Thursday, September 29, 2005
from sea to sea to sea!
I apologize in advance, for this is going to be a very VERY long post. For those who manage to read the whole thing (let alone in one sitting) I applaud you. I won’t be offended if you give up halfway through, but I do promise to try and keep you entertained as I spin tales of my travels from the Red Sea to the Sea of Galilee to the Mediterranean Sea. This post will start with the post I originally meant to publish on Sunday and will flow into the adventures of the last three days I spent hiking and camping in the Israeli wilderness…

(just a reminder.. you can click on the pics to enlarge them!)

As the saying goes, when it rains it pours.

Right after I wrote that last post I packed up all my stuff and left the internet café and made my way back to the Livnot campus. The route back to the campus takes me right through this long artist alley where there are all kinds of shops on either side of the alley, usually with local artists selling everything from paintings to jewelry. On one of our tours we were introduced to some of the artists so I make a point of nodding and smiling on the way by and maybe say hi. There is one fellow in particular I would always say hi to and one day when passing I noticed he had broken his arm and made mention of it to him (his reply was “yeah, it’s a real problem”. Haha… yes, as an artist I suppose it would be). Yesterday when I passed him he was eating a pizza outside his shop so I stopped and talked to him a bit and he offered me his last piece (I took a pass on putting ketchup on it… blecch! Why do Israelis do that?!). Soon we struck up a conversation and not long after that he was hitting on me hard and fast. First my eyes were incredibly beautiful and then it was my lips. He said he wanted to “eat them” (does this work as a pick up line?? Does it somehow sound more suave in Hebrew? I can only guess). I laughed and asked how old he was to which he said 26, and he in turn asked how old I was. I told him that I was a lot older than him (5 years younger is just so unappealing for me) and that he should chase a girl a little younger. He replied by telling me he loved girls with short hair (in other words, he would not allow himself to be rebuffed). In no time at all he asked if he could “eat my lips for 10 minutes” to which I said that he MUST be joking. He quickly trimmed it down to 10 seconds which made me laugh and then told him I was leaving to head back to campus.
Oy, what is WITH the men here??

On my way back to campus I stopped in one of the little shops that was selling jewelry (silver pendants, my real weakness) and struck up a nice conversation with the man in there. He talked about Livnot fondly and how he likes seeing all the different groups that pass through (no doubt! Tourism is a short lived season in Tzfat and I’m sure the Livnot groups provide more traffic through the area than would otherwise be). He said that he had noticed me when I walked by, on several occasions. I asked why and he said because I was different, that I walked differently. He said that often I am alone and I walk… just differently than the others (I joked and said it was because I am Canadian unlike most of the group who are American). He said he noticed that even when walking with the group that I tend to walk alone.. a little ahead of the group sometimes, but more often behind. He told me he noticed this because it reminded him of himself, that we both seemed to be a bit of a lone wolf. I replied that I was impressed with his observation because very few notice that about me. Even when in a group situation I often find that I stay on the outskirts a bit and observe, opting not to be in the thick of things and overall avoiding “cliques” whenever possible. We continued talking for quite some time and conversations ranged from the sadness of Israeli music to how impressed he was by groups like ours coming to Israel and we even talked a little bit about Canada. And of course I ended up a few of his pieces (handmade!) making him both the nicest and smartest businessman I met that day.

Upon returning back to campus I joined the group on an outing to the artist colony in Tzfat to meet with a local artist who specializes in art relating to Kabbalah. His art was amazing and his story fascinating. He had grown up in Detroit and in his college days did as many did and sought something deeper in life. Assuming there was nothing meditative in Judaism he was packing up to head to India to find his answers. Before he had a chance to go to India he was given a book about Jewish meditations. He learned about Kabbalah in all it’s mystic intrigue and was hooked and moved to Israel. Despite his long unkempt beard you could tell he was a young man… perhaps my age? Maybe a few years younger? His enthusiasm for Kabbalah and his art was infectious and he spoke like a dude who likes to surf; informal and genuine and very laid back. I liked the art very much, especially the idea that it all had underlying meaning. I may stop back there to pick up something later…

After that visit it was a race back to the campus to pack and get ready to catch a bus to Tel Aviv. As luck would have it I managed to get a ride with part of my group that was sharing a shirut to Tel Aviv so I didn’t have to take a bus afterall (a shirut is usually an oversized van or something similar that seats 8 –12 people and often follows the bus routes. It’s sort of like a shared cab, and in this case we called and hired one to take us all and shared the cost). It took about 2.5 hours to reach Tel Aviv where I parted ways with my group who were staying at a hostel there and I was picked up by another friend and continued on to Eilat, at the very southern tip of Israel (for those following along with a map, the route was Tel Aviv down the coast to Ashdod, across to the Dead Sea, to Be’er Sheva, to Dimona (Whitney Houston’s favourite pitstop because of the high number of black folk living there) and then down to Eilat (the route runs along the border with Jordan for much of the way). At night it’s a really boring drive but during the day the desert is quite beautiful. We arrived around 2:30am. Dr.Phil came on at 3am and I really wanted to stay up and watch it because it looked like a good one… relationship rescue retreat! Couples on the verge of divorce calling each other all kinds of names and confessing all kinds of mean stuff they had done. Like I said, I wanted to stay up and watch (I haven’t watched any tv for almost a month!) but felt that I had better get to sleep because the noise of other hotel patrons would be waking me up in a few short hours.

Waking up the next morning in the beautiful Ambassador Hotel in Eilat the biggest decision I had to make for the day was …. should go for a swim in the pool or get some salt water and take a dip in the Red Sea? Decisions, decisions. In Eilat you have Egypt on one side, Jordan on the other and the Red Sea to play in…. it is a gorgeous city to chill out in.

Overall my weekend was spent hanging out by the pool and the beach reading a book and woefully attempting to get a tan. There are a few problems with my efforts to get a tan: (1) I find just laying in the sun for the sake of laying in the sun boring as all hell. (2) it’s hot just laying in the sun and who really wants to be that hot? Eilat is the hottest place in Israel! (3) let’s face it, acquiring a tan for me is near impossible. While I have managed to get a bit of a tan on my arms from all the hiking we have done, for some inexplicable reason my legs have remained porcelain white. Seems there are impervious to tanning and so I have tan sleeves but no tan pants. Pretty sexy look, lemme tell ya.

Saturday night I spent about 8.5 hours making my way from the southern end of Israel back up to the northern end of Israel. The car ride up to Tel Aviv was about 3.5 hours in traffic and I arrived with time to spare before catching a bus up the coast to Haifa. From there I was told I could catch a connecting bus to Tzfat. I hugged my friend and boarded the bus for Haifa. Upon arriving in Haifa I could not find the platform for the bus to Tzfat (there are signs at each platform saying what buses leave from each platform). Eventually I found the information/ticket booth:

Me: “slicha?” (excuse me?)

Ticket Dude: ken? (yes?)

Me: “can you tell me where I need to go to catch the bus to Tzfat?”

Ticket Dude: “Ah, Tzfat. You need to catch a bus to *someplaceIdidn’tcatch* and from there you can catch another bus to Tzfat”.

Me (now wondering what he just said… where? Was that one word or four?): “um…. Ok.”

Ticket Dude: “So you go to platform 12 and take bus 103 to *thatplaceIcan’tseemtocatch* and take the connecting bus from there”

Me: Er…. Ok. Platform 12, bus 103?

Ticket Dude: “yes.”

So off I went in the hopes that I could figure out from there where I was supposed to go. When the bus arrived shortly thereafter I boarded along with everyone else and dug into my wallet for some money. The bus driver said something to me in Hebrew that I did not understand but instinct made me blurt out “Tzfat” which he entered into his onboard computer for the ticket price (34 shekels, about $11 CAN). He said something else to me at which point I informed him in Hebrew that I do not in fact speak Hebrew so he asked in English “How many?”. I said just one, and does he go directly to Tzfat? (I knew the answer was no, but I was hoping that the third’s the charm and I would finally understand where I was supposed to go.) He said no that I would have to catch a connecting bus at *thatplacetheotherguysaid *. I gave up and moved down the bus to find somewhere to stand on the packed bus.

After a ride on that bus and a bizarre interaction with to Russian woman (language barriers ARE fun!) I found myself at another bus station. As I got off I began scanning the platform signs to find that one that said Tzfat. They were all in Hebrew but that was only slowing me down, not stopping me since I can read Tzfat in Hebrew, no problem. Sifting through all the other towns on the signs was what was slowing me down. Eventually I gave up and walked towards the information kiosk, only to find it was closed. Great. I went back to reading the signs and found that, duh!, on the other side of the signs the towns were listed in English! I moved quickly along as I scanned for Tzfat (listed as Zafat on the sign) and found it right near the end of the platform (of course). According to the sign I needed to catch bus 361 or 362. No problem! I made myself comfortable and began to wait. It was at this point that I wondered, Hmmm… just when will this bus arrive? Am I even sure it will, because bus schedules tend to be a bit sketchy on shabat (Saturdays). I got up and walked towards a framed piece of paper on the post (the schedule). It was of course, all in Hebrew. Doing some detective work and some broken Hebrew I managed to surmise that in fact neither of those buses would be coming until tomorrow. Time for a new plan. I looked back up at the platform sign to see what other towns were listed, and found that if I caught the 501 bus it would pass through Akko (Acco, Acre) and Karmi’el and Tzfat on it’s way to somewhere else. Not 5 minutes later the 501 arrived, I confirmed the destination with the driver and I was on my way back to campus. By 11:40pm I was hiking through the streets of Tzfat with two bags slung over my shoulder and I arrived to an empty campus with the exception of my roommate who was sitting on the campus computer. I could not have been happier to see a friendly and familiar face at that point. We hung out, talked, ate cold pizza and played on the computers until 3am and then hit the hay.

Sunday was the start of a new week. We had a group meeting in the afternoon to talk about our feelings towards the program and why we were in it (this is something we did at the beginning of the program but we were doing it again because the group was obviously unhappy about the way the weekend was handled. I was taken aside later by two of the program co-ordinators for a chat because… well, sadly I can’t really say. This blog is no longer a place in which I can share any negative thoughts about the program because too many of the Livnot staff are reading and I don’t need more backlash. Sorry folks! My fault for giving out the blog address). We also had an orientation for our three day hike in which we outlined the plan for the three days and what we would need to pack.. The plan: to start close to the Sea of Galilee (Lake Kinneret) and walk all the way to the Mediterranean Sea!

(Oh and btw, I have a cellphone now! Yael, expect a call next week when I am settled in and have recovered from my hike. We never really got to talk long, when I first got here, I’m sorry. And John, expect a call from me when I return to the Jerusalem campus in 2 weeks. We simply must have a coffee together some night!)

Monday morning it was rise and shine at 5:15am to quickly get dressed and grab some breakfast. By 6:30am we were on a bus and heading to our drop off point to start the hike. The group was mostly groggy (youngins staying up too late! Me, the old wise dog, went to bed plenty early) but I was pumped with excitement and admittedly annoying to the rest of the group with my giddiness. No worries, this enthusiasm would soon be sweat right out of me.

Day One. The first day of the hike would prove to be the hottest to endure. The goal was to make our way around the base of the mountain to the spot where we would ascend it the next day in order to go up and over to the other side. The hike itself was fairly tough as the trail had us climbing over large boulders and sliding down rocks faces. Early on I won the prize for first blood drawn, as I scraped my kneecap against a rock as I was climbing up it. Shortly thereafter I smashed the same knee into another boulder when trying to jump from one to another. The pain was a little on the breathtaking side and I had to take a moment to compose myself. Little did I know that injury would come back to haunt me for the next two days.

The group spirit was high even as we were drowning in our own sweat. We would take frequent breaks under the shade of a tree where our group leader would give us a history lesson about where we were. We drank massive amounts of water only to have it pour out our pores as sweat, soaking our shirts (by the way, we need to carry 2 –3 litres of water for the day which weighs a TON! It’s no fun slugging that up the side of a mountain, and gives you some incentive to drink often… the more you drink the lighter the load gets!). At one point I tried to find a dry spot on my shirt to wipe the dust off my sunglasses (it was often a very dusty hike!) but was unable to find even the smallest of dry spots * anywhere * on my tanktop. Ick. On one our first stops we could see these bizarre little furry creatures called hyraxes, across the valley from us as they sat munching on plants and making strange sounds. They sort of looked like overgrown groundhogs… quite large!

I could try and describe the gorgeous scenery of our hike to you but I’m not sure I could do it justice. And the fact that some of the paths we were walking had been taken by Jews, Romans and Crusaders hundreds of years earlier was mind blowing. We saw ruins everywhere and were able to touch a piece of history in ways I have never been able to before. We saw Citadels, archeological digs, ruins of homes, synagogues, churches, towns and even a castle! But more on that at the end….

Our first night camping was the roughest and most maddening. Exhausted and drained from our hike we were happy to see that our camp area at least had a few faucets we could use to get fresh water and to wash up a bit. By this point most of us had become quite proficient at going to the washroom in the woods and washing out hands with water from our backpacks. The faucet was an added bonus as we were able to stock up on water for our trip the next day and I was even able to wash my hair the next morning (nothing like using ice cold water on the scalp on a chilly morning at 6am!). We struggled to get the tents up and to start a campfire and barbeque so that we could eat and sleep as soon as possible. How strange it was to sit around a campfire in Israel after dinner with a group of people singing Bob Marley songs. It was a special night though many of us went to bed shortly after a few songs and attempts to make smores. Others stayed up later and sang more songs (did I really hear them singing Bon Jovi - Livin' On a Prayer??) and drove those of us trying to get some sleep a bit batty. As I walked to my tent I noticed that my knee was feeling incredibly stiff was the bettering it took earlier and I worried about the walk the next day. I put my earplugs in and did my best to drown out the singing, guitar playing, clapping and loud conversations…

In the end I hardly got any sleep at all. The ground was rock hard and the sleeping bag offered little in the way of help on the matter. Whoever helped pitch the tents did not bother to check to see where the tent was being placed and therefore did not clear the area of rocks and sticks. I found them all later as I tried to find a sleeping position that would in corporate them. The tent was also on a slight incline which meant that my tent mate spent much of the time sharing my sleeping bag with me as she kept rolling into my space. As I said, not much sleep was acquired.

As a bonus I found that when I awoke one of the sandals I had left outside the tent was missing. Before we went to bed out group leader did in fact warn us that only once in the last 13 years has it happened, but that indeed a fox has taken off with a hiking boot in the past. He suggested that we somehow secure our hiking boots to our bags or take them into our tents. I did opt to tie my hiking boots together and to put them under the weight of my hiking bag outside the tent, but did not consider the possibility that my sandal might be an attractive option. Frankly, I thought any of it was unlikely to be snatched, a point that was later proven wrong as myself and another girl awoke to find a single sandal missing. She had hers right by her head as she slept around the campfire which made it both horrifying and impressive that the fox had such nerve to get so close to steal it. As I stood and talked to her (about 5:45am, the sun not yet up) I shone the flashlight around the area as we stood by the campfire and indeed I found the fox standing about 20 feet away from us, not the least bit bothered by the light I was shining in his eyes. Twice we tried to chase him off, but he rather liked hovering near us. Nervy little monster! The other girl would later find her sandal quite a bit up the road and all chewed up, but I was never to see my sandal again. This had me angry on so many levels… firstly, that sandal was VERY comfortable and was seeing its second trip to Israel with me. And secondly, it is extremely important that I be able to get OUT of my hiking boots at the end of the day to let my feet breathe and air out. After 10 – 12 hours of hiking a day I assure you, you are ready to cut your boots off you want out of them so badly. So losing my sandals was a blow to my trip.

Day One Highlights:

1)Playing with a tiny baby chameleon, a lizard I have only seen in captivity. Our group leader said it was only about 2-3 days old. A few days earlier I caught a baby lizard outside my bedroom back at the campus, but a chameleon is special.

2) Stringing up two hammocks at one of our rest spots and making Turkish coffee at nearly every stop using a portable stove. Israelis love their coffee, that’s for sure.

3) Seeing Tzfat far off in the distance and being amazed at how far we had come in one day.

Day Two. I searched the area for my sandal. No luck. We ate breakfast, packed up the tents and bags, filled out bottles with water and headed out. The day was cooler for walking which was very much welcomed by our group. This was the day we would climb up the mountain and walk along it for most of the day. Most of us were stiff and sore, and my knee was threatening to end my hike very early on in the day.

Hiking, hiking and more hiking. My knee did not much appreciate the uphill climb, an angle not appreciated by most knees even on a good day. Finally we reached the top and stopped to enjoy the view. We also took this opportunity to do some group bonding by participating in some team building exercises. In the first one the boys and girls divided up and played paper, rock and scissors amongst themselves until there was a winner. Each time someone lost the loser then became the cheerleader for the winner until there was a huge cheerleading squad for the winner from the boys side and the winner from the girls side. Then the two faced off. It was tense as it took several tries to finally break the tie but in the end the boys prevailed. After that we had a trust building exercise in which again the boys and girls were divided off. In each group the person stood in the middle of the circle and let him/herself tip back. Then the person who catches the one falling gently pushes him/her back into the standing position and then the person is allowed to tip forward again in another direction. The person is to remain standing, stiff and with eyes closed the whole time. It was very interesting and it helped one girl overcome her fears as she was never able to do this sort of thing before (even when it was her dad catching her!).

Once we got our activities and snacks out of the way we were off across the top of the mountain. At this point I began to notice a very serious problem….. my feet were hurting. And I mean REALLY hurting a lot. It felt like a few hot coals and been shoveled into my boots. At lunchtime I talked to the group leaders and said that I couldn’t go on. They said that I would have to wait until we reached some road and from there we could call the pickup guy to come and take me to campus. I was looking at another 3 hours of hiking with my knee aching and my feet so sore I was limping. What could I do but press on?

Eventually we got to the section of mountain from which we were to descend down to a town called Peqi’in. The goal was to get off the mountain and follow the long road into town and meet at some pita restaurant. There were a few problems with this plan: (1) the miles of thorn bushes between us an the edge of the mountain, and (2) the rockface we would have to scale down in order to get to this road.

We were told ahead of time that we had best pack a pair of pants for this part of the hike due to the thorns or else suffer getting severely scratched up. I had thrown on an old pair of jeans on and followed the group into the thick of it. There were screams, cries and yelps as we made our way through the maze of pain. I was lucky enough to have jeans on (which I often got scratched through anyway)… others did not pack pants and paid the price. Nothing like the salt of your own sweat running into fresh open wounds! Yow!

Once we emerged from the thorny hell we found ourselves at the top of a rockface looking out over the town we needed to get to. It looked like a loooong way away and I didn’t know how I was going to make it. My feet were in a world of hurt and my knee was begging me not to go down the mountain face. It was a sharp steep angle and sheer rock.. no room for mistakes. The group took a break and then began the descent; estimated time of arrival to town? 45-60 mins.

Going down hurt. A lot. My knee pain served as a distraction from the foot pain as I tried to find an angle for my feet to negotiate the descent. The group was exhausted and mistakes were becoming more frequent. Miraculously we all made it down with myself being somewhere near the front of the pack… around the 3 or 4th down. I was pretty much alone for my 45 min walk into town and feared that my feet were going to betray me and not complete the walk. I began to do the only thing I knew to do in order to get myself through it…. I started a walking meditation. I found that a deep breath released with a hum was equivalent to about 10-13 steps, depending on the angle of the road. I lost myself in the sound and feel of the hum in my throat. I focused on my breath and tried to let the pain wash over me. I was determined to get to the meeting point on my own steam.

The walk was longer than I thought and as I neared it I passed a hotel. I honestly thought about stopping in and getting a room for the night! Hahaha!!! Oh, how good a hot bath to soak my aching bones would have been. At that point it had been two hot and sweaty days since I had seen a shower. I persevered and walked on until I saw my group at the restaurant up ahead….. it was like an oasis in the desert.

I plunked myself down in a chair and proceeded to immediately remove my boots to give my feet the open space they craved. I talked to them, stroked them and apologized to them for putting them through that. I promised them they were done for the day and that a car would take them to a campsite rather than walk the last 1.5 hours to the site like everyone else. I had pushed them long after they told me they quit, and I felt my feet deserved that much reward.

The pita place was chosen because the pitas there are made in the ancient style, large and flat, unlike the smaller pocket pitas we know today. The girl who was making them was the 4th generation to learn this nearly forgotten technique and it was great to watch her in action. The loved the town itself which is an Arab Druze (Druze) town like a few others we had passed before (The Druze are a sect of Islam that broke off hundreds of years ago from mainstream Islam. Their practices are shrouded in mystery, but as a whole Jews have enjoyed wonderful relations with them and share many towns in peace with them. Druze also make a point of serving in the army and are very loyal to Israel).

After filling my hungry belly with a Coke (my first since arriving in Israel a month ago!) and a pita filled with melted goat cheese I went with our group leader to a soap store next door. Here an old Druze woman is world reknowned for the different soaps, candles and scents she makes. We were handed complimentary coffee (like I said… coffee is a staple here) and we were very warmly welcomed. We looked around, asked questions and did a little shopping. Overall the locals we extremely friendly and it made for an amazing experience.

After that I hitched a ride to the campsite (along with 2 other crippled girls) and we began to set up the camp and make dinner for the poor souls who were brave enough to walk the full distance. I started up the barbeque (old school style, with the coals) and obsessed over the cooking of the chicken for the evening (they came in frozen blocks and so had to be defrosted AND cooking on the bbq). All in all it was a great meal and the group was appreciative of our efforts. Without bragging too much I have to say… that chicken was the best I ever had. Maybe I was just starving for some protein?

After dinner the group leaders called us all together for a meeting. First order of business was some singing. We were encouraged to whine and complain as much as we wanted, but it had to be in a blues style of singing and it had to rhyme. Along with the guitar accompaniment it was actually a lot of fun. After that came the serious part of the meeting. We were told a sad tale of a terrorist incident in this town that happened in 1973. A pair of terrorist snuck across the Lebanon border (which was nearby to thetown we were in) and broke into a school with the intention of hiding out until the next morning when they would seize the school when everyone arrived. Tragically the school was full of children who had stayed overnight as part of a fieldtrip and they were taken hostage. In the end 22 children were killed, many from the town of Tzfat. Because of this incident we were told that each of us would be taking part in guard duty for the night. We would be paired up and asked to stay awake for 40 mins during the night and then wake up the next pair before going back to sleep. I was SO lucky… I got the first shift, Midnight to 12:40am. After that I got the best bed in the campsite… I snuck into the back of the van. I had set it up earlier in the night, complete with sheet, sleeping bag and travel pillow. It was a bit cramped since it’s not as wide as I am long, but the softness of the seat was a worthwhile trade off. The REAL trade off came a few hours later when it rained. Bwah ha ha! I felt an evil grin crawl across my face as I heard the rain coming down on the roof of the van (at one point of the guys who was sleeping without a tent came hopping into the front seat of the van, and was startled to find me sleeping inside. I told him to stay and dry off a bit, but kicked him out when he started to talk to someone who had walked up). In the end… a MUCH better nights sleep than the night before.. but would it save my feet?

Day Two Highlights:

1) coming across a BIG chameleon, not just a baby one like the day before. Watching it change colours right before my eyes was amazing.

2) Sitting in the ruins of an old synagogue at 7am and watching the sun just coming up. The synagogue had been wiped out my an earthquake long ago..

3) Coming across a pair of donkeys in a field by the side of the road. I stood and “talked” to the donkey in my version of donkey talk. The donkey did not look impressed. I felt like a dumb Canadian human.

4) Watching the group scale “Elijah’s Chair” first thing in the morning. It’s a giant rock that sits atop the mountain, overlooking the valley below.

5) Making it to the campsite at the end when earlier on in the day I was convinced my hiking for the day was over and questioned when I would even be able to hike the next day to finish the 3 day trek.

Day Three. My day started at 5:15am in the dark. I fumbled around in the van to find toilet paper and a flashlight. Off to the woods to find some private time. My legs and knees had seized up in the night causing me to yowl in pain, and I found myself more sore than ever in the morning. My feet hurt from the moment they touched the ground. I got dressed, packed up my stuff and sat down on a rock to tape up my feet. I didn’t think it would take long on this hike for me to declare that I couldn’t go on, so in an effort to ease my pain I took moleskin and taped up the bottom of my feet and big toes where it hurt the most. I used a blister treatment patch on one of my toes where I had to content with a painful blister. I was hoping all this would buy me some time on the road.

We were told that most of the hike would take places on roads, dirt roads and trails…. Not so much of the hardcore bush and rock hiking that we had been doing up until that point (this would turn out later to not be entirely accurate as we hiked through rocky riverbeds). We headed off at 7:30am through the town and turned off onto a road where we stopped for an early morning group exercise. We had stopped at an olive tree field and the exercise was another one of trust and of sensory perception. We again paired off (I worked with a sweet guy named Zach) and I was blindfolded. Zach was then to lead me into the olive tree field, turn me around a bit and get me confused, and then lead to me to a tree of his choice. There I was to feel and get acquainted with the tree only through touch and then me lead away to the area where we started. It was there that the blindfold would be removed and I was to go back to try and find the same tree. I was successful and was happy that I allowed myself to trust Zach, as being lead around through a rocky field full of obstacles while blindfolded is not my idea of fun (did anyone ever see the episode of Survivor last year where they had to do a brutal contest blindfolded? Horrible! And that was what was stuck in my mind).

After that it was on towards a riverbed a path in the woods…. via a very long winding and downhill road. Oh my poor feet. OH my poor feet! Early on in the hike we ran into a little problem… we lost track of one of our group members. He had enthusiastically run ahead of us, but an hour or more later we had still not caught up to him. We were getting worried. The group had to stop and figure out a plan. A few of the leaders backtracked to make sure he didn’t take another pathway by accident. Another group member ran ahead to see if he was up ahead and waiting for us. Before we knew it we were now 5 people short. What to do? Nearly two hours were lost as we sorted out the problem (indeed, our friend was just far up ahead) and now we were not going to make our deadline for finishing the hike (the goal is to reach the Mediterranean Sea by sunset.. around 6:30pm). Tensions were high as people were angry and disappointed by the time lost, and with no sleep, irregular eating and drinking and no showering in 3 days….. fights were beginning to brew. Nothing serious of course, people were just feeling grumpy, tired and testy.

The decision was made that we would hike to a certain point and then a bus would pick us up and drive us the rest of the way to the Sea. Disappointing for some (happy for my feet!) but it had to be done in order to make up for lost time.
The hike went on…

Somewhere along the way we had picked up a dog. He started following us just after the olive tree field and was with the group member who had run ahead. This sweet and adorable doggie followed us all through our hike in the woods, through a river and during our pitstop for lunch. We tried to get him to follow another group we had passed on the trail so that he would head back in the direction from whence he came, but he would not go with them. In the end he broke all our hearts as we had to leave him behind at the side of the road when we boarded the bus. We begged the leaders to let us take him back to the town but time was not on our side. I hope he found his way home…

We boarded the bus and my feet got the break they so desperately needed. At end of that leg of the journey I was more sure than ever that I was just going to have to lay down and give up. The pain was excruciating and every step felt like my last. When I saw the bus (I was with a group of 4 who were very much the last to reach the bus) I thought I was going to drop to my knees I was so happy. I could not believe I had made it that far when 36 hours prior I was ready to give up on the hike altogether.

As we drove towards the sea the leaders decided there was enough time to finish the hike before the sunset, so after a 15 min drive the bus dropped us off at the famous banana fields (famous within the program, I don’t think the town locals would consider them famous). After declaring on the bus that I couldn’t take a step more, I found myself once again mustering the strength to try and finish the hike with the rest of my group. We all got off the bus and began walking through this huge field of banana trees, giddy that we were nearing the end of the most exhausting and trying experience we had ever had. Filthy, smelly and worn, many were looking forward to leaping into the sea at the end.

After stopping at a memorial by the sea we only had to cross a road and we were there. The sun was setting fast and the group had a sudden and renewed energy. Hooting, hollering and jumping we waited for a break in traffic… and then we ran as fast as we could to the beach. My feet and knee? Who cared, I had made it. I didn’t think I would, but I did and I was going to celebrate with my peers.

Many ran right into the crashing waves, a few of us stayed behind to remain witness to the sunset. The smell of the salt, the red of the sunset and the joyful chatter of the group was intoxicating. We had survived the 3 day hike and we were proud of ourselves.

Day Three Highlights:

1) finding a skull in a field of rocks across from the olive trees when I went to find somewhere to “be at one with nature”. It was either a small cow or a big goat, I have no idea which.

2) Creating a Canadian theme for the day. There is one other Canadian girl in the group and she and I put on temporary tattoos of a red maple leaf and got decked out in Canada/maple leaf bandanas. We were determined to finish this hike and represent Canada while doing it!

3) Skipping rocks with across a pool of water with a few others when we stopped for lunch.

4) Seeing an old castle that was made by the Crusaders back in the day. It was way on top of a hill and I could only marvel at it as I imagined how hard it must have been to build (or easy since they had plenty of Jewish and Arab slaves at their disposal).

5) Climbing “The Wall of Life”. It was a rocky wall that lined the side of the riverbank. Rather than cross the river and take the easy path we decided to challenge ourselves by climbing this wall across and down the river. While we were climbing another group was walking the easy path across from us and asked if we crazy for taking the hard route. That made me smile… right up until they all sat down to watch us cross and I nearly fell into the river because I couldn’t find a handhold and my backpack was pulling me backwards. I did NOT want to fall into the river in front that audience and be laughed at…. and I didn’t! :- ) In the end we showed that pack of Britons what we “spoiled Western kids” can do.

Upon returning home last night we had a quite dinner together, showered and hit the sack. Most of us slept for at least 10-12 hours, some even more. Today has been pretty laid back with free time all day until Hebrew class at 5pm (which I am loving, thank you very much! Great teacher, glad I switched classes!). After class we had dinner and we gather at 8pm to make dinner for tomorrow night (since you cannot cook on shabat. Crazy shabat rules!). Group cooking should be fun so I’m looking forward to it.

Reflecting back on the hike I have been asking myself… was it a life changing experience? I’m not so sure. At this point I’d have to say no, but that’s not to say I won’t find it life changing later. Perhaps when I go back home I will find I have more stamina at the gym or a better sense of community. By the end of the trip our group had really bonded and where we once may have hoarded food we now share. I had plenty of offers by one of the guys to carry my backpack for me when it looked like I was going to collapse; that meant he’d be carrying two! The idea of looking out for each other was reinforced during this trip and I think it’s help firm up the bond in this group. Will this apply to my life once I leave this environment? That remains to be seen. But what did surprise me is that I made it after I had believed that I wouldn’t. It just goes to show you that you really never do know what you are capable of doing unless you push yourself, HARD, and try. I just learned that I can hike for 10 hours a day through the roughest of terrain, for 3 days. Who knew?