Sunday, July 6, 2014

Tel Aviv, Israel : Entering the Promised Land

Coming from a red eye flight and rubbing the sleep off my eyes, I disembarked in Istanbul after a 10 hours flight. From this city that straddles Asia and Europe, I will be taking a connecting flight to Tel Aviv. 
The view from inside Istanbul's Ataturk Airport
Inside Istanbul Ataturk Airport, is organized chaos - men, women and children of different colors, age and sizes navigating through the labyrinth of airport corridors. I weaved amongst the rushing feet and rolling luggages to  the connecting gate only to be greeted by a line of travel weary people and unsmiling immigration officers. Clutching my maroon Philippine passport, I stood at the end of the line to wait for my turn in the inquisition.
"Australia passport" - the pretty blonde tall immigration officer called over the din of muffled conversations
"Singapore passport" - another immigration officer shouted
As people went over to the immigration officer, I can see them handing their passport and were ushered in to the connecting terminals
I looked around and noticed that those left were from Malaysia and the Philippines - no hard feelings, no comments about racism, you just get used to the woes of travelling as a citizen of a third world country. You just shrug it off and mutter other your breath "Third world problems". It was a humbling experience knowing that you can't wave a passport that will send shivers to the immigration officer's spine - the only thing you can do is to wait and meekly hand over the maroon colored booklet emblazoned with golden letters that spelled PHILIPPINES. You look the officer in the eye and answer them truthfully and convincingly that you just wanted to see the world and not work or stay illegally in the country and that is the only time that you let out a sigh of relief as they put a stamp or a sticker on your passport and usher you into the connecting terminals.

There was enough time to spare to get into the connecting flight, so I walked leisurely and watched the dawn break into the city of Istanbul behind the glass windows of the airport. The color of the sky lightening and the first rays of the sun touching the tip of the roof of the mosque. In my mind, I was already imagining taking a cab that will take me to get a cup of turkish coffee while I sat watching the spires of the Hagia Sophia greet the morning sun. But not today, for today I will press on and set foot on the promised land.

After 2 hours, the voice of the captain came over the plane's intercom - a welcome to one of the world's most secured airport, monitored by state of the art facilities and manned by a security force that includes uniformed personnel and undercover agents. Ben Gurion airport despite its spacious area and wide corridors has a simple interior. There are no plush carpets, comfy recliners and flashy fixtures.

I made my way to the immigration counters and shifted restlessly while waiting in line and mentally rehearsed the answers to the usual immigration questions.
"What will you do in the country?"
"How long are you going to stay?"
"Who are you travelling with?"
After a few minutes, it was my turn in the counter, I gingerly slipped my passport in the small slot. The immigration opened the passport's bio page and looked at me with an unsmiling face. After I completed answering her questions, I hurriedly added that I prefer not to have a stamp on my passport but to have the electronic stamp instead. She looked at me with a straight face and punched a few keys on her computer and after a few seconds a small slip was printed out and tucked inside my passport. It was my key to enter the Promised Land (literally) since I scanned the slip of paper in the electronic turnstile to go outside and into the baggage counter.

Inside Ben Gurion Airport
Just like the Israelites, my own journey to the promised land was not an easy task.No, it was not 40 years of wandering in the desert but a 12 hours flight, 1 plane change and 2 stringent immigration checkpoints.

Travel notes: 
  • You can ask the immigration officer not to stamp your passport with the immigration stamp especially if you plan to travel in Muslim countries (ex. Malaysia, Indonesia, Arab countries). Instead they will issue you with an electronic border control.
  • Philippine passport holder enjoys a visa free entry to Israel.


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