Sunday, July 10, 2011

Same Same but Different

(Written on 5/5/2011 from Eilat, Israel)

FOREWARNING: Splashing water from the Dead Sea into your eyes hurts……HURTS.  Not advisable.
But, after breaking my trusty, well-worn sandals the minute I touched the Dead Sea water, it was hard to keep my elephant feet from flailing water all over the place.  So when it bounced up into my eye and burned like $*#^@, I had to keep them shut and hobble over to the fresh water showers with my cousin guiding me like a blind man.
Luckily, unless you’re as clumsy as me, it’s difficult to actually get the water in your eyes since you naturally just bob around on top of the water. Robin and I entertained ourselves for a few hours soaking in the natural minerals (literally), and playing in the mud baths like a bunch of pigs, until we lost track of time and our tour bus almost left without us.
Hanging out at the Dead Sea
Robin floating around
Broken sandals :(  they were so good to me for 3 months...
Salt formations at the Dead Sea
Nothing like a good mud fight!
Our day tour began with a trip to Masada, a fortress built on the top of a hill in the Judean Desert.  It’s known as a palace built by King Herod, and also for the later resistance of the Jewish refugees during the Roman takeover.  Although I’m not normally a fan of tours, it was fascinating to walk amongst ruins that were still intact and well preserved, and to learn about the community of 960 who chose death over slavery by taking their own lives before being conquered.

At the top of Masada looking over the Dead Sea
And after a day of awe-full (not awful) moments…we ended with a bus ride back to Jerusalem, while I stared out the window, hoping for more sights of wandering camels in the desert.  
With the power of connections a friend of mine in Seattle introduced me to his cousin who is studying with a rabbi in Jerusalem.  Eager to meet up with David for shawarma and beer, Robin and I washed off the Dead Sea residue at the hotel and hopped a bus in to town.  After dinner, David took us to the Old City where he even showed us the house that he stays in….with the courtyard that opens up to the tomb of King David, with the room of the Last Supper directly above it, and a Mosque on top of that - a true testament to the fact that 3 religions can in fact live together in harmony and peace.

Robin and David
David was extremely knowledgeable and was a great tour guide – even allowing Robin and I to feel safe to ask any questions since he wouldn’t judge or deem any of them “stupid.”  J  We strolled through the cobble stone paths in the Old City making our way down to the Western Wall, where men and women were praying separately through all hours of the night. 
The Western Wall
As we observed our surroundings with open eyes, ears, and hearts we stood awe struck at the holiest of places.
David then took us over to a wedding on Mount Zion….where, once again, I felt like Vince Vaughan and Owen Wilson.  Robin and I looked totally out of place in our casual attire, but we were still welcomed warmly (even by the bride’s father) to join the group for dancing and food.  I’m pretty sure if it was my pops shelling out the big bucks he would have shooed away any random tourist moochers.

The new couple!

Wedding Crashers
After a fully packed day (now it included camel spotting, the Dead Sea, Masada, shawarma, the Old City of Jerusalem, and an Israeli wedding)…we headed back to the hotel to make it just in time for midnight.  We rang in the 10th anniversary of Robin’s 21st birthday with a bottle of wine, robes and slippers in the Crowne Plaza (ultra luxurious as far as my travels were concerned), and complimentary chocolates that we had saved for the celebration.

As we finished off 2 glasses of red each, and Bruce Willis finished off his opponents in “Red”, we slipped under the covers and fell fast asleep.
A Bar Mitzvah at the Western Wall

Made friends with a few Israeli army guys
In the morning we abused the breakfast buffet at the hotel before heading off to see the Old City during the day.  The thing that surprised me most about Jerusalem is the modernization of the city…the malls, and hotels and restaurants and traffic.  Road rage is an understatement for how I felt on the bus.  And patience may be a virtue, but it’s definitely not my strong suit.
After a painfully long 1 hour and 12 minute bus ride (yes…I counted) that should have taken TEN minutes…we packed up our stuff and headed out to Eilat – the very southern tip of Israel just between Egypt and Jordan.  If I would consider Jerusalem to be “night” then Eilat is definitely “day.” 
In 4 hours, we jumped from an extremely conservative city to one that looked like Vegas.  As we rolled into Eilat on the bus I couldn’t tell if the Luxor was ahead of us, or if it was a real pyramid with a light shooting out of the center.  Truth be told - it was neither, but I couldn’t help envisioning the first time I flew into Vegas with city lights aglow beckoning all the partiers.  I liken Eilat to the “Miami” of Israel – beaches, bikini clad girls, and a row of hotels ready to serve the next eager vacationer.

Out for Robin's birthday in Eilat

It amazes me that in so many parts of the world there is so much diversity in such a close proximity.  And although we are all very different in some ways…at the end of the day we are all human, and more similar than you might think.  We all have the same biological needs and desires - they are just manifested in different ways. 
Today I encourage you to think about other people in terms of your similarities.  Many times we observe people in terms of our differences – religion, race, nationality, language, socio-economic status, etc., but there is so much more to who we are than those traits that are easily recognizable on the surface.  How often do you relate to somebody (especially strangers) by what you have in common? 

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