Thursday, January 29, 2004

I've been in Phnom Penh for 2 nights now, and haven't really done much. The bus ride down from Siem Reap was one of the most painful rides yet, much worse than the pick-up truck ride (which was actually pretty fun in retrospect). It was about 7 hours long, on some incredibly bumpy roads, with little cambodian kids around us puking every hour or so, and horrible Khmer karaoke and dubbed soap opera episodes playing at full volume on the TV. Overall an extremely painful experience.

We got into our hostel around 3pm and first went to a travel agent to book our flight back to Bangkok. I wanted to try to arrange a flight from Hanoi to Shanghai so I could go to the north of Vietnam, but the guy said it would cost $700. I asked him if there are any towns over the border into China that I could fly from Shanghai from, and he said I bought the plane ticket back to bangkok. Then later when I was on the internet, I found a plane ticket from a city in China just over the border from Vietnam to Shanghai for only $200. Either the travel agent lied to me or he was an idiot. Most likely the latter. I could have cancelled my old tickets, taken a bus from here to saigon and saved about $300 in plane tickets, plus I would be able to go to the north of vietnam.

Anyway, Phnom Penh has been pretty interesting, but there isn't much to do. Went to a place for lunch yesterday called Happy Herb Pizza...they make pizza that makes you happy. So the rest of the day we wandered around the city pretty happy. The laws here are pretty seems like the cops will turn a blind eye to pretty much anything for a few cigarettes or a couple $. There's a place right outside the city where you can shoot any weapon you want...from handguns, to AK-47s, to hand grenades, to bazookas. I was told it costs $200 to shoot a bazooka. I see a lot of European tourists renting these huge motorcycles and flying around the city like they're badasses. I thought about renting a motorbike, but after watching the traffic for 5 minutes there was no way. Most of the intersections dont have stop signs or traffic lights. It's pretty amazing to watch the intersection by our guest house. I sat watching it from the balcony for about 20 minutes. It's a really busy intersection, with no light and everyone someone cuts their way through. Haven't seen an accident yet.

There are also beggars everywhere, mostly children...when they find out you speak english they go through the ABCs and count to 10 to try to impress you, and say they need the money for why aren't they in school right now? I ask them that, and they just ask for money or ask where I'm from, I say america and they say "America, very good, capital Washington DC." This exact same thing has happened so many times. Our moto driver today said the public schools are free...Also, last night when we were eating dinner at an outdoor restaurant there was a group of about 10 kids that were going around to all the tables and asking for people's leftovers. They grabbed Shaul's plate and scarfed down half a meal in about 10 seconds. Literally every block we walk, we have to turn down at least 4 or 5 motobike drivers' offers of a ride, a "lady massage," or a few beggars asking for money. Apparently it's part of buddhism to give money to beggars, and I see a lot of well-off cambodians giving spare change to them. I imagine some of these beggars make more money than the moto drivers and other working people whose average wage is only about $250 a year.

Tomorrow morning we're (regretably) flying back to Bangkok, then flying to Saigon on Sunday.

Sunday, January 25, 2004

There is cheap internet access here in Siem Reap, plus there is nothing to do at night, so I've been online more than any other part of the trip. I posted the last thing around noon today, and now it's about 9pm and I find myself online again. Anyway, today was a great day.

Slept in late because I was basically dead last night and we got up took our time with breakfast, spent an hour online then started biking toward the temples at about 2:30. By this time it wasn't so hot anymore so it was a pretty nice ride for awhile, until I got a flat tire about half way there. Luckily the Cambodians plan ahead for such things, and there is a bike repairman about every mile on the road. He took about 20min to patch up the 4 or 5 holes i put in the tube. It wasn't so bad though, we just sat in the shade and talked to an Italian guy who had a flat tire on his motorbike. He had ridden his motorbike all the way from Venice, through europe, turkey, iran, india, took a boat from Kathmandu, and now is biking through east Asia before heading back. i was impressed...that would be an amazing trip.

After the bike was repaired we started heading toward a different area of the temple complex, but about a mile down the road we saw about 6 or 7 little monkeys chilling on the side of the we stopped to take pictures and watch them. It was so cool...I was about 5 feet away from a group of wild monkeys. The best part was when these two monkeys were just hanging out about 2 feet away from each other, then all of the sudden the one just leaps over and starts humping the other one (all in one motion). it was hilarious...and a dream come true...I can't ask for any more out of seeing a group of wild monkeys than to see them humping each other. Did i say cambodia is great? It is. I took about 20 pictures, including one of them humping.

We biked over to a different temple, and it was pretty cool with a lot of intricate carvings and geometrical architecture. Then to a mostly ruined temple, which was huge, but we didn't have much time to explore it because the sun was setting and we wanted to go to a good place to watch the sunset. So we found a lake about 1km down the road and hung out on the east bank. A group of 7 or 8 really cute cambodian kids ran up trying to sell us some crap (they do this at every temple we've been to), but after they realized we weren't going to buy anything we just started talking to them and taking pictures with them as the sun set. Overall it was great, and the sunset was one of the most beautiful i've ever seen. We biked back got some dinner and that was pretty much the whole day. Tomorrow we're going to get a motorbike driver to take us to a temple about 50km away...we're done with push-bikes and we got a good deal from a moto driver.

We both decided that we really like travelling in cambodia and are regretting that we booked our tickets from bangkok to saigon ahead of time. All the travel stuff is best arranged here, and it's much cheaper that way. Looking back, we should have just done the entire trip overland, because now we decided to stay in cambodia and will have to fly back to bangkok from Phnom Penh (where we're going on Tuesday). It would have cost $4 to take a bus from Phnom Penh to Saigon...and if we did it over land, we could have gone to the north of Vietnam much more easily. Now we'll probably only go around the south.

Woke up yesterday at 5am to bike up to Angkor Wat and see the sunrise there. The road was completely unlit, so we rode the 4 or 5 miles there in almost complete darkness guessing where the road is. Then it turned out that we took the wrong road, so we had to backtrack about a couple miles and go over the the right one. Finally got there about 15 minutes before the sunrise (6:15am) and sat down with a bunch of other people who came to watch it. After watching it break the horizon we went up to the temple and wandered around inside. It's really amazing...huge and beautiful. There are thousands of carvings all over the walls, and you can climb up the towers to get a great view of the whole area. From there we rode 2km over to a smaller temple and climbed to the top of it...there was a lof of riding and climbing yesterday. After that we went to Angkor Thom, which was almost as cool as Angkor Wat. I just tried to write a description of it, but nothing really does it justice. I got some great pictures though, so whenever i'm able to post pictures again (probably not until china) you'll be able to see. We spent the whole morning exploring around all the temples, then came back to Ankor Wat in the afternoon for the sunset. At around 3pm we started getting really tired, since we biked and climbed around all day and barely got any sleep.

We wandered into an area where it looked like some monks lived, and since Shaul thinks buddhist monks are the coolest thing in the world he was really excited to talk to them and see what they're all about. We soon learned what they're all about, and it really pissed us off. A young monk waved at us and motioned for us to come over, so we did. He barely spoke english but asked us where we're from, what our names were, and whether we'd like to see their temple. So we said ok, and walked over to the temple, but it was locked. He ran over to a shack and woke up another young monk who had the key. They led us in, and we lit ssome incense and did some pagan ritual. Then we went outside talked to them a little more, and he said my friend here is studying english, would you give him money for his studies. So shaul took out his wallet and gave them $2. They said no, $5 from each of you. At this point I was pretty shocked. They kept saying $5, and since we didn't have any more small bills we just said sorry that we only had $20 bills. I wouldn't have given them $5 anyway...that's bullshit. They didn't understand, and after about 5min of trying to explain we just started walking away. After about 10 steps we heard one of them hawk up a loogie and spit at us. I was furious but just kept walking away. So basically, Shaul's image of monks was ruined and I'll never look at monks the same again.

We walked over to angkor wat and just hung out until the sunset, cursing under our breath at every monk we saw. The sunset was beautiful though, but the guards at the temple kicked us out about 15minutes before it really set. So we biked back and got a $3 massage from a blind masseur for an hour near our hostel (it was awesome) and went to sleep. Today we're taking it easy b/c we're so sore from all the climbing and biking yesterday. Tomorrow we're going to take a motorbike instead.

Friday, January 23, 2004

I don't know where to begin...the last few days have been really great. I guess i'll just start with what happened right after the last post. We decided to rent motorbikes, a dangerous proposition since neither of us had ever ridden one before, but I had to try it once. the people had to literally show us how to turn it on, change gears and use the gas, laughing the whole time at our ignorance. The other problem was that nobody wears helmets on motos here, so I was pretty nervous but I really wanted to ride one around the island. As soon as Shaul got on his, he had no balance whatsoever...we should have just stopped there, but we both convinced each other we can do it. we rode about 100 yrds slowly down the road then turned around, I can really close to crashing and had to jump off, but everything was ok. then about to minutes later, shaul loses control and keeps going faster and faster, probably about 20km/h, then turns really sharply and crashes into a wall on the side of the road. I was really scared, but luckily he was then became one of the funniest things I've ever seen. Right now, I'm laughing just thinking about it. So he returned the bike, and i still had a little courage and started getting the hang of the controls and rode mine around the island for the rest of the hour. It was a lot of fun, got it up to 40km/h at one point.

The rest of the day we hung out on the beach and watched the topless europeans stroll by. Great stuff. The next day we check out of our bungalow (more of a shack on stilts with a mosquito net) and chilled on the beach until about 2pm, then took the ferry back to the mainland...we basically travelled the entire day. We took a bus to a city called Chanthaburri, which is supposed to be a 1.5 hour trip, but somehow the driver stretched it to 4 hours. From there we tried to get on a bus to the cambodian border, but after buying the ticket and waiting an hour for the bus, every seat was full...we didn't realize you had to get on the bus and save a seat hours ahead of time. So we stayed in that city for a night, and it turned out to be really cool. Very few tourists go there, so when we walked around everyone stared at us. It was kind of cool for about 10 minutes, but started getting really annoying. But we did realize, that outside of Bangkok when people come up to you offering help, they really want to help you...every person we met was really nice and very hospitable.

We wandered around the city for a couple hours the next day and really enjoyed the atmosphere. After the main market got old, we found a pickup truck with seats in the back (called a songthaew, they're everywhere in thailand) and tried to get him to take us to the one that the book said was the best, but he ended up taking us to the one the book said was really overrated. From there, the other park was about 40mi away, so we just stayed and hiked around the area for awhile. There were probably about 2 or 3 thousand thai people there, and we were the only white people. Everyone stared at us, some said some jibberish obviously about us and a group of people laughed. It was a strange experience. The waterfall was ok, just like the book said, but we found a really peaceful spot on top of the mountain and took a nap there for about an hour. Overall it was a good time and a good work-out with all the hiking...i'm starting to get into decent shape with all this walking around with a 50lb backpack and hiking up mountains.

That night we took the bus we meant to get on the day before, at 10pm. We were smart this time and grabbed our seats as soon a possible. The book said the bus was supposed to take 8 hours, so we figured we'd sleep on the bus then cross the border in the morning and save a few $ on a hotel room. But it actually took only 4 hours, and it was a really painful 4 hours. the bus had a TV and they put in a VCD of some Thai Karaoke, and it was some of the worst shit i've ever heard. Plus they let it play two times through. Then they put in X-men 2, but it was dubbed in Thai and they turned it up really loud. So I didn't get any sleep on the bus. We got to the border town at 2 in the morning, and had a tuk-tuk driver take us to a hotel. They place turned out to be the best room we've been in so far, and we were afraid théy'd rip us off on the price (we were stupid and didn't ask before accepting the room), but the next morning it turned out ok, only cost about $7.50 a night.

So first thing in the morning (this morning actually), we went to the border, got our Cambodian visas, and crossed through. We had to find a pick-up truck from the border to Siem Reap (where Ankor Wat is). It is about a 6 hour drive on what is considered to be teh bumpiest road in Cambodia, a country that is considered to have some of the worst roads in the world. So we found a pick-up, and bargained the guy to $4 per person (which we later learned was a normal price). When we got on, there were about 15 people in the the time we left the town, there would be 23 people (all cambodians), plus luggage, in the back of a small japanese pick-up truck plus about 6 or 7 people squeezed into the front cabin. At first the road wasn't too bad, but with 23 people in a space smaller than my bed it was a really tight squeeze. After about 2 hours, it was by far the bumpiest road i've ever been ass still hurts. But it was also an awesome experience. I'm really glad I did it...once. About 2/3 of the way there, the truck stopped at a small town for people to use the bathroom and buy some food...we talked to some Cambodian girls working at a food stall. They were great...and we quickly realized that Cambodians are some of the frienliest people on earth. They always have huge smiles and are extremely friendly. These girls talked to us and joked around and didn't even try to get us to buy something. I'm really glad we took this pickup though...I got to see some of the cambodian countryside up close, and it was beautiful.

After the dirt road, I was literally covered in dust. When we finally got to a hostel and I took a shower it was like mud flowing off of me...I had to wash my hair 3 times to get the dirt off. Tonight we rented bikes and rode 20km to a temple near Ankor Wat that everyone goes to watch the sunset...we didn't realize that it's practically one top of a after biking 20km we sprinted up the mountain as fast we could b/c the sun was setting fast. We got to the top panting. The sunset was absolutely beautiful, and was worth the effort. After watching it go down, meeting a few English speakers on top of the temple, and buying some overpriced water from the friendliest cambodian kids on earth, we rode back to the town in the dark. Every passing car that had cambodians would wave, smile, and shout "hello!" I've heard this gets annoying after awhile, but right now it definitely makes me smile, and it's great.

I think that about does it for the update. I'll be exploring Angkor Wat over the next couple days, then heading back to thailand (most likely not via pick-up)

Monday, January 19, 2004

So I made it to Thailand and I've been here for almost 3 days now. It's really hot here, it was rough walking around the streets of bangkok dodging hookers, tuk-tuks, and Thai midgets throwing beer. Actually, there were very few midgets throwing beer, but a lot of hookers and tuk tuks. Anyway it was hot, and I was drinking like a camel after a 6 day trek through the lower sahara.

I met up with Shaul at the airport, and we went straight to Khao San road where all the backpackers go. We found a decent hostel and took a room only to find that it was an Israeli hostel. I thought I had gotten rid of those crackheads last week, but now I was in for 2 more days of it. Literally every other person at the hostel was Israeli or Asian...the placemats and all the signs were in hebrew, it was weird. People would come up and talk to us first in Hebrew, only to realize we don't speak it and say "o, you speak english, sorry" and walk away. So we didn't make any new friends there...

The first things we did were get some cheap Pad Thai off the street (I've been eating this almost every meal) and get a massage...not a "massage" but a real massage. It was good got the oils and everything for 30min for only about $2.50.

We decided to go to the Red-light area to check it out, but it was so sketchy...much more than Amsterdam was. We walked into a strip club and 5 naked girls walk up to you, sit down and demand that you buy them a drink...this is after paying almost $10 to get in the door. We stayed for about 5 minutes and was a good lesson though, we learned that almost everything in the city is a scam.

The next day went to this big weekend market, which was pretty interesting, but we realized we'll have the same thing in China so there was really no point to go to these markets. Most anything we could buy there, we can get in China for the same price. So we decided no more markets for the rest of the trip. Plus they smell really bad b/c of all the fish stuff. From there we went to the Grand Palace which was beautiful. Everything was gold and glittery...took a lot of great pictures, and chilled in the temple for a few minutes. For lunch we had some street soup which was really sketchy. We were the only western people eating it, and all the thai people around were really surprised we were trying it. It was spicy as hell, I couldn't finish more than half of it...and I watched a Thai girl pour two huge spoonfuls of spice into hers, couldn't believe it. We were afraid the soup would give us food poisoning or some kind of illness (after we gave our bowl/spoon back the lady juse wiped them with the same dirty rag she used for every bowl and put it back on the stack), but two days later we're still ok.

That afternoon we went over to Shaul's cousin's house, who live in a beautiful neighborhood north of Bangkok. Stayed there for a few hours, swam in their pool, then went back into the city to go see some Muay Thai boxing. It was awesome...and by awesome I mean awesomely brutal. These guys really beat the shit out of each other. None of the pussy stuff we call boxing. We watched about 6 matches of the 11, and were too hungry to watch anymore...all they had to eat were snacks. So we went back to Khao San rd. and grabbed some more Pad Thai, and another massage (one of the most painful things i've ever done, Thai massage is really just about hitting every pressure point on the body, and contorting your limbs in ways they aren't supposed to be contorted) then went to sleep early.

Next day we left Bangkok for the beach...we'd had enough of this city. There were scam artists on every corner, which was incredibly annoying. We got so used to just ignoring people trying to scam us or sell us something that we were pretty rude at first to the few people that were talking to us and just being nice. So we got on a bus to Ko Samet (an island to the east), which took about 5 here and it's been great. We just chilled on the beach and at a bar last night. The only bad thing is the mosquitoes, but we have a mosquito net over the bed. So that's what I'm up to now, just chilling out by the beach and hiking around this island. Next we're heading over to cambodia for Angkor Wat either tomorrow or the next day.

Friday, January 16, 2004

I left Israel last night, or this morning rather. I didn't go to the wedding because I got food poisoning from eating some bad cream cookies two nights ago. My stomach was killing me all day, and I threw up three times. But after about 6 hours I felt better again. Hopefully that's the only food poisoning I have to deal with on this trip. It was pretty bad, but it could have been much worse. Luckily I was better before I had to fly.

So right now I'm safely in Addis, actually did get to go out of the airport and didn't have to sit there the whole day. Ethiopian Airlines gave everyone with a long layover a hotel room in the city, so I've been hanging out with a couple of Israelis and a guy from India at the hotel. The one israeli is about 60 and horny as hell...all he talks about are the hookers in Thailand and asks everyone where to find the working girls in Addis. As soon as we got to the hotel he started hitting on a group of cleaning ladies. Definitely a character. The girls here are really beautiful though.

We all got a cab and took a tour around the city for an hour for only $5. It's a pretty crazy city...there are some nice buildings but a block away from the nice areas are shanty towns. We drove through the market, which the guide said is the largest market in africa. I took a few pictures, but they were all from inside the cab, so they didn't come out too well. This is definitely the poorest city i've ever been to...there were people herding donkeys through crowded streets and busy intersections and I saw a guy dragging a pet monkey along on a leash. Everywhere I look there are people sitting around seemingly doing nothing. Seeing the city was definitely an experience, and I'm glad I got to take a short tour.

Thursday, January 15, 2004

Been hanging out in Kfar Saba with Eitan and his friends for the last couple days. It's been a good time, but nothing really eventful has happened. I was invited to his friend's brother's wedding tonight, but i'm not sure if I'll be able to go because my flight to Thailand is at 6:30 tomorrow morning in tel aviv. For the weddings here, instead of spending lots of money on a hotel and catering, they just invite the whole community and buy massive amounts of alcohol. The families invited about 2000 people and bought 400 cases of beer plus a lot of hard alcohol. Mostly, I want to go just to see all the Ethiopian shoulder dancing.

After 3 weeks in Israel, I'm a little sad to leave, but I did pretty much everything I wanted to do. Met a lot of new and interesting people and visited a lot of old friends. I think I'm ready to go though, and definitely ready for some warmer weather (90 degrees in Bangkok!). Also, I might try and leave the airport during my 10 hour layover in Addis. Not sure what i'll do with that time, maybe just wander around the city taking pictures.

Right now, our plan in Thailand is to stay in Bangkok for a couple days, then head by bus or train to Cambodia to visit Angkor Wat, stay there for 3 days, then either goto Thailand's islands or up up north to the mountains, but hopefully do both. As for Vietnam, I have no idea what i'm going to do there. I've talked to about 10 people who told me places to go in Thailand, and only one person who went to Vietnam. He basically told me not to go there because they're all theives. But I'm keeping my mind open.

Tuesday, January 13, 2004

The last few days since I updated this have been great. It's been awesome travelling around, meeting up with friends, and making my schedule as I go along. In Kfar Saba I spent the day hanging out with Eitan and a few of his friends. I ate a goose liver wrap for dinner. It was the first time I've had goose liver, and the text/taste was about what i expected, like slimy mushrooms. We went to play pool, and I kicked their ass repeatedly. Then hung out drinking for most of the night.

In the morning Eitan drove me to Haifa to meet up with Roy and Ofir. It was great to see them...the last time i saw them was 3 years ago in Poland, and it was only for about 30minutes. Now they're both in the Army and in a completely different world than me. Ofir could only stay for lunch, because he had to get back to his base that day. We talked a lot about what they do in the army, and what i'm doing in college. It's still very strange to think that everyone my age here is serving in the army. When I met some of Roy's friends later, they asked a lot of questions about American college and said how they envy Americans for being able to go to college after high school and party a lot like they see in the movies. Every Israeli I've met can't wait to go travelling around the world. One of Roy's friends described it by saying that three years in the army here is like 10 years in real life, and after you get out of the army you just have to leave the country and decompress. Even the ones who have been travelling have all kinds of plans for the next place they're going to go. Most of them can't wait to leave the country, and several of them didn't understand why i would ever want to come here to visit and warned me not to move here. A few people have said how young I look for my age, and that it's probably because I wasn't in the army.

The night in Haifa we went to a Kibbutz where they had a dance club. It was 30 shekels to get in (about $7) and free drinks all night, my cheapest night so far. I took my first ever shot of absinthe (it was disgusting), and we danced until about 4:30 in the morning. I think I was one of the only Americans there since i didn't hear any english. It was a lot of fun, I danced a lot after a few drinks and after I realized that a lot of the people were as bad as I was, and took some time to just sit back and watch the crazy israelis dance. A lot of the music was a mix of american rap, techno, and hebrew pop. I stayed in Roy's apartment and the next day took a bus to Jerusalem to meet up with an old friend from high school who moved to israel. Roy signed on for 6 years in the army, and as I left he said how much he wishes he could come travel with me.

In Jerusalem we went to the mall, which was definitely the most crowded mall I've ever seen. The whole mall was just a big mass of people on all three floors, and it was a pretty big mall. Apparently Israelis all go to the mall on saturday night. I hate malls as it is, and with all the people around I was pretty miserable. That night we went to a dance club in jerusalem that turned out to be filled with Americans. Actually saw someone I knew from my school who i didn't know was in israel. There was a huge difference in the clubs, with the israelis, everyone actually dances with each other. At this club, all the americans were just grinding on each other and making out in the was like a frat party with a decent DJ and a few guys running around wearing kipahs. We danced until about 3am and went back. It was a fun time, and it was interesting to see an old friend from home now living in israel with israeli friends and speaking hebrew fluently.

The next day I met up with my 2nd cousin Matt who is now studying at a yeshiva in about 100meters from the Western Wall and lives in the Old City. I'd never talked to him before for more than about 10 minutes at family event, but I met him by the yeshiva and we just talked all day about religion, philosophy, god, israel, travelling, and pretty much everything else. He got me to do a little jewish learning which was interesting, but there isn't much you can get into in a day. In the night we watched a procession of Big-Shots from America being shown israel by the Yeshiva that Matt studies at. They set up a band in the street and had a bunch of little kids holding torches then led them through the little kids and everyone broke into Jewish dancing (boy separate from girls of course). I was told there were a bunch of senators and powerful defense industry people in the group. I didn't recognize anyone though.

I stayed in Matt's apartment that night and the next day (yesterday) woke up to try and go cash an Israel bond at a bank in Jerusalem. I went to at least 5 different banks, and they all said to go somewhere else, and the last bank said to go to a bank I had already been to, so I just gave up. Spent about 2 hours walking around in the freezing rain trying to do something that's supposed to be pretty simple, but the banks were about as unhelpful as possible. When I went to eat a falafel for lunch, I heard two girls behind me in line say something about harrisburg and they turned out to be friends with my sister so I ate lunch with them...small world. Later Eitan met me in the Old City, and we spent the day walking around, drinking coffee, and seeing some of the sites. I saw a friend from my trip at the western wall. An old religious man got me to put on tefillin and say the shma, and offered me some words of wisdom about only doing things that are practical in life. At the end, when he took out the tefillin he said but all you really have to remember this is this one thing, and it's the most important, "Marry a Jewish girl!" and gave me a business card says "To unravel the spiritual mystery of mysteries" visit So if anyone wants to start the unravelling, check it out. Later we met up with some friends from my college who happened to be eating dinner about a block away from where I called them (it was actually where we were about to go to dinner so I would have seen them by chance anyway). Overall, yesterday I randomly ran into 5 people I knew just hanging out in jerusalem.

The last bus back to Eitan's home was at 8:30, and he was about to catch a cab at 7:45 to the bus station when I decided to go back to Kfar Saba with him. I didn't really have anything to do in Jerusalem that night except hang out with my cousin and even less to do the next day except futilly (is that a word?) try to get this bond cashed we took the cab back to the old city, picked up my stuff from my cousin's apartment, and ended up missing the bus at we took a bus to tel aviv and from there a bus to Kfar Saba. We went all that way, and the bus literally let us off across street from Eitan's apartment at about 11:15. We grabbed some dinner, then went to Ariel where a few of Eitans friends go to college. Ariel one of the largest settlements in the west bank and about a 20 minute drive from Kfar Saba. It was pretty funny, because on the way we saw a sign for Jerusalem - 37km. Which means we rode a bus about an hour from jerusalem to tel aviv, then another bus about an hour from tel aviv to kfar saba and drove to a place about 30 minutes from jerusalem...spent hours riding in a big circle.

Even at night I could tell the settlement was huge, probably close to the size of harrisburg. It puts a lot of the settlement stuff in the news into perspective. We hung out at his friends college drinking and joking around until 6 in the morning. Went to sleep well after the sunrise, it was a great time...learned a lot of good hebrew words. This morning on the way back Eitan showed me the security fence/wall between israel and the west bank. I took a few pictures from far away. The wall is only a 2 minute drive from eitan's house.

By the way, just uploaded 50 more pictures to the israel album, put the old ones in order, and added descriptions to a lot of them.

Thursday, January 08, 2004

After way too much effort, I was able to get my camera to connect to the computer and i uploaded all my pictures. Click here to see my pictures from israel. Some of it is out of order, but if you look at the number of the picture, that is the order it should be in. Enjoy.

So I finally have some time to update this. I felt really bad about that post from last week being up for so long without me updating anything, because once the actual trip started things got a lot better. That convention just sucked, and most of the people that were there agreed. It was basically a brainwashing progran, but some of the speakers were pretty interesting and after talking to some other people on the program we realized that the organizers of this convention were probably paying a large portion of the costs of our trip overall. So when I look at it from the perspective that they're potentially paying thousands of dollars for me, it wasn't such a bad thing.

After the convention we started visiting a lot of companies and college campuses around israel. The college visits overall were terrible, they just told us about the school and took us on a bad tour around the campus. For instance, at Technion, basically the MIT of israel, instead of showing us a lab or some research they are doing, they spent about an hour telling us the history of the university, another hour talking about israel's economy, and another hour taking us to the campus swimming pool and the campus gym. But the gym was pretty funny, the people looked like they were right out of an 80s music video. At the Weitzman Institute, the tour consisted of a guided visit to Weitzman's house.

On the trip we also heard a lot of different lectures about israel's economy that were all really the same lecture repeated. I have heard the history of israel's economy and the exact reasons for israel's tech boom about 6 different times. By far, the most interesting speakers were the venture capitalists, probably because they are ones dealing with the companies in israel and know first hand what the problems with the economy are and what needs to be done.

Over thursday, friday, and saturday we stayed at a kibbutz Ein Gev, which is located on the eastern shore of the Kineret. It was beatiful there, with the Golan Heights on one side and the lake on the other. I got some amazing pictures of the sunset...I wish I could upload the pictures from my camera, but the connection is not working. At the kibbutz all the 4 groups of 90 people were together again. It was much better this time though, because friday we did tourist stuff. We could choose which place we wanted to go, and i chose to go the golan heights and visit a winery there. We went to the top of a mountain near the syrian border, and a guide told us about the Six Day War, Yom Kippur War, and israel's relationship with Syria. I'd hear most of it before on other trips, but I still find it all really interesting and enjoyed hearing the stories again. Later we went to the Golan Winery which makes Yarden wine. After a tour of the winery, we did some wine tasting where they gave us all 3 different glasses of wine and let us keep the wine glass as a souvenir. I actually got kind of drunk off it because it was about 2pm at this point and i hadn't had anything to eat yet.

Friday night and saturday were shabbat and everyone just hung out and went to services. On saturday i went to a little discussion group entitled "what does it mean to be the chosen people," which started out interesting but just devolved into a large argument about what the word "chosen" really means. Then saturday night we went to some hot springs in the northeast, but I came down with a pretty wicked cold (along with about 90% of the rest of the people on the trip) and it was really cold out so I just hung out in the warmth.

Sunday the regular business and Tech. trip started again, I think that day I went to the Naot factory on, which is on a kibbutz...there we took a tour of the factory then everyone bought a bunch of shoes at half price. The factory looked and smelled just like I would expect a shoe factory to look and smell...the tour guide pointed out how happy all the workers look and he said it's because the sniff the glue all day long. they didn't let us take pictures, but it wasn't all that cool. The guide, who was a member of the kibbutz, talked about how the kibbutz is dying because no new members are coming in, and they don't know what they're going to do with the shoe factory. I think Naot shoes would be a lot more popular if they were better marketed in the US, they are the most comfortable shoes/sandals i've ever worn. but they are really expensive because the company refuses to export the labor to China or another 3rd world country, and they are largely hand-made. Since they're a kibbutz, they're not as interested in maximizing profit, just in making enough money to survive.

Monday and tuesday we stayed in Tel Aviv, but had no freedom whatsoever. For instance, monday night we were allowed to go to a bar which was only a block away from our hotel but we had to walk together as group there and back...they wouldn't let us walk a block alone or would they let us use the payphone right outside the hotel, because that would be leaving the hotel...and of course it costs $1 to make a 1-800 call from the phones in our hotel rooms.

By far the coolest company we visited was a company called Biosense-Webster. They make catheters that let cardiologists create a 3-d image of your heart and help in treating arrythmia. They demonstrated how it works and showed us their manufacturing room.

Overall, the trip had a lot of problems, but it was worthwhile. I'd say about a quarter of it was really good, half was ok, and a quarter was a waste of time. Probably the biggest problem for me is that right when i started getting to know some of the people in the group, the trip ended. So i didn't get a chance to really get to know most of the people i was travelling with. I didn't even know half the people's names in the end.

After the program was over, I met up with my camp friends Eitan and Gilad. We hung out all night in tel aviv and now i'm at eitan's house writing this...i've spent the last few hours on the internet catching up on e-mail, writing this entry, and trying to get my camera to connect to his computer. Tomorrow i'm meeting up with another camp friend in Haifa, then i should be going to Jerusalem again for a few days.

Monday, January 05, 2004

well i was told by my mom that my last post was not so upbeat. This one will be a little more upbeat. I haven't had access to the internet in about a week now because this program is really strict about not letting us leave the group. After the convention was over, things got a lot better overall...we've visited a lot of cool companies and done some interesting things...I don't have time to write about it now (there are people behind me waiting to use this computer), but things are a lot better overall. I should be able to write a lot more in two days when this program is finally over. just wanted to put this up to say that it has gotten a lot better.

So look for a really long post either wednesday or thursday.