Once Ran Dor's family and I had eaten dinner and then a subsequent lunch, in a large box with palm fronds on top, the sun set on the first full day of Holy Sukot Week.
The very religious Israelis continued to be happy in their boxes. But, Ran's family dispersed, in order to go and prepare for the next day's business.
And I set off to explore the most beautiful parts of Israel. I had things good, almost as good as the people in the boxes.
The daylight was dead, as I began hitchhiking on a southbound road, towards a quiet and dead desert. Luckily, it felt very comfortable to hitchhike in Israel in the refreshing night. I progressed one hundred kilometers quickly, and I walked off the road for some desert meditation.
I sat. The land before me depressed into a dry riverbed. Hills, visible for quiet a while, ran away from this bed. All the land was empty. Its sand glowed colorlessly in the night. It was a good vantage-point to meditate from, as there was nothing to remind one of life nor of one's own. I slept in my sleeping bag, hopeful that no scorpions would join me.
I was joined in the morning, though, by a family of three women going my way, who somehow fit me in their overloaded station wagon. We continued south through the Negev, a rough desert area known for its milk-chocolate eruptions of sculpted rock, and for a gigantic, walled-in crater.
The girl next to me, Gaya, was at age eleven already strong in her convictions as a vegetarian. Fifteen-year-old Shahar, in the front, had a stout and very feminine body, and she rested bare arms across her mother's headrest - indicating a relaxed confidence in her posture. The non-Jewish mother, Yardena from England, now taught in Jerusalem in a democratic school where the students voted to decide things like who their teachers would be. They lived with their fourth family member, a young boy, and also with chickens and many cats, in a small town near Jerusalem.
Their bright and beautiful personalities massaged my spirit. It grew hot in the desert in the late morning, and we stopped to eat in the shade of a rare tree.
The family would go on to Egypt's Sinai Peninsula, formerly an Israeli territory. I stopped in Eilat, Israel's southernmost city, on the Red Sea.
Supposedly, Eilat was a beautiful place. But, unless I wanted it to be the last place I'd see, I needed to make some money.
First, I needed a place to store my backpack. Near to the touristy part of town, I climbed a modest, one-story building behind the IMAX theatre. I wasn't sure who, if anyone, lived in that building. But, I knew who was going to be living on the roof for the next four days!
Each day, I sold my stories in the afternoon, swam and showered at the beach and napped in the evening, went out at night, and got awoken by pestering flies at six a.m., while laying on the roof's uncomfortable pebbles.
The town itself was actually quite ugly. Restaurants and clubs littered the night with competing clunks of music. Brightly-illuminated shops attracted tourists, not permitting anyone's eyes rest. An abundance of cars created a putrid smell. And the vacationing women loved to show off their cleavage, but were uninterested in dancing with guys at night.
The highlight of Eilat were its young workers, whom you could usually find working. The owners of "Budogi" - a rock bar full of smiling and approachable Eliats and Eliettas - and "Taverna" bought my stories and treated me to drinks. A lanky shoe-salesman, CHal, wore tiny glasses and neck-length hair beneath a fisherman's sunhat. He loved doing drugs and listening to reggae music in "Taverna". He loved alternative health. He said, to cure an ear-drum that was hurting me, I should heat up olive oil containing bits of garlic, and sprinkle a few drops in my ear for five minutes.
In spite of my hurt ear-drum, I had to see the beauty of the Red Sea. I snorkeled amongst the coral.
Tiny, orange-yellow fish wore purple eye-shadow. A mud-brown, white-spotted stingray flapped its mighty wings, swimming from one lump of coral to the next. A row of migrating cuttlefish turned from maroon to white in fright, when I darted at them.
Soon, the solitary lumps of coral amongst pools of water turned into gallons of water amongst cities of coral. I'd swum into the nature reserve, a fenced-in area where one would have to pay to enter by land. Even the coral was fenced-in, by underwater metal chains that were pretty disgusting.
Swimming along, I came to four lionfish, the Cleopatra's of the Red Sea. On their lazy, shark-like bodies, dark and white waved together. Feathery, kelp-like decorations waved in the breeze off their bodies. They enjoyed the privilege of choosing their favorite nooks in the coral to flutter in, confident in their poisonous deadliness that no one would mess with them. Wow!
From the inspiring Red Sea, I traveled again to the Negev Desert.
I wandered far from the road this time and set up my tent. Dark-chocolate rock slabs were scattered about the brown sand, and all the colors looked silky like an expensive flavor of ice cream. But, when I tasted it, it just tasted like sand.
I was surrounded by neverending rivers of soft sand, recently pooped on by big animals; pale plants that crinkled easily; slowly rising hills; and the distant cliffs of the Mitzpe Crater I was in. Meditating, I could hear nothing when the wind died down. The nothing caused me to shiver tingly inside, not like how my underweight body had shivered after the long, Red Sea snorkel.
The next day, I returned to central Israel and visited the Dead Sea. Again, Israeli tourists surrounded.
But, this time, we were in a free camping spot, on the city-less banks of the Dead Sea, beside a few palms and beneath crumbling whitestone towers. Nobody was selling anything, not even stories. And nobody was playing loud music. It was nice to be around these tourists, and someone gave me a plate full of meat.
I went floating the next day. I'd been told not to open my eyes nor mouth in the aggressively salty lake. But, nobody had told me not to pee in the oily water between Israel and Jordan.
It seemed the water was too thick to enter my swimsuit, and so the trunks stuck to my skin. When I peed, then, I guess the product couldn't escape, and my groin started to burn. Ow! Ooh!
It took a while before I felt comfortable again. I floated on the aqua sea void of life. When I tried to push myself down, I quickly bounced back up. I could've laid on my back and fallen asleep.
I liked being here. Being amidst tourists, I noticed the others were all with loved ones. This made me wish I was, too.
Thanks to Rufah, Roey, & No'am; Shash, Yuval, Gaig, & Tav; Ital; Yardena, Shahar, & Gaya; Tintin; Rami; Avi; Dan Barak, Viktoria, & "Sheerah"; Gal, Einat, & Itamar; and Gavi for rides!