Monday, March 26, 2012

On Almost Lebanon, Still Israel (Wannabe Syria)

Once every few months or so, Aardvark takes us on an overnight Tiyul somewhere around the country. In times past, we've been to the Lower Galilee, the Druze North, Masada and this shindig in Jerusalem. This time around, they brought us to the very northernmost part of Israel. Our itinerary was apparently changed last minute, as it was supposed to rain the day of our hikes, so we didn't get to do the hikes we had voted on, but things worked out in the end.
Farmington River ain't got shit on Banias
We all went to the Banias (Hermon Stream), which is an incredibly rapid river. Our tour guide said it was Class 9 rapids, to which I argued there's only six classes. He then proceeded to tell me how he's rafted in rivers all over the world (Peru, Costa Rica, Thailand, Colorado, etc.), and I shut up. As I look now on Wikipedia, the academic gods seem to shine in my favor, as indeed there are only six classes of rapids. Ha. Anyway, the hike was beautiful. Yeah, there were like 60 of us, and it was more a social event than a hike, but still, I was grateful for the ability to go somewhere awesome on a Tuesday when I'd normally be bored to death at some museum.

The incredibly green north
The hike followed the stream and the 1.5 hour walk was over in three after a fair deal of stops (one of which was near a rusting overturned tank on the riverbed). After the hike, we went to a youth hostel in Tel Hai, a bit north of Kiryat Shmona. Everyone else at the hostel were incredibly arsey. Seriously, it was weird. Anyway, I spent a good chunk of that night socializing, hanging out, and eating pizza (to which I am still indebted to Zaydek and he left for home today… :-/ ).

The next day, they took us on a bus tour of the area. We drove up to a hill on the border of Lebanon near Metula. Unfortunately, it was really foggy and the otherwise spectacular view was nothing but grey. Other stops included a waterfall in no-man's land between Israel and Lebanon, a museum at this historic farm (I admit I was asleep for much of that stop), and this incredibly impressive waterfall near Nimrod's Castle. It was hilarious…by the last stop, everyone was griping about how much the "tour" sucked, and when everyone saw the waterfall, they all clammed up. Personally, I thought the whole trip was very well executed considering the circumstances.

Sa'ar Waterfall
Turquoise Hexagon Sun - Boards of Canada

On Purim

As legend has it, Haman once plotted to kill all the Jews (real original, dude), and came damn close to succeeding, if it wasn't for Mordecai and Esther, the heroes of this Jewish epic. They defeat the evil Haman by outdrinking him, or something like that, and that's why we drink ourselves stupid and dress up in costumes to celebrate Purim.
The first night of Purim was on Wednesday, March 7, but parties began earlier that week—eager beavers. On Tuesday, a few of us donned bloody makeup and talcum powder to take part in a massive Zombie walk down one of Tel Aviv's most affluent boulevards. It was awesome. We all got really into character, with all conversation being nothing more than a jumble of grunts, moans, and "brains". Things escalated a bit when the walk moved onto the asphalt part of the boulevard and we started climbing on top of moving cars and taxis. I'll repeat this now, it was awesome. The walk concluded with a dance party at the end of Rothschild.
For the first night of Purim, I had my friend Jess draw all over my face with markers and I put on this trippy robe I bought at Jaffa Shuk and this feathered headdress and went as an Aztec God, or something like that. Festivities started early (or at least I did). I had a few people over at my apartment, we had some drinks, went to the next apartment, grabbed a few more people, had a few more drinks, and so on and so on. Jacob, Jake and Ari had made some friends through couchsurfing, and they invited them to a rooftop party, so I tagged along. The place was packed, and the whole roof was taken over. And, and, and, it was an Anglo party. Wahoo! I could actually communicate at a non-Aardvark gathering for the first time in six months. So we socialized, made friends, joked about costumes, and got increasingly and increasingly inebriated.

Eventually, Ari and I decided to leave and check out some street parties. As we walked around, we were drawn in by the booming sound of music and ended up at a party on Rothschild Boulevard, where we ran into some kids from Aardvark and partied there for a while. That's just about all I remember.
Street party madness
 I guess the party never stopped, as there were people walking around day-drinking on Thursday. Basically, the same sort of thing happened Thursday night, except this time I dressed up as a Jedi Knight, although the overwhelming consensus from strangers was that I was Jesus (apparently Star Wars was never a big hit over here). A lot of Aardvarks went too hard the night before and ended up throwing up (poor saps), so they didn't go out on Thursday. I hung out with Jacob and Shani that night a lot, and we went around meeting random people and checked out this street party on Nachalat Binyamin. Jacob met up with some of his Danish friends, so we left him in Scandinavian company. I went out later by myself and sat on Rothschild for a long time, taking some time-lapse pictures, and having some hilarious encounters with strangers. The energy that night was incredible, everyone was letting loose.
Jacob making friends
My mom made a pit-stop in Israel for the weekend on her way to Frankfurt, so I spent a lot of time with her. It was really nice. People were still costumed up on Friday and Saturday, but I was a bit too spent to keep partying. If you're ever visiting Israel for a week, come for Purim. It's really, really fun.

On Tel Aviv (...)

So it's been just about forever since I've last posted, and I feel like I've disappointed a few people in so doing. I apologize. Things have been hectic over here, and I've been either constantly occupied or completely uninspired to write. Hell, I can't even remember the last time I wrote anything (tsk tsk). My last post was from my travels to Gita. I feel like so much has happened since then. First off, the weather has changed. It's more or less sunny every day now and the beach is becoming a more and more alluring alternative to mundane housework. I've been more invested in what I do with every minute of my life, which is awesome. I love my volunteering placement, and I'm learning some really good skills if I ever want to pursue woodworking.

This post is more going to be about what Tel Aviv has come to mean to me, and what it's like living in a metropolis after growing up in a relatively sheltered lifestyle in suburban Connecticut. Things are different here, not only from America, but from the rest of Israel. People refer to Tel Aviv as the country of Tel Aviv, as it's so distant ideologically and culturally. Yes it's still a Jewish city, you'll still see people wearing kipas (though not nearly as frequently), and everyone still speaks Hebrew, but it's by no means the Israel I've seen living in Jerusalem and traveling. There's just too many immigrants, too many worked faces, and not enough smiles. Not that there aren't happy people, but rather the people here are more realistic and more grounded. They don't have an overarching idealism to provide for them a joy that could blind them into making stupid decisions (let's settle here!, etc.), nor are they blissed out in the comfort of communism (or as close as it might get to it). They are just people trying to get by.
Azreili Center by night
So the people here are a bit grumpy, but I guess you could say that makes them more interesting. I haven't really met too many residents of Tel Aviv, but they all seem really cool. Our upstairs neighbor was telling me about these meditation workshops he goes to where you can't talk or communicate with anyone for ten days and this all-rice diet he's trying. The people who frequent the bars all seem like cool people. Even the guy who stole my bike is awesome…jokes. Oh yeah, my bike got stolen. So did Ari's.
Biking around Ramat Gan
For the most part, I've been in Tel Aviv this last month and a half until this past week, which I'll write about in another post. And I've just been living, or learning how to live properly I guess. It's hard to remember all that I've done, as a lot of it has just been slight variations on my weekly schedule. I've been doing a lot of chilling, I guess. My time spent in Tel Aviv is relatively unremarkable, which goes into why I'm planning on spending a considerable amount of time outside of Tel Aviv these coming few months.

I guess that's pretty much it for the city. It's relatively adventureless…I find there's remarkably fewer places to explore than in Jerusalem. I can't see myself living in a city when I'm older, it's just too urban and mostly all forms of entertainment here cost money.
Settlers (the good kind)
I should probably add in a snippet of what Aardvark's been like. It's good. The program itself is a bit tedious at this point, but they've gotten a lot more chilled about my antics (although I guess there haven't been too many antics recently). Our madrich, Ori, is really great. I think we lucked out with having him. I have tentative plans to go hiking and mountain biking with him (although since my bike has been nabbed, not sure how that's going down).

Our roommate sucks. Honestly, I can't imagine a worse roommate. He doesn't clean, he bitches all the time, he never leaves the apartment, and he has a completely backwards set of values that creates a very tense atmosphere whenever conversation creeps pasts the casual, "how was volunteering?" or "how's it going?". It's difficult, but I guess it's a learning experience. And his taste in music sucks.

I'm dreading having to live in dorms next year. I think that's going to be a huge step backwards. I won't have a kitchen to cook in, I won't be able to hang out with people on my own time, and I won't have a space to call my own (unless I bring my car…cough cough).

This year is coming to a close soon. The transition back home is going to be interesting, to say the least. I'm desperately planning weekends already, trying to maximize the rest of my time here.

Places I need to go (in order of importance):
• Jordan – Dead Sea (hiking)
• Judea – Nahal Dalgutz
• Negev – Mitzpe Ramon
• Judea – Ein Prat (Kidron)
• Jordan – Red Canyon
• Upper Galilee – Magdal al-Shams (and Hermon)
• Egypt – Dahab
• Lower Galilee – Beit She'an

So that's it, I guess. I'm going to write a bunch of blogs today to make up for neglecting to keep people updated.
Hiking through the Ben Shemen Forest
Shalom v'ahava

Mandala - Thievery Corporation