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  March 19th, 2009

After 14 hours of flying, we’ve arrived bleary eyed in Tel-Aviv. Though more than twenty strong, our group blended well next to the silver-haired throng of south Texan pilgrims and their oh-so-audible twang ‘n drawl. Our first task was to make it through Customs without a passport stamp to ensure a smooth border crossing at the West Bank and to avoid future travel trouble. Mission semi-accomplished. Some of us were met with compliance on the issue, others were less fortunate. None of us are quite sure what this will mean yet. We’ve been assigned a tour bus (sans a toilet), equipped with a PA system and our permanent driver, Meir (May-or). Tonight we stay in Jaffa, just west of the city, in modern hostel rooms equipped with bunk beds and verandas overlooking the hustle and bustle of the coastal town. A whimsical pre-dinner walk serendipitously brought a small group of us to a regionally- acclaimed pita bakery offering traditionally herbed pita and, lately, less traditional pizza-like options. A fortunate start to culinary adventure here. The night-time stroll took us past a few smaller vegetable markets offering buckets of tomatoes, dates, melons and enormous heads of cabbage and leek. Dinner was served on the second floor of the hostel, doubling as a dining hall and social space. Several carts of roasted eggplant and peppers, sautéed fennel and purple cabbage, hummus and baba ganoush, kabobs, soups and breads were offered up buffet-style. The unexpectedly gourmet meal was well received as the first to follow several less palatable in-flight ones. Tonight we crash out, explore a few Turkish coffee shops near the seaside and enjoy the city nightscape from our rooftop access. Tomorrow we go north…

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