Last week of June and I was driving under a scorching heat from Reus, my hometown, to Castellón, where I’ve been studying this awful Product design Engineering degree for the past 5 years. In 2 days, I’ll take what should’ve been the last exam of this degree that brought me depression and anxiety. I never wanted to be an engineer.
While my head was filling up with existentialist doubts blended with the humid Mediterranean heat, I saw 3 hitchhikers in the middle of nowhere and VALENCIA on their cardboard sign. I had never picked a hitchhiker up before, I was alone in my car and they were 3 young men but I found myself turning the wheel and indicating to pull up. We were the same age; they were from Israel but they’ve been hitchhiking from Austria and heading to Portugal. We became very good friends very quickly and I ended up driving them to Valencia, where I promised to see them next time in Israel while waving goodbye.
It’s been 7 months since that strange encounter and a lot of things have gone wrong since then, I’m more lost than ever and I need time to reflect. So here I am with my backpack, boarding in a flight destination Tel Aviv with not much of a plan (as always).
I decided to volunteer as hostel staff in Tiberias which enabled me to stay here for a month and a half. It’s my first time volunteering, my first time outside Europe and my first time backpacking for more than 2 weeks. That’s a lot of first times in a country where not too many people speak English, where only 3 days ago there was an incident with Syria, one of many countries bordering Israel including Lebanon, Jordan and Egypt.
I’m trying to find out how to get to the hostel where I’ll be staying tonight in Tel Aviv using the airport Wi-Fi and deleting all the emails from the volunteering website (technically you’re not allowed to work) while I’m waiting in this endless queue to go through Border control.
It’s around 20:00 and already dark when I finally arrive to Tel Aviv Ha’Hagana train station. The hostel shouldn’t be too far, a 20 minute walk according to Google maps, so I start walking following a few Google maps screenshots I took while I was at the airport and after an hour of walking in circles, getting lost and finding myself again, I make it to the hostel. I’m going out to grab some food and experience the Big City at night with a Polish and Spanish guy who’re staying in the same dorm.
The sun is out and I can’t wait for the 2 and a half hours bus ride that will take me to Tiberias, so I leave the hostel with a few more Google maps screenshots and ready to get lost again. I’m not a fan of big cities and I must say that Tel Aviv is way worse during the day; as soon as I’m away from the main streets, all the buildings, sidewalks and shops start to decay and crumble. The bus station isn’t an exception: 7 floors of randomness / half bus station / half shopping mall with armed police and body scans in every entrance, where every bus company has its own selling point hidden somewhere behind dozens of market stands. After climbing the stairs of the 7 floors at least 3 times like a headless chicken, I finally made it to the bus right on time. ‘Tiberias?’ I asked to the bus driver with the fear of pronouncing the word wrong and ending up God knows where. The driver simply pointed at the numbers on the screen whilst talking Hebrew, which I assumed was the price of the ride and gave him the biggest note, just in case. Who needs english when you can point at things!
I noticed after 30 minutes of being on the bus that the info screen where the bus displays the next stop and almost every road sign are in hebrew or arabic and I started to panic when I noticed that I’ve been on that bus for almost 3 hours, but soon after that the bus arrived to a big town and the bus driver turned towards me and shouted “TIBERIAS” while pointing at the exit door. 10/10 communication skills.
THE TIBERIAS FAUNA
Tiberias is a fishing town located on the shores of the Galilee Sea. It’s part of the Israeli National Trail itinerary and it’s also very close to where Jesus was baptized, transforming Tiberias in a weird epicentre of all kind of people from the wildest hiker to the most religious believer. It’s an orthodox Jewish town where the night life is inexistent, with a beautiful promenade and nice restaurants and coffee places but the best part of Tiberias is its surroundings: Mount Arbel on one side, ancient roman ruins on the other and the Galilee Sea in front.
I’ve finally made it to the hostel where I’ll be living for the next month and I couldn’t be more scared. The staff dorm hasn’t been cleaned since Jesus Christ was born, the window shades are all broken and there’s a pigeon on someone’s bed, but that’s not the worst part. There’s a Holy Book next to three of the four occupied beds.
Let me introduce you to my four room mates and the rest of the staff: Claire is a Welsh woman in her mid–forties, the only man she’ll ever love is Jesus Christ, she only reads books about Christianity and only listens to religious music, she truly believes that Israel is her home and she belongs there. Marta and Pero are from Serbia with the same beliefs as Claire but they’re leaving in a week. Russell is a 60 years old Jewish man from Wisconsin, a staunch Trump supporter, he has better health than me even though he’s smoking and drinking all day. There’s also a night janitor who has his own room, his name is Mick from New York and we’re the only atheists living in the hostel. There are 5 permanent workers, 3 receptionists (Fadi, Polona and Yafit) and 2 cleaning ladies.
It’s been 2 weeks already and I’ve hiked every mountain and small town around the Galilee Sea, visited Haifa and Fadi’s hometown Nazareth, which ironically is a Muslim city with a maze of narrow and irregular streets. I try to ask Fadi some questions about the Jewish-Muslim situation in Israel so I can learn more from first hand but he refuses to talk about it because “everything is so fucked up” and his technique to divert the conversation is buying me some Arabic sweets or going to smoke shisha. He knows me too well.
A new volunteer arrives this week. Her name is Agnes, 5 years older than me and she’s pure light and love. She’s also seeking answers in her life and doesn’t really know how she ended up here either. We do yoga together almost every morning at sunrise on the rooftop. We have the deepest conversations I’ve ever had; she has the ability to see through me.