Sunday, September 18, 2011

Israel part 4: Haifa

After 5 days in the beautiful tranquility, zen pastures and orange groves of the Golan, I needed a drink...

What do you get when you mix an awesome loft painted all in white and nicknamed “the cube” with a beardy Israeli photography student who sleeps 3 hours a night, drinks and smokes, chases tail and leaves you a key? Something close to the perfect couchsurfing experience.

I had originally planned on staying in Haifa 1 day but extended my stay to 4 in the hopes of photosynthesizing some of this man’s energy.
Haifa has some amazing attributes for a “sleepy little port town”.

-       The Bahaii faith’s headquarters are here.
      built at a cost of over 250 million dollars, this monument to anal retentive gardening stands tall overlooking the port and more directly, the street that leads up to it, the aptly named “german colony”. (the only street in the city that has undergone extensive urban planning)
-       A beautiful view of the mediteranean
-       The downtown area next to the port has everything needed (including placement) to create an “artsy” bohemian neighbourhood complete with crumbling ex-great buildings and a scenery that could survive nuclear attack.
-       The beach
-       The strange funiculaire like subway

Haifa was and is a cornerstone of geopolitical history, the largest city in northern part of the country and the third largest in Israel it was built on the slopes of mount carmel and has been ruled by everyone from the pheonicians to the british and most recently the Israelis.
Having always been an important port town its economy still depends heavily on polluting the sea but now includes several “high-tech parks” (the name makes them sounds more fun than they actually are) and an oil refinery which has a cooling tower that looks like that of its nuclear equivalent. Which I guess makes the town  dangerously vulnerable to the attacks of a heinously misinformed terrorist organization. Hidden in plain sight in some of these “high-tech parks” are some of the companies that develop the most sophisticated “anti-terrorist” software used vivaciously in the “global war on terror”. Also Intel does a good share of its Research and Development here for its processors.
In a nutshell, Haifa is a city blinded to and by its own potential…
My time in Haifa was divided between walking for hours by the beach in the hot Mediterranean sun; drinking with my host, becoming overwhelmingly infatuated with a curly haired psychology student and making a day trip up to the Lebanese seaside border. The latter was one of the more important motivators for my trip to Israel, I had come quite close to the Israeli border during my time in Lebanon and had decided it would serve me well to be able to compare the two. And what a comparison it is ..                                                                                                                                                
 While the Lebanese side boasts a Hezbollah strong hold thinly veiled as a fishing village,
 where the trauma of residents can be read on their faces and the streets smell of fresh fish and cluster bombing, the Israeli side of the border is a tourist attraction, the grotto of Rosh Hanikra.
Complete with cable car ride, multimedia show and American tourists.

ts enough to almost make you forget that just up the hill from this fairytale is a military installation that was active in the campaign against Hezbollah forces in southern Lebanon no more than 3 years ago and if history is any indicator, will be used again for that same purpose in the not too distant future.

Access to the road leading up to the installation was not guarded and I was able to get halfway up the hill before a jeep carrying 3 pimple faced soldiers passed by and stopped long enough to tell me to turn around.
Having seen about all I was going to see, I headed back to Haifa with a pitstop in the town of Akko, a beautiful seaside settlement with a majority Arab population where I watched the sun set while smoking Narjilé.

As it often will, my time in Haifa came to an end and I headed to Tel Aviv by train. I managed, in my travel induced stupor, to miss my stop and had to backtrack in the opposite direction. That train however, was the express to Haifa… I did this twice…