1. Sign up for an Israeli Birthright program and experience a free, 10-day, sell you on Zionism tour of Israel.
2. After the trip ended, hop on the coastal train in Israel and roll an hour north to the ethnically mixed city of Haifa.
3. Meet up with Lee, a few notable others, and surf the Israeli side of this Biblical coastline.
5. Walk from the Jerusalem bus station to the Muslim Quarter. This took about a half-hour; perhaps more because of inquisitive strangers questioning my sanity for bringing a surfboard to the holy city. Duh, right?
(Fitting through this Israeli checkpoint is no easy task. And just to make it clear, there is no "check your bags" option. You may take only what you can carry. )8. Arriving late to al-Saleebi’s apartment, formally known to the Casbah readership as “Abu Danger,” I rested my board on the closet door. Remember, the West Bank is landlocked.
9. The next day, I followed al-Saleebi (The Crusader in Arabic) to a protest of “the wall” in the small West Bank city of Bilin. Both al-Saleebi and Abu G got tear gassed by the IDF. Good pictures though, didn’t you think?
10. Shaking hands and parting with al-Saleebi at 7am the next day, I took a taxi to the bus station in Bethlehem. The “big day” begins… (Now you really want a map!)
11. Taking a van—meaning an 8 seat shared vehicle that costs only a few American $’s—I went to the main transit station in Ramallah, clearing my first Israeli-run checkpoint of the day. Then, I got into a taxi bound for the Jordanian consult in Ramallah, where I got a visa for my 8PM flight out of Jordan later that day. It costs me 70 Israeli Shekels; 35 for a German citizen. Americans always seem to pay more.
(Tired and ridin' the bus on the West Bank with a surfboard. At this point, Abu was getting ready to lose it.)
12. Back to the main station in Ramallah, the de facto capital of the West Bank, and back to Jerusalem. (Yes, "back" as into Israel proper where I went through four of these roundabout walk-through gates you saw in the picture above. One hour of lines and hassle, aka checkpoints and questions. It was rough.)
13. Half-hour walk to the bus station in Jerusalem, only to find out that the last bus was at 11:30 AM. It was 11:42. Walk a few blocks to find a taxi and another round of: “How to best rack a surfboard.” Then, back to the West Bank, and to the Allenby crossing into Jordan. I cleared two Israeli checkpoints. The cab was 130 Sheckles. (This is the only crossing you need a visa for. Not a person I met told me I could get the visa in Ramallah and make my flight in Amman, Jordan in the same day. Wow.)
14. Clear final Israeli security before bridge and wait in 105-degree heat for an hour for the bus that takes people into Jordan. Final Israeli exit fee was 150 Sheckles. Good thing I removed the wax on my surfboard!
15. Clear Jordanian customs in about an hour and got offered a ride to the Queen Alia Airport in Jordan by some random American defense contractors who had become enamored by my outlandish surf story. Thanks guys.
16. Arrive at the airport at 5PM for my 8PM flight. Check the surfboard. Nervous because A) the Jordanians didn’t charge me for the board and B) because they didn’t ask a single question about it. Perhaps they didn’t know what it was…? I made sure they put at least two “handle with care” stickers on it, though there was no Arabic translation on the sticker.
17. Take off from the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan and land in the Republic of Lebanon less than an hour later.
18. Carefully switching to my “other” American passport—the one without an Israeli stamp—I put my stamped one in a place that I still don’t feel obligated to publicly expose. Just kidding, ha, it was the back pocket.
19. Lying and answering, “no, I have never been to Israel sir” to the Lebanese boarder guard, I was admitted into Lebanon with a “1-month tourist visa.”
20. The Arabic language program I am doing covered the ride from the airport to the university. Thus, a nicely-dressed Lebanese man was waiting for me with a sign that had my Jewish-sounding name written in clear, bold letters for all to see: Jesse Aizenstat.
21. Opening the surfboard carrier in the hotel, on nerves from the harsh reputation that Royal Jordanian Airlines has acquired for their handling of bags, I opened my 5’10 Dave Johnson surfboard, with a stomp-pad of Che Guevara stenciled onto it, to find it shockingly dingless.
(Since opening it, my surfboard has become a rack for drying cloths. Surf is flat at the moment. After all that, huh?)Wow! From Tel Aviv to Beirut, from Israel to Lebanon, this is the profound hassle people face when trying to get up what was once the same coastline. Though I understand that many of your more likely candidates to sojourn in Israel are not the most eager to visit Lebanon, and vice versa, this experiment still shows the restrictions on travel. At first, I was going to try and get a transit visa through Syria, and make this an all-over-land adventure, but this would have been more expensive and the Syrians would have likely turned me away out of suspicion. Keep in mind Casbah nobody shows up to the Syrian boarder with a surfboard!
Though many of the details from this epic voyage have been left from this post, I want to be clear that this was just a general skeleton of my trip thus far. Expect to read better detail and a more personal account/reflection in my upcoming feature articles in Ma’an and The Surfers Journal.
Thank you Casbahites. Your support—and daily interest and comments—are truly what keeps this blog alive!