Chris' 1994  R100GS/PD ULTIMATE JOURNEY Erin's 1997  F650

Living a Dream . . . 2 Live-N-Ride

November 20, 1999

Israel - The Promised Land or the Land of Promise?

-- Story by Erin--

Israel, a land of complex beauty, history and, of course lots of turmoil.  Chris and I were looking forward to visiting Israel not just to see the country but more to see Chris' mother, Gabi, who was flying in for a quick visit, and his many cousins there.  We arrived in Haifa, Israel by boat on November 4, at 6:30 a.m.  Clearing customs at the port was relatively easy (security didn't even ask us to open our saddlebags) and off we went headed in the direction of Jerusalem.  We soon found out that finding our way south was not as easy as following the GPS. We stopped at several gas stations to try and buy a map, and none could be found.  We plotted the most direct course to Jerusalem on the GPS and found ourselves at a roadblock, with a guard only checking vehicles passing the opposite direction.  We asked the Israeli guard if it was OK to pass, and he said yes, but that he wouldn't recommend it.  Apparently, this was an entrance to one of the Palestinian territories. 

We discussed our options between ourselves for a minute or so and, not knowing the status of the current political situation, decided to take an alternative (longer) route.  As we later found out it would have been perfectly safe to drive through, as many Israeli's do this on a daily commuting basis.  It took us only about 3 hours to reach Jerusalem (middle of the country) from Haifa (in the north).  Israel is such a small country that one can cover much of it in a day.

Our little Bed & Breakfast accommodation in Jerusalem was very cute and comfortable.  It was a multi-level stone house with a lovely flowered garden in the back, where the Israeli breakfast was served each day.  Gabi was arriving that same evening of November 4.  Chris' cousin Yael and her husband Eitan picked us up in their car and planned to take us to the airport to meet Gabi.  Her plane was delayed several hours though and we didn't pick her up until 3:00 a.m.!  As we waited at Yael's house we spent the time chatting, catching up, and getting to know them and their 4 beautiful children, Lilach, Sigal, Chen, and Itay (3 girls and a boy in all).

The next day, November 5, was Chris' birthday.  Gabi had planned her arrival especially for this occasion.  The three of us spent the day touring the Old City of Jerusalem, taking in the sights of the 4 quarters (Armenian, Christian, Jewish and Muslim), the Western (Wailing) Wall, the Church of the Holy Sepulchre (where its said that Jesus was crucified), and the narrow alleyways of the bazaar.  The Old City is still completely surrounded by high stone walls and you must pass through a gate (there are several to choose from) to enter.  It was fascinating to see the differences in architecture between the four quarters, and also how they are changing demographically as time goes by.  The Armenian quarter is now the smallest and seems to only occupy a street or two.  The Christian quarter seems to be losing ground as well.  The Jewish and the Muslim quarters have spread further into these other two and are the biggest.  Another thing we noticed is the abundance of Israeli guards fully decked out in firearms, almost everywhere.

Wailing Wall

That day happened to be Friday and Shabbat, the start of the holy time of the week for Jews.  Dinner on Shabbat is an important thing for Jewish people and they make a point of being with family and friends for a big meal.  We spent our first Shabbat dinner at Yael's house with her family and her parents, Elchanan (Wili) and Ruthi, who drove up from Beer Sheva.  It was made extra special because the two oldest daughters, Lilach and Sigal, had made a delicious birthday cake for Chris.

Itay, Sigal, Chris, Chen, and Lilach

The next day we walked around the area near the King David Hotel (the nicest in Jerusalem) and the YMCA----yes the good 'ol "Y".  The YMCA here must be the nicest in the world.  It occupies what looks like an old monastery and has a huge tower, which you can get to the top of by elevator and take in the stunning views of the city.  We also walked around the pedestrian shopping and restaurant area known as Ben Yahuda.  That night Gabi treated us to a special birthday dinner for Chris and we ate big, juicy steaks at an Argentinean restaurant (sorry to all of our vegetarian and Hindu friends!)

Sunday we went to the Holocaust Museum where Eitan and his company are doing work putting the Jerusalem stone on the buildings and the walls.  The museum is of course a haunting, educational, and enlightening place all at the same time.  It's very well done, laid out chronologically and displaying countless graphic photographs and artifacts.  It is situated at the top of a hill. The land surrounding it is a public park area with walking paths, stone monuments, and picnic areas.  There is also a special place in the park that is like a maze garden of huge, roughly cut stone pillars.  As you walk through this you see inscribed on the rocks the names of countries, cities, towns, and family names of those affected by the Holocaust.  The huge stone columns are laid out geographically to represent Europe at that time in history.

Future Blackmail picture -- Chris & Mom

After a short visit, it was time for Gabi to fly back to New York.  Again, Yael and Eitan were kind enough to pick us up and drive us all to the airport.  After Gabi left we stayed at Yael's house for the next week or so.  It was great to have a solid, comfortable base from which to do some work.  The family also made us feel like we belonged there.  We spent a few days investigating how to transport the bikes to India, where to get the bikes serviced, updating the web site and planning what to do while still in Israel.

The following Thursday we drove down to Beer Sheva to visit Yael's parents, her two brothers and their families.  Chris had met Yael and her brother Ronan before in New York and on a previous trip to Israel some years earlier.  But, he had never met the younger brother, Yoav.   Boy did Chris and Yoav hit it off.  They were like two long lost buddies from childhood.   They have very similar personalities.  We stayed with Yael's parents, Wili and Ruthi, who also made us feel very welcome and more family than guests.   Wili is a first cousin of Chris' father and they grew up together in Hungary.  

On Friday night, Shabbat, Ronan and his family and Yoav and his family came over to their parent’s house for dinner.   We met their wives, Ziva (Ronan) and Lamore (Yoav) and the children (Ronan has 2 boys and Yoav has a boy and a girl).  It was definitely a house full of activity!

The next morning, Ronan and Yoav picked us up by car and we drove to the Dead Sea area and Masada.  The drive was spectacular as we drove through the stark desert landscape.  We passed many Bedouin villages made of shacks or tents, and their herds of goats, donkeys and camels.  As we descended the mountain to the Dead Sea we passed several sculpture monuments in the shape of motorcycles.    We asked Ronan to pull over so we could get a better look at them.  We discovered that these sculptures are real motorcycles that had been salvaged from deadly motorcycle accidents on this windy road and had been put there as a reminder to all how dangerous the particular road can be.  We also passed signs telling us the altitude and saw our decent drop below sea level.  It's a strange sight to see a sign saying "Sea Level" while you feel you are still high on a mountain.  When we finally reached the bottom, we were 400 meters BELOW sea level -- the lowest point on earth.

Sign at sea level -- Dead Sea is 400 meters below

Before taking a plunge into the Dead Sea we went to visit one of Israel's famous sights----Masada.  This is a settlement that existed thousands of years ago on the top of a table-shaped mountain.    It was occupied by Jewish settlers and came under siege from the Romans.   The settlers held off the Roman invaders for 2 years before finally committing mass suicide in lieu of surrender.  We took a gondola to the top.  The ruins are in very good condition and you can see much of what the old village must have looked like----with it's baths, synagogue, general's quarters, palace, workshops, etc.  Some of the floor mosaics are still visible as well.  This is a very special place for Israeli soldiers because many of them take their oath of allegiance at sunrise at the top of this mountain.

When the heat became too much we decided to walk down the mountain.  At the bottom we saw a heard of wild deer who happened to be standing near a deserted orange juice stand.  We thought that orange juice was just what we needed and searched but found no vendor.  However, there was a crate of fresh oranges, plastic cups, and a juice squeezer just out in the open at this stand.  After a few minutes of not seeing anyone, we decided to help ourselves and made several glasses of fresh squeezed juice----yummy!  After we satisfied our thirst we discussed whether to squeeze some more and sell it to the other tourists that came by.    We decided we had pressed our luck enough for one day and returned to the car.

After Masada we were hot and hungry.  We drove to the beach area of the Dead Sea, ate some Shwarma sandwiches and took a---not exactly a plunge-- a float in the Dead Sea.  I've always heard about how the effect of the salt density of the water makes you float but I never could imagined what it actually feels like.  As you walk into the water, you only get about waist high before your body wants to bob forward or backward, but definitely not vertical!    The best thing to do is to lean backward and let things take its course.    It's effortless to just lie there on your back.  It feels more like sitting in a recliner than stretching out flat on your back.  Many people take a book in with them and can stay that way for hours reading.  Very near across the sea you can see the mountains of Jordan.  After playing around in the sea for awhile we got out and showered with fresh water.  The salt water leaves a oily feeling on your skin and you must wash it off soon after exiting the Sea.  The Dead Sea area is surrounded by expensive hotels that cater to wealthy tourists who come for a week or so at a time to get various mineral and therapeutic treatments and soak in the Sea.


The next day, Ronan and Yoav and their families picked us up again and we all drove to a big, naturally formed crater called Mitzpe Ramon.  Again, the landscape is beautiful in that the hills and mountains are striped with different colored minerals.  We stopped first at an Alpaca (lama) farm to feed the Alpacas and take a short camel ride.  The kids (and us too!) really had fun with it.  Then we drove to the crater's edge to take in the views and have a quick lunch.  We then drove down a steep, twisting road into the crater.   After a while we pulled off onto a dirt road and drove into the desert for some ways.  We eventually came upon a picnic/camping facility complete with a huge Bedouin tent.  We took a break from the heat here and laid on the mats and pillows in the tent.  Bedouin men brought us sweet mint tea, freshly cooked pita, hummus and a white soft cheese spread with olive oil.  This was a delicious snack and a nice lazy afternoon stop.  As we ate we watched the various other people stop by, many on 4-wheel ATV's decked out with camping gear and GPS equipment.

After the stop in the crater we headed back to Beer Sheva.  We spent another two days there and then headed back to Yael's house near Jerusalem.  We stayed with Yael for another week, running errands in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv.  The biggest task was getting the bikes properly serviced before we sent them off to India.  Eitan knew a motorcycle mechanic with a good reputation through a good friend of his.  It turns out that the mechanic, Nadav, is a KTM dealer with his own shop and races in rally's like the Paris-Dakar as well.  He was great to us, offering a very good discount on labor costs, the use of his space in the work area to do some of the work ourselves, and supplied us with all the spare parts, fluids, tires, etc. that we needed.  He also arranged for us to meet a friend of his, Mickey, who owns an R100GS/PD, travels around the world by bike and has made documentary films about it.  After a good day and a half of working on the bikes they were ready to be tested out in the desert of the Sinai in Egypt! 

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