Monthly Archives: March 2016

Easter on the Sea of Galilee 

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In Karem Maharal it was only possible to receive packages for a half hour in the mornings when the postman sorted the mail each day. I sat beside the row of mailboxes, waiting for the truck to arrive, as costumed children passed me on their way to kindergarten. Overhead, storks were migrating from Africa to eastern Europe for the summer. They don’t fly in formation. The large, efficient feathered foul are lifted in chimneys of air and then they glide on the current until another chimney of air lifts them again. The flock was random and graceful drifting about in the sky. Quite beautiful, actually! When the little red truck finally pulled up and the postman jumped out, I stared at his sack, willing my solar charger to be in it. But alas, the storks notwithstanding, there was no parcel of joy for me.
 

 

I said a fond farewell to the Penn’s, having decided to leave before the Purim festivities. Before I left, their Ferrier, who is also an Apiculturist, arrived and offered to treat my ankles with targeted bee stings. He showed me the stings where he had treated his own sore wrist that morning, and those of his apprentice. I thought about it, I really did, but in the end, I didn’t have the guts. I caught various lifts from kind people and slowly made my way back to the Sea of Galilee, the lowest freshwater sea on earth.

  

The husband of one couple who gave me a lift was in the Israeli army. He said he commands 500 soldiers and when he goes home, he is the soldier. He said, even his little daughter tells him what to do. His wife just smiled. Two weeks ago he was non-fatally (obviously) stabbed and then he shot the terrorist dead. I knew that being a career soldier here is a dangerous business but hearing the story, said with such equanimity, made it all very real.

Another couple stopped at a nursery where I was attempting to buy seeds for a wild plant named Louisa (commonly mixed with sage and lemongrass for a delicious evening tea). They drove me a good part of the way and when they dropped me off, gave me a little container of ointment and one of their garden grapefruits that was twice the size of the biggest grapefruit I have ever seen. And sweet – oh my goodness! I sat on the side of the road and ate the whole thing.

  

Initially, the purpose of coming to Israel was for Jen and me, together, to hike the entire trail. To hike long and hike hard. Our ageing bodies laughed at us and, sadly, Jen had to go home. When I decided to carry on alone, pacing myself, my ankles continued laughing (or crying as the case may be). I am now ensconced on the beach and I admit the gears are grinding a little as I downshift into the slow lane once again. I tell myself that going slow is OK, even necessary. I get up in the mornings and instead of hoisting my backpack, I immerse myself in the bracing water of miracles and baptisms, eat a breakfast of tea, bread, hummus and salad. I stretch, read, write, and I look for things. There are a smattering of campers on this free beach during Shabbat but I am alone here during the week and you wouldn’t believe what I have found. I now have two hibachi’s (the Israeli version), briquettes, a comfortable chair, a beach mat, wood, a tablecloth, and lots of other various stuff. All I need is a shopping cart! I have also collected a variety of small, flat stones that I am writing on, in Hebrew, a blessing of peace. I will bring these with me when I leave this beach. When I get home I will try drilling a small hole in each of them for a chain to pass through.

In a couple of days, I plan to return to the Old City in Jerusalem and lay my assorted pebbles and small shards of Roman pottery on the sacred stone where Christ was washed in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. I would like to give one to each of you for whom this would be meaningful. Let me know by email or comment if you would like one (so I know how many stones to bring). Also, if you have a wish or a prayer that you would like me to leave in the Western Wall, I will attempt to do that. This feels like a good thing for me to set my sights on. Then I will head to Bethlehem.

I am somewhat of a fatalist, always thinking there are reasons for everything. Maybe sometimes, water is just water, but regardless, I will continue drinking up this adventure, wherever it takes me, believing, for better or worse, that my steps are somehow guided. Now, enough philosophizing. Night has claimed the day and it is time to turn my eyes to the far shore and the golden lights of Tiberius. Happy Easter!

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Rolling with the punches

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 ‘Purim’ is the most joyous holiday in the Jewish calendar beginning at sundown tonight and continuing until sundown tomorrow night. It commemorates the saving of the Jews in Persia as told in the book of Esther. It is all about drinking, feasting, and merry-making; everybody dresses up and parades in the street and I am told it is something to see. What I also really hope to see is the imminent arrival of my replacement solar charger.

I am at the home of Kathy and Relly Penn, the parents of the cheerful and easygoing Alon (one of the dear students that Jen and I met in Mikhmoret), and the place where my charger is being sent. They have welcomed me with open arms and have had me for dinner since arriving. We have enjoyed delicious asparagus soup with bread, cheese and their own amazing homemade olives. Kathy is originally from Australia and she and Relly met when he was a tour guide many years ago. Relly is now a farmer and returned later in the evening from a two day meeting in Jordan to collaborate the idea of using barn owls to control field mice with other Jordanian and Palestinian farmers. They are super nice people and have invited me to stay for as long as I want. I will stay for Purim, but then, solar charger in hand or not, I will be on my way (as my dad always said – leave when you’re still welcome to stay).

 

 
 I have accepted the sad reality that my Achilles’ tendons have defected. Despite careful hiking, the swelling remains and the throbbing has returned. I have tempered my tendency to push past it as over-stressing Achilles’ tendonitis causes potentially casting and surgery. Not to be whiny, but not a great situation for a self-employed, sole income earner, with a fledgeling blueberry farm.

 

 
I know just the place to pitch my tent for more catering to my boring temperamental tendons; Zeelon beach on the Sea of Galilee where Jen and I had such a restful time. I will see some more sites, rest, read, write, and ponder the intricacies of the universe. And maybe, just maybe, the swelling will calm the blankety-blank down. It was Jen that said, who knew that my Achilles’ heel really was my Achilles’ heel. (Check out her blog for our exciting alligator adventure!)

It was also my plan, while in the Middle East, to go to Egypt and see the pyramids. I figured, how can I be so close and not see them. But it turns out that the high risk of being kidnapped and getting my head lopped off is a strong deterrent. All current travel advisories in the free world report extreme and unpredictable terrorist activities in the Sinai, specifically in the area of the southern Israeli/Egyptian border (which is exactly where I would be crossing) and strongly advise against all travel to this ‘red zone’ area. So I have decided, being the smart, independent woman that I am, to take a miss on the pyramids and not to overburden the guardians that protect me. Besides, I could end up in a real pickle if my protective sentinels were sleeping off a Purim hangover.

Israeli “Trail Angels”

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“Trail Angels” are people who offer thru hikers on the Israel National Trail a hot shower, a bed, Internet, laundry, and occasionally food, usually free of charge. In the green and populated north, there are many trail angels and I’m told that many hikers use them frequently. I’m more comfortable being self-sufficient and sleeping in my tent but the morning after a particularly wet and interrupted night (I inadvertently pitched my tent on low ground, within spitting distance of a well used railway track on the same night that the coyotes were oddly fixated on me) I called a trail angel named Martha in Zikhron ya’ Yakov. She gave me her coordinates (about a three hour walk away) and said I was welcome whenever I got there.

En route, I met a couple of ladies, my age, sauntering along the path. When I asked how much further the town was, they answered that it was a leisurely 20 minute walk away and that there was a concert in the park, starting in an hour. Sure enough, about 20 minutes later, following their directions, I detoured through a gate that opened onto lovely manicured gardens, sat myself down on the grass under an umbrella, for a complete change of pace. And what a pleasure!

 

 
“The Israeli Brass Quintet” played a recognizable mixture of lively, whimsical and classical melodies (including “Fiddler on the Roof”) using multiple brass instruments and displaying a quality and skill that was inconceivable for a free concert. I felt very cultured (a novel experience) sitting in an Israeli park, listening to classical music, on a sunny, Friday afternoon. No one seemed to mind that I was just a grubby traveler. In fact, when it was made known (by the ladies I had met on the trail) that I was hiking the shvil, I was ceremoniously offered tea and apple cake.

When I eventually arrived to the trail angel’s house (the family Haberman), Martha (the mother) showed me to a separate little apartment in their hillside home with a view of the Mediterranean and proceeded to invite me to their Shabbat dinner that evening.

  

Later… candles were lit, the father sang Hebrew blessings and individually hugged and blessed each of their three children. We then ate challa (Sabbath bread) with salad, roasted potatoes and yams with brussels sprouts, grilled salmon, and wine.

There may be a version of Trail Angels on other trails but not, I believe, like this. Little villages can have as many as 10 registered Angels. The degree of caring here for other people’s well-being feels unique. The love of homeland feels unique. Hiking the national trail is praised and supported. Israelis are honest-to-goodness thrilled that Jen and I came from Canada to walk and appreciate their land. Until next time – Shabbat shalom.

A night to remember in Ancient Caecaria 

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I woke up (the morning after my last post) to clear skies. I packed up and said goodbye to the warmhearted students and walked out the hostel gate feeling like I was pushing my way out of the womb into an uncharted world. I had become accustomed to the comfort and security. But it was time to cut the cord. I stood on a bluff overlooking the Mediterranean, took a deep breath and let my jitters be carried away with the wind. And boy was it windy!

It felt nice and familiar to be back on the trail. I plodded across rolling sand dune’s along the coast without a specific destination in mind; my plan was to go until my ankle said stop. Three or four hours later as I approached the ruins of ancient Caesaria, I knew that was far enough.

The pay booth was closed but the gate was open and the old city was all but deserted.  I wandered around looking at the extensive remains of the magnificent coastal port that was once a cultural and commercial powerhouse. The innovative architecture was rebuilt by Herod in the first century in honour of Augustus Caesar.

 

 Storm clouds had been blowing in from the east and by early evening the rain hit with a vengeance. I was sitting under a three sided makeshift archaeological structure covered with vapour barrier within the ruins pondering what to do for the night. As it continued raining, the twilight deepening, an idea was taking shape. Hmmm…do I dare? It would be pretty exciting. I had a look around and found a mound of black landscape fabric behind a shed under the enclosure. There wasn’t room to put up my tent but I would have shelter and be off the ground. I didn’t want to draw attention by lighting my stove so there would be no supper or tea but it was an opportunity that was simply not to be missed.
 

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 Later, In the dark, snug and comfortable on the landscape fabric, wind and rain tearing ferociously at the vapour barrier, waves crashing against the Byzantine break wall, the intoxication of actually sleeping within the famous ruins made my skin tingle. I fantasized that I had crossed some Narnia like portal and would wake up to the sounds of the Roman marketplace. Instead I woke up to the sounds of workman’s voices. I stayed quiet as a mouse and didn’t move. But I was discovered anyway. When the two workers saw me, they put their hands over their heart and brought me water and cookies and told me to be careful; soon the snakes would be coming out from under the black fabric to sun themselves on the rocks, then headed off with their wheelbarrows and shovels. I packed up pretty quick.

 

 The shvil left ancient Caesaria following a Roman road along the coast, abundant with ruins, and every so often you could see intact mosaics and small pieces of broken pottery. I was in my glory stuffing the pottery into my pack (reminding me of when Sabrina and I backpack through Greece and carried slabs of marble that we found). Eventually though, I decided that it was foolish for me to carry the extra weight, so I regrettably left my treasures behind and consoled myself inhaling handfuls of the wild Rosemary that grows everywhere here.

In the days since, I have been back in my tent (sometimes cozy, sometimes cold and wet) and continued north with judicious baby steps. The trail turned inland at the Arabic fishing village of Zorba. I crossed Mount Caramel and dropped down into the gardens at Zihron Ya’ akov. But that is a story for another post.

Healing my wings in Mikhmoret

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I am still at the hostel in Mikhmoret. It has been rainy so I am taking the opportunity to ice my ankles with the fervent wish that they will rally forth and be able to stay the course. My stomach flutters at the thought. The days with Kermit the car taking Jen and I wherever we wanted, carrying loads of delicious food and water without hardship, combined with the fact that I have been cocooned (with water and power at my fingertips) here in this resort hostel seems to have filed off the hard edge of my resolve that was so well honed in the desert. Tootie (one of the young students) told me that I still need to rest, that I am carrying too much weight (maybe she means around my hips). The food here is awesome. The picture is a representation of the food staples that Jen and I enjoyed every day.

  
Jen arrived back in Edmonton safely and received a warm welcome from her family, who are thrilled to have her home. Her leg is doing weird things with intermittent periods of numbness so she will make a doctors appointment to check that out and catch up on needed sleep before starting work again. I am sure she is enjoying not having to blow up her bed every night. She will send my solar charger back to the company in California and once they receive it, they will send me another one here in Israel. Her feelings about leaving are still mixed and I very much miss her company but we both feel she made the right decision

Last night in the rain, my sleeping bag wrapped around me, I scampered under a tarp sheltering a couple of couches, where I slept until morning. The owner of this establishment is returning in the next few days. The students living here have said that my being here will be no problem but in the same breath they say, “he is an asshole to put it gently”. I think I would rather be gone when he arrives.

I am eager to get back on the trail and find out that all will be well. I feel restless and soft but I’m grateful to have had this place to physically and emotionally prepare for the second leg of this journey, whatever that will look like. My plan is to leave tomorrow but I will let the final decision of when to emerge from the chrysalis rest with the weather. If it is raining in the morning, I will stay for yet another fitful day of leisure and continue to ice my feet. If not, I will quell my stomach flutterings and cautiously test my wings.

And then there was one

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After a great time camping on the sandy beaches of the Sea of Galilee, Jen’s insurance confirmed they will pay for her early return. She has been conflicted about the decision of whether to stay or leave. So many things to consider! Her knee is better but still weakened and carrying her pack would likely cause a relapse. In the end, deciding to leave felt like the right decision for her. So we headed back to Tel Aviv, shell shocked that our time together here in Israel was finishing. She wanted to take me in the car to wherever in Israel I wanted to be. So sweet!

We finished up at The Resort Hostel in Mickmoren, north of Tel Aviv (which is actually closed for the winter but students renting here welcomed us in and told us to pitch our tents in the sheltered tent area) They are helpful and generous even though they were in the middle of their end of the season party.

The next day, with mixed emotions, we sorted through our gear. Jen took down her little tent, rolled up her leaky air mattress and packed them into her trusty red backpack for the last time on Israeli soil. We went back to the druz roadside stand nearby and ate incredibly delicious street food on fresh made druz bread with mouth watering Israeli spices before our sad farewell. Jen returned the car to the airport, spent a solitary night there, and is now winging her way home as I write. Today I sat looking out at the Mediterranean feeling very adrift. I suspect, while excited to see family and friends, Jen is also feeling somewhat lost, looking down on the same sea, having left a chunk of her heart here in Israel. But oh, the pictures and the memories we have!

So what now! I have pondered different options and received dire warnings of the consequences of rushing the recovery for my Achilles injuries. I am mindful of not wanting to worry family and friends by continuing on alone with compromised ankles and no solar power (sadly, my solar charger stopped working a few days ago) but I am compelled to stay on the trail if I am able. I feel that we have been guided and protected every step of this journey; even our injuries feel somehow purposeful. I will stay in the north where villages are frequent. I will go slowly, rest often and take the utmost care.

Time is a funny thing – our rich experiences hiking and surviving in the immense grandeur of the Negev Desert feels like long ago; it also feels like Jen and I have been dear friends for many years when, in fact, we only met a few times before leaving on this crazy adventure; and likely, once she is home for a couple weeks, Israel will feel like a lifetime away. By the same token, she’s only been gone a night and a day and it feels like longer. I deeply miss my hiking buddy already. It will take a bit to adjust to our suddenly changed realities.

You never know what’s around the next wadi or why it’s there. Sometimes it’s easy and predictable and sometimes it’s not – but I guess that’s the nature of adventure. And what an extraordinary and wonderful adventure we’ve had! Next post – part two. href=”https://theflipsideoffifty.files.wordpress.com/2016/03/image4.jpg” rel=”attachment wp-att-711″>image

 

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Unexpected Adventures

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It is a dark night. We lay in our tents on a freshwater beach on the Sea of Galilee where we bathed and washed our clothes earlier in the day. I look across the ancient waters to the golden lights of Tiberius glittering on the far hillside. Crickets are chirping, there are low Arabic voices in the background. It is lovely and peaceful. I reflect on the past few days.

We decided to rent a car to give our knees and ankles more needed recovery time. If I am the trailblazer than Jen is the road warrior as she fearlessly maneuvered us out of the busy Jerusalem streets and into the agriculture-rich Golan Heights of northern Israel. Fields of volcanic rock and multiple signs warning of active mines reminded me that, regardless of the greenery, I am far from home. That fact was also reinforced, when thinking we had approached a standard Israeli security checkpoint, we were in fact, actually crossing the border into Lebanon. Crazy! Needless to say, we turned around.

 

 Winding our peppy, little green Mazda up and down the hills of Nazareth we agreed that Jesus must’ve been very fit. I miss being on the trail but I have been grateful for wheels as yesterday was the first day in weeks that I didn’t feel like I was walking on broken glass. The car also allows us to see many interesting sites and have adventures that would have been impossible otherwise.

We stumbled upon the Mount of the Beatitudes where Jesus preached (Blessed are they that…). It was manicured and beautiful, but the rows of tour buses and maybe the fact that it was so manicured, didn’t move us as much as other places. However, the haunting hymnal harmonies of a nun and three priests in the domed church was an unexpected pleasure

Merlon Golan is a hillside defence station that gave us a very small glimpse into the ravages of conflict. At the top of the hill, we talked with two UN peacekeepers who are positioned there (one from Ireland and one from Serbia) and they gave us a bit of history of the area. We looked down into Syria and saw a bombed out city. The trenches and shelters that we walked along were the site of fierce fighting in the 1974 Syrian war and now serves as a remembrance. Witnessing the raw pain on the faces of people moaning and praying there moved us to tears as we wondered about their stories and their lives.

Yesterday we went to Nimrod fortress (who knew Nimrod meant mighty hunter). Qal’at Nimrod (its Arabic name) is one of the largest and most impressive surviving fortresses of the middle east since the middle ages. In the 1100s when it was built it was surrounded by impregnable walls, domed archways, towers and a moat, and it controlled the important route to Damascus.


Nimrod, king of Shinar is supposedly the great grandson of Noah and, according to legend, in this place he was punished by Allah, who put a mosquito inside his head which drove him mad. The Crusaders tried to take over the fortress but were unsuccessful and it has been controlled mainly by Muslims and Sultans since medieval times. We walked through secret passageways, deep water cisterns (still containing water where we saw a turtle swimming) and of course the dungeons. We couldn’t help but shiver and speculate what atrocities had transpired in the dungeons of Nimrod.

 

 And on that cherry note, it’s time to sleep.