Travel Weekly's Michelle Baran is spending eight days on an Eastern Mediterranean cruise with Contiki, getting a better sense of how the 18 to 35 set travels. Her third dispatch follows.
After days of joking around on the bus, late nights at the disco, forging bonds and making memories, things got a bit more real for the Contiki crew when we docked at Ashdod, Israel.
Arriving at a destination rooted in religious and political conflict not only took the group out of its comfort zone, its safe Contiki bubble, but also forced everyone to look around at the passengers sitting next to them, the people who have become close friends over the last several days.
Here they were, this multi-culti group of young adults from the U.S., Canada, Australia, New Zealand and South Africa, with parents and backgrounds spanning the globe, suddenly faced with issues of race, religion and ethnicity.
Was the person sitting next to you a Muslim, a Jew, a Christian? Were they a non-believer? What were their thoughts on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict?
These issues immediately came to light at the very start of the day when four Contiki passengers were left behind, held onboard the cruise ship by Israeli immigration control. The four passengers were all of Middle Eastern or South Asian descent; three were U.S. citizens, one was Australian.
The reason why they were being held back was never fully explained to the four passengers. After questioning, body searches and being swabbed for explosive materials, they were let go and met up with their tour group later in the day to visit Bethlehem.
Unfortunately, they missed the Jerusalem portion of the excursion (this was not a reflection on Contiki, because Contiki does not have any influence or control over immigration, and the cruise director as well as the Contiki tour managers all said this level of security control was greater than they had ever seen on a Louis Cruises ship).
Regardless, the incident had everyone in the group talking, exchanging views not only about the passengers that had been held back, but also about the complex political situation in Israel and Palestine.
For many on the trip, Israel was a big draw, probably in large part because of the complexity of the destination. Whether the day left people feeling angry or enlightened, it was an experience few on this trip will likely forget.
These places and their different cultures are an important part of what Contiki is doing — taking young people out of their comfort zone and bringing them to new places, places that will hopefully start a conversation, create connections and incite emotion.
Click to read Michelle's first and second dispatches.