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.