Here’s what I know: the sign of a good vacation is that you’re really ready to go home on the last day, but not a day earlier. This is what I also know: if you’re going on a big trip with multiple hotel stops within the trip, make sure that the first hotel you stop in is good and the last one is GREAT. This is very important because these are the biggest stress points of a vacation. This is the part I messed up. Whereas our first hotel was great– after 16 and a half hours of traveling, when the gold-tooth Mahmoud said “Welcome back, Mr. Astrof” I nearly gave him a tongue kiss. It didn’t matter that he had never met me before, he acted like I was important and after sitting in the back of an aluminum tube for almost an entire day, that’s exactly what I needed.
The last stop on the trip is equally important– nerves are frayed, clothes are dirty, you have no idea where your passport is, somehow you’ve added 50 pounds of luggage including the 7 pound piece of coral your son found on the beach and you’ve spent as much money on the trip as for your first year of college. Unfortunately, the hotel where we stayed for our last night didn’t give a crap about any of that. Or anything else for that matter. After giving us the wrong room, charging us $35 for wi-fi that can only work 10 seconds at a time and on only one device, and having a concierge desk but no concierge, I was ready to explode. Having been denied a frozen coffee drink for 2 weeks, it was the only thing that could make me happy. This was my conversation with the putative concierge: “I’m looking for a place to get a frozen coffee drink.” “Mmeh, coffee?” “Yes. Frozen coffee.” “Mmeh, frozen?” “Yes. Frozen coffee.” “Mmeh, you want to drink one?” “YES. I WANT TO DRINK ONE AND AM WILLING TO PAY MONEY FOR IT.” “Mmeh…” “Please stop saying mmeh and tell me where I can get a frozen coffee drink. Do they make frozen coffee drinks in this country?” “Mm–” “Don’t say Mmeh!” “Yes. They make frozen coffee drinks.” “Fantastic. Do you know where I can get one?” “No.” “Are you the concierge? Because you’re at the concierge desk.” “No. We don’t have a concierge.” “GGGARRRGH!” “Mmeh, gggargh?”
I couldn’t take the conversation it would take to arrange for horseback riding, so I called on a fix-it guy I know here, Andy, for whom it’s “not about the money” (ie: it will cost me) Andy, in his words, ‘rained fire’ on the hotel and also, for some reason, on the guy who owns the Cactus ranch. He also got me a cab (“not about the money”) for $150. I don’t know what it would have cost if he were, in fact, about the money, but my daughter had wanted to go horseback riding since before we got here and I made her a promise I couldn’t keep and said we would do it (it was also the constant threat when misbehavior prevailed, “that’s it, NO horseback riding”, so I had to make good on it.) We were going to go as a family, but the minimum age was 8 years old and my son– who’s obsessed with his age and earlier in our trip turned 7 and a half (kids are either their whole age, their age and a half or their age and three-quarters– did not understand when we told him to tell the people he was eight. “Am I 8 in Israel?” “No, but you’re almost 8” “You want me to tell them I’m 8?” “Yes.” “But I’m not 8.” “Yes.” “You want me to lie?” “Only this time. So you can go horseback riding.” Terrible parenting, I know, but it’s our last day here and I knew I had a 16 hour flight to either convince him that it didn’t happen or find a way to justify it.
Thankfully, he said no, so it was just my daughter and me. My daughter loves one thing more than anything– well, except for Barbis and fairies, and that’s horseback riding. I didn’t expect her to all of a sudden be the kid from True Grit, but I wanted to see her do something she was comfortable with. And I was rewarded. After spending $6 million on acting and singing lessons, the $2 million I have spent on horseback riding lessons seems to have paid off– she was really good at it– poised, balanced, and while her “Indian yell” was hardly audible, she felt really comfortable on the horse, which made me relax. Our guide, the mandatory beautiful tan skinny Israeli guy with a pony-tail, led us down a white sandy beach through turquoise water. As we galloped past a sea-turtle sanctuary, he said that it was impossible not to lose the cares of the every day world on this trail. As he said that I was starting to panic about whether or not I would have meetings set up when I got home. I answered, “Mmeh… yes.”
It was a great trip, though I felt badly that on my last day I neglected to bond with my son as well. With only 4 hours left before our car picked us up ($250– not about the money) we took an hour of our precious time to order lunch: “Can I have a grilled cheese?” “Mmeh… you want cheese?” “yes.” “How do you want it?” “GRILLED!” After lunch, while my daughter had had her fill of the outdoors for the day, my son still wanted to go on a boat. Since my daughter is harder to please, I often let my son’s desires go by the wayside a little. Wanting to rectify 8 years of this– well, 7 and a half years of this”– I decided to go to the Marina to try to rent a boat. You would think that at a Marina it wouldn’t be hard to rent a boat, but you’d think in a country that had a million coffee houses I’d be able to get a frozen coffee. Finally, after striking out twice– the fact that my Hebrew consists of the words, “No, it’s all good, Mmeh and for some reason butterfly” it was not likely I would be successful. I knew my son would be okay with not going on a boat in lieu of his fifth ice cream of the day, but I was tired of slacking off in that way– I have taught him nothing but overeating and lying on this trip.
I finally approached a man who looked like a sea captain– or a rabbi– and asked if he could take us out on a boat. He said I had to talk to The Man. I went to the back room to find Liora– a 5 foot 2 inch Yemenite woman who was The Man. I told her I was leaving for LA in 2 hours and needed to keep a promise to my son and take him on a boat. It was not about the money for Liora, so $350 later, Caleb and I were sailing 5 miles off the coast of Israel through a pod of windsurfers.
I’m now back in the hotel– no wireless, my ATT account is happy to roam free at $5 per second– trying to finish this journal, pack, do 74 burpees, find our passports and tickets and shower within the next half hour. I’m happy to say this was the perfect vacation.