Journal Entry # 60 - Road Entry#50 (Train from Akko to Haifa, Israel - 10:56pm (Local) - February 16, 2011)

Late nights lead to late mornings. I woke up at 7:45 still needing to fully pack my bag and get ready for the day of hiking and driving to Tel Aviv.

This late sleep-in meant that I wasn’t going to be able to get breakfast in time. Victor, one of my roommates for the night, volunteered to grab me some to-go food from the cafeteria as I packed my bags. He was a pal and brought me one peanut butter and jelly pita sandwich along with a hot egg and cheese sandwich. They were both great and I was thankful. He asked how I like the, and I responded with a mouthful of “good” and “great” when asked.

The group loaded our belongings into the bus and we walked over to David Ben Gurion’s grave site. He and his wife were buried here at DBG’s wishes. We learned that DBG loved the Sde Boker area and completely felt connected to the area and the kibbutz he lived on. The first thing we were greeted with at his grave site was a large ibex mountain goat. It seemed as if everyone was taking pictures of the goat instead of listening to Ran explain the life of Ben Gurion and his prolific meaning to the state of Israel. We walked from the grave area up this beautiful stone-lined path to a different parking lot where the bus and Ran’s parents were waiting. We all boarded the bus and drove to Ein Ovdat natural land preserve.

Ein Ovdat was the location of a morning hike and where we got to learn more about the natural landscape of Southern Israel. This particular part of the Negev Desert was spectacular with multiple natural water sources and springs. There was a waterfall area without water and many majestic sights. It was serene. Our hike lasted a little more than an hour, increasing in elevation the entire time. Our bus met us at the top of our hike, where we found ourselves ascending some old hiking stair/ladders on the side of the cliff. Initially, some people were very afraid of these vertical ladders, but once they started they were fine. I was at the back of the group with Sam and Marat. We chose to take our time because there were some cave rooms near our trail. We went to go through them for a bit while the people ahead of us were taking their sweet time climbing up the trail. We took some pictures and shared a laugh until Roie, our medic on the trip yelled “Yalla” to us. “Yalla” in Hebrew and Arabic means “Let’s Go”, “Come on”, and “Hurry Up”. It was one of the first words the entire bus knew within one or two days.

At the top of Ein Ovdat, we took some more pictures and boarded the bus. Our bus was now on its way to Tel Aviv, our last stop on the Taglit-Birthright tour. We first got to Tel Aviv and landed at the Karmel Market on Nachalat Binyamin Street and Sheinkin Street. Noah, Erez, Josh, Shanya, Oria, and I went to eat at a restaurant on the boulevard where it was somewhat expensive. The food was fantastic though! All of it was made in a small kitchen by the manager and host’s mother. She even served us the food. I had the vegetable medley with rice and it was a bit cheaper than everyone else’s that got types of meat and meat stuffed bell-peppers.

We walked around for another hour as we gazed at the local street artist’s merchandise. Oria took me down Sheinkin Street as well just to show me what it was like because it is famous for being crowded on Shabbat afternoon. It was a Tuesday night once we got to Tel Aviv though.

Air Force Base – Next stop on our tour – CLASSIFIED…

I’m just kidding. Our next stop on our journey was spontaneously unique for a Taglit-Birthright group. We were taken on to Dan’s Air Force base just south of Tel Aviv. Dan works as an environmental technician and engineer. Dan’s base specializes in repair, testing, and improvements on the computer and electronic equipment found throughout the Air Force of the Israeli Defense Force. We got to see how they specifically repair and maintain the electronic/computer systems for the Air Force’s helicopters and fighter pilots. It was an interesting look into the realities of the soldier’s everyday lives. When we arrived, both our group and the soldiers on base we eager to see and meet each other. It was a great treat! I think we all had a good time seeing some specifics in the operations of a military base.

The hotel was our next stop to set our stuff down, relax, and eat dinner at the hotel. Jonathan was my roommate at the Marina Hotel which sat along the promenade of Tel Aviv and the Mediterranean Sea. We also added an unofficial roommate, Ron, who was coming from his home outside of Tel Aviv to party with us one last night! In fact, all the soldiers were there for our last night together as a group. Some of them were staying at the hotel with us, but others would catch late-night buses or trains back to their hometowns or army bases.

I was on the computer for 30-45 minutes as we set our things in our room. I was catching a limited internet single from our room, so I sent out some couch surfing requests and some e-mails. I then showered and got ready for dinner and going out but forgot the extension travelers 7pm meet up in the dining area. By the time I got down to the dining area, the group had finished dinner and had seet travel and accommodation plans for their extension period. I was just a bystander when it came to the extension. Actually, Johnny and I were the only people extending our trip beyond 7 or 8 days.

I ate dinner quickly before the bus left with everyone at 8:00pm to the Na’Lagaat Theater. We were off for a cultural event/show in Tel Aviv that promoted blind, deaf, and mute awareness through art and food. It is a cultural center for the impaired in Tel Aviv and their stage-show is called “Not By Bread Alone”. The show was performed, directed, written, and choreographed by the Blind-Deaf, and Mute community of Tel Aviv. In addition, there was a restaurant and café attached to the theater. Each location was staffed by deaf and blind employees. The deaf employees worked the café where the blind employees worked as waiters in the pitch-black restaurant. We never made it into the restaurant, but Ran our tour guide said that the menu is either pre-selected or you go with the chef special of the day (a surprise!).

The show lasted a little longer than an hour. It was in subtitles at the top of the stage on a small screen with a projector. There were two sign-language interpreters on each side of the stage, along with able-body support staff for each actor and for set changes. During the show, each actor is kneading, pounding, shaping, and creating fresh loaves of bread that the entire audience enjoys at the end of the show. The concept is remarkable, yet our attentiveness as a group was porous (and that is putting it lightly). The majority of our Taglit group slept or dozed off throughout the hour-plus stage show. It was admittedly difficult to stay awake when all of us were struggling against a full-day of activities, a foreign language, and the mundane act of continuously reading subtitles for more than an hour.

Hypocritically, I was happy to eat the bread at the end of the show and order a cappuccino from the café. The group boarded the bus again and was off back to the hotel. On the bus, Ran and Noah instructed us on how our “free-evening” in Tel Aviv was going to work. There would be a bedroom check at 1:00am if you hadn’t signed your name in at the lobby before curfew. The majority signed their name when leaving the hotel at 10:30pm – problem solved.

The group then made its way out to ‘Friends’ bar on Ben Yehuda Street. The entire Taglit group had an ecstatic aura to them throughout the night. When I entered the bar, I met an Israeli guy that had been in North Carolina for a JCC (Jewish Community Center) development program with children. He was hosted by an American Jewish family and said he had an amazing 2 years abroad. He was kind enough to give me some perspective on living in the states and Israel. He also said that he was driving down to Eilat – only 2 days after I was planning on going to Eilat in order to cross over to Egypt.

There was a surplus of beers, chasers, and photographs. At one moment in the bar, I was taking impromptu photographs with Sarah where I would shout out the first word that came to mind. She has a sweet photo of us embodying “Elephant”.

After “Elephant”, we moved as a group to Mike’s Place bar on the promenade. It was a bit of a walk for everyone, but once we got there we had a great time playing billiards, talking, and listening to live music. This was our last location for the night before the hotel. I got back to the hotel with Oria around 3:00am. We found a secluded place in the lobby where we talked, made-out, and kissed until 3:45(ish). I went to bed and remember thinking how I didn’t want to wake up the next morning at 7:30am.