He was in town for some sightseeing before heading back to ‘Europe’. He was Canadian, although I suspect he was actually American. He had too many maple-leaf flags on his bag not to be.
He’d supposedly been making a Hollywood movie in the desert. He claimed to be a cameraman, which probably meant he was an extra, at best. Mel Gibson or Sly Stallone or Arnie had been in the film. He had lots of tales and lots of money.
He was mid-thirties, horny as hell and full of shit.
I ended up staying with him at the Nile Hilton for what felt like weeks, but surely it could only have been a matter of days. We lived off room service club sandwiches, whatever drugs the bell-boy could/would get for us and family sized portions of alcohol. Occasionally we’d make it down to the pool, or out to some party.
I don’t remember much of this period, just small things. I can’t remember his face or his name, but I can remember his body. I remember being drunk in the lobby of the hotel and how the waiters would look at us by the pool. And I remember that we were rarely alone. It was all about as fucked up as it gets.
One morning, with history repeating itself (but this time in my favour), while he slept, I left.
I got to the Sinai bus station, took the bus through the desert to Taba, and there crossed over the border to Eilat.
In Eilat, surrounded by over the top hedonism and the sheer luxury and opulence of the resort hotels, I realised how it was to have no money. The next morning, waking up at the bus station as people were stepping over where I lay to get on the bus, I realised how it was to have no friends.
How had this become my life? Something had to change.
My road to Damascus moment came on a road that, if you kept going through Israel, through Lebanon and into Syria would indeed have led to Damascus. It happened on a bus ride through the grey and barren Negev. With nothing to do but look at the desert; with sleep eluding me, and books an unaffordable luxury, it came to me.
For the first time ever I was clear about who I was, what I wanted and who was in control. I knew that it was all in my own hands and I could choose to sink or swim. I had reached a turning point.
Back in Jerusalem, I went down on bended knee and got my old job back at the hotel. The owner took my passport as a guarantee that I wouldn’t leave him short staffed again with no notice. I worked hard and drank less, staying off anything stronger than beer. I saved money and fell in with a decent crowd of travellers.
We partied lots in the coming weeks, and I was certainly no angel. But I had been tempered by Cairo, and was more cautious about pushing my limits too far. I was often the first in bed, and more often than not it was my own bed, alone.
In November, I took the bus up north with them, to the port city of Haifa. To the ferry heading for Greece, for Europe, for sanity and home.