got my ticket and found out where my bus was supposed to be waiting (Egypt doesn't believe in bus stop markings - you just have to ask around and figure out which kerb to stand at). Near where I stood was a fellow white guy, dressed a lot smarter than me, hopping from foot to foot edgily. He saw me and we got talking.

He turned out to be a curious one, certainly, and our conversation spilled over into the bus. He was a Frenchard, a journalist who'd been spending the last five or so years of his life in Arab countries. Including Iraq, and he had two visas in his passport to prove it. Iraq was in a bad way, you won't be surprised to hear. He'd been living in the "asshole of Baghdad" as he succinctly phrased it. His name was something ludicrously French like Amoury, according to his passport anyway.

It didn't take me too long to realise that Amoury was a little eccentric, as many Frenchards are, lively and talkative and somewhat bizarre. I think he'd been staying in Arab countries too long and it had begun to affect him. He was a journalist and was fluent in Arabic, and had spent a lot of time in Iraq, Syria and Lebanon, among other countries. He kept talking about the Arab mentality, a sort of careless live for today attitude without too much regard for building for the future (something you definitely get the impression of from visiting Egypt) and appeared to have both admiration and disdain for them. It didn't stop there. It emerged that he'd spent a considerable amount of time with various terrorist organisations, the Hezbollah and Hamas especially. He said he had some important phonenumbers and said with a laugh that when the World Trade Centre had gone down, some Palestinian terrorrist leader had initially been implicated and that he'd met him not too long before. It didn't sound like an idle boast.

Crikey, what's happening outside? A policecar is stopped just outside the door, lights flashing, bringing the traffic outside to a halt. Some police guy keeps saying something through a loudspeaker but as it's all in Hebrew I don't know what he's saying. I'll let you know if any bombs go off. I wouldn't worry too much, this is the second time today I've seen such a thing.

It was Amoury's first trip to Israel however, and he was feeling somewhat nervous. He was Muslim, spoke Arabic and had spent a considerable amount of time in Arab countries. He wasn't sure how Israel would take to this. Plus, perhaps naively, with him he had an extensive collection of Arabic literature, the exact content I can only speculate upon.

We spoke for ages... well he spoke for ages. Initially it was a two way conversation but as time went on I was getting really tired and so he just kept going on and on. As time went on he seemed to grow more oddball. Though I doubt it was the case, it was like I was the first Westerner he'd spoken to in years. Strangely too, he seemed rather in awe of me travelling around Eastern Europe and the Middle East with just one bag. Oh yeah, he appeared to have some issues with his mother too. I think she babied him.

I eventually got some patchy sleep but any hope of more than 20 continuous minutes rest was shattered by Amoury's realisation that he'd mislaid his glasses. He'd had some rest too and had put his glasses somewhere as he'd done so. And managed to utterly and comprehensively lose them. So he tore apart the back of the bus maniacally, occasionally giving a loud shriek of madman laughter. Searching desperately and frantically for his glasses for what seemed to be approaching an hour, but without luck. Sometimes he would sit very close to me, so that I could smell his slightly rancid breath, and look at me with a craziness shimmering in his eyes, and exclaim "I can't believe I've lost my glasses!"

Sometimes, travelling with Simon didn't seem so bad.

It got worse. We still had several hours before reaching Taba. Several hours for Amoury to search for his glasses like a madman? No, because the bus stopped, a pile of people got on and we were told we had to change buses if we wanted to go to Taba. If Amoury's glasses were lost somewhere on that bus, then there they would remain. There was nothing we could do.

Sleep on the second bus was a precious joy, as Egyptian TV was played in full force, only just drowning out Amoury's maniacal mutterings.

Eventually, as daylight cautiously crept in, we arrived at Taba. Myself, Amoury plus two Korean birds ("Susie" and something too foreign for me to remember, like Li-Jung) all made our way through the border. The Egyptian side was no problem, and the border people were friendly and pleasant. It's such a novelty to deal with an Egyptian who isn't trying to sell you something, or get baksheesh. It was entry into Israel that caused a bit of hassle. Oh yes.

They were quite thorough, but myself and the Korean girls got through, although we were only allowed a two week visa. Because of current troubles or because of our association with the Frenchard? Because Amoury was having some serious trouble with the border people.

We'd waited for him as they checked his bags, but it was clear that what they were finding (ie extensive Arabic literature of a likely dubious nature) was not to the pleasing of the Israeli border people - a fair number of which were strikingly attractive females, though I didn't notice any big guns. We were asked if we were travelling with him. We just told the truth and said we'd met him on the bus. We were asked to move along. The last I saw of Amoury was him being led into a room and a curtain being pulled closed. I didn't even hear his screams.

Outside we waited about an hour, without any sign of him. We were forced to go outside the whole border area, and I asked a guard if they knew how long he would be. "A while" was what I was told. "Several hours?" I asked. The guard didn't appear to know.

So we were faced with a dilemma. Should we do the moral thing and wait for the glasses-less Amoury, however long he might take, presuming he even got through? Or should we do the cold hard practical thing and get a taxi to Eilat so we could get a bus to Tel Aviv that would arrive at a sensible time? Thus leaving poor blind Amoury at the mercy of the Israeli security?

Yeah, of course you know what we did. The practical, immoral option. Deserting Amoury, thinking of ourselves. We're going to hell, sure. Our only defence is that we really were on a tight schedule and we couldn't afford to wait for hours for a crazy Frenchard we'd met on the bus who'd brought in a ton of extremist Islam literature into Israel. We might have waited many more hours without result. I have no idea what his chances of getting into the country were.

So Tel Aviv now. The Korean girls, who were friendly and funny, proved very useful as they'd just spent three months on a kibbutz and knew of a few good ones I might like. So that's something to check out. But after my trek in the Israeli wilderness. I phoned Arnon today and I'll be picked up at about 6pm tomorrow for a four day trek. That costs nothing, except food and water I expect. I've just got enough cash to survive a few days and pay for the kibbutz administration.

When will I write next? I might be able to slip in a quick entry before I head to my kibbutz and then... I don't know. I don't know how much internet access I'll have. Meaning entries could become scarce now, for the next few months in fact. But we'll see.

Monday, December 10, 2001

Yeah, still in Cairo. You know, I could write about stuff as I have time, and this internet place is cheap, but I just can't be bothered. My plans are... hmm... I'm not sure. There's no direct bus from Cairo to Tel Aviv any more because they've closed the border but there's other ways. I might go hiking with Arnon and Rinat, the Israelis I met in Zagreb.

And stuff. I'm just relaxing right now, doing very little.

Saturday, December 08, 2001

I'm still alive, and back in Cairo. I managed to get what must have been the very final money from my credit card account (20 UK pounds). This, plus a short loan from Susannah (which went mostly on drink), got me a day trip to Abu Simbel and an overnight back to the capital. Food, mercifully, costs pennies.

Alas, my backup money has not come through. The tent deal is off, not just because the Egyptian guy seems to have disappeared, but because Justin ended up taking the tent back to Aberdeen with him. Not his fault at all - in fact he was doing me a favour - because from an email I received from him, he only realised a bid had been made for it upon return to Aberdeen. And my Israeli shekels are proving notoriously difficult to change here in Cairo. Anyone would think they didn't like the Israelis or something...

Not to mind though. Of slightly more concern is this email I received from Owen. He's on the kibbutz (along with the crazy South African girl Shevonne) that I was intending on going to. Here's what he wrote.

it's an awkward situation - from next monday there will only be 6 volunteers left, three of those are from Ecuador and have only a partial grasp of English. It's boring: you work and then you sit around watching television or reading. It gives me time to think but there is no way I could honestly recommend it to you. If you come then that is great but all I can say is be warned. Shevonne is still here and has bouts of clarity surrounded by epochs of dross. I get along ok with her, mainly because there are few others to talk to. The kibbutzniks are often hard to break down - they've seen volunteers come and go.

that's the story. I only have 40mins internet access per week! so I need to go and write to others,

take care,


I still have a few days before I head to Tel Aviv. I'm still going to kibbutz it, but where I go is now something I'll be giving serious thought to. I'd like to meet up with Owen and Shevonne again, but under these circumstances? Plus, the place is only 10km from the Gaza Strip, which isn't currently a world haven of safety.

Anyhow, my days in Aswan were fun, despite the minor financial crisis. Not a great deal of newsworthiness of the first, just looking around. Stuff I'd write about if I'd more time. In the evening I went for a meal with Susannah, on a large boat on the Nile attached to the shore, and then witnessed Susannah's expert haggling in the streets. This girl is one serious haggler, I'm quite sure she could win competitions. She plays the salespeople at their own game and can happily haggle over prices for half an hour and still walk away all because of a difference of 1 UK pound. Ruthless. She makes all these wonderful promises to visit the salesmen the next day which she of course never honours. It also helps that she pretends to be Mexican while I pretend to be a monosyllabic Yugoslavian (I'd tried Croatian but none of them had heard of it).

It was a day trip to Abu Simbel the next day, commencing at 3am. A minibus crammed utterly full of other peope who'd put their names down went in convoy with heaps of other buses. The 4 hour road journey from Aswan to Abu Simbel is supposed to be dangerous, problems with these Islamic fundamentalists again, and has only been reopened to foreigners in the last year or so, but as far as I know, no buses were taken out by rocket launchers.

Abu Simbel is a big temple dominated by four giant statues of the main man, Ramses II. It's famous. It's big. It was rather impressive. We also bumped into Craig there, a droll Australian we'd met in Luxor but had lost touch with. After the cramped four hour return to Aswan, seeing a few other sights on the way (including the least impressive toursit attraction ever, the unfinished obelisk, which is just a big and unfinished carving in an ugly quarry) we all went for some drinks. Myself, Susannah, Craig, plus others from the short day tour including the first Scottish traveller I've met. Called Dave, from somewhere near Ediburgh, though we wasn't planning on returning anytime soon. I would have got epically drunk as it was one of these groups of people that seem to click, but I had an 8pm overnight train back to Cairo with Susannah so only got slightly drunk instead.

So, just relaxing today. I'm now sharing a room with a guy called Andrew from "the Wirral" who intends to travel for the next three years and never wants to go back to England. Susannah returns to Spain later tonight. I'm going to hang around Cairo for a few days then eventually head to Tel Aviv. Funds allowing. If I camn change my shekels, then I'm in business -I have 150 UKP worth.

So, a big discussion awaits. Which kibbutz. Gvaram, with its envelope making but very limited excitement, but with a couple opf people I already know, or a random one? We'll see.

Thursday, December 06, 2001

And so I find myself in Aswan, not far from the Sudanese border, with a credit card that has just run dry. I have 90 Egyptian pounds (15 UK pounds) to live on and get back to Cairo. All is not lost however.

No time to write, but basically me and Justin went to Luxor, saying goodbye to Simon but hello to a Spanish girl called Susannah who suspiciously had an American accent. We saw all the Luxor stuff, hiring an old uncomfortable bicycle with a saddle that has ensured - in combo with the bumpy roads - that I will never have children. Luxor stuff was cool, and we're all now big fans of Ramses II (a total megalomaniac) and Thutmoses III, a short fat man of petulance.

Justin returned to Cairo for his flight but I've continued on to Aswan with Susannah, and we return to Cairo for Saturday morning. My finanical situation may be saved as I have about 100 pounds (UK) worth of shekels in the hotel, plus I got an email from Simon saying that an Egyptian guy is wanting to buy my tent for 300 Egyptian pounds. This is only marginally less than what I paid for it almost three years ago, new.

That's the deal. I have to go now. Going on the internet now is a totally unnecesarry drain on my very limited funds.

By the way - I have a huge backlog of emails to get through. Intrnet recently has been slow and expensive. Hopefully I can catch up when in Tel Aviv (Monday?)

Sunday, December 02, 2001

Man, I can't be bothered writing. Basically, the last couple of days have been interesting enough. Justin's arrived and has taken to the place a lot better than Susanne, who has an expression terror etched on her permanently. Except for today's smiles because she's going home later. We saw the pyramids which I though were excellent - I mean they are the most famous landmark of all time. Simon seemed less impressed. I think he wanted more bombast, American style. Revolving pyramids perhaps?

A strange day also. I leave to Luxor with Justin fairly soon, but Simon isn't coming as he hasn't the time. Meaning that after over three months of sleeping in the same room as the stinking fool, finally we're going separate ways. Him to Scotland, me to Israel. It's going to be a little odd.

But totally great obviously. No more morning voice!

That's all I can be bothered writing for now.