It had been a long wish for me to see Egypt, Jordan, Palestine and Israel. It was the end goal of a spiritual journey that I had started about 5 years ago. I had seen Rome, Lourdes, Fatima and I did the walk towards Santiago the Compostella. So a visit to the Holy Land was the ultimate destination to affirm the pilgrimage I had been on for quite some time. The plan was to stay away for about five weeks, but the trip lasted one and a half months.
EGYPT: A THIRSTY LAND
By the beginning of winter, I had booked a cheap one-way ticket to Hurghada, a resort town on the red sea coast of Egypt. I had an all-inclusive stay, where I enjoyed 23 degrees sunny days throughout January. From there, I worked my way up and took a bus to Luxor, where I enjoyed some of the best-preserved tombs in Valley of the Kings and all the great temples on the West and East Bank. But what became clear quite quickly, was that it wasn’t going to be a cheap holiday. There was literally a money-thirsty Arab on every corner waiting for you to find a way into your pocket. And because Egypt is a form of organized chaos and there is virtually no public transport, you kind of depend on them as well. But hell, I was in Egypt now and I was witnessing ancient civilization in her best-preserved form.
After Luxor, I jumped on a train to Aswan, to catch my Nile Cruise back to Luxor. Aswan was nice, but I had little time to really explore it, other seeing an unfinished obelisk and a business savvy cabdriver who convinced me to see a Nubian village, which was about a 45-minute drive from where I was. Once on the cruise, it seemed quite nice, but what I didn’t get was that it was only leaving the next day. And after spending two days on the ship, I started realizing that I was kind of scammed; the ship had only stopped for one hour to see a temple along the Nile, and for the rest, it had just been on the water or was simply docked for 24 hours. I was slowly getting used to the idea that you might not always get what you pay for in Egypt.
Back in Luxor, I made up for lost time with a hot air balloon ride over the ancient city and visited some more great places, like the temple of Karnak; the largest religious building in the world. While I was walking around the Great Hypostyle Hall, with more than hundred 10 or 20 meter high columns, I was truly in awe. Then I took an overnight train to Cairo, where I went straight to Giza to see the pyramids. I took out a full day for making pictures while riding a camel. It was awesome. Then the next day, I went inside the Pyramids, which had cost me 40 Euros to enter but it wasn’t exactly worth it.
Cairo came across like a very conservative and religious town, with tons of crazy traffic all over the place. Nightlife was difficult to find and the clubs near the Nile were just crazy expensive. The reason being that drinking in Egypt is Haram, so forbidden according to Islam. That’s to say, unless you are willing to pay the price.. 😉 But in the end, I had fun anyway. Then I crossed the Sinai desert, climbed the Moses mountain and made it to Dahab, where I took a few incredible deep dives, with some really passionate divers. Thereafter, I just wanted to stay and chill just like everyone else is doing there. Nevertheless, I decided to go against the current and take a ferry to Aqaba, and there you go, I was in Jordan.
JORDAN: A LITTLE MORE THAN JUST PETRA
The next day, I enjoyed a jeep safari in the Wadi Rum desert and slept in a Bedouin camp under the stars. It was fun, but once in Petra, I understood why it was called a world wonder. Go and see it for yourself one day; it’s truly magnificent. And it’s a lot bigger than I thought it would be. So make sure you can stay there for like two full days. Once in Amman, I enjoyed the company of some lovely Palestinian people that sucked me straight into the Israel-Palestine conflict. They told me that there is de facto no Israel, as they like to call it “occupied Palestine” themselves. Then after experiencing some other extraordinary overpriced nightlife, I went to the Dead Sea and some other ancient roman town called Jerash. Because the Jordanian Dinar was killing it, I decided to make a move on after staying for about a week in the country.
PALESTINE: A BIG PRISON
Palestine was next, even though I was told not to go. But I wanted to explore both sides of the Israel-Palestine conflict, so I had no other choice. I spent about a week there, enjoying some great sites, like Jericho, the oldest city in the world. I enjoyed the pretty liberal nightlife in Ramallah after being in strict Muslim countries for quite a few weeks and took a deep dive into the Yasser Arafat museum. I also visited several refugee camps where the Palestinians reside that were kicked off their own land by the Israelis some time ago. Until this point, I had made many friends who told me that they were living in a big prison and that they even have a hard time going out of the country due to the Israeli occupation.
Then I went to Bethlehem, where I went to the church of Nativity, where supposedly baby Jesus was born. It was kind of my first experience, seeing a Holy Christian site, other than the Mount of Temptation that I had visited in Jericho, but it wasn’t exactly doing it for me. I mean, you see many people bending their knees in front of a rock, or a metal hole where an entire church is built around, but you can’t tell me that this is the actual place, where Jesus was born. As a matter of fact, I don’t even believe he existed in the flesh, but that his story holds a very spiritual value, yes that I know. And then there was all of a sudden, this six meter high concrete wall separating Israel from the West Bank. A wall that Banksy had been using as a canvas for his awesome rebellious street art. And the funniest thing? It’s not even on Google. And who knows, that might just be because the founder of Google has a Jewish mom. 😉
Hebron was next, which is another Holy city, to Jews, as well as Muslims. It is also a city on the West Bank but it is also being colonized by Jews wanting to settle there because they believe they are entitled to this Holy ground, because the Bible says so. I had a wonderful tour guide there, who explained to me all about the Palestinian resistance. However, there are two sides to every story. So the next day, I talked to a Jewish woman at a museum who explained to me that the Jews basically lived in this land for like over a hundred years already and mostly in harmony with the Arabs. And that the Jews were here first anyway, even though that was like 4000 years ago. Anyway, it became clear to me that both sides used sophisticated propaganda machines, trying to get the support of the west, both from very different points of view.
ISRAEL: A GREAT COUNTRY IN THE WRONG NEIGHBORHOOD
So I figured it was time to go to Israel and discover more for myself. I jumped on a bus in Hebron that took me straight to Jerusalem. I had big expectations, even though my journey so far had tempered me a bit. And after visiting the Holiest place on earth for three days, I could only come to the conclusion that it had not been that great. The old town is kind of small and there is security everywhere. Going to the Western Wall means going through a metal detector first and being treated kind of unfriendly by the guards holding their M16 machine guns. And visiting the Temple Mount is basically a no-go, for non-Muslims. And then, most of the Christian sites felt more like commerce than the actual place where he was fallen of his cross, or crucified, or risen from the dead. But like I said, I don’t believe in the physical form, but the meaning behind it. Nevertheless, Jerusalem seemed to be flooded with people that were there to touch a piece of Him, because they are told that it all happened at these places, even though no one could ever prove such a thing. So it felt more like a great fairy tale that kind of lost its magic when you see people trying to touch a glance of what once was a great memory in our minds; like reading a great book until you see the film adaptation.
So I decided to go to Tel Aviv, not only to party and enjoy the sunsets at the beach but also to escape the Shabbat which meant that basically, the entire county went into a complete lock down. So no trains, busses or any other public transport, except for overpriced cabs. And Jerusalem would turn into a ghost town because it’s so religious. So I jumped on the last train to Tel Aviv, which was more at ease and saw the Holy Shabbat as just another great reason to gather and party. So I joined the club and had a good time. But one of the more interesting things that I was an observer of was this giant demonstration against the right-wing Government that basically wants all of Israel for itself and kick out the Palestinians on the West Bank. Until this point, I had already learned that Israel is basically an American colony, great for exercising power in the Middle East, but it seemed now more like a monster that was once created for the greater good but was now slowly starting to lose grip on itself. Like it was going rogue and more than 50% of the people living there did not like that at all; it would mean the end of democracy.
Haifa was next, which was part of Northern Israel. It was a wicked place, where I made quite a few new friends on the spot in bars, as I was mostly doing in my evenings; just hang out and talk to the locals. At this point, my point of view in terms of the conflict had widened quite a bit, but it also felt like the deeper I dug, the lesser I was able to make sense of it. And this very much accounted for the locals too. It seemed that Israel is a country that is very much in the search of its own identity. And then there were plenty of Arab-Israelis living there, who got along just fine with the Jews that migrated there. It almost seems that there is not even a conflict. Well, there is one once you start to talk about it. So the solution might be to just not talk about it.
Then I did the rest of northern Israel. I visited Akko, a gorgeous old town that used to be the gateway for a variety of old Kingdoms that wanted to settle and occupy the Holy Land. But what amazed me was that I heard the six o’clock Allah prayer coming out of the minaret megaphones, saw Arabs smoking shisha and heard Arabian music all over the place. It was an Arab town. It made me question again, why the Arabs are making such a big deal out of Jews occupying their land? They seem to enjoy the benefits that the wealthy nation of Israel is giving them quite well.
Since I was told that the Lake of Galilee was amazing, Tiberias became my next destination. But when I woke up the next day, I could not really be that enthusiastic. I had seen way prettier lakes that were a lot bluer and had green around them. However, the Lake of Galilee was the place where Jesus had lived for a big part of His life and where He performed most of his miracles. So there was a place where he walked over water, another rock on where he had made 5000 fish out of 2 and the list goes on. Again, it felt very similar to what I had experienced in Jerusalem. But that didn’t take away the chance to preach my own gospel to all the devout American Christians that I ran into everywhere.
On the way back, I visited a Kibbutz, where I had a tour by a lovely older Dutch lady, who had migrated there 50 years ago after she had been volunteering and had married an Israeli man. She gave me insight into the Kibbutz life, what used to be kind of a communist way of life, but it has changed a lot. Her challenge now was not to become lonely in this little town following the death of her husband. A town that looked more like a big bungalow park to me.
Then I visited Nazareth, which was another Arab town before returning to Haifa. I went to the church where the Angel Gabriel announced the coming of baby Jesus to the Virgin Mary, but again, it was just a church with a small ruin surrounded by an altar. And the funny thing is that the Greek Orthodox Church that I visited a little further down the road, claimed the very same thing. But, if you believe it, it might be as real as it can get.
Because I had been on a spending spree for 6 weeks, and after checking into a 70-euro hotel that wasn’t exactly nice, I figured it was time to book my ticket home. I spent another reasonable party night in Haifa and then jumped on the last train before the Shabbat started, to Tel Aviv again. There, I had another great night after meeting a DJ who signed me up for a guest list on one of the great skyscraper clubs over there. The next day, I did some more beach and had random conversations with mostly Jewish people and left for my last day in Jerusalem.
In Jerusalem, I visited another great museum where I saw the Dead Sea scrolls and by this time, I had understood that the Holocaust museum Jad Washem that I had visited earlier was one of the greatest propaganda machines I had ever seen. What happened to the Jews is unspeakable. And what happened to so many people throughout history, to so many nations, like the Armenian genocide for example, simply can’t compete with the budget to market the traumatic past of our lovely Jewish people. A people that we owe a lot to in this world; let’s not forget that. So we live in a world order, whether we like it or not. And honestly, I think it’s probably for the best because I’d rather see the West staying in power. Because what will an Arab, Russian, or Chinese-controlled world look like? But who knows, we will all be one Kingdom one day. 😉
But because my own spiritual journey came to an end and it had really nothing to do with anyone else or their past, but really all to do with why I came here in the first place, I climbed the Mount of Olives. And there, I took another deep look at Jerusalem from a far distance; the Holy Place, for so many people around the world. And I could see it was beautiful because I wanted to see its beauty. Like the beauty I saw in myself. Like the beauty I had witnessed seeing all these amazing sites, while talking to so many different people. People with so many different beliefs, so many different rooted opinions. Yeah, and then I realized I really have nothing left to say to this world, other than you should probably all go see it. 😉