In 1998, I made a road trip for the first time around the middle east with my Japanese girlfriend, Yuriko (name changed to protect her identity). We started in Turkey, travelled overland through Syria, Jordan, Egypt and Israel.
This story is about a wild and crazy night out we had in Tel Aviv. It started at an underground trance party, for which Israel is famous for and ended up in a wild ride around the most dangerous neighbourhood in Tel Aviv.
I have taken many risks on my travels – no risk no reward is my motto. However, sometimes, you get overconfident and can get yourself into a ton of trouble, especially when you are in a foreign and potentially dangerous land. This time, I got away with it, but don’t make the same mistakes I did!
Arriving in Tel Aviv
Having travelled through the Middle East for 2 months already, we were used to the hustle and bustle of the cities and dust of the open countryside. Tel Aviv, on the other hand, might have been any city anywhere in the western world. A modern city with a nice beach and more cafes and trendy hairdressers per capita than anywhere else in the world (or so it seemed).
Prices were more like western Europe, but you could still eat cheap street food everywhere, for example the Sabich, which is a sandwich filled with aubergine, hummus and other delicious vegetables.
I had a friend in Tel Aviv, whom I had met in Japan and he showed us round one day. I had met him selling counterfit Louis Vuitton purses in our local shopping street in Osaka. The Israeli mafia somehow have a deal with the Yakuza, the Japanese mafia, and it is not uncommon for young Israelis to go to Japan to earn money working on these street stalls.
This was 1998 and a relative peaceful time in the Middle East due to the fact that a peace deal had been signed by the Palestians and Israelis and it was still a time of great optimism that a two-state solution could be implemented.
My friend took us out one night in a modern middle class neighbourhood. It seemed a pretty peaceful place. Then my friend asked me if we remembered a suicide bombing that killed 50 and injured scores more on a bus? It was exactly at the bus stop where we were waiting. That really hit home to me that Israelis lived in a constant state of seige and fear of attack. Of course, the wall has since been implemented, there has been a second and third intifada.
Wild night out in Tel Aviv
Tel Aviv is famous for its underground Psy-Trance scene. In summer, the parties happen in secret locations in the forests. We unfortunately arrived in winter. The weather was still warm enough during the day (around 20 degrees celsius) to sit on the beach, but not so warm to have a party outside.
Prior to arriving in the Middle East, we had been travelling around Europe for 2 months and had really wanted to party somewhere. After being disappointed in Ibiza, we were really keen to find something in Tel Aviv. But how?
Luckily, we happened to stumble upon an hippie store near our hostel selling tie-dyed shirts, incence and the like. We got talking to the owner. She advised us against going to one of the commercial clubs in Tel Aviv. She said Arab guys hang out there and try to take advantage of girls high on ecstasy. Instead, she recommended this underground trance party that was happening that night and gave us the address, which was not on any map anywhere. Google maps, of course, had not yet been invented ;-).
Arriving at the party
We got to the “club” and there was a big line of people outside. I say “club” because this place had no sign or markings on the street. Luckily, we were the only foreigners in the queue and they let us inside. The party was great! I am not such a fan of psytrance – see my crazy adventure with a broken knee at a hippie rave in Mexico – but the atmosphere was electric! Everyone wanted to be our friend and we made all kinds of plans to hang out after the party, stay longer in Tel Aviv and try to get work there under the table (the other option was to return to cold, dark England).
Things start going pear-shaped
The party ended some time in the morning and we all piled out into the street with the sun rising. I was quite disoriented and this was affecting my judgement. Instead of staying with a group of young men and women, who wanted to hang out with us and help us, we instead jumped into a car with 3 guys to go back to their place to chill. This was our big mistake.
I got in the front seat of the car and one of the guys kept telling me I was not driving. I replied yeah and continued rambling on about whatever shit I was talking. He kept repeating – you’re not driving and I kept repeating yeah… until I looked down and saw the steering wheel between my legs. I was so confused, I had not noticed I had gotten into the driver’s seat! In Israel, they drive on the right unlike on the left in the rest of the middle east.
We has assume we were just going to drive around the corner to their place, but soon we got onto the highway heading south and I started to think, oh-oh, where the hell are we going? My discomfort was not eased when these guys revealed to us they were all tripping on acid, including the guy who was driving.
They told us they live in the “Bronx” of Tel Aviv and we would hook up with some weed on the way back to their place. I turned around to say something to my girlfriend and found her with her hands on the knees of the 2 guys in between she was sitting! I screamed at her in Japanese and had to hurredly apologize to the 2 dudes and explain she meant nothing by it. This was not untypical behaviour on her part as she has often lost control of herself when we were out clubbing in London and had made advances on guys, sometimes right in front of their girlfriends. Still, I was knew this and was meant to be looking after her and had gotten her into this situation in the first place. Not an auspicious start
The “Bronx” of Tel Aviv
We scored the weed from some dodgy apartment block – looked like something out of The Wire or some dodgy council flat in the UK. All went ok and we drove back to one of the guy’s house. The house was just an empty shell with a matress, a landline and no other furniture. We just hung round on the floor talking crap as you do after a long night partying. My girlfriend didn’t really join in the conversation, for whatever reason and preferred to dance by herself in the corner to some music the guys had playing on some ghetto blaster. I was talking to 2 of the guys, who could speak good English. The third guy couldn’t really speak much English, so couldn’t really join the conversation. He preferred to call his mates on the phone and speak in Hebrew.
Suddenly, she taps me on the shoulder and starts raving at me in Japanese. She is trembling and in a state of intense panic. She is convinced that the guy talking in Hebrew on the phone is calling his mates to come round and rape and murder us! The other guys realised something was up and started asking us if there was something wrong. Note, that at no point in this whole encounter did these guys threaten us, make any inappropriate remarks to make us feel uncomfortable, let alone give us the idea there was a plot to rape and murder us.
I had to think quickly and said we had just realised we had left our passports and money in the hostel (true) and that we were staying in a dorm room and had not thought to secure our valuables due to the fact that no-one was staying there (kind of true – we had a dorm room to ourselves, but I am sure we had locked out stuff in a safe).
Realising we wanted to get out of there asap, the dude who drove us there kindly offered to drive us back into town. My girlfriend (speaking to me in Japanese) would not have a bar of it! Instead, one of the other guys kindly offered to walk us to the nearest minivan stop, which would take us into the main bus station in Tel Aviv, from which we would be able to find our way back to the hostel.
This all worked out, but was not the end of the story. We made it back to the bus station. It was about 10 or 11:00 and the station was packed. As we were walking outside through the hordes, suddenly I could not see more that a couple of meters ahead of me. I started to have a complete out of body experience. I was in a dream world surrounded by clouds – like being in a movie. People would pass me by in and out of the clouds like ghosts. I cried out to Yuriko for help. This only lasted for a few minutes, maybe only a few seconds, but it was completely freaky! I had never experienced this kind of out of body experience before and it shook me.
Finally we made it back to the hostel thankful that we had made it home safely. Later that day, we went back to the hippie store to recount our experience to the owner. She said it sounded like those guys were ok and just trying to big up the whole Bronx thing. But that we were extremely lucky because there are some not very nice people in Israel. You can easily fall in with the wrong crowd and that can lead to all kinds of unpleasant outcomes. It’s just not the kind of place to be getting into random cars with random strangers. I found out later that that neighbourhood we went to was the Arab suburb of Tel Aviv and indeed one of the most dangerous places in the whole of Israel, excluding the conflict zones, of course.
Leaving the country
Before we left the apartment in the Bronx, one of the guys offered to sell me a bag of ecstasy pills. I stupidly seriously considered it for a while because they were so cheap and the quality was exceptional (make locally in Israel apparently). But I thought better of it and luckily I did!
We decided in the end not to try and stay in Israel and bought tickets to return back to the UK. At the airport, we were taken aside and completely searched. Not strip searched, but pretty much given a full body search and they took absolutely everything out of our bags and went over it with a fine tooth comb. Afterwards, they asked us why did they think we singled us out to be searched. Well, it turns out, it was because my girlfriend was Japanese. The Japanese, being somewhat naive and unsuspecting are far more likely to be targeted by bombers who ask them to transport a parcel to their “relatives” abroad. Luckily we had accepted neither such a parcel or any other bag, otherwise I might still be writing this from an Israeli prison!
Let this story be a cautionary tale. Yes, there is no reward without risk and those who travel in a bubble never get to experience the real country. On the other hand, be aware of the dangers and if you are going to go out and consume alcohol or other substances which lower inhibitions, try to use in moderation!
Disclaimer: The Earlybird does not promote the use of any recreational substance, legal or illegal. The information in this post is for harm reduction and informational purposes only.
Photo credit: Adam Yang on Unsplash.