Tour Guide Diaries July 2016

Two stories here. One is about the relationship between a guide and a camel with the name of Fred in a tour, and the other one is about a tour with alternative transports with like trains, buses and camels! Further it describes the baptizing in Israel and renewal of wedding vows.

For the privacy for everyone involved, if I mentioned names, they are not their true names (except myself).

  1. The Tour from Hell (9/10/2019) - This tour was the tour from hell ... for me. For the group absolutely not, because they had loads of fun, costing me my hair of course. We are talking about a tour, which shows what Israel actually is, a mixture of culture, adventure, exploration and Israeli sights in all the major touristic centers of Israel. This article is part of the Tour Guide Diaries September 2016.
  2. Gate of the Chain Clair, the Red Headed Ghost of Jerusalem (9/26/2016) - Or the sick who became a ghost? The change of title depends on your perspective of a very funny and mysterious (at first) story I've to tell you about a recent so called low-budget tour in September 2016.
  3. Tour Guide Diaries September 2016 (9/24/2016) - When two large families from Canada and Israel join for a tour in Israel, WW3 is almost unleashed in Israel. The results of that almost major conflict are that the women take charge and the men wisely murmur "Yes Dear" and the kids have fun.
  4. Tour Guide Diaries August 2016 (9/23/2016) - Three stories for this month in the Tour Guide Diaries. One story is about chocolate and how it came back to the guide and bit him in his behind. The other story sounds like a soap opera, but truly happened. Our group rescued another guided tour group, who were lost in the middle of the Goat Market in Be’er Sheba. The third story is the continuation of the last one about two goats (smuggled from that market) on rampage in a hotel and its aftermath.
  5. Tour Guide Diaries July 2016 (9/23/2016) - Two stories here. One is about the relationship between a guide and a camel with the name of Fred in a tour, and the other one is about a tour with alternative transports with like trains, buses and camels! Further it describes the baptizing in Israel and renewal of wedding vows.

Fred, the Camel
I love animals, I truly do. I love camels too … from a distance. They stink, they are moody, ugly, naughty, try to bite me (only me), making strange noises, always try to kick me of when I try to ride them … and then there is Fred.

Fred is a camel. When I visit with a group of tourists Eilat, part of the tour is a camel tour for them. With the camel tour comes an old Bedouin man and his many children, his camels and Fred, the camel. He reserves Fred only for me, he says. He also claimed that Fred the camel really loves me, that’s why he acts like he acts with only me. I asked if Fred is a girl and he only grins at me. Maybe Fred is gay.

Anyway, we are ready for the camel tour and this one is specially designed that we have the tour and sleep under the stars. Stars in the desert in the south of Israel is a spectacle, not many city people get to see this in their lives. You would not believe what you see in the night in the desert. In the months October – April it’s very cold in the night, and of course hot during the day. But there are many tricks to keep you warm at night.

My group is a mixed group of 25 people of all ages from Europe, Japan, China and America and the many languages are flying all around when the group gathers itself from the hotel. We drive with jeeps to the spot in the desert where the Bedouin is waiting for us with his camels and Fred and the fun starts. We need to find a way to sit on the camel. And don’t underestimate it, because sitting on a camel means it becomes unexpected high.

After the screaming and sometimes swearing is finished and everyone sits, the Bedouin, his many children, the group, Fred and I start moving though the desert. It’s 5pm, so the biggest burning heath is gone and the view we have is breathtaking. Especially when the sun goes down, the sky is changing into a mixture of all kind of impossible colors.

After 10 minutes through our tour, someone needed to go to the bathroom … in the middle of the desert! That took a half hour before she could go to do her thing under guard of her husband and me close by (you never know). Before she went to her selected place, I came to look for the usual things like snakes, scorpions, insects, etc. and came up clean.

When she was finished, behind me someone started to scream. A strange, black insect was hunting a large lady. A strange small black insect (3 cm long) was indeed following or hunting the lady. I told her to go back on her camel and she would be too high to be bordered by the insect. She did and was quiet for a while, but she was anxiously looking at the ground for more surprises and ‘monsters’, as she called the insect (which was soon killed by Fred my camel who stepped on it).

We continued with the ride, until we came to a small clearing, surrounded with small rocks. Here we took a large break and the Bedouin started to prepare our food with his (many) children. I know that they brought the food already prepared with their jeep maybe minutes before we arrived. They hid the jeep somewhere nearby, but the people didn’t know that. For them it was like magic and the prepared food grew on the trees … or rocks (no trees there).

Very soon we had our campfire warming us up, sweaters and blankets put on and the barbecued (lamb) meat, loads of vegetables and sauces and other food started to come, together with the cold wine, beer and (Arabic homemade) lemonades and the moment of the amusement for the evening arrived. The amusement was of course telling the stories of the desert and the land surrounding us. Stories, which were evolved for thousands of years and millions of times retold again.

The Bedouin started his stories and I translated with the usual drama, the wild gestures, the animation including the proper noises and everyone was hooked up. But the normal deal was that the Bedouin was deciding on the stories and this time the theme he choose was the horror of the desert. He told about the devil worship during the ancient times, the demons still browsing the desserts looking for lost souls and I was not pleased. How do you animate a ghost while telling a story!?

Anyway, my efforts seemed to have an effect on the group, because the group was quiet and looked at me with wide eyes. I froze! Did I make them too afraid!? Where they in shock?

And the group kept on staring wide eyed at me and didn’t say a word! One was hesitating bringing up her hand, like she wanted to say something, but hesitated …

I felt suddenly something very wet and … what felt like teeth … in my neck. I froze and I was actually scared, totally worked up with my own baloney translations from the Bedouin. Then I heard a familiar sound behind me and when I dove to the ground, the whole group burst into laughter. When I turned and looked behind me, there was Fred, the d****d camel. I swear he was laughing. The Bedouin was as usual, not disturbed and acted like nothing happened and waited until the group was finished laughing at me.

That was Fred, my gay camel.

The astonished tourists
This is the story with one of the new tours, the so called low-budget tours or the tours using the public transport instead of a tour bus. And to make it truly low-budget, the tour is designed not with expensive hotels in mind, but alternatives, like guest houses and apartments. When I create new tours, I test them out with a couple of volunteers and see how that works out. It worked out perfectly. The volunteers even preferred this tour then a conventional tour with the usual hotels and the touring bus. They also said that this type of tour is more relaxing then the usual move-move-and-move tours.

Welcome to Israel from the Ben Gurion Airport
Welcome to Israel from the Ben Gurion Airport

The actual tours started in July and the first group was about to show up from the airport. This was a group from Seattle, USA and the group was 30 persons large, ages between the 16-46. As per tradition, the guide suppose to welcome the people and so I was waiting at the airport. I saw the mass of people coming towards me and held up my board with my name on it. But the first people from the approaching group started to smile at me (I thought).

Very strange reaction. Those people in front were obvious Israelis.

Anyway, I continued to wait there, and more and more people seemed to be amused at me, until an American voice next to me asked if I was William. I turned to him and confirmed that I was William. He smiled and pointed at my board, saying “Read it!”

I brought down my board and what did it say? “Idiot here”. That was a prank from our driver. I will cook him in his own skin and feed him to the fish!

I managed to collect my group and I knew how they felt. So we moved to the cafeteria nearby at the airport and had something to eat. There I told that our driver was mentally a bit touched. I also told that his name was Mule (his real name is Ilan), and he is an Muslim with 3 wives and 20 children and he’s looking for his fourth wive and loved middle aged blond women. Ha!

I answered their usual thousands of questions about the tour, Israel, peace, Palestinians, weather, rain, sun, heath, airplanes, Syria, Petra, churches, Jerusalem, Tel Aviv, apartments, food, smokes, whiskey, port, wine, women, men, children, families, religions, Shabat, money, salaries, business, buses, trains, bicycles, politics, Clinton, Trump, Netanyahu, government and much more till everyone felt better.

Then I moved the group to our bus, where ‘Mule’ was almost bored out of his mind. When the people stored their luggage in the bus and stepped in, they all greeted the driver as Mule (some of them called him Brutus). As last I came into the bus and slammed the board on his grinning head.

He was the first 5 minutes answering questions about how he was handling his three wives and 20 children!

So, with our disgruntled driver driving to the train station, we were all in a good and excited mood. Arriving at the train station, we left the Mule behind and we all got to our train on time and we were soon in Tel Aviv train station. We took the bus to our apartment, which was in Bat Yam (small satellite city of Tel Aviv, 20 minutes away with bus). The group get the surprise of their lives, because whatever they had expected, this was not it. I arranged four large apartments for them, and all of them had the normal stuff like good furniture, tasteful design, paintings at the walls, large flat screen TVs, fully equipped kitchen (with excellent food waiting for them), large bedrooms (with TV), computer, WiFi, small library and stereo installation.

In this tour there is no driver, so the only one who’s responsible group of people is the guide alone. Also with tours like this, the guide stays with his group and so I choose the last remaining room and apartment and we organized our things, so everyone knows their spots and places. Most of the group wanted to sleep, but some of them were too excited and wanted to go exploring the neighborhood. Well, that we did. We went outside and in front of the apartment building was a part and near by a small shopping center, which we of course visited.

In the evening we took line 40 to go to Tel Aviv and had an amazing time at the Sheinkin street, where we went out dancing and listened at live music at the cafes. In the evening at 11pm we went back with line 18, which stopped right in front of our apartment building (just like line 40 and 10 other different bus lines). One thing is typical at this kind of tours. For people who chose ‘low-budget’ tours, they are spending loads of money buying anything!

When we were back at the apartments, I was welcomed with a very happy group of people who loved everything they saw and were very pleased. They said “… much better then any hotel …”. The men were loudly watching sport ((American) football) and drinking bear, while the women were chatting in the next apartment and the teens were watching TV in their bedrooms. Tomorrow is getting up early, arranging breakfast, doing shopping, and getting everyone ready to take the bus to Tel Aviv.

Good morning Israel, rise and shiny! That was what I thought when I woke up at 6 am. I prepared breakfast for everyone (my special Dutch pancakes), Israeli salads, pita (and load of white bread in case that), and all the usual Israeli breakfast food (and cereals), coffee, tea and fresh juices. And the eggs of course. That is the thing to get everyone awake, the smell of fresh backed food.

I gave everyone the bus card for them before we all left the apartments with our adventure on Israeli buses. And we all survived! Sort off. We took this time line 1. When we all managed to move in the bus, the ‘thing’ started to move at its usual Israeli speed … that means fast like a Porsche on a circuit. Everyone held on in fear of their lives (he, he) and after 5 minutes everyone got used to the unique Israeli driving style.

When we stopped near the bus stop to pick up people, that was like James Bond 007 driving (or stopping) and then we went again for it. This time the group was wary and found quickly a place to sit and held on for dear life. One of the fathers was cursing the driver, who was looking amused in his mirror at us when he accelerated.

Yaffa Flea Market
Yaffa Flea Market

After 17 minutes and 10 seconds we stepped out (I measured the time for them). Our real tour had started and this part of the tour was mainly walking and visiting markets, promenades, parks, the beaches (and planning to swim there of course), the harbor, the historical sights of Yaffo and working our ways up north to the heart of Tel Aviv with its additional markets, where we did shopping for our dinner that evening.

Tel Aviv Promenade
Tel Aviv Promenade

After many cups of coffees, ice creams, cakes, junk food, eating our lunch packages near the beach, bought an unbelievable amount of clothing, we did indeed our shopping for dinner. They were shocked at the amount of meat at the markets and the ‘hidden’ corners with more shopping. At the end we started to tire out and we took the bus line 18 back to our apartments. The mothers, who seemed to have most of the energy were preparing the food for everyone. That was one day finished.

At the evening they gave me a little gift; a t-shirt with the text “Our Guide” in front. I put on the t-shirt immediately, till one of the kids told me to read the text at the back of the t-shirt, which said “Our Idiot”. Well, I thought about Mule or Ilan and hoped he had a lousy evening. But who cares, I wore that t-shirt until it was too dirty because of my ice-creams a day later. Another day survived.

I skipped here a few days of this tour and we just arrived at a guest house in Kfar Cana, near the Sea of Galilee. The next day will will go to the Sea of Galilee and have an extended boat tour there. One of the parents wants to renew their wedding vows at the Wedding church there. And with that, we need party time of course. We arranged the wedding dress (locally done, they hired the beautiful dress), the reception after that. Half of the Cana village came to look and to celebrate (on the narrow streets next to the wedding church and guest house). Beautiful bride, loads of tears of happiness and the church was fantastic and the priest was more then excellent. He came to visit us during the reception and stayed a long time. Cana wine is indeed something special.

The next day we were on the intercity bus (Egged) towards our new apartments in Tiberias. Four apartments again, very luxurious and close to each other. One was not an apartment, but a small house with a little garden, the others were in a small apartment building (two stories). They were not so luxurious as in Tel Aviv, but everything was there, including TV, computers and WiFi! What do men and kids want more, not? Oh, and the kitchen too.

But we came there with a mission. We were all planning to go fishing in the Sea of Galilee, to take the fish home and eat it in the evening. I knew that beforehand of course and arranged a large Jesus Boat with shipper (and with loads of patience). We went on the Sea of the Galilee from the Tiberias pier and the shipper was demonstrating how Petrus was fishing two thousand years ago and we were trying to do the same. I forget to mention that the women and girls decided to have a nice girl morning/afternoon with the hot water springs (Hammat) nearby.

After one and half hour of trying whatever we wanted, no fish! At the end of the boat tour, the shipper was pointing to a fish shop! We men went to the shop and explained the problem, so the man in the shop arranged an old bucket and dumped there some fish in it. We paid and he received a large tip for the trouble and we went with proud smiles to meet the girls at the Hammat Hot water springs.

We showed them what we got out of the Sea of Galilee and everyone was happy, until we passed the same fishing shop on our way to our apartments and the friendly waving shop owner in front of it. They women looked suspiciously at us, but said nothing.

When we arrived at our apartments, the women went to the kitchen to prepare the fish, but were back within a minute. One of them asked sweetly if the fish in the Sea of Galilee was swimming around without its insides? Busted!

I skip many days here. Including the one that someone stole our bathing suits and clothing (while taking showers on the beach)! We were forced to walk with only (too short) towels to our apartments near the sea in Haifa and answering questions to a frowning policeman. One of the fathers dropped his towel right before the entrance of the apartment building and some housewives got an eyeful. When we came home we discovered that the kids pranked us.

I also skipped the time that we needed to take bus number 4 in Haifa to go back home, but took line 5 instead and we ended up in a statue park (Sculptures Garden) instead.

Or the time that the women refused to step out of the bus, because they were exchanging ideas to fry potatoes or something like that with several women on the bus. Or the time that one of the fathers found his Russian soulmate in carpentry, his big hobby and we missed the train stop and ended up at the wrong station (Jerusalem instead of Tel Aviv).

At the 9th day of our tour, we arrived in Eilat and the group wanted to have a camel tour. They heard their travel agent talking about. So we went indeed on the camel tour and guess who I saw again? Right, Fred the camel. Fred, the gay camel. My Bedouin man with his many children was already waiting for us with his camels and Fred, and everything was fine and usual; Fred tried to bite me, kick me and made strange noises. I took care that everyone went to the bathroom before we left and when we stopped to eat and have our campfire stories, I sat with my back leaning against a rock. There is no way that Fred the camel will ever surprise me! Ever! I lost precious hair that time.

When we finally slept, I heard a terrible (male-like) scream echoing through the night, waking everyone up. At that very moment my first thought was that Fred the camel found his new soulmate, licking someone face while he was sleeping.

Red Canyon
Red Canyon

Because this is an alternative tour and there was no bus waiting for us, we took the camels (or the camels took us, I’m not sure) and visited the Red Canyon. That was an unbelievable happening there, on the back of our camels visiting the Red Canyon. You need to see the faces of those tourists there when we arrived in style! Until one of the fathers fell from his camel. Well, nothing is that perfect.

From the Red Canyon we went to Timna, Solomon’s mines, and many other beautiful places in the desert on the back of our camels. At the end of the camel tour we went back to Eilat. We stayed two nights in the desert and it was absolutely worth it. Afterwards we all had problems with walking though.

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