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.
I’m working on whole range of new tours, like the so called low-budget tours and the tours, which mixes several things together in a more exciting tour then currently exists, and this tour is one of them (for example, we go on concert in the evening, visit festivals, workshops, join even a work camp to dig into the ground with the archeologists, visit the sights, do a little gem-touring, etc.). We were out for 12 days, our group was 50 (originally 30) strong from all over the United States, ages were between 17 and 63, and the group arrived at the airport 13 days ago (from the date of publishing)(so I’m recovering already for three days).
We went to the airport in a very good mood, I had my junior guides with me (Igor and Lena or together “the Juniors”), our new bus and the driver with the nickname “the Beast” (he’s small and overly polite and never shows any emotion, so his nickname is “the Beast” and his real name is Eddie) to pickup our new group for our new mixture tours.
One thing about nicknames! I really didn’t gave them their nicknames. I’ve no nickname … except ‘the Sheik’, because of some small misunderstanding last August, where some Bedouin men on the goat market of Be’er Sheba were advising me to take ten women as wives to drink coffee with me, but nobody remembers that, thank goodness for that.
I double checked my nice, sign-board (so people know it’s us) I was holding with our names on it to welcome our group. I really don’t want to repeat that prank from the last time where the driver changed the text into “Here’s the Idiot” or something like that. The board covered our names nicely.
When the people started to stream out of the checkout I held up my board and voila! People noticed and streamed to us with smiles on their faces. I spoke before their flight with them in a conference call over the Internet and I’m happy they were in such a good mood.
“Hi Sheik! How are you?!” one yelled cheekily with a big grin on his face (someone has been talking)! And soon we were almost overwhelmed with the thirty people … and some … more? We moved our group from the hall to let them drink something and have maybe a bite to eat, but I realized that the group was much larger then 30! I was already upset about the Sheik thing and now this. Maybe some people they met during their flight? The Juniors were already suspiciously grinning.
It turned out that at the last moment they found more people who wanted to join this tour, but ‘forgot’ to tell me. So, suddenly instead of 30 people, we have now 45 people! And not to forget the payments. And the reservations. And the bus! And my heart! And what’s left of my hair! And not to forget my blood pressure.
You know, I’m just 56 years old and I’m old man and it’s really in those times that I’m thinking about going on pension. Maybe a pension on an island somewhere with nobody else then my wife. Well … when my wife comes with me, then she wants her cats also to come with us. And her aquarium with those bl**dy fish too. And the kids too and they have dogs.
I suddenly realize that we have a problem. The hotel reservation with our hotel is in Jerusalem and I know that they have no additional place; they are booked full (they had place for us of course, but with 30 people, not 45). One of my Juniors grabbed my hand, which was busy to pull out my hair (not joking). While the group was amusing themselves, five more people came in to join the group (they said ‘sorry, we’re late’, carrying large boxes with toys they bought at Duty Free). That’s 50!
I called a colleague, who must find us a hotel in or near Jerusalem, who can place a group of 53 people that same day. In high season! I quickly broke the connection with the swearing colleague (he’s called ‘The Pipe’, because he smokes … guess what? Correct, large cigars).
Feeling better, I processed the extra people, gave a pep talk to the Juniors and moved the army … eh … group to the Beast (to our bus). The poor man’s face lit up when he saw us coming. When the people started to enter his bus, slowly his expression turned from happy into confused … then shocked and was trying to find me … only I was at a safe distance looking at the scene and waiting for the expected eruption of ‘the beast’ soon to be … erupting.
‘The Beast’ came out of his bus and walked straight at me. I pointed at the Juniors with my thumb and blamed them for the problem of overcrowding his new and shiny bus. Before the juniors could react and recover from the shock, I was already moving quickly into the bus to tackle the next problem. That’s called strategical thinking. I don’t remember who advised something like that, but what I do remember was the advise “… never admit you’re wrong, always blame the one next to you …”. It never works with my wife though.
So in the bus, I started to bring the problem in front of our group. They came up right before they left to Israel with an additional 20 people for the group without telling us and we have only reservations for 30 people and the hotel is booked full. There will be no chance in hell that we would find another hotel for 50 people within a couple of hours, then maybe a beach … but no beach in Jerusalem. And not to forget the damage for the hotel if we cancel at the last moment, the money would not be returned and the tour would be more expensive for all of us.
So the group decided that they would room together for this night. Not that they cared, because it was a rowdy group, who would be visiting a pop-concert that night after dinner in the old city and I saw already several girls checking out several gents. I felt my blood pressure going up when I also saw the expression of several of the people of this group who were already grinning mischievously.
During our talk, my disgruntled Juniors were already in the bus and my driver in his place. When he started the motor, I could hear how upset he was. The bus is exactly for 53 people and we always have a golden rule to have a larger bus then we there are people in the group. Well, technically we still have (three reserve places), but it was not ideal. They will suffer during the tour.
While we were on our way to Jerusalem, I got a phone call with a swearing Pipe (the guide my age checking out hotels) and he said he moved the reservations to another hotel the days after for 52 people and claimed that I could sleep outside and hung up. Funny boy. Oof. Two things down. Now a bigger bus and that would be even perfect. So instead of chatting with ‘the Beast’ myself, I sent him a SMS. Much more manly, not? I could have sent the Juniors, but they were angry at me for some reason.
All went well during our trip to our hotel in Jerusalem. We only had four bathroom stops, so nothing more then normal in such situation (never happened like that, but who cares at that point). We arrived at last at the American Colony Hotel.
We all got out of our bus and we moved into our hotel, with a smiling hotel manager who was looking at us happily and welcomed us in Israel with open arms. That continued – smiling and all – until he realized that there were not 30 of us, but the whole “g&^^%^$^%$%#$%d” US army! Suddenly he was not smiling anymore and I saw him already looking for me. The cowards of a Juniors ran already in the hotel, so I was forced to confront the manager myself.
After calming the manager down (and pay a fortune to do that), he clearly didn’t care anymore to welcome us to his hotel, he disappeared posthaste. After everyone was checked in, and disappeared into the hotel, I could sit in one of those easy sofas at last.
That evening I discovered that I forgot to check myself in. “Well, sorry, no place!” But I arranged a bigger bus (the bus was called Fat Bertha, like that super gun), the Beast was happy again. The Juniors were alright after they found out I slept on the sofa. What else? Oh yes. One woman hurt her foot during wild dancing (is the Polkas a dance?), another one discovered that she’s pregnant, one man thought he lost his way and was in the wrong hotel, while he was wandering around at the back of our hotel and we experienced yesterday evening an example what Israeli rock sounded.
The concert hall was a cafe and the rock turned out to be House Music, but that was really great and everyone danced and had fun. They didn’t want to go back to the hotel at the end, but the bouncers almost kicked us out. We took Fat Bertha and went back to our hotel, still singing and dancing.
I had pain in my head and my back was hurting because of sleeping on the sofa. The Juniors had fun and were in a good mood, the Beast was still polishing Fat Bertha and our group was in a super good mood after a great breakfast (I ate chips). At the end we moved into Fat Bertha and drove to the Jerusalem markets and shopping streets. Why? We rented off a restaurant for the day, where everyone could demonstrate that they wanted to cook and we suppose to eat what the volunteers would prepare for us. The Chef of the restaurant refused to allow us ‘barbarians‘ in his kitchen alone, so he would stand guard (in the middle of his kitchen).
I skip a couple days of the tour and move to the 5th day, the day that we go to Be’er Sheba. But one more remark about the cooking in the restaurant. It was so much fun and we ate so well that evening after loads of shopping (we went back three times to the market and it was a fortune what they bought). The group didn’t burn down his kitchen nor the restaurant! And the cook hid the large knifes for some reason.
We arrived at our usual hotel in Be’er Sheba. Be’er Sheba is a very nice place, but the choice in hotels is limited and they can’t be compared with the hotels in Eilat, Jerusalem and Tel Aviv. But this Be’er Sheba hotel would do. And who was there waiting for us while we were checking in the hotel? Right, the same worried looking manager from last August, who was confronted with the fact that there were two small goats running rampage in his hotel in the middle of the night in August and one totally destroyed (or better eaten) room.
The manager didn’t look pleased. He asked me though if we plan to go to the goat market today. Of course we would go to the goat market and not to forget the chicken market too. And this time I arranged also a small tour on camels and we would maybe see a small auction of buying and selling camels (and we have also chicken speed running organized). I told him that, and he really didn’t look pleased. I guaranteed him that we this time inspect everyone coming in and out of the bus for hidden goats, chickens and camels. The only thing he said was that he would do the same when we would come back to the hotel.
I was happy at that time, because we would only stay one night at his hotel, before we would spent two days in the desert with carts and camels. I really didn’t look forward to meet Fred the Camel again, so I could avoid having a camel tour in Eilat.
We indeed went to the markets in Be’er Sheba (the normal one, and the goat and chicken markets). Nothing exciting happened, except that our group was very hard to keep together (50 rowdy people in a very good mood with loads of energy) with three guides (the Juniors and I). We didn’t pickup any other group, they didn’t buy any goats or chickens, nobody got upset, but there were some people who bought some strange Bedouin dresses for women for some reason. We also tried the camels. That was so much fun that others have problems climbing on camels like I usual have. But no auction of camels, otherwise I could change my Juniors for a camel or three goats maybe, damn that manager.
We met those same Bedouin men who were asking about my 10 women and again explained to the group that I’ve a harem and 20 children, but I got my coffee. That reminded me about ordering the evening amusement and this time we had real Bedouin musicians not such phony flop of a so called d^&&*^*%&^$%^ magician and his sexy belly dancer like back in August during the goat disaster. The Juniors were giggling! I was highly suspicious seeing that, but at that moment my attention was drawn to my camel, who was trying to bite me. All camels in the world only try to bite me and nobody else.
In the evening back to the hotel, we met the manager, who was indeed inspecting everyone (I forgot to check anyone for hidden goats, chickens and camels), but he obviously not. After that, he insisted in inspecting Fat Bertha and when The Beast finally understood what the manager wanted, they together almost tore the bus apart for their ridiculous quest for goats, chickens and camels! Honestly, who do they think we are?
That evening there was no original Bedouin music, but that belly dancer and her bl**dy so called magician who was loudly calling me “The Sheik” again. I will get my revenge on my Juniors for that!
But thank goodness, I slept wonderful (even when the Beast was snoring loudly), no goats on the rampage, but I heard in the morning that the manager couldn’t sleep all night.
The next day we visited the Ramon Crater and met our Bedouins. Guess who? My old Bedouin man and his many children and camels and … Fred the Camel. Fred the Camel was the camel only for me, according the Bedouin. Damn him and his camel. The same for the Juniors. I will cook them and feed them to Fred the camel. Never met something so smelly and with such awful sounds he makes when he sees me. Always in a bad mood too. And he bites. And tries to throw me off when I finally manage to climb on his back.
We moved to the desert with the group on the back of the camels. I knew that the Bedouin with his many children were waiting somewhere with jeeps. They suppose to pick us up tomorrow evening for a big party with the Bedouins. That evening we finally could sleep at 3 am, after I translated again the campfire stories of the old Bedouin. Instead of his usual horror theme, he was telling about the old caravans of ancient times, who were stranded in the middle of the desert and were forced to eat their own camels … and scorpions and other insects to survive.
I changed the story and translation somewhat (the man speaks only Arabic) and told the group that camel meat tasted just like what we all ate that evening (we ate lamb). The woman who discovered (at the beginning of the tour) that she was pregnant started to puke and the Bedouin who didn’t understand English was looking at me and pointed threatening at Fred the camel and shook slowly his head, frowning and all that jazz.
So he was telling another story about the young Bedouin woman, who fell in love with a boy her age from another tribe, while her father promised her to someone else (three times her age). He translated dutifully, but every time I wanted to make his story sound more … juicy (?), the old Bedouin man (who didn’t understand English?) was pausing and frowning at me. No fun like that.
Under the stars of the desert, it would quiet anyone, so impressive it was. The old Bedouin suddenly had deep knowledge of the stars and demonstrated it. He was trying to explain to us how you could navigate in the desert and with only the stars.
The next morning was a disaster. Fred the camel managed to bite me straight in my behind and couldn’t sit very well any more after that. According Junior, Fred’s teeth were visible for days after that. It seems to be funny for the group though.
When we finally arrived at our hotel in Eilat, I could find relieve there. For whatever reason, the group tipped the Bedouin man extra! Not fair. They can’t handle some teasing? Especially when everyone was calling me Sheik.
I skip the tour here to the tenth day and we are in Jericho. Until then we survived, we didn’t pick additional guests up in our group, we didn’t loose anyone, neither additional goats or any other animals, my behind was alright again and could sit (tenderly). We still were using Fat Bertha the bus and the Beast our driver was still happy. I couldn’t exchange my juniors for camels or goats, so they were still there, looking wearily at me when I could prank them back.
But now we arrived in Jericho and that’s a special place in Israel. Not only it’s the oldest place you can find anywhere in Israel and surroundings, but also very mysterious. There were so many cultures and civilizations arriving and disappearing in Jericho over the many thousands of years, nobody really could even count them. There are hundreds of layers of different buildings built once in Jericho and the archeologists are still counting.
The Canaan were a bunch of wild people, who believed in all kind of gods, who are now classified as demons or devils. So everyone was interested in my horror stories and that I did. So they were already in the proper mood for the Mount of Temptation!
Then we came to the Mount of Temptation near Jericho, where everyone was highly impressed about my strange stories. They wanted to see proof and so we did. We didn’t take the cable cars but walked and climbed the mountain.
Half way some people were murmuring something bad of course, until we reached the promised caves and showed them the scratches the devil once had made thousands of years ago, when Jesus was tempted by the same devil to make bread from stone. I showed them the caves of the hermits of old, who dedicated their lives to live there and to pray, never talked to anyone else anymore for more then 40 years.
Or the Hermit who became mad after seven years in a narrow cave and who received food from people from Jericho. He became too fat to exit his cave and he died there. His spirit still haunts the cave, some believe.
When we finally arrived at the Monastery, everyone was looking a bit sketchy, especially my two Juniors. The Monastery is amazing where you can see the personal cells of the Monks still working there. It’s still not too late to allow the Juniors to dump them there for some month or so, I was joking of course, but one Junior thought I meant it. Ha!
At day 12 we said good bye to everyone. All went well after the disasters at the beginning when suddenly our group grew from 30 till 50. Nobody bought or smuggled any goat or camel, nobody destroyed or ate a room, I got finally my revenge on my Juniors and I had one happy large group of people who felt bad that they needed to go home.
I still have my hair (mostly), I will not see Fred the camel for at least one week and I’m dead on my feet. Now I go back home to see if my wife is still there.
I also discovered that Eddie (‘The Beast’) decided to sleep in Fat Bertha his new bus when I finally came home. My wife hid my phone after that, so I could not help him out. I discovered the day after that he changed our old new bus with Fat Bertha and the bus company was not happy.