After a harrowing experience of security checks, suspicion, whispers in foreign tongues, questioning that bordered on interigation and re-questioning, I was finally allowed to enter Israel and meet with my friend and guide here in this most holy and highly troubled land.
From afar, as modern looking a city as any other.
Cars, covered in dust and dirt, have never seen a car wash.
Gardens, dried up, overgrown and unkempt.
Buildings, in a state of decay, patched together, cheaply and hastily.
No care for aesthetics,
no wasted pride on material possesions.
The houses are old and stations and shopping centres remind me of my childhood.
Like a movie set from the 80's.
The market between us and the beach is busy and loud with tall piles of goods and pyramids of food.
Disappointed at the sight of a Burger King.
There seems to be lots of cats.
The beach has sand!
The water, clean and cool and the surf small.
Warm sun dries the salty water from my pale winter skin.
It bakes the earth and distorts the road with heat waves.
The light is intense and the glare forces a permanent squint.
An hour and a half by bus from Tel-Aviv to this city that boasts one of the most amazing and unique gardens in the world, the Baha'i Gardens.
Unfortunatley for us, it was closed.
But even from the top of Mount Carmel where the shut gates of the garden tease us, the view is amazing.
We had a good indication of the terraced gardens below,
the city cascading down the mountainside and sprawled out over the landscape and the glistening jewel of the Mediteranian Sea disappearing to the horizon.
It is amazing to see so many solar panels. One for every appartment on the roof of every building. So good to see a city making wise use of their reliably susuainable energy source.
Pity more sun drenched cities in Australia dont do likewise.
A city where everything from the late 70's to early 80's has been transplanted.
The cars, buildings and furnishings and architecture of the malls and stations.
Tiles, lino, mosaics.
Everything built from stone.
Desert coloured sandstone and travertine.
Everywhere military presence.
Armed forces straight from high school,
roam around with AK-47s slung casually over their shoulders.
They talk, eat their macdonalds, sleep waiting for their bus and shop with their guns like a fashion accesory.
Given no more consideration by locals than a belt or the ubiquitous ipod.
THE OLD CITY
An M.C.Escher labyrinth come to life!
Steps, bridges, sky, vaulted ceilings, corridors, doors, ramps, buttresses, tunnels, its goes on and on.
Never sure what level we're on.
Where is ground?
No such thing as a ground level.
Theres some sky,
People live here too. Their houses embedded within the walls.
Cats live casually,
amonst the humans,
as much citizens of this city as they.
Their shops, are our markets.
Never have I seen such a lively market with such a diverse array of goods flouted by such enthusiastic vendors!
The colours, sights, sounds and smells!
The food is some of the best I have tasted ever!
A fellafel or homus I doubt will taste as good anywhere else in the world.
I saw the stations of the cross.
And the devoted people that retraced the footsteps of Christ as he carried the cross to his doom.
I passed within the hallowed walls of the Church of the Holy Sepulcher. Where it is said, Jesus was crucified, removed from the cross, anointed and finally buried.
The church lit darkly, wreaking of incense, echoed with prayers.
Its dark corners held ancient secrets.
Its deep tombs lit by shallow shafts of light.
THE WAILING WALL
Somehow we found ourselves on the rooftops.
Heading in the direction of the golden 'Dome of the Rock',
the walls gave way,
to a balcony,
and a vista of,
one of the most sacred and holy places in the world,
the Western Wall of the Second Temple,
the Wailing Wall!
The sound of the hundreds that have gathered here,
in the heat of the sun,
returning to the very first sound
at the beginning of time.
From 19 BCE it has stood.
I approached the wall,
taking in its dimensions,
and the details.
Passing the throngs of prayers,
at first lightly scattered
then becoming thicker
the noise gets louder
the energy, stronger.
I can smell their sweaty bodies through their traditional black robes.
I reach the wall and feel a reluctance to touch it.
As though my unholy hands would profane this place and all would know.
I note the paper prayers stuffed into every nook and cranny of the wall.
I raise my hand and with the utmost respect and all the belief I can muster, I place it upon the wall.
I lean my head in and rest my forehead next to my hand and take in a deep breath, smelling the dusty stone and the hot papers baking within the cracks.
This is something special. This is Holy. This is real.
We pause to reflect on our moving experience.
And watch as the city transforms from from its daytime face,
to its alter ego, which comes out at night,
under a full moon,
and home to our Israeli hosts we head.
20.05.08 THE DEAD SEA
First some facts...
At 420 metres below sea level its shores are the lowest point on the surface of the Earth on dry land.
It is 330 m deep, the deepest hypersaline lake in the world.
It is also the world's second saltiest body of water, after Lake Asal in Djibouti, with 30 percent salinity.
It is 8.6 times saltier than the ocean.
This salinity makes for a harsh environment where animals cannot flourish and boats cannot sail.
It is 67 kilometres (42 mi) long and 18 kilometres (11 mi) wide at its widest point.
Another long bus trip through a desert of sweltering heat. Reminds me of home.
A whole new landscape!
The landscape presents an entirely new palette of colours!
Ominous mounds of desert stone loom overhead riddled with caves. Hiding places for suspicious goings on?
An oasis turns to a palm tree farm, planted in perfect symmetry.
An the Dead Sea sprawls out in the valley. The bus stop, car park, cafe, and tourist shop are the only things around in this bleak landscape. We head down the hill to the sea and amuse ourselves for a little at the people who float like ants on the waters surface.
Why does the lifeguard need a buoyancy device?
Then, with great anticipation and facination, we make our way in to this highly saline water.
I carefully enter the shallows and cross the stones whose shapes are distorted from a buildup of salt.
The water feels no different from any other. It is warm, clear and small rippling waves lap the shore. I step over the threshold where the floor drops suddenly and a find myself floating in an way I have never felt before in my life.
The water wasnt thick like I expected. It was as thin as any other water yet lingered on my skin a little longer. As I floated, bobbing up and down slightly I noted that I was definately higher in the water than usual. I could smell the salt quite clearly, especially where the hot sun evaporated the water off my skin. After analysing this strange new experience I started to play.
Making myself thin like a pencil I jumped up and down in the water to see if I could touch the bottom, but I could not even get my head under the surface. I sat up in the water, rolled on my belly and attempted to swim. After exhausting myself a little I lay out flat and noted the waterline around my body at about half way, I closed my eyes and relaxed in the sun, tilting my head back to wet my hair, floating effortlessly and perfectly comfortable. It reminded me of my 'float' experience in Brisbane. I was at peace.
My head started to get itchy from the salt left behind as the water dried from my hair and I felt a sting on my leg from some scratches I acquired earlier. I raised my head to check I had not floated out to sea and a trickle of water from my head broke past the barrier of my eyebrows passed through my eyelashed and assualted my eyes. It stung. I resisted the automatic urge to plunge my head into the water to clear my eye out (imagine how much that would sting!). With one eye squinted tightly shut, I headed to the shore and the only supply of fresh water. In my panic to reach it quickly and my awkwardness at swimming in this new medium I managed to get water on my lips and inevitably in my mouth. I spat and dribbled in an attempt to wet my dry salty lips and then a second trickle of water blinded my other eye. With both eyes squeezed tightly shut and watering profusly in a futile attempt to rid them of the salt I floundered in the direction that I remember seeing the shore in. I had only a fraction of a second every few meters to open one eye and make sure I was still on track.
I stumbled over the rocks and tried my best to look cool as I passed the other bathers to the open air showers where I plunged my head and face under the fresh water. I rinsed my eyes, mouth, hair and body of the salt water and was enjoying it so much that I only left because of the lineup of people that had started to form in front of the only two showers.
Other people had bought Dead sea mud that they covered themselves in and baked for a while before washing off.
We waited for what would have been at least an hour (or more) for a bus back to the city.
On the trip home I enjoyed a local beer. The can also said it was kosher too.
It was a long bus trip to Jerusalem, then bus to Tel Aviv, then taxi to airport. At the airport we had the usual security checks, our bags were x-rayed as we walked through the metal detectors, but that wasn't good enough for them. So we were pulled aside and had to completely unpack our bags. (Liane anticipated this and thankfully we didnt spend too much time packing them neatly the first time).
They rubbed swabs of cloth over everything and ran it through some kind of machine that I can only guess was checking for residues of bomb making material. All our clothes were unfolded, all our electrical devices ran through another x-ray machine and many questions were asked.
Our souvineers were unwrapped and we were interigated as to where and when we bought them and more importantly whom we bought them off. Did we know them? Have we received any gifts off anyone? etc etc.
Liane was taken away by female security. When she eventually returned it was my turn. I was taken away to a room and a curtain was drawn around me. "Please remove everything from your pockets" I was informed and now I was starting to get worried. I imagined him coming back with a latex glove on or something.
He ran this paddle thing over every part of me. It had something like 'weapon detector 2000' written on it. I got the all clear and was sent back to my bags which by now their contents were strewn out over 3m of bench with lots of souvineers and suspicious things in little baskets. We hastily repacked and raced to catch our flight. Luckily the security used their passes to help us get through all other checks and lines.
It was a painful process but I did feel safer on the plane knowing that the checks were thorough.
My compliments to the security of Tel Aviv airport.
And I guess you can keep the ipod earplugs that I never got back. Enjoy.