Monday, May 19, 2008

One day, two borders, three countries

Today was our second day of extreme travel during vacation (the first being the day we set out). We left the hostel around 2:30 AM. After making it to the bus station and finding our bus, the adrenaline/tequila started to wear off. We had left four of our comrades behind and our troop seemed too small, like we weren't equipped to take on the next great adventure. Soon enough sleep took over, though, and we dozed for a few hours before stopping in Damascus. From there we were going to catch a taxi through southern Syria, across the border and all the way to Amman. After catching the wrong minibus and being misdirected a few times, we finally found a very nice cab driver who agreed to take us. We made small talk and he kindly offered us gum and cigarettes. Just before the Syrian border he got out a purchased two huge, Costco-size packs of cigarettes at the Duty Free Store. He gestured to each of us, holding out two packs. "Oh, no thank you." "Eh, no!" He gestured again, and we realized he wanted us to hold the packs in our luggage and help him get them across. Oh, ok. Big grins spread across our faces. That's fine, we can become willing co-conspirators in a Syrian cigarette smuggling operation.

We made it across the Syrian border without a hitch. Crossing out of Syria is considerably easier than getting in. Our journey through Jordan was reasonably uneventful...and then we arrived at the Israeli border. Once we'd gotten through the Jordanian exit and then taken another bus, we arrived in a very sparse, very clean Israeli border waiting room. Aside from being shocked by the cleanliness and the glorious state of the bathrooms, we were also amazed to see that every guard there looked younger than us. Israelis have to all give two years of military service before college, so the border was being run by 19 and 20-year olds. Every time an especially cute foreigner would come through, all the girls would gather together and giggle. It was like being in high school again, but everyone was wearing fatigues and occasionally carrying an uzi.

We weren't going anywhere fast, so I took a nap. When I woke up, it was time for us to go through. The whole border crossing took about four hours, but we were relieved just to be in Israel. After exiting the border we caught another bus and cruised through the hills into the epicenter of religious clashes; a site of prayer, world pilgrimages and century-old land disputes: Jerusalem.

Jerusalem was definitely not what I was expecting. It was green and cool, and everything outside the Old City is incredibly modern. We were staying in the Muslim Quarter of the Old City, which is fenced in by a huge stone wall. We traipsed along the wall and up a hill, through a gate, winding our way through cobblestone streets, and finally stumbling into our hostel (while carrying considerable baggage). After finding an ATM and searching forever for an open restaurant, we finally discovered someplace open. Why is it that when you're hungriest/thirstiest/have to pee, you can never find a restaurant/drinking fountain/bathroom? Dinner tasted amazing after a day of chips, dried figs, falafel, and oranges, and finally satisfied we went to bed.