in Jerusalem, with a sign to hitchhike to “Eilat”
Checkpoint into Jerusalem from Ramallah
Muhammad al-Amin Mosque in Beirut, Lebanon
Umayyad Mosque in Syria
Streets of Damascus
Girls school in Syria
LEBANON (Beirut, Byblos, Tripoli)
I had bought a one-way ticket to Beirut, Lebanon a few days before I decided to go on this journey. I traveled with three other friends to Lebanon. We arrived Friday afternoon (Juma’). As soon as we got to our hostel, we threw our bags down and headed out. We saw the American University of Beirut. It was gorgeous. I kind of wished I were studying there instead of in Cairo. AUB is located in the middle of the city rather than in the middle of the desert. We had nutella and strawberry with nuts crepes across from the University. They were the best crepes I’ve had thus far.
We walked along the Cornishe. We saw Muhammad al-Amin Mosque. It had a beautiful blue dome that matched the sky at sunset. It looked like the sister of the Blue Mosque in Istanbul, Turkey. We also went inside St. George’s Cathedral and the Maronite Cathedral. I noticed how there were mosques right along side churches.
Then we took a cab to see the National Museum of Beirut. It was a well-kept and clean museum with some great artifacts from the medieval Mamluk period. Some of the artifacts had to be restored, while some got damaged from the 1975 Lebanese Civil War.
Walking around the city, we noticed how some buildings and walls still had bullet holes in them from the Civil War. There was lots of graffiti artwork on walls too, with statements like “Free Palestine” and other social justice statements. I liked the use of these walls for self-expression. Some statements were creative and funny, like “We Came, We Drew, We Ran” and “Homeless peeing site.”
We went back to the hotel, took a two-hour nap and got ready to go out again. We walked around and fell into an area that looked very much European. We had dinner and then went lounge hopping. “Public Display of Affection” was visible in some of these places; a bit opposite in Cairo.
We went back to our hostel, slept and woke up early to try and find transportation to Tripoli. We were going to take a bus straight to Tripoli until the cab driver told us we should visit Byblos, and since we were not following any real schedule, we went first to Byblos. This was a great idea. Byblos is the oldest continuously inhabited city in the world. We visited the Byblos Castle, which was beautiful. Walking towards the back, we could view the Mediterranean Sea. I felt like I could just live there; it was so peaceful.
From Byblos, we walked a few miles trying to figure out where the buses were to possibly take us to Tripoli. We walked along some highway until a bus slowed down for us so we could hop on. When I asked him if it was going to Tripoli, he said no and sped off. Then we thought other buses would come here and just pick us up along the way. We got lucky, the next bus to slow down for us was the right one.
We arrived into Tripoli, found a hostel, threw our bags down and went out. We found a marketplace that was about to close. A guy found us roaming and led us into where the manufacture soaps. We went inside his shop and found soaps of every possible kind, from lavender to vanilla. It was a Bath and Body Works of its own. We walked around looking for a place to eat and fell upon a local café. The jungle was the décor. We could barely find any females at this place, except wives of husbands. We played cards like the rest of the locals, drank tea and smoked shisha.
The next morning, we went in circles trying to find a bus to go to Syria. Eventually, we found one where some interesting individuals boarded the bus. One guy was bringing in his motorcycle, which he was able to put inside the back of the bus. Another married couple was bringing sacs of plants with them. The bus smelled like smoke and was broken down. My friend sitting next to me had to hold up the broken seat in front of her in which a man was already sitting on. In other words, she was holding him. Goodbye Lebanon, we were about to enter Syria.
SYRIA (Aleppo, Damascus)
The man in charge of the bus collected everyone’s ID cards and visas. Us travelers, didn’t have any visas. The guy dropped us off and the bus continued into Syria. We were to realize later that we wouldn’t get any refunds on the bus tickets we paid for.
Now, we were at the border trying to figure out what the guy was saying. His Arabic was nowhere close to the Egyptian Arabic we knew. He told us to wait, so we did, for three hours. We were waiting for Damascus to approve our visas. Finally, we got the OK. We wrote down our information on some blank pieces of unofficial white paper. He asked us how we were getting into Syria, wherever we were going. We had no idea. He found some bus driver willing to take us and so we paid the guy and got on.
This was by far the sketchiest man to be in charge of a bus. He was pulled over a few times by the police, and by looking through a rear-view mirror since I was sitting in the front, he would chat with the police, pay them sometimes and continued our journey. The bus ride was a good couple of hours. We arrived into Aleppo at night and tried finding a hostel to crash at.
The first place we went to was charging us too much, so we walked around some more and found a cheaper hostel. We were exhausted by then and just wanted to eat. We went into a local café a block away and ordered some food. This place was crowded. My two girlfriends were talking amongst themselves while John (our only male traveler with us) happened to be scouting the room with me. His eyes fell upon the table next to us, and the whiskey they were drinking. Whiskey being consumed openly in a Syrian café? This is interesting, we thought. John, being a white guy was the center of attention for these Syrian guys whom they invited over. The next thing we knew, they were feeding John fruit and whiskey and had the waiter send us fruit and drinks. We could not believe how friendly these guys were. My girlfriends had decided to meet up a friend they had bumped into while we were walking around looking for a hostel to crash at. I was supposed to stay back and watch our friend John. This was going to be an interesting night. I joined these Syrian guys. I had learned that one of the guys had married a Pakistan woman, play underground poker (in which they would postpone for tomorrow night since they had met us) and wanted to know where we were staying. Because tipsy John could not remember where we staying, they did not find out. I finally convinced John to end our night with these guys to meet up our friends at the Citadel. The Citadel was lit up with purples, blues and reds. There were friends and families walking about around the Citadel and enjoying shisha and tea at some local restaurants. The air was chilly so we ordered some warm shai bil-leban (tea with milk). We went back to our hostel and knocked out.
We agreed to wake up early at 7am to have breakfast and visit the Citadel. Thinking there was a time difference, we ended up waking an hour earlier. Nothing was really open at 6am to eat except for a man who was setting up his equipment to make break. My two girlfriends needed change to buy some bread, so they went to a local pharmacy. John and I waited by the man who had asked me if I wanted to visit a school. I thought sure, that would be amazing. He told his friend who took me down the road to an all-girls school. I was introduced to five to six female teachers and the headmaster. They offered me tea and bread. After learning I spoke English, the teachers wanted to practice their English with me, except only about two knew it. My girlfriends were taken to where I was and we had a good hour learning about these women and the school. While we were sitting in the teachers’ room, some of the girls would peek in to look at us and wave. As we waved back, more of the girls would get their friends to come and wave to us. They took us on a tour of the dozen classrooms they had. Not all the girls wore hijaabs, which was interesting. Almost all wore navy blue uniforms with white hijaabs. We toured classrooms where the girls learned about computers, history and math. As we said goodbye to the teachers, we found out that John had to wait outside because he was a boy. We found the boys school as we walked to the Citadel.
We were the first ones to enter the Citadel for the day. It was starting to get warm and we were slowly finding some great spots to view the city. We reached the top and the view was breath taking. You can see a blending of grays, whites and browns. It was simple, yet beautiful. We spent a few hours there until we realized that the local schoolboys came to the Citadel for recess time. They ran around for their physical education. I was entirely jealous that this historical Citadel was their playground.
We exited the Citadel and walked into the market place just a few blocks away. The silk scarves I discovered there were incredibly beautiful. I’ve never seen scarves like this anywhere. They were in a million different colors, styles, patterns and shapes. I bought a bunch, but regret not buying more. It only gives me more reasons to go back to Syria.
That afternoon, we decided to buy train tickets to Damascus, as that would be the easiest way to commute there. Our train was scheduled to leave around 5:30pm and so my girlfriends decided to experience an Ottoman period hammam while John would visit the mosque there. I’ve never been bathed by a Syrian lady before, but this is how it went. We were to undress and wrap ourselves with the towels she gave us. One by one, we were to go to this small room where we would lay down and she would scrub and wash our skin. This was my shower number two since the beginning of my trip. There was a pool of very warm water she wanted us to get into that was a bit gross, but we got in and forgot about wondering when the last time the water had been changed or cleaned. We went back to our saloon where we rested until the lady that washed us came over and insisted she have my friends undergarment. My friends and I looked at each other to figure out if she was actually serious, and she was. We said no and kept a better eye on our things. Her mother brought us some jasmine tea and I thought how great it would be to live like this everyday. However, it was only the upper-class women that lived like this during the Ottoman and Mamluk period.
We walked back to the train station to board the train to Damascus. The train ride was about four hours. We passed through the fields, where families had cattle, sheep and other animals. Little boys would be in charge of directing their animals around the fields; it was adorable. We finally got off the train to take a local bus to the main center of Damascus. We found a very nice man at a hostel where we stayed. He helped us arrange a cab ride to Jordan a couple days later.
We threw our bags down in our rooms, and went out to look for a café. We found one in the middle of some street; another hole in the wall café with some great food and shisha. Our waiter seemed to have some sarcasm. In the end, we found out he was a creeper too who decided to feel up my friend after he insisted he take pictures with all of us (individually). We headed back to our hostel after buying a box of sweets from the street and decided to eat them in bed.
The next morning, we heading over to the souk (market) and got lost in all the things you could buy there. This was Khan-el-Khalili (at its best, minus the hagglers). The concept was simple, buy what you want without being hassled or verbally assaulted. There were tons of markets neatly placed in rows, to buy anything from candy, clothes, soap to appliances and other items for your home. We ate a local café in the middle of the shops. We had hummus, falafels, rice and chicken. We visited churches, mosques and a boy with an orange-dyed chick. He was selling it to us for one American dollar. We were this close to buying it until we realized we’re traveling solo with backpacks.
We were looking for the notorious Umayyad Mosque until we got lost and a boy helped to take us there. It was majestic. This was and still is the largest and oldest mosque in the world, with it being built by year 715. We stood in line to buy tickets to enter the mosque. The guy asked me where I was from, and I said Pakistan. He let me pay close to $1 where my friends had to pay an equivalent of $10. We went inside and as a man thought we were some professional photographers, let us inside through where the men were. I did not realize this until we were in the middle of the room and there were no women to be found on our side.
After the mosque, we headed back to the souk since we could not get enough of it. My friends bought some local artwork and I found a genuine Syrian bag to carry all the souvenirs I could not help, but buy. It was close to dinnertime and we found a local restaurant that had live Sufi music and performers. We ordered the usual and left when we were falling asleep on the cushions. Since John wanted to stay longer in Syria and fly back to Cairo from there, we left him behind and continued on our trip. We were not sure if it was safe to travel solo as three girls, but we decided to go through with it. We put rings on our left ring fingers and went to bed.
JORDAN (Amman, Petra)
We woke up around 4am to take a cab (arranged by the guy at the hotel) into Jordan. He was kind enough to help us get our visas at the border. We passed through Amman, found it to be a very small city and decided to go straight to Petra. Each visa cost us 10 dinars (equivalent to about 14 dollars). Jordan was the most expensive Arab country to visit. We took a bus from Amman to Petra and stayed at the first hostel where the bus dropped us off. It was 5 dinars per person. However, we had no hot water, no soap, our bed sheets and pillows smelled, there was no heat, and the wall we shared with our next-door neighbor had a small glass window in which whoever wanted, could peek through. We couldn’t do much except continue with our plans to visit Petra. We got there around 3pm.
To enter Petra for the day, it cost us about sixty American dollars. It did not make a difference to them if we were students or entering for a few hours since it was closing at 6pm. We sucked it up and paid them. As all the tourists were exiting, we were entering. We realized that we were the only ones walking around deeper into the place. It was getting dark and I was getting restless. We climbed and hiked through for hours and met a nice Palestinian family to walk back with in the dark. They had come to Petra for vacation. The little boy thought it was funny to hide behind some rocks and wait for us until we got closer to scare us. He got us pretty good a few times.
We were exhausted and hungry so walked a bit away from the tourists spots to eat at a local café. We found one, ordered food and then had to argue with the guy in Arabic because he tried overcharging us for food. This was the first time some guy wanted to take advantage of us because we were tourists (one of my girlfriends has blonde hair). I argued with him until he realized that I knew Arabic and knew what he was up to.
After dinner we found an internet café. We sent some emails to our families telling them we were okay. I decided to leave out the detail we were heading over to Israel in the morning. We took a cab back to our hostel, turned our lights off and slept under one blanket, hoping our neighbor wasn’t watching us from the window he could peek through.
We woke up early in the morning to take a bus to Israel.
ISRAEL and PALESTINE (Eilat, Tel Aviv, Jerusalem, Ramallah)
My friends I had guessed that it might be an issue for me to enter Israel for many different reasons. The reason the Israeli security picked that morning was my ten-year valid Pakistani visa. My friends were to go first, and they passed through security screenings without any questions. As soon as I put my bag on the belt to be screened, the female Israeli security guard asked for my password and automatically told me to pick up my bags and to come with her for further questioning. I could see my friends pick up their bags as well and sat on the chairs while she questioned me. First question, what is my grandfather’s first name. I had no idea what it was. Mainly, I couldn’t remember from my mother’s side because I always called him “nana”. And from my father’s, side I never got the chance to meet him because he passed away before I was born. My response was, “I don’t know.” Second question, “What holidays do you celebrate?” I quickly said, “Eid,” then preceded to say “Christmas.” She cut me off and asked me why I celebrated Christmas if I am Muslim. I said because my sister and I grew up celebrating all these holidays culturally in New York, a melting pot of all religions and cultures. The lady asked me where I was coming from, where I was going, and I had gotten all these places mixed up because since the beginning of the trip, it’s been a blur. I can only remember buses and images of where I’ve been, not in the same order. I said I’m coming from Aleppo (completely forgetting Jordan). I looked at my friend and she mouthed to me, Petra. Because of my bad memory, I probably would not have gotten into Israel, with the guards thinking my friends and I were creating stories.
Then she asked me what I wanted to do here, what classes I’m taking at American University in Cairo. I left out the fact that I was taking Arabic so it would not be more difficult for me. She asked me why I wasn’t taking Arabic, so I told her how the language is completely different and it would just be too hard for me.
She told me to come with her for further questioning. I went into a small room with another guard. Another female office asked for my email address, and not even thinking about giving her my spam one, I gave her my real one. Then, she asked me again if I knew my grandfather’s first name and I said, “You know what, it’s probably Muhammad because every other Muslim man is called Muhammad.” She laughed. I eased the tension a little bit. She continued to ask me questions, like what I did in Pakistan, if I keep in touch with anyone from there, if I know anyone in Israel, etc. I was treated as a potential terrorist. I guess we all are potential terrorists anyway, except some don’t get interrogated the same way as others.
She made me sit outside. Then came back outside and asked me one question, if I was sure I didn’t know anyone in Israel. I said no and she went back inside. I did not know what to make of this. What if I wasn’t allowed into Israel? How was I going to get home from here? What about my friends? I would ruin their trip.
While waiting, my friend had met some guy who traveled to Iraq and he was waiting just like me. A few hours passed by and he finally got his visa. This made my friends and I happy. If he got in with an Iraqi stamp on his passport, I was sure to get in with my Pakistani visa, right? My friends had made reservations to go swimming with the dolphins in Eilat but with my situation, they would miss it. So we decided that one of my girlfriends go with the guy who went to Iraq to swim with the dolphins while my other friend waited with me. About 45 minutes later, I got in. I was relieved.
We took a cab to Eilat and decided to look for a hostel to crash in. Unfortunately, we were in a vacation spot for some rich Israelis. We could not find any hostel or hotel room that wasn’t expensive. We weren’t sure what to do except wait until we met up with our friends. The only thing we could think of was go into Tel Aviv and find something there. We took a long bus ride to Tel Aviv. It was about 1:30am when we arrived.
We found a hotel, but soon realized he was only offering us to stay if we paid per hour. That was too creepy for us so we started walking the streets of Tel Aviv. I had forgotten we were in Tel Aviv until I asked my friend. Once she confirmed what city we were in, I told them I had a friend here; a friend I had met two years ago at the Three Dot Dash Peace Summit. I called her, and no one picked up. When I called again, she finally picked up. I told her we just got to Tel Aviv and we didn’t have a place to stay. She was kind enough to let us crash at her place. We met her beautiful family.
I took my fourth shower in this entire journey at her place. Her family had made us such a wonderful breakfast. We were too amazed at this hospitality. Stranded in a city, here was a family treating us like their own. I had met her two years ago and she let my friends and I stay at her place. It was kindness we hadn’t seen in a very long time. I am thankful to have met her and her family. Her aunt gave us presents. She reminded me of my own aunt because she looked like her and had her kind personality. We didn’t bring any presents with us, but gave her family some silk scarves and some artwork my friend and I bought in Damascus. They loved them. Her mom wants to go to Syria, but because they have Israeli passports, is not allowed into Syria. This was the least we could do for her.
We left her house and took a bus to Jerusalem. When we went to an internet café in Jordan, we had made reservations at a hostel in Jerusalem for the night. We realized it was good to book something for the weekend since it was Easter weekend and there would be a lot of people completing the pilgrimage in Jerusalem. We got to the hostel and found out that our reservation did not exist. Though, he offered us mattresses in the lobby with six other British staying with us. We left our bags in the lobby and decided to walk around the Old City.
The Old City was crowded with hundreds of people. We got lucky since hundreds of people were not being let in or were blocked off by Israeli security guards. There were just way too many people in the Old City. We followed Jesus’ trail into various churches. We visited the Wailing Wall and tried to enter the Dome of the Rock, the third holiest city in the world for Muslims. Tourists are allowed to visit this mosque in the mornings, but not during any other time of the day. I was able to get in because I am Muslim, so made it in time for Maghrib prayer.
I had met a family walking to the Dome of the Rock and al-Aqsa mosque. They were going to take me with them inside while my friends waited outside. The Israeli guard asked me if I was Muslim. I said yes. He asked me if I was American as well, and I responded yes again. He told me to step aside. He yelled at the family that was waiting for me until another Arab soldier guarding inside told his fellow Israeli soldier that he would take care of me. The Arab soldier further questioned me. He asked me what I came to the mosque for, which namaz I came to pray, and where I was originally from. He finally let me in after looking at my American passport. The family ended up waiting for me a little further down, despite being yelled by the Israeli soldier. The daughter took me to the bathroom for ablution and sat next to me during prayer. After I was done, she walked me back then returned to her family.
My friends and I met up outside. We continued to walk through the Old City alleyways. There are four quarters in the Old City; the Jewish Quarter, Christian Quarter, Muslim Quarter and Armenian Quarter. It’s a small area that is closed off by a wall built around it. There are vendors packed side by side selling touristy things as well as families living above the shops and in the further end parts of the Old City, still within the walls. There are many Muslim families we met living in the Old City. I didn’t know they could live there, but they do. We walked around until we realized we were lost and didn’t know where our hostel was. We were staying somewhere right outside the walls. We finally exited and got to our hostel lobby; where we were staying for the night.
My friends knocked out on the couches of the lobby since we wouldn’t be getting our mattresses until 10pm when “lights went out”. I had to make a phone call to the States to confirm my internship placement for the summer in Washington D.C. It was necessary I called my advisor that night so I had bought a phone card from the bus station in Eilat. I had spotted some pay phones as we walked back to our hostel. I went out to the pay phones and realized they were broken. I asked some people and they told me to walk around. I went to a good couple of places, but the pay phones were broken because according to some local, some violence that had taken place a few days ago. I was getting frustrated. When I finally did find a pay phone, the phone card was not working. Some locals had seen me frustrated and a man had offered me his cell phone to use. I was so thankful. I made a quick phone call and as soon as I was done, I offered him my shekals. He refused to take any money from me, and at that point I realized how some humanity still existed in some of the roughest places.
I went back to my hostel and our mattresses had arrived. My friends and I threw our bags on the mattresses to claim them. We fell asleep, except since I was the only one who wasn’t wearing earplugs, woke up to some loud Brits walking in at 3am. They started to have a pillow-fight. I was beyond annoyed that I gave them a look and they finally went to sleep. I woke up in the middle of the night to a Brit without his shirt on. Fantastic, I thought. Some hours later, I woke up again to about a dozen or so guests enjoying their free coffee and breakfast right on above of our mattresses. That was not at all awkward. We got our bags and left. The only reservation we had in Jersusalem was for the coming night inside the Old City. It was a Swedish hostel and the owners were very kind. They gave us a one bed six foot by six foot room with no windows, just walls. We were gladly to take it; at least we were confined to a private area with strangers not looking down on us while we slept.
We continued visiting historic sites and lots of churches. Easter weekend is not the best time to visit Jerusalem, especially if you didn’t reserve any accomodation. We went to an internet cafe and booked a tour of Masada and the Dead Sea for the next day. We continued walking for hours, getting lost and ended up cutting through some field into a Muslim neighborhood. We bought some slushies at the only store we could find in the neighborhood, and they were amazing. We continued walking until I felt like I needed to go back and told my friends to go on ahead without me. I thought I would try to find a cab to take me to the other side, except it would be way too expensive, so I walked. I walked back to the Old City and ended up shopping a little bit. I bought some genie pants that was obviously imported from India. I then came across a spa and body shop. They sold products made from Dead Sea minerals. I ended up buying a bunch of things, especially since my sister loves these products. I thought that since this was the last country I’d be visiting before Egypt, I can afford to buy some things and carrying them with me. The worker at the shop was a young Muslim boy. He offered me some tea while we chatted about his life story. He dropped out of school so he could work.
I ended up taking a bus to Ramallah that night. It took about an hour or so. I went to a local shawarma place, then another place for tea while two men sang and played a drum and the ‘oud (a pear-shaped guitar). It was a huge place with families and couples enjoying the music. I loved the aura; it reminded me of Cairo. I took a cab back to the checkpoint, only to find a group of people waiting to get inside. It was apparently closed and some men tried slamming on the gates. They were obviously angry so they were yelling to let them in. I thought I wouldn’t be able to get back into Jerusalem that night. I started to look for an officer to tell him I was American and had an American passport. There was no guards to be found. I walked around a bit, mainly to get away from what could be a potential violent mob banging on the gates. I finally found a small, separate complex that was bullet-proof and tinted so you could barely see these officers facing the people from the back, trying to get in. I knocked on the glass until the officer realized I could partially see him. He asked me what I wanted, and I told him I want to get out and I have an American passport. He told me, “So what?” I walked away and watched these people be treated as if they were their puppets; they control the situation, regardless if you have an American passport. Finally, they were letting people in one person at a time. There were about fifty people waiting. After an hour and half, it was my turn. I went through the turnstile, put my passport in front of the glass window with my visa to show the officer, put my bag on the belt for it to be scanned and walked out. It was one of the most awkward experiences I faced. Since there were no cabs that could pick you up from this area and the buses stopped running by early evening, I had to find a van to take me back. I got back around midnight, with my friends completely worried about me. They were sitting on the bed, confused and distraught and they had every right to be.
The next morning, my friend and I got ready to go on our first official touristy tour to Masada and the Dead Sea, and we were glad to have done it. We toured the historic Masada, where the Romans took over the fortress in the First Jewish-Roman War. The Jews “preferred death to surrender” to the Romans. Then, we went to the Dead Sea and got to bathe in a mud pool, then float in the Dead Sea. The Dead Sea is the lowest point on the Earth’s surface and has one of the saltiest waters in the world. It truly burns if you get some water in your eyes. Relaxing at the Dead Sea was a good way to end this crazy journey.
We returned to our Swedish hostel. My friend who had stayed back in Jerusalem met some friends who also went to AUC with us. A local I had met in the Old City took us to a local cheap place for dinner. It was fun. We headed back to the hostel to play card games and get ready for the journey back to Egypt in the morning.
Our plan was to take a bus straight to Tel Aviv, then another one to Eilat, but that didn’t happen as easily as we hoped it would. There were NO buses running from the Old City, because it was Easter weekend. We walked back and forth to find any bus. We made a sign that said TEL AVIV and held it up for a couple of hours until we finally found some random guy that would take us. It was the only vehicle in sight and he didn’t overcharge us for the ride. Our next challenge was to find a bus from Tel Aviv to Eilat, except we were in the ghetto amongst bus hagglers and monopolies. There were now the five of us trying to bargain prices for our bus ride to Eilat. Once the driver gave us an enormous quote, he would say we woulnd’t find anything better because of the holiday weekend. Then if other drivers approached us, he would tell them to not give us a better deal. They took advantage of the fact it was a holiday weekend, we were outsiders and kids. The drivers told us we would need 10 people in total in order for him to drive us anywhere. We had found a couple of others that needed to go to Eilat. We sat at a nearby park in the ghetto and waited. What we were waiting for, we weren’t sure. As we walked out of the park, we found a used syringe. This park clearly was not safe for kids. We found a corner to sit in where bus drivers didn’t harrass us, but it smelled like pee. Finally, a driver that looked like “The Hulk” approached us and told us that he would agree to take us for a certain price. It was reasonable if we split it ten ways. As soon as we started to drive, he told us he wanted all the money at that point. We told him (based on previous experiences) that we would give him half at that point, and the rest when we reached our destination. “The Hulk” came out and he started yelling at us in Hebrew. It was simply disgusting. We ended up just giving him all the money, thinking how bad of an idea it could have been. After a few hours of driving, he got pulled over the police and was clearly fined. For what? Not too sure; speeding or being so rude, either way, he probably got what he deserved.
In all the deliriousness, we reached some destination after four hours. It could have been Eilat or another place, but we had to take yet another bus to the Taba border crossing. As we rushed to the border patrol officers, we saw the long lines of people waiting to get into Israel. We were glad that we didn’t have to be in those lines to get in, but as happy to get out as well. We had to pay about 100 shekals to get out (close to $20). We were too annoyed to care, that we would pay anything to just get back to the comfortness of Cairo. We had just missed the last bus to Cairo, which was at 4:30pm. We had to find and negotiate for the fourth ride of the day. We found two Egyptian old men that were willing to take us. After we agreed that they shall take us to Downtown Cairo (important detail), they made us wait about forty-five minutes before we actually left so they could enjoy their cigarettes and tea. About 5 minutes of driving, they stopped at a sign that said, “Border Tax”. What? What is a Border Tax? We have visas to be in Egypt already and we just paid 100 shekals to get out of Israel. This is insane. Some guys at the “Border Tax” sign without uniforms are asking us to pay 75 pounds for a “border tax”. I asked the driver what would happen if we didn’t pay and just kept driving. He said no, he wouldn’t take us then. These guys were clearly the drivers’ friends. I thought this to be unbelievable, especially since we’ve used up the last bits of our money for this 8 hour ride back to Cairo anyway. We paid these hoodlums their border taxes, in which they could provide no receipts for. We continued our drive.
We played car games along the ride and I dozed in and out of sleep. Finally, we were getting closer. It was my first time passing through the Suez Canal; it was amazing. Some 250 miles later, we arrived to a place not Downtown Cairo. It looked like my friends neighborhood about half an hour away from Downtown Cairo. The driver told us we had arrived to “Wustul belad” (Downtown Cairo). He thought we weren’t from Cairo, but we were and knew he was lying to us. He then insisted that Downtown Cairo was five minutes away, even though it wasn’t. I called up my good friend Yasser, who I could always rely on and he came to get us. The driver told my friend some bogus excuses that he wasn’t allowed to take his van there, etc. We took a cab home; it was good to be back in Cairo.