Israel National Trail

September 29th: Takeoff.
September 30th: Meet the crew.
October 2nd: We begin the walk.

Follow the story as we hike across Israel.


Beit Guvrin


The Morning


You wake up.

It’s 4:45 am and you are still exhausted from the day before and from the long and rather damp night which has encouraged the mosquitoes to join you in your sleeping bag. The sky is still dark but there’s a glimmer of light on the horizon.

It’s too dark. That’s not the reason you’re awake – it’s because you really need to pee. Trouble is there isn’t a bathroom nearby, so you have to scramble out of your sleeping bag, grab a tissue and your headlamp from your bag and head off into the darkness to find a suitable bush. You find one that doesn’t quite protect you from notice but your group is stillalseep and besides that it’s dark enough that no one can see you.

When you’re relieved you go back to the camp and climb into your dew-covered sleeping bag to slip back into dreamland but inevitably the alarm blares out an annoyingly cheerful tune and you’re forced out again to prepare for the day. You slowly climb out of your bag again, this time more reluctantly, and begin to pack your bag for the twentieth time in twenty days.

First you change into your clothes for the day. It’s cold but you’ll warm up with the sun. The sleeping bag egts a quick shake before you roll it up so that the dew isn’t so thick on it. Then the ground mat gets a shake and gets rolled up. Then it’s breakfast time – if you’re lucky and found a grocery store the night before you can have some yogurt with your granola. Otherwise it’s water mixed with some condensed milk. Flip-flops get shoved into the pack and replaced by a pair of socks, then thicker socks, then finally the hiking boots. Your feet scream in protest from the pain of the blisters and sores your shoes caused the day before but you ignore the pain and lace up the shoes. All this happens quite slowly of course, as the cold melts away with the sunrise.

You pause to chat with your groupmates about the day. You have to go over the maps and discuss the length of the day, the destination and the amount of water to pack. Today it’s five liters. You fill up your bottles and shove them in your pack with great hesitation. Once you’re all packed up you’ll have to throw all that weight on your back.

If you’re ready first you sit and wait for everyone and chat, delaying having to put on the pack. If you’re ready last you get hurried by your groupmates, reminded every few minutes that it’s time to go and the day is going to get hot.

Finally everyone is ready and it’s time. You heft up your bag and attatch it to your back and transform once again into that turtle, carrying its home on its back and slowly moving on to a new destination.

It’s time to go and explore.

Introductions

The writer of this blog. I’m the one who complains about all my injuries like that kid with asthma who tags along but always falls behind. Not much previous hiking experience and a tendency to let a large and rather expensive camera dangle precariously from my neck while climbing rocky ledges.

Aladdine Joroff

Aladdine is the practical one, and also the one with most experience. A small and tough young woman, she’s been hiking in Tibet, Nepal, Switzerland and Boston. Among other places. Not your typical young rogue of a hiker, she’s a lawyer who got sick of corporate life and opted for adventure instead.

Sam Perry

Sam is the puppy dog of the group. He bounds ahead of us with impatience and wonders when we’ll all catch up. His energy wraps up in the evening when he whimpers and whines with all the small injuries that add up to real pain. A native of New Zealand, Sam has hiked in some pretty fascinating places and has a passion for life.

Shem Jamieson

Shem is the stoic one. He silently follows along, video camera in hand, recording what’s happening. We don’t really know what he’s recording. Could be a struggling hiker, could be a plastic bag floating in the wind. Often wandering off on his own between hikes, Shem is a great man and an even greater mystery.

Although some supporting characters will crop up as we go, these four are the ones to follow. When folks who come across us ask where we’re from we reply, “New Zealand, Australia, United States and Canada.” We’ve even considered just calling our group The Colonies.

Food

Anything dry is easy to carry. We are eating plenty of nuts, dried fruits and muesli, jerky and oats. But it can get pretty boring to eat dry food so we often buy bags of pita and add our staple:

Skippy peanut butter (with honey!) almost made it into our group name, as all four of us carry a jar, but we soon decided that either the danger of copyright infringement or the silliness of the name itself was inappropriate. Let’s say Skippy if our mascot. Not that we haven’t had a lot of offers.

I have three minutes left at this cafe. I know you’re all dying for photos of our journey and I promise they’ll come but now we have to push on. Keep following!

Making it there

The very first thing to come to terms with in travelling is that eventually something will go wrong. Everything started out perfectly. I didn’t forget anything, I was at the airport with plenty of time to spare, security didn’t give me a second glance. I even had a nice flight to Rome, sitting next to a chatty gentleman who told me all about his three grown kids, his mother’s house outside Rome and the soccer team he coaches. When I got to Rome I had a lovely Italian latté and got a few photographs of the religious Jewish men praying from the east-facing window. Then the babies started screaming.

The plane from Rome to Tel Aviv was full of religious families and it seemed each one had a child under 18 months in their clan. After the line up filling the lobby formed at the gate, we slowly boarded a plane that seemed like it was designed and possibly built by the Wright brothers. I settled into my seat and drifted off.

I was wakened by the piercing scream of an infant boy across the isle from me. I looked over and saw his father furiously patting his back, as if the more the child was tapped and the faster he’d settle down. Then I noticed something else – we weren’t in the air, we were on the tarmac. I was proud of myself for having slept through the whole flight and impressed that this boy was the first to disturb me. Then I checked my watch. 11:15. We couldn’t have made it that quickly, we’d taken off 45 minutes ago. I had to crane my neck since my window seat happened to be between two windows. There were a conspicuous collection of Alitalia planes nearby. Alitalia doesn’t fly to Tel Aviv that often. We were still in Rome.

11:45. After a muffled apology over the loudspeaker about technical difficulties we inched across the tarmac for ten minutes, then began our ascent. Immediately the flight attendants began to distribute the Kosher meals. There were a great deal of them. I wasn’t getting a kosher meal so I settled in and tried to doze off again. A flight attendant came by and handed a Kosher meal to the girl beside me. I smiled at her and she pulled another boxed lunch off the tray and handed it to me.

“Kosher meal.”

“I didn’t order a kosher meal,” I responded, fearing someone who did wouldn’t get theirs.

She pulled a long, complicated printout and streched over three seats toward me.

“Mihal Zada?”

“Yes, but…”

“Kosher meal,” she said, handing me the box. I took it figuring I’d scored an early lunch and wouldn’t have to wait for the ‘regular’ food. I slid the plastic wrapping off the box and felt my stomach give an approving purr. It was meat, so no yogurt. But there were some fruit. They just looked a little strange. Upon further examination I discovered they were frozen. I shrugged this off and went for the little roll. It too was solid. My seatmate’s food was also solid. I glanced up to see another flight attendant passing out ‘regular’ food and called her over.

“This is frozen.”

“Oh,” She said, not looking to concerned about that. I could see I wouldn’t get anywhere complaining about that.

“I also didn’t order a Kosher meal.”

That made all the difference. She reached into her cart and pulled out a tray.

“Here,” she said, trading my box for her standard airplane fare. I took it, but noticed that my seatmate said nothing, opting to pick at whatever had started to thaw. I was annoyed that she felt embarrassed to complain and even more annoyed that the crew hadn’t bothered to thaw the kosher meals when the rest of the food was attended to. I thought about defending her but decided against it, opting instead to munch on my mediocre cream cheese sandwich (sans ham) and much warmer fruit.

When we got off the plane it was almost 3:00 and I knew I wouldn’t make it to meet the hiking crew in time, since we were supposed to meet at Café Yaffo at 4:00. I called Sam, introduced myself and let him know I would be late. Then I went to collect my backpack and set off.

The first round of luggage landed on the belt with no luck for me. I had checked in early so my luggage was probably at the back, in the second load. There was a lull as people waited. Nothing happened. I turned to the woman waiting next to me and joked that our bags were still in Rome. She was French and didn’t speak any English so my joke went over her head.

I tried again. In bad French I suggested that our bags were in another compartment of the plane and they’re probably getting loaded up now. She shrugged and said she didn’t know. I wandered around a bit tried my hand at reading Hebrew and came back. The French woman was still waiting. She looked worried. She explained to me that she spoke neither English nor Hebrew. Understandable then that she would worry, without being able to ask for help. I went to look for it, asking the information desk.

I was informed that if nothing else came I could go to the lost and found desk for assistance. The lost and found desk was very informative. It was surrounded by a swarm of people I recognized from the plane. The French woman had more than one reason to be worried. I went back to the belt and explained about the lost and found desk, but she wanted to wait a little longer. I wandered back to the lost and found desk. I was listening to a mother lecture her child about lying on the dirty floor when I glanced back and saw more luggage had begun to fall. This was encouraging.

The belt began to crowd up when I returned. I walked around to see if my bag was there. It wasn’t, and the French woman was still waiting, still looking worried. I asked if she’d had any luck and she answered no. I looked up at the screen in front of our belt. Alitalia from Rome 2:45pm, United Airlines from Newark, 3:30. I tapped the shoulder of a man beside me.

“Pardon me, are you here from Newark?”

Proudly, the man straightened himself up and replied, “I am from New York, yes!”

“So you got here from Newark?”

My lack of interest in his origin disappointed him somewhat and in a more deflated tone he answered that he had indeed arrived from Newark. I thanked him and returned to the muddled swarm of Grown-Ups, screaming children and luggage carts in front of the lost and found desk.

After 45 minutes of frustrating waiting, I gave my information and was informed that the luggage was indeed still in Rome and would land in Tel Aviv at 2:00am. I could have it delivered to me the next morning by 10:00 am. Hesitantly I agreed, filled out some customs paperwork, wished the French woman who was at the booth next to me luck, and went off to meet the crew…

…whom I’ll tell you about later.

I got to my grandfather’s house at 10pm, ate dinner and eventually slept. When I woke up I was informed the luggage would arrive between 2:00 and 4:00pm. This worried me slightly since I still had to prepare everything but it was acceptable. We went out, did some shopping, opened a bank account and were generally useful. When my aunt got home at 4:30, she informed me they would be about an hour late. Since my granfather would be home to pick my bag up, we went to do some more shopping and round off my list of food.

We returned at 6:30. My grandfather explained that he had called the courier and assured me the bag would be at the door in 20 minutes. I was getting worried. I needed to unpack the food, put it in ziplocks, label everything and re-arrange my bag to fit my camera equipment.

The courier called an hour and a half later to get directions to the house. My bag was in one piece and my grandfather offered him a glass of juice and a handshake and he was on his way to deliver the last of the bags.

Ladies and gentlemen, it is 1:00 on October 2nd. I am leaving for my hike at 6am. I just finished packing; I am finally prepared. If I believed in karma I would say nothing more can go wrong, but of course it can. How else could I offer you such entertaining stories?