The border post from Egypt to Israel is no more than 30 meters, but the difference is enormous. One moment you are in Africa and 30 meters later you walk into Europe. Well not really, but that is how big the differences are between these countries.
The Israelis are seriously “paraat”* unlike the Egyptians and other African countries that looks “paraat”* but are more paranoid than “paraat”.
(*Paraat: Ready/preparedness )
For the first time in our travels we lost data on camera cards. We lost all the pictures from Israel, these were some we were able to recover using recovery software.
We got stopped behind stainless steel big pop up barriers with a soldier a few meters back clothed in Nike running shoes, cargo pants, golf T-shirt and a pair of Oakley sunglasses. To finish off his cool army look an assault rifle hanged from a strap around his neck. A real casual American-Desert-storm look. Well build, tall and with a short brush cut hair style, he never turned his back on the border entrance. He never stood still at one spot for more than 5 minutes, then walk backwards to his next spot, continuously having his gaze pegged on the border post.
Another security guy approached us with a smile and apologized beforehand that we might need to wait a bit for the customs officials to escorts us to have our bags checked. And then proceeded to offered us some water, ice cold water … Now that was a first for us! Just coming from a country where if you are not careful, you’ll get charged to take a breath, we were speechless.
Three very friendly customs’ women clothed in white shirts and black pants approached us. Good looking with black hair and the top of their shirts unbutton (well that is how I remember it …). We looked at each other in amazement … Was this Israel or some harem we just rode into?
Everything had to come off the bikes, but for us this Utopia we did not mind. A customs official/engineer rode our bikes through a big scanner to scan the entire bike. All other stuff and ourselves were scanned inside the air conditioned customs office.
Once inside, waiting for our passports to be stamped, one of the customs ladies asked me to wait as they had to do a check on my passport. That said, Elsebie’ and my passport are almost exactly the same, down to the visa stamps inside the book and the pages. Hers got stamped but not mine. I got asked to join one of the ladies in an interview room. “Where did you come from?” “Where are you going to?” “What were we doing in Sudan?” …………. aaaah!, it then hit me, and I realized what was up with the seriousness!
I quickly explained we had to travel through Sudan to get to Israel. Not because I am Muslin, or Al Qaeda or on a mission to seek 70 virgins. Israel and Sudan do not have your average cosy relationship. The one is extreme Muslim and the other Jewish, well mostly.
If you travel from Israel to Sudan, you will not be let into Sudan if there is an Israeli visa stamp in your passport. The Israelis are quite decent about this and will not stamp a passport if they know a traveller will be going to Sudan. Israel though allows people coming from Sudan to enter Israel.
Elsebie also had a Sudan visa and stamp in her book but the Israelis customs officials must have though she does not look as dodgy as me. They stamped her book on entry. The customs officials were friendly and courteous at all times, serving us ice-cold water all the time. A completely different attitude and scene to the Egyptians and most of African customs officials.
Two hours later and we were outside paying for full cover insurance on the bikes. A whopping, cool R2000-00 (200Euro’s) for the bikes for the week we will be in Israel. They demanded full comprehensive insurance cover for us and the bikes. We were initially planning to go to Jordan and not spend time in Israel. But with Jordan being anal retentive for some reason about bombers or spies on bikes and motorcycles we had to stay in Israel until the ferry leave for Italy.
It quickly dawned on us in the land of milk and honey, the milk and honey are super expensive. Petrol was around R22-00 (22Euro’s)per liter and everything else even in Supermarkets was much more expensive than in South Africa. Hostels and backpackers with very basic rooms go for around R450-00 (45Euro’s)per night for room only. One bit of luck was than we were able to wild camp about everywhere, and that in a country where there is war all around you.
The strange thing about Israel is that there is absolute freedom of movement. There is war all right, make no mistake, but people go about their business and lives as if in Europe. No road blocks or paranoid soldiers as we found in Africa and especially Egypt.
Everything is from the US army, the Hummers, helicopters, most attack planes, rifles the works. Israelis if they could choose, I think, would be in America, their love for the American lifestyle is evident everywhere.
We slept the first night just inside the border of Israel near Taba on the beach. There was a buzz of people who were camping on the beach for weeks on end. Diving establishments were strewn out next to the coast line. People left their belongings in the tents when they went to town or diving. It did not seem that theft was an issue in Israel. I am sure petty theft must happen though.
We worked our way up north Sinai next to the Egypt and Israel border to get more into the desert. The idea was to get away from the normal tourist route and at the same time see what this beautiful desert has to offer. It did not disappoint. Mountains, dry valleys and different coloured sands greeted us.
There’s nothing boring about it and with the many small paths leading off the main road into the desert we wish we had more map information to follow some of them. The road eventually leads us to Mitzpe Ramon a small town in the Negev desert of southern Israel. This was the first and last time we filled with petrol in Israel. The petrol is just too damn expensive and our speed dropped to 80kmh.
On our last night in the desert we ended up late the evening on a mountain top with the road snaking down the side of the mountain towards the Dead sea. It was a stunning view over the desert with mountains and the setting sun over the Dead Sea in the distance. We were uncomfortably close to an army base.
Helicopters were passing over head every two hours as they circle the army base. We figured if they really did not want us there they would come and chase us, until then we camp. The amount of money wasted on fuel with helicopters circling an army base 24/7 must be exorbitant.