My two week Israel adventure seems like a far off dream at this point. I love reflecting on my growth as a traveler as I think about that time. My brother Josh just sent me some brilliant stuff that he wrote after returning home from Asia. It’s a fantastic commentary on travel. Like many things in life, it is inspired by our experiences in Israel. Enjoy it!
“My brother and I had 5 days to kill in Israel before venturing over to Southeast Asia. For us, the decision was pretty simple – the beaches of Tel Aviv. Most beach towns have great streets along the coast, with properties right on the beach. Beautiful, but it creates a definite separation between the city and the sand. Tel Aviv avoided this divide – the beach literally runs right into the city. The beach is Tel Aviv, and Tel Aviv is the beach.
And Tel Aviv beach is anything but private – it is bustling and alive, every day of the week. You walk along the sand, dodging frisbees, stepping over the countless sun bathers (and trying to avoid obvious stares at the topless women), and pausing to watch the surfers and volleyball games. But the most significant reminder that you’re in Tel Aviv is the constant rubber on wood sound of the game makot. Thousands and thousands of kids line up and play this Israeli past-time, that so greatly defines Israel. It’s a game where two people slam a rubber ball back and forth with wooden paddles. The goal of the game? To hit it back and forth as many times as possible. No competition, straight team work. It sounds like you’re hitting a heavy ping pong ball back and forth, standing along side hundreds of your friends playing the same game. Clank Clank Clank Clank, and balls shower the sun bathers.
Picking out a hostel for us was easy. “Should we spend all 4 nights at Hayarkon 48?” I asked, hoping my brother wanted to spend our time exactly as I wished. “Absolutely bro, why go anywhere else?”
A hostel is defined by two simple factors. First, is there good air conditioning, and second, how are the people? The second factor is always a crapshoot. You can stay at a hostel and have some of the best partying of your trip, then come back a week later and it’s quiet and dead. Hayarkon 48 is consistently alive, full of interesting travelers with great stories and advice. The most memorable feature of the hostel is the rooftop, overlooking the Mediterranean, a block off the sand. Any time of day or night, there’s a crowd of people drinking Carlsbergs, smoking Hookah, and avoiding conversation about ‘real life’ at home.
Jacob and I checked in, threw our backpacks on to the bunks in our dorm room, bought a beer, and headed to the roof. We sat down with a group of guys from Finland, complimented their Hookah, dodged the ice breaker questions, and starting telling stories of our travels. Being American, we’re almost always less traveled than the people we meet, so it’s nice to do most of the listening.
“The coolest place I’ve ever been?” said Jonathon, one of the Finnish guys we were bumming a smoke off of, “India, hands down.”
“I’ve heard India’s cool, but it’s not really top of my list of places to visit. Convince me – why India?” I rebuked.
Jonathon took a deep inahle from the hookah, and intricately exhaled perfect smoke rings, taking his time to collect his thoughts and give me his pitch. “Alright, imagine this. Varansi is the holiest city in India. I’m talking one of the oldest, most revered cities in Buddhism. They believe that Buddha delivered his first sermon there, so it’s freaking holy. And we’re only 400 miles or so from New Delhi – a huge, bustling city. The city’s right on the Ganges river. This river is used for everything; laundry, cleansing sin, people praying every around the river. But also man, people come here to die. This is their holiest city. If they die in Varansi, and their remains go into the Ganges river, they’ll go straight to heaven.” He took another big inhale of the apple flavored smoke, held it for a second, and let the smoke leave his mouth and nose.
“Next to the river, there’s this big fire burning all day, but this isn’t some holy fire, it’s literally people being cremated on wooden logs, and then their family members scatter their ashes into the river. Cremations are expensive though, so for the poor, they drag their family members’ body directly to the river, intact and everything. Get down on their knees and pray to Buddha, pray for the family member, while throwing their entire body into the river. You sit there on top of the stairs, and watch people dragging their relatives to the water to die, and then just letting them go.”
He paused for a second, let the story digest. After he finished off his beer, he looked over and Jacob and I, trying to figure out the expressions on our face. “So man, it depends what you’re looking for. It’s not flashy. It’s not New York bright lights, but that’s culture for you. It’s different man. Really freaking different.” He reclined in his chair, and the sunset’s vibrant colors radiated the Tel Aviv sky.
When we go travel, what are we looking for anyways? Is it cheap beer, or pretty girls? Probably. But more than anything, it’s seeing how people live, and being culture-shocked. Watching people drag their relatives to the river to die, now that’s freaking culture.”
-Josh Ludin, 26. Huntington Beach, CA