I’d never been part of a tour group abroad before our trip to Israel, and to be honest, I’d always thought that they were kind of lame. Half the fun of a trip for me is planning the itinerary, reading the guidebooks, picking out restaurants to try, hotels to stay in. A tour group does it all for you! They take you to the tourist attractions (and nothing more), feed you canned, uninteresting speeches, make you wait while everyone in the whole group gets the exact same tired photo of Monument X.
But Joel, our trusty leader from Amazing Israel/Routes Travel, was the absolute best tour guide in the country, if not the world, and he totally changed my mind about the guided tour.
Yeah, Joel talked a lot, but I learned more about history and culture than I ever have on a trip I researched myself. And our bus went places I never would have gotten to on my own (cave-crawling, a winery, an olive oil factory, a Bedouin tent community, all in the middle of nowhere).
AND, Joel played dress-up regularly.
The first time it happened, Joel tricked us good. We were in Tsfat in the north, the mystical city where Kabbalah got started. Joel took the group off the cobblestone streets and into a little trellis-covered amphitheater near the synagogue. He began by apologizing profusely; he was embarrassed to say, he’d forgotten his notes on Kabbalah on the bus, and it wasn’t a subject he knew off the top of his head all that well (this was early enough in the trip that we were all fooled; Joel knows EVERYTHING). However, he had a good friend living nearby, a Kabbalah expert, who he had just called, and she was luckily at home and on her way to speak to us. Joel left for a moment to guide her to our resting spot. After a few moments, who should return? Not Joel, but …
Complete with “Like a Virgin” blaring from a hand-held speaker case system I had never seen the likes of before (but I’m not all that technically savvy, so maybe they’ve been around forever).
“Madonna” told us all about Kabbalah, and with an American/Valley Girl accent, no less (Joel is originally British), before excusing herself to do a strenuous yoga session and make a music video. Joel appeared again soon after, lamenting that he had missed his friend’s appearance.
And so it went, everywhere we visited.
A BBC correspondent joined us on top of Mount Bental for an overview of Israeli-Syrian politics:
And I learned some valuable lessons.
One, it is hard to take pictures of moving people. I took a number of frames of Joel each time he got into costume, and many times I had only one photograph I liked. This is definitely something I’ll need to improve on for my future photographic endeavors, since I hope to do a fair amount of event work (where the candid shot is king!).
Two, a good tour guide is hard to find, and we were extremely lucky in the fun-loving, good-natured, fact-filled Joel, who is looking especially epic, dropping some knowledge on us at the Temple archeological site in Jerusalem, here: