I’ve been promising a story about my Indian visa. I’ve been very busy getting into Greece and all, and worried about getting up a post. Well about three weeks ago when I first got to Tel Aviv I dropped off my passport at the embassy first thing. But every Israeli and their mother goes to India; it’s a rite of passage practically. So the Embassy outsources its visa services. I spent many an hour worrying about how I would get it in time for my flight from Cairo to Athens on the 15th. If I missed my flight I’d be in a world of pain, and there was no way I’d be able to get a visa and make the eight hour journey if I picked up my visa the 14th. I spent an hour calling the embassy, asking them to get it to me earlier. I called so many times that when I said my name the lady on the other end said, “Oh my god…you again?” But finally they agreed. Monday evening pick up.
It was a quarter to four on Monday afternoon and I was still in Jerusalem. I was beginning to worry again, despite what the shepherd had said. It is so natural for humans to worry, to prepare for the worst. It is a survival instinct but too often it is overwhelming and we forget how to live, always planning for later, what to do next, until next is finally here and there is nothing left to plan for. We die, regretting we hadn’t done more to prolong death.
Chayok, my Indian investment banker friend had come back from lunch with his ex. He decided at the last minute to join me for the evening in Tel Aviv and return to the hostel later, so as to see his ex for the last time the next day. I had half a mind to tell him to forget about her and stop being a fool, to come with me to Egypt. But he had booked the hostel. We walked to the bus station and on the bus popped a couple of beers he had brought, which helped me relax for about fifteen minutes, until we were well out of Jerusalem. Then I began to worry and dread that I wouldn’t get my visa at all. What if they closed before I arrived? I wouldn’t make my flight. I had to call the visa center using an Orthodox French man’s iPhone. He told me that he wanted to save the battery, which meant don’t use it for too long, since he had 74% left. When I spoke to a woman who said that they close at 5, I practically had a heart attack. But she recognized my name and said someone would be there when the visas arrived, around 530, 6. I sighed relief. The bus pulled in at 525, halfway between my guess (520) and Chayok’s (530). We hopped in a cab, got to the visa office, and there was my visa, with its weird vortexed design at the top beside my name.
I sat with my map open trying to figure out which direction King George Street was, so we could eat at the Magician, a falafel joint I learned of during my previous Tel Avivian sojourn. A curly haired boy approached me, speaking excellent English. He, Tomi, asked us to a schnitzel place down the street. We accepted, deciding we were sick of falafel. The schnitzel had a variety of sauces, of which Tomi was a connoisseur, and we ate with relish. He was a self-described chocaholic, and was wearing a Hershey’s sweatshirt. He wasn’t into drinking, but when he mentioned the Central Bus Station as a decripit huge old building worth seeing, I could tell he was cool, despite his oddities.
We arrived at the Central Bus Station at 9, and it was clear we were in another part of town. There were brown people, black people, Slavic people, and I liked this better than comfortable Tel Aviv. We walked into the cavernous, mostly empty bus station, a cold war remnant decorated in bright Lego colors–green, blue, red, yellow and stained white. We were early, so we sat at an Aroma Cafe and watched the people.
Chayok left at 1130. I boarded at 1145, and got some sleep on the bus. We arrived in Eilat, Israel’s southernmost city at 515, with no clue what to do. It was too early to go to the Egyptian embassy for my visa, so I went into the station, unrolled my mat behind a few chairs and caught another three hours of sleep. I woke at 830, felt pretty satisfied and yet somewhat rushed, since I had heard the embassy opened at 8 and I wanted to get that bus ASAP. But when I arrived the place still wasn’t open. It opened at 9, and visas were delivered at 130. So I’d catch the evening bus. Fine.
A young Japanese man approached me, wearing a backpack on his front and another on his back, and we waited together. After I dropped off my passport, I walked down to the sea, and thought about swimming but it was cold and I was weak with hunger and thirst. I walked until I saw a mall, and decided to recharge the comp, take care of some writing, and do some research. I splurged on an omelet with a loaf of bread and a tray of sauces and delicacies with which I made a tuna sandwich for lunch.
When I returned to the consulate an older Canadian woman was already there waiting. She was going to Egypt too. I suggested we share a cab to the border. She said she’d pay for the cab if I helped her with her bags, which were very heavy. I agreed.
The Egyptian man who worked at the consulate welcomed us back and I got my visa, my beautiful visa with two Egyptian stamps and my information handwritten in. I walked with the Canadian woman back to her hostel. She was an evangelist, loved praying in Jerusalem and hanging out in Dohab in Sinai. As we walked she told me that her bag was full of Bibles, and that I didn’t have to say I was with her, because I wasn’t; I was only helping her. They weighed about a hundred pounds, but sure enough she paid for the cab. When we got out at the border, three Argentines were ahead of us. We started talking about getting to Cairo. They were sharing a cab, which would only take three hours instead of the seven on the bus.
I beat them across the border, walked out with my passport freshly stamped and realized I had to change money, so I went back and got three hundred shekels changed. The rate for dollars was 6:1. I took a ten pound cab to the bus depot, past stray camels and mules. It was three o clock and the bus wasn’t leaving for until 430. Something held me back from buying the 80 pound ticket. I wanted to have a night in Cairo, my only night. I remembered how the Argentines were going to get there in three hours. I didn’t want to get there at 11:30 after a seven hour bus ride, especially since 15 dollars more would get me there in half the time. So I walked back. A van slowed to a stop. The man driving had small eyes and curly black hair and I told him I wanted to take a cab but I needed to wait for my friends. He told me he could take me, drove me back to the border and he and his friends invited me to sit and wait for my friends. A hundred twenty dollars to Cairo.
I sat and started eating the sandwich I made with my lunch leftovers as the call to prayer sounded over the loudspeaker. Soon the Japanese guy came. Then the three Argentines. We drove a kilometer, paid a border tax of 75 pounds, and kept on. I was excited. We were going to Cairo! After the Indian Embassy, getting my visa in the morning, and crossing the border without having to take a seven hour bus, I’d be in Cairo for dinner. We drove past turquoise waters with Jordanian mountains rising high on the other side, their outline faint in the haze. There was a castle in the water a hundred yards from the shore, ancient perhaps, with a red white and black flag waving in the sea breeze. We took a right to drive across the desert.
At the checkpoint a man with a gun spoke aggressively to our driver. Tension rose with voices. There was a problem. We weren’t allowed to drive this way. The driver got out, spoke to the man with the gun. I stuck my head out the window, smiling at the men. The driver came back.
“There is problem. Road.” and he made an x with his arms. “The road is blocked,” I said. “Yes,” he nodded, “five Bedouin trucks. We have go to Sharm El Sheikh, 225 kilometres. Hundred dollars. There is ten o clock bus.” So we weighed our options–go back to the bus station to wait another hour and save ten bucks. Or just go with him the extra way; the tourist bus was going to have to do the same thing. Might as well; it was easier to have the private car. Resolute, we started the three hour drive south.