Two sides

Tel Aviv, Israel

Rather than taking the same way back we came to keep the stamp out of my passport (Bernhard didn’t care anymore), we took the risk and crossed from Aqaba, Jordan to Eilat, Israel.  Despite having no entry stamp into Jordan and no form with the stamp either, they let us through – it just took some explanation and a big smile.  Israel, as usual, offered the option to stamp on a piece of paper; this time I got the form, which certainly makes leaving the country easier.  (I wonder what Israelis think of this whole security thing.  We were told, “You look nervous!” when we approached, despite being far from it – intimidation factor?  We were questioned at length about how we knew each other, what exactly we were doing in Singapore, and a ton of personal details unrelated to the trip.  Yet going through the bag check, I had an agent who was cracking jokes.  But again, going through it all with a smile always works.)

Realising that in all of Israel, we had only seen the ethnically and religiously divided Jerusalem, Bernhard and I decided to head to Tel Aviv to catch a better glimpse of Israeli life.  We admittedly had low expectations at first – Tel Aviv has an international reputation of being a hard-partying city, with its big beach and nightlife – but came away pleasantly surprised and extremely positive. Continue reading

Barriers

West Bank, Palestinian Territory

We took two daytrips to the West Bank while still based in Jerusalem.

Our first excursion first led us to Ramallah, the de facto Palestinian capital, where Bernhard and I wanted to buy a Jordanian visa in advance.  (Again, this is to avoid the Israeli stamp stigma, which affects Jordan as well: if you get a stamp from a border that Jordan and Israel share, you may also be denied entry into various countries.)  This was a quick, uncomplicated bus ride from Jerusalem. Continue reading

Divisions

Jerusalem, Israel

It’s hard not to visit Jerusalem and not get into religion or politics.  I won’t be avoiding either.

And given my writing style, it’s hard not to write about personal turmoil.  After a lot of thinking and putting off writing this and the next few entries, I won’t be avoiding that topic either.  I’m writing this entry over two weeks late (it’s now August 11).  What happened is something I wouldn’t wish on anyone, but it’s turned into a significant part of my travel experience.

But let’s start from the beginning.  Flying into Ben Gurion Airport (between Tel Aviv and Jerusalem), there was one thing I needed to do first: avoid the Israel passport stamp.  A little sad that I have to do that, but many countries (Lebanon, Syria, Iran, Iraq, Saudi Arabia, Pakistan…the list goes on) refuse travellers who have the stamp in their passport.  My travels may be ending soon, but given that my passport is new, I don’t want to restrict myself in the future.  No offense to Israel though!  The customs officials do understand. Continue reading