Sunday, February 10, 2008

Tel Aviv, Unnoficial Capital of Israel

The location header of this post is a good indication of how screwy this place is. Tel Aviv is seen by most of the world as the capital of Israel yet the Israelis say that Jerusalem is. This place is going to be interesting. However, first things first.

Before entering the Holy Land I had an extremely tiring funrun from Damascus to Tel Aviv via Petra. As Petra was my only overnight among the Hashemites I won't be doing a Jordan post. I will however mention Petra as it is a fantastic place to see.

Due to it's position in the middle of a great sandy fuck-all it, the Nabathean city hasn't been superceded by too many other buildings from other cultures save for a few Roman temples. The Romans did their usual thing of twocking something good, tweaking it a smidgeon, and passing it off as their own. On this one the Nabatheans get the 'spect as they were masters in the art of property location.

The viist of Petra kicks off with a 2 klick walk down a very narrow gorge. It's supposed to be there for religious reason but methinks there are more practical considerations. Potential invaders are bottlenecked and the defenders can pull a Thermopylae on them. That being said it does serve well as one of the visual and psychological tricks so beloved of the god squad.

As you turn a corner in the gorge you are suddenly confronted with a temple carved into the wall. This is the Pharaoh's Treasury, the most famous of Petra's many, many carved buildings. The nekulturny amongst you will know it as the showdown set in the third Indiana Jones movie.

Basically it's fecking huge and displays an odd combo of highly detailed renovations and barely recognisable bullet ridden originals. The holes are linked to the name of the place. Local lore had it that the place was where the Pharaoh stashed his dosh despite having nothing to do with either treasure or inbred Egyptian despots. The bedouin where just as keen as Indiana Jones to find the wealth of the Treasury and they undertook many searches over the centuries. Unlike the world's coolest archeologist they didn't faff about with codes, books and traps. They just shot up the place in the hope something would start glittering.

The Treasury might be famous and well worth a peek but it's not my favourite Petra place. I was very fond of the Monastery as it is just as grand as the Treasury but requires a steep 45 minute hike uphill to get there. The tour groups don't make it there early as they need to round up enough donkeys to hoist their flabby bottoms up the mountains. This ensures that the place is wonderfully quiet untill noonish. You can find a high spot in the surrounding rocks and look at the thing without having to listen to the oohs and aahs of American retirees confronted with this real history thing. That and the sound of a zillion japanese cameras.

Petra becomes truly awesome when taken as a whole. Due to Nabathean austerity or comprehensive Bedouin looting there is bugger all to see inside the buildings except for the rock itself that has interesting hues of red, brwon, yellow and black. This gets quickly boring though and the visitor is left with spotting something up a hill and debating whether or not it's worth the effort to getting up there.

Petra is wonderfully unsupervised and spread out hence it's great for wannabee explorers such as yours truly. The further you go the more desert solitude you can get and the higher the risk of slipping of a ledge. Tourists do snuff it up here and I suspect the roaming somewhat degrades the sight. One day the Jordanians will twig on to this and ask the superbly uniformed camel corps guys to do stop having their photo taken and do some warden work. This will put me in the club of those who were there before people like me fucked it up for everyone.

Anyhoo, made my way to Aqaba and from there I crossed into Israel and got the legendary Israeli welcome. This was a funfilled 3 hours of intermittent questioning, searches and lots of raised eyebrows at my Iraqi visa and the name Arabin. When they finally let me go I found out that transport to Eilat was down for some reason so I had to walk 3 klicks to the bus station. By the time I was on a bus to Tel Aviv through the Negev, I wasn't all too fond of the Chosen People.

I got here and did what most people do in TA; go on the piss. Tel Aviv is pretty much like a european city on the Med and about as interesting. It's made me realise that getting back to normal life is going to be tricky. Watching a bunch of wiggers playing drums and juggling on the beach made me long for a more exotic/fucked-up place. My only true fun here is annoying the birthright kids (Jewish youngsters from around the world who get a free trip to Israel) and the kibbutz volunteers by telling them how nice the Syrians are.

I will depart this annoyingly normal place and go to what is in a sense the final destiantion. Tonight I will have completed my Jakarta to Jeruslaem trip. I will be seeing other things in Israel but in my mind Jerusalem has all things going for it. Expect a vey long post.

Take care,



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