These two girls, and myself, all met each other randomly (and all at exactly the same time), in the staircase of my guesthouse in Chiang Mai today. Adi is an Israeli girl who works full-time for a non-profit organisation back home (and who lives on that organisation's kibbutz), and who's currently volunteering here in northern Thailand. Maria's a physiotherapist from the city of Graz, in south-east Austria — I didn't make it there back in December, but by Maria's accounts I should have. Maria was volunteering in a remote community up in Nepal, and now she's cruising around Thailand on a motorbike.
It's been a while: but having now finished my stint in upmarket, "iz too expenzive fohr us" Europe, achim sheli are back! Like South America, Thailand too is one of the world's hotspots for young, IDF-complete, weed-smoking, shag-seeking, stingy-as-hell hordes of Israelis looking for a good time. And in Bangkok's Khao San Road, the yehudim do make themselves known. Reminiscent of such cities as Cusco and La Paz, here in Bangkok you can see Hebrew cardboard signs in shop windows, you can hear Hebrew being spoken as you walk along the street, and you can eat a falafel for every 50m that you cover (if you're crazy enough to not take advantage of the cheap and delicious local food, that is).
Most Israelis in BA choose to stay in one of about three "Israeli hostels", where they don't have to meet anyone else, and where they might as well never have left Ha Aretz at all. Michal and Or are in the small (but very nice!) minority that have chosen not to do this: they're currently the only two Israelis staying at Clan. Great guys: they refuse to come with me to shul for the High Holy Days; but they don't mind going for a beer or a good feed now and then.
Sunset this evening marked the start of Rosh Hashanah, and also the start of the Jewish year of 5768. To begin the New Year's celebrations, I went to a communal dinner this evening, organised by Beit Jabad (known to us English-speakers as Chabad House) of Buenos Aires. The event was held in the function room of a big hotel in the middle of the city, and it was set up primarily for all the Jewish travellers who happened to be in town. No surprise, then, that the dinner consisted of the Rabbi, myself, 4 other English-speakers, and around 150 long-haired hippie Israelis.
I would like to take this opportunity to wish all the readers of my blog a Happy and a Sweet New Year. Shana tova, and gemar chatima tova. May you all be inscribed in the Book of Life, and may you all find somewhere to celebrate the New Year, as I have, no matter where you happen to be on this planet for it.
And if you've looked at any of my photos from the last 4 months or so, you'll understand why this is such big news. That's right, people: I'm not kidding, I'm not pulling your leg; I've actually done it. For the first time since leaving Oz (about 6 months), I've finally had a haircut. And for the first time since coming down to South America (about 5 months), I've also had a shave! My reasons for not doing this for so long were many, as were my reasons for deciding to end the experiment today. Anyway, I did it this afternoon, here in Otavalo. And I'm now shorn as a sheep, smooth as a baby's behind, and cold as a Jamaican in Siberia. And the hair is gone.
I met Einat yesterday morning, when I first arrived at Sol y Mar, here in Máncora. She's a very unique Israeli, in some ways: she lived in Argentina for three years, during high school (with her family), so she speaks fluent Spanish, and she sounds like an Argentinean; she also travels alone. In other ways, she's not so unique: ultra-tight with money, and happy to travel really raw, to save a few shekalim. She's nice, but her complete and utter indecisiveness, coupled with her stinginess, made it hard to put up with her for more than a day or two.
Even more than the massive dunes and the sandboarding, there's one thing that Huacachina is very, very famous for. I believe that its official name is Casa de Avinoam (lit: "House of Avinoam") — that's what the blackboard-scrawled sign out the front says, anyway. Most people refer to it simply as "The Israeli place". However, I think the most appropriate name for it would be Beit marijuana, because that's where it gets its fame from: at the end of every meal, the waiters at this bizarre restaurant will give you a small complimentary plate of not-particularly-legal herbs, and some paper to roll it up in. The cuisine is great here — but let's just say that most people don't come here for the food.
For the past few days, myself, Chris, Leila and Christina have been playing a card game called Yaniv quite a lot. Leila and Christina learned it from some Israelis a few months back (it's an Israeli-invented game — hence the name). It's quite a fun game, although Chris and I seem to lose at it most of the time. Great way to pass the time, and always good to learn new card games.
I've known about the Beit Jabad (that's Chabad house, for us English-speakers) in Cusco since my first week here, but I haven't had the time or the motivation to pay it a visit, until tonight. When I finished my three-day Apurímac rafting trip this afternoon, some of the Israelis on the trip suggested that I pop in tonight, for an Erev Shabbat shul service and dinner. So, tonight I had my first proper Friday night Jewish experience here in Cusco. The service was beautiful, the food was (kosher yet) delicious, and the company was (all-Israeli yet) friendly.
Ido is in the group adjacent to mine on the Salkantay hike, and he's both an intolerable and a friendly / entertaining guy, all at once. This is because of the (only) two things that he talks about. He's intolerable because he never stops talking about his love of Israel, about how proud he is to be an officer in the IDF, and about how defending Israel's right to exist is so important (bevakasha, habibi — genukh!). But he's also entertaining, because he also never stops talking about women: about adventures past with them, about crazy things he's done with them, and about which one's he's got the hots for right now.