Israeli flags along the esplanade.
June 2, 2006
Next Stop: Eilat, Israel.
Means of Transportation: Overnight bus from Cairo to Taba and then walking across the Israeli border.
Concerns: The length of time at the Israeli border crossing due to the Lebanese and Syrian stamps in my passport.
Minor setbacks: Arriving on Shavuot – a Jewish holiday that lasts for a couple days. There would be no bus service
anywhere in the country. Instead of heading straight up to Tel Aviv, I would be spending the night in Eilat.
And now about my trip heading into Israel…
When loading my bags into the bus, I noticed one of the only other non-Egyptian travelers that would be heading through
the Sinai. I immediately started chatting it up with him and knew that we would be figuring out this process together. His
name was Duko and he was from Amsterdam. As luck would have it, Duko and I were neighbors on the bus. Talking to him
was great and before long I was sharing my decadent piece of chocolate cake with him. I don’t think he quite knows how big
of an honor this was.
Anyway, I informed Duko that we might have an issue with the transportation in Eilat due to the holiday. We both would
be eventually heading to Tel Aviv: he would be visiting his boyfriend and I would be visiting my cousins. We each now had
a travel buddy for the bus ride and up to the point that we would reach Tel Aviv.
At roughly 1 a.m. our bus made a stop: a normal procedure on night buses as they stop every now and again for bathroom
breaks. But this was getting to be a long break. I was then awaken by a guy motioning to me I should get off the bus.
Turned out this wasn’t a bathroom break; the bus had broken down. For about an hour, roughly twenty of us stood on the
side of an Egyptian highway somewhere in the desert waiting for another bus that would have room for us. At 2 a.m. our
prayers were answered and along came our ride.
It wasn’t long before I realized that Egypt had actually given me a ‘parting gift’ of sorts. This was not the type of gift that
anybody hopes for. The problem was that it was only a matter of time before it would happen. I was believing that I (and
my stomach) were invincible to any Egyptian food that came our way. I have now learned my lesson: I am not stronger
than Egyptian bacteria. But in the meantime, an overnight bus is not the best place to discover this ‘gift’.
Our bus pulled into Taba at around 6 a.m. In the very true-to-Egypt way, we were asked to give Egyptian pounds for
several different things. Normally, I would question it. But at this point, I was just seeing this as a reason to be more
excited about crossing the border into Israel. I handed over my Egyptian pounds viewing it as my ticket out of their
We walked for a minute and one difference stood out right away: Hebrew characters. While I didn’t retain much of the
Hebrew that I learned when I was younger, it was still nice seeing a language that was a bit more familiar to me than
I had heard mixed things about getting across the border. I had heard from a couple people that it took them six hours
while everything was pulled out of their bags. Much of this was also due to certain stamps in their passports. Stamps that I
also possessed. A cousin had also apologized in advance for the hassles I would encounter at the border due to the countries
I had visited prior. I was prepared for at least four hours here.
I made it through the first two guys with flying colors. Now it was time for the x-ray machine. They didn’t pull apart my
luggage but they had me go into a private room where I got a full body rub down. There were also three normally dressed
guys who were sitting on the side. Duko had a hunch that these guys were experts in figuring out body language, etc. The
only thing they would have been able to read from my body language was “I’m just happy to be here.” (On a sidenote, we
would later see these guys on the other side of passport control hanging outside with huge guns.)
Now it was time to go up to the counter to get my passport stamped. Or, as I would request, a separate piece of paper
stamped. I got questioned about Syria. She wanted specific dates which is quite difficult when I have been going from place
to place to place for over a month now. About 95% of the time I can’t even tell you what day of the week it is. In any case,
my answer must have passed the test. I was asked my reason for visiting Israel (‘seeing relatives’), reason for going to
Syria (‘traveling overland from Lebanon to Jordan’) and if I planned to go to the Palestinian Territories (‘no’). I was then
told to take a seat while she held onto my passport. Minutes later an official-looking woman said my name. As Duko said, it
was as if she was a teacher and I was a student that was being scolded. I smiled and said “Yes?” She asked me two
questions. She wanted to know my religion and my parents’ names. I gladly gave her this information. She now knew that I
was one of the Chosen People. And in a couple minutes, she came back with a smile and told me my passport was ready for
me. Entrance has been granted…and it only took about 25-30 minutes of my time.