Mars For Beginners, Part One

Well, here we are again on good old planet Earth. (By the way, Martians find it hilarious that we refer to Earth as the blue planet. They prefer to call it the black and white planet, but more of that later…)


 Sheen and I have decided to chop our holiday chronicles into three bits. This first instalment will deal with our actual journey there, the second will be about Mars and its people, and finally we’ll talk about our return to Earth. Understandably, we have been unable to update this blog while we were away, but we took lots of notes and interviewed lots of people on tape, and we’re almost finished transcribing everything, editing and putting everything in order.


 Getting to Mars with the Israeli secret service was no cushy number. Before we were granted permission to board their rocket (code name Zevd 605), we had to undergo hour upon hour of pointless interrogation (“How many members of your family are members of Hamas?” etc.), medical checkups (I was a bit concerned when I saw Sheen giggling deliriously after she’d been injected with sodium pentathol, and I had to lie and say I was a non-smoker), and all sorts of physical/mental endurance tests, plus we had to read, memorise word for word and sign in blood a disclaimer, swearing we would reveal nothing of our experience. Needless to say, we are blithely ignoring that, and feel quite safe doing so, for reasons which will become perfectly clear in Part Three of our adventures.


 The Israelis hate the term “space shuttle” and the only travel-specific vocabulary we had to learn was “rocket” and “landing module”. We travelled with four Mossad men and one woman. We never got to find out their names, and were instructed to refer to them as Captain G, Sergeant D, Sergeant Y, Mr B and Lieutenant J. They muttered a lot to each other on our journey there, but never spoke to us apart from brief commands such as “Keep still” and “Drink this”. Sheen had a crush on Captain G, who looked a bit like Kevin Costner.


 We were strapped to our seats all the way to Mars, which I was really disappointed at, especially as our companions were free to float around gravity-less. Eating and drinking was a messy affair – we had to squeeze some kind of paste from a tube straight into our mouth; it usually tasted like sweet chicken paté. There was orange juice to drink, but it tasted of nothing. The Mossad guys also drank coffee, and I asked for some, but they said it was rationed.


I jokingly asked if I could light a cigarette, just as we left the Earth’s orbit. Captain G didn’t think it was very funny.


The journey took just about 30 hours. It’s hard to calculate, because there’s no night or day when you’re zooming through space, but you could feel the speed of the rocket, which, apparently is a secret Israeli-devised thing which moves travels much faster than any American or Russian rocket.


 I had the idea that space would be an eery silent place, but the Zevd 605 was, in fact, quite a noisy contraption, and the crew were always grumbling and moaning about this and that. I regret to say that neither Sheen nor I speak or understand Hebrew – that was one of the pre-requisites for letting us go aboard in the first place – but you could tell more or less what they were talking about, and actually, I think I picked up quite a bit just by listening to their muttering. Sergeant D was always listening to his iPod, and sometimes shared it with the rest of us – it was mostly hip hop, not what I was looking forward to; I kept wishing I could listen to Brian Eno’s Apollo album.


 Excreting bodily waste was a ghastly, humiliating experience of tubes and plastic bags. Sheen was troubled with a bout of diarrhoea, which I won’t go into.


 After the first four or five hours, it was actually quite boring being in the rocket. The landscape (spacescape?) was always the same, and we’d read everything we could lay our hands on,  safety manuals, old copies of The Zionist Traveller and something called Jews In Space which made very little sense to me, mostly because it was in Hebrew.


 Sheen asked what the inflight movie was going to be, and Lieutenant J told her to stop being flippant. (By the way, why is it that all films you watch on planes star either Drew Barrymore or Will Smith?)


 Eventually, we were told that we were going to land. We looked out of the window and, sure enough, a reddish planet was looming. Kevin Costner gave us a final warning not to engage in any “Anti-Israeli activities” once we’d landed, and said that if we were to bump into any of the crew, we were not to address them in any way. “On landing, you will be taken to your hotel, and in approximately ten days you will be notified regarding departure protocol”, he said, frowning as though he hated having to transport us. He completely ignored Sheen’s fluttering her telescopic eyelashes at him.


 The rocket landed on Mars at about 8 o’clock in the morning. We scrambled uncomfortably into the landing module, and squatted there, all six of us, for about 20 minutes, until the decompression had finished. Then a yellow light came on, and Captain G opened the door. We walked down a small ladder, about six rungs, and I felt an indescribable thrill as I put my foot on Mars.


 “Welcome to Mars!”, said a voice. I could see nothing. “Enjoy your stay!”, said another, and I peered around to see where these voices were coming from. After a few seconds, I could just about make out some vague shadowy shimmering figures, and realised that they were Martians!


“Thank you!”, I replied, “We’re really excited to be here!”


I could see the shadowy figures were sort of smiling. “You are Heen and Sheen Martínez? Please follow us.”


 I turned around and saw the Mossad agents slinking off in the opposite direction.


“Xolexole Hotel, right?”, asked one of the shadows


“Er… I don’t know,” I answered, “We were just told we’d be picked up here.”


The Martian grinned. “Do you have all your luggage? Let’s go!”


We got into a sort of boat, and the Martian drove it out of the building where we’d landed, like a giant roofless warehouse. After a few minutes of practice, Sheen and I could distinguish the Martians quite clearly; they looked like smoky holograms, floating around the place. There were no streets as such, but there were buildings, and boat-like vehicles that hovered a few inches off the ground.


 As it turned out, the hotel was practically next door to the “airport”, and less than five minutes later, we were at reception.


“Hijihiji, see to these tourists. They’re from Earth. Pre-paid.” Our guide left us in the hands of the receptionist.


“Heen and Sheen Martínez? From Zaragoza? Hmmm… let me see… ah yes, rooms 186 and 5320. Gusagusa! Give these people a hand with their bags!”


 A smiling bellboy appeared out of nowhere, grabbed our suitcases and took us to our rooms, which, despite their numbers, were side by side. I was to learn later that this is typical Martian logic!


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