From Eilat with backpacker Susanna to Be'er Sheva couchsurfing at Na'ama's home.
Eilat Travel Blog› entry 1 of 12 › view all entries
April 16th, 2009 – by: Transitory
Several tourists, part of a tour group kept elbowing past me to get to the other, adding to the annoyance of long lines that moved slowly. Finally, I got to one of the Israeli security people.
"What are you doing in Israel?"
I said I was interested in the history, the culture.
"Are you by yourself?
I said I was.
"Do you know anyone in Israel?
I said I did, her name is Na'ama.
Then I was asked how I knew Na'ama, cue the inner laughing in my head, as I didn't actually know Na'ama. I began to try to explain couchsurfing, then gave up midway, and just said she was a friend of a friend. I told the security personnel, a formidable female Israeli, that I was happy to share Na'ama's address but she waved me through.
Onto the next queue which was for the second X-Ray of suitcases and backpacks. I was standing behind Ashley and her bf, the same Ashley from the bus from Dahab to Taba who offered to give me 1EGP for the storage fee of my bag. We smiled and rolled our eyes at all the security measures, though understanding of its importance.
I took off my boots, held them in my hands and went thru, and my backpack went thru w/o a hitch but Ashley's bf's stuff kept going off. Ha! There were 3 guards there, joking and teasing each other while Ashley's bf kept unpacking and putting his backpack thru the X-Ray machine, his stuff repeatedly raising the alarm. I hadn't been given clearance to leave so I waited trying to be patient. Ashley's bf finally go the okay to get on the next queue, so I asked if it was fine for me to go through. The guards were like yeah no problem with the sort of air like wtf were you waiting for?
Then onto next queue, which moved agonizingly slowly since you could see a view of the water just a few feet out of the window. After maybe an hour or two, I got my visa after what the usual questions of "What are you doing in Israel, what cities are you going to? Who are you staying with? How long are you going to stay?" I got my visa, though noting that everyone who I told I was going to Be'er Sheva everyone asked why?
I exited into the sunshine, right past the stand for drinks and ice cream, ahhh Nestle ice cream bars! I haven't seen you since the Egyptian side of the border 3 hours previously! haha. Then past the border check, was a low wall, and a beach! Right there were tan sunbathers just sunning right next to the border behind dozens of soldiers with rifles.
I was totally clueless at this point of what I was doing: there hadn't been a place to exchange for Israeli money as there had been to exchange for Egyptian money at the Egyptian side of the border, and I wasn't sure what buses would take me to Be'er Sheva b/c I had decided to just wing it while traveling in Israel, to go with the flow. So I sat on the low wall next to the bus stop, figuring it should go somewhere I needed to connect to Be'er Sheva. Soon to join me was Susanna, the Slovakian backpacker I met on the bus from Dahab. We chatted, she told me about how she was going to stay a night in Eilat before heading to an ashram, we showed each other pictures, I told her about couchsurfing, talked about Be'er Sheva (and again I got the "look" and asked why I was going there haha).
I told her about not having Israeli money, and asked if I could pay in $USD on the bus (hey I thought it might've been a possibility as we were on the border...okay I'm ignorant :) but I think the only stupid question is the one not asked, right? right? :D Or if she knew where to exchange money in the area. She wasn't aware of any place and she frequently passed thru the area....
So I got up to walk to the Central Bus Station but Susanna said it was too far and too hot, and then she offered to pay for my ticket and then when we got into Eilat I was to pay her back. So we went back to looking at pics, exchanged emails etc. and after another maybe 30 minutes wait, the bus finally came round. Then after maybe 15 minute bus ride, passing A LOT of hotels, touristy resorts, beaches, dusty open air car lots, we arrived in Eilat!
The CBS was a small, basic depot but there were lots of outdoor stops for plenty of buses. I was thinking the CBS would be huggeee, intimidating, complex, complicated, etc. like Port Authority in NYC. I built up in my head something larger and intimidating in my head...Was not so scary at all, nor was traveling by myself (but this lesson had not sunk in my head at this point yet).
I asked around for a bank while Susanna got some falafel and pita in a store right next to the CBS. There were 2 banks right across the street from the CBS, and I entered one. At first I went to an ATM but it kept spitting out my card, so then I got on line, but was told to pick up a ticket stub for the line. Then I took a ticket stub, waited for a little bit chatting with other Israelis. But I was anxious about keeping Susanna waiting, so I left the line to search for another ATM to try. There was another one RIGHT outside of the bank. D'oh!
This last ATM worked so I picked the "100" option, thinking it meant $100 worth of shekels, nope it meant 100 shekels, haha. But imp., I had enough for now, so I rushed back to Susanna. She was sitting by the table and I got on line for my own -26 Shekels- falafel, pita and all the mixings and chili, lots of chili on my falafel. I was already craving spicy food, esp. Thai food!!
I sat down by Susanna, and she went to get me a fork cos she noticed I like to pick at food. Then I took out the money to pay her back and she refused. I offered her again, saying how she helped me already and that she should take the money but again she refused. Turns out she felt badly for asking for the money in the first place! She then explained how she didn't mean to be thoughtless, as in the past people have paid for her when she was stuck without the local currency of where she was. But I again said it was all right, that she shouldn't feel badly b/c it wasn't as if I was broke or anything but she was like Stephanie, please, No, it's on me, really. It's nothing, it's only about 3 Euros, you are making me feeling bad. And she waved me off again, so we let it be.
Eventually, after finishing up, we said our goodbyes, as I was afraid of getting into Be'er Sheva late and she went to go find a hotel. Such a sweet, generous girl!
But when she left, I can admit now, I was scared. I kept thinking stuff like what if Na'ama isn't home and I'll have traveled all the way to a city where I know no one, I have no guidebook, don't know where there are hostels, don't know the language, and all those other negative fearful thoughts that creep into the brain during non-rational, emotional moments.
Then I stopped. I asked myself if anything bad had befallen me yet? No. Wasn't I given good advice by Susanna how to get to my next destination? Yes. Was I broke? No. Was I injured? No. ill? No. Don't I have a head on my shoulders? Yes.
So I looked around, saw an internet cafe, and went in. It was about 14 Shekels. No one really took notice of me, the managers just nodded in my direction when I asked if I could use any computer. I checked up hostels in Be'er Sheva so I would have somewhere to stay in case Na'ama wasn't home, e-mailed Na'ama that I was coming, e-mailed friends back home, updated FB on my new location, and read an e-mail from the U.S. gov. You see, I had registered my trip with the gov. so I would get travel alerts and could be semi-connected in case of emergencies.
Turns out U.S. citizens were advised NOT to travel within the Sinai Peninsula b/c of security threats! Ha :D. Time for the U.S. gov. to send out tweets eh??
I paid up, then went to the bus terminal, asked where the bus was, and the man in the ticket booth said my bus was leaving! I ran to the bus, climbed up the stairs, and the driver said "No, is full." But he pointed to me the bus right next to his and said "Also Be'er Sheva."
I ran to the other one, asked if it was going to Be'er Sheva, and the bus driver nodded. He put into the little computer my destination and the cost came up, very modern! I was given change and I got on with my huge backpack and messenger, not getting to store my stuff underneath. It was a huge, awkward load, and there were no seats left! I went all the way to the back, and after a few moments, a woman moved her stuff, and asked if I wanted to at least sit on the low platform. I was very grateful, thanked her and sat down. Then a few moments later, a guy got up and said for me to sit in his seat. I said I couldn't but he insisted, and there was just an awkward ballet of me declining, him insisting, people trying to climb over my backpack on the floor, and moving around me. Finally, I sat down, only because I felt more of a hindrance standing in the way, and b/c he insisted he was getting off soon.
The same woman who offered me the platform, eventually sat next to me, as she seemed to be playing musical chairs with all her travel mates. We talked a bit about our destinations but eventually I fell asleep, mouth open and all, head banging on the window after every bump in the road. She kept waking me every so often b/c she was concerned I would miss my stop. But my stop was a good three hours away...
"Be'er Sheva!" the bus driver announced. I jolted, grabbed my stuff, and called out my goodbyes and thank yous. Only four other people had gotten off, it was about 10:30PM, dark, and the station was outdoors and desolate. There were a few stray people here and there but everything seemed closed and quiet. A couple taxi drivers called out to me if I needed a taxi but I declined. Instead I decided to walk around a little to figure out my thoughts, calm my fearful racing heart, and figure my next step. I walked to check for a bathroom, or "toilet" as everyone else in the world calls it. It was locked. So I walked to the phone booth, the instructions were written in Hebrew, naturally:). Besides which there was a slot for a phone card which I did not have...Oy! I certainly came into the situation aware....;)
So I walked out of the station area, into the quiet streets. I saw the bright lights of a money exchange place, reassuring myself that this was a city like any other city. After all, doesn't the saying go, if you can it make it in NY, you can make it anywhere? So I told myself to stop being a scared little baby.
Then I spotted a young woman around my age say hello to an older, middle aged man. They exchanged friendly words as if they knew each other, so I walked towards them, as they were just regular people, not people selling wares or services that might try to take advantage of a clueless person. I was closer to the man so I asked him if he spoke English, he didn't, so I walk towards the woman, and asked her if she spoke English, she said yes, and seemed to tell the man to leave as he was still hanging around trying to speak to me in Hebrew. She waved him away, so I called out goodbye and thanks.
The young woman then told me he was a bad man and that he wanted to take me somewhere. I thought this claim odd b/c I was the one who approached HIM, and he hadn't tried to direct me anywhere in terms of his body language or anything...Anyway, she said she was unfamiliar with the address, so she asked me if I wanted to get a taxi. She spoke to the taxi driver, who luckily was bi-lingual and spoke Hebrew and English well. She asked him if he knew the address and how much it would cost to take me there. Then she translated for me and asked me if I had enough money. I admitted to her I still not understand Israeli money very well, so she counted it out for me and told me "Don't pay more than this." Then she proceeded to tell the driver to look out for me, wished me good luck, and told me welcome to Israel.
I exchanged some warm small talk with the taxi driver, and he asked me if the person I was staying with knew I was coming, I was a bit wary b/c was repeatedly warned not to let people know that I was a unmarried, solo, female traveler etc. b/c it makes you look vulnerable etc., so I told him my friend knew I was coming but I was just a little late. But he was just a good guy, a very gracious one; he asked me for her phone number and said he would call Na'ama to know I was on the way. Luckily, we reached Na'ama and she said she would come downstairs to meet us. He did not leave until I assured him that Na'ama was whom I was meeting, and then he wished me a good stay in Israel. Today, I encountered lots of little acts of kindness and protective people indeed!
I greeted Na'ama, and apologized for arriving late in the evening but early by a day! I had gotten to Israel a day earlier than I orig. planned to...Luckily she received my earlier e-mails, and was expecting me.
I followed her through the dark, through the rough path of pebbles, overgrown weeds, besides thick bushes of flowers, wild grass, and we got to her place quickly, walked up the stairs, and reached her flat on the 3rd floor. She had a cute flat, with her chairs and couch covered in cat hair. :D reminded me a bit of home with her cats jumping around as they please. After Egypt, where I stayed in hostels/hotels it was nice to be in a home, wasn't impersonal as hotels are but comforting after being out of sorts, and feeling initially isolated in Israel.
Then there was Na'ama, whom I was able to easily jump into conversation with, and who kept apologizing for everything; such a sweet host, kept fussing over everything! She's just like me when I attempt to host, I make a million things, and repeatedly ask if everything is okay. She served up pasta with mushrooms and faux hot dogs, spinach pie, and Israeli salad. The food was really good! but according to her, the spinach pie usually comes out better, hehe, such a perfectionist!
We had such a great chat over dinner on all the stuff you're NOT supposed to talk about in "polite" conversation, haha. From the U.S. gov., the Israeli gov., to the recent war in Israel where Be'er Sheva was missiled! We talked about what it was like to live in that environment, having bomb shelters, the constant fear and how this state of mind perhaps led to the current government in Israel and policy towards Palestinians/Arabs. We talked about the Holocaust, 9/11, religion, travel, U.S. Politics, food, how to pronounce Israeli words, what we were studying in school, loads of topics. Then Na'ama suggested that I could go to Mitzpe Ramon the next day to explore the desert while she was at school and gave the grand tour of her apartment.
She showed me her work/guest room, and the computer which she told me to use as much as I needed, and we chatted a little bit more, until we said our good nights, and I got to shower and finally sleep.
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