Day 56- done!

Last night at around 9 pm, I arrived at the exact spot I began the trail in January. The last day was long, but on the beach, and a very beautiful hike. Here are some pictures- I may do one more post in a few days with some conclusions/reflections on the trip.
   
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
   

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Day 52

Today was a day off in the city of Haifa. I toured the beautiful Baha’i Gardens, and explored the city. 

Some highlights of the last few days have been Mt. Tabor, and the ancient ruins of Zippori. As always, there have been plenty of amazing views. In terms of animals, I have been seeing a lot of dead ones. I’ll spare you the photos dead cows, hogs, and dogs. But, on the other hand, I also met some baby goats just after they had been born, at a trail angel’s home. The circle of life, I guess?

Only a few more days left on the trail until I get back to Tel Aviv!

   
    
      

 
    
      

    
     

Day 48

This is my sixth day of hiking in the north, including a day off yesterday. I have been keeping a good pace and am definitely on track to finish the trail before my flight home to the US.
The north is obviously very different than the desert. Instead of rocks and sand, I’ve been seeing many more signs of life. There are cows everywhere, plenty of creeks to cross, and school groups all over the place blocking the trail. Other than the cows, I have been seeing fish, turtles, frogs, sheep, all sorts of birds, and several snakes as well. 

My day off yesterday was in Tiberias, which is right on the Sea of Galilee/ Kinneret. I spent the day swimming, exploring the city, and doing some phone interviews for internships. The area is also home to a bunch of holy sites in Christianity.

I have stayed with several trail angels so far, and they have all been great. One was a gymnast and personal trainer, so I got some tips on handstands. Another was the manager of the pub at a kibbutz, and I was there on his day off. He took me and a few other hikers staying there to a hot spring right next to the border with Jordan, and within a few miles of Syria as well. It was phenomenal- a sort of old stone building now full of naturally heated water. There was no roof so you could see the moon and stars, and it was overall a great experience. The trail angel I am with now is the owner of a canoe rental place on the Jordan River.

In less than two weeks I will be done with the trail and be back in the US. I have to say, despite how fun this has been, I am excited to get back to “real life.”

   
    

        
  

  
   

  

  
   

  

   

Day 40

Well, I survived the desert. So now I have done about 2/3 of the trail- everything south of Tel Aviv. Tomorrow I will bus to the northern tip of the trail, and will hike south to Tel Aviv to finish my trip here.
The last few days have been absolutely gorgeous. I went through two more craters- Makhtesh Gadol (large) and Makhtesh Katan (small). A lot of the hiking was steep but the views made it very worthwhile. The large crater had some of the most amazing views I have ever seen, and the small crater wowed me with its perfect shape.

I had a great time in the town of Yeruham, where I stayed with a trail angel. I ended up taking two days off there because of heavy rain and flash flooding in the desert. In fact, several hikers were rescued that night from Hava night camp, where I had just been a few days before the floods. One was the Israeli I had been hiking with before. I’m glad all of the hikers were safe- nature is great until it tries to drown you in a flash flood, I suppose. 

Of the many awesome people I met in Yeruham, a few happened to work at a virtual reality tech company, and I got a chance to come to their office and try Oculus Rift, which was great. I did several different scenarios, including horror scenes of a haunted house and carnival, a chicken survival game, and my favorite, a game where you are a cartoon elephant walking around and you move your head (in real life) to swing your trunk around and hit things. The horror ones had plenty of creepy things jumping out at you, and some pretty dark stuff like a zombie horse casually munching on a human arm in the haunted carnival. Overall it was amazing to get an opportunity to try out such new and powerful technology.

Some other notable occurrences have included waking up because a fox kept trying to rip my trash away from where I had tied it to my tent cord, my bag being opened and rifled through during the night (that was a human, fortunately I keep valuables in my tent and nothing was taken), and walking just a few kilometers away from the Negev Nuclear Research Center, where Israel allegedly develops nuclear weapons. Speaking of the nuclear site, for about two weeks I have been seeing a stationary white thing in the sky, and I finally got close enough to see it. It’s a sort of blimp, which an Israeli told me has a camera and stays above the nuclear research center to monitor it. I also think I saw it on the ground (for repairs?) at one point. It appears in a few of the pictures below.

I am very proud to have finished the desert, and also really looking forward to the north. Let’s hope I can get back to Tel Aviv on time for my flight home!

   
    
 
   
     

  

    

   

 

  

 

Day 34

I am now about 2/3 done with the desert. Currently, I am at a trail angel’s house in the town of Midreshet Ben Gurion, and the Danes are here as well. However, one of them is having foot problems and therefore tomorrow I will continue alone. There are six more days of hiking until Arad, which I will do in seven to allow a rest day after what is supposed to be the hardest day of the entire trail.
The last week has been a tough but beautiful one. We had some amazing views, including some of Makhtesh Ramon (makhtesh=crater). My guidebook explained the crater history to me and it is pretty cool. A hard outer layer of rock covers softer rocks, which eventually are eroded away from under the harder layer. Eventually the harder layer collapses, forming a sort of crater. Wikipedia tells me this is unique to Israel/Egypt. There are seven, five of which are in Israel, and three of which are on the trail. 

We had a day off in Mitzpe Ramon, and stayed with an angel there. We were able to get some pizza (which we were all craving), relax, and rest our legs for a day before getting back on the trail.

Enjoy the pictures. Including the one of me holding one of the trail angel’s pet cockroaches..

   
    


   

  
   
  

Day 27

It has been a few more days of desert hiking, and some highlights have been meeting more hikers, joining a large group of 70ish year olds for Shabbat, and spending a day off at an incredibly unique place.
One morning we met two Danish guys, both 20 like me. They had just started the trail, and I stuck with them because Noam was taking a day off. We have hiked together since then, until I took a day off at Kibbutz Ne’ot Samadar. 

The first night with the Danes, we stayed in a large tent at Kibbutz Elifaz, and the only other people there were 30 or so Israelis, who looked to be 70 or so on average. It turned out they were a group of old friends who did hiking trips once a month around Israel. Most of them were all originally from the same town, but the group had changed a bit in the 25ish years it had existed, as new members were added. To join you need to be referred by a current member, so it isn’t completely open. It was Friday night and they were preparing a Shabbat dinner, and they gladly invited us. Since they traveled in a bus, there was no concern about how much or what food to bring, and they really didn’t skimp on anything. Almost everything was homemade and/or fresh- soup, challah bread, salad, rice, cake, and more. 

Two nights ago we arrived at another kibbutz, called Ne’ot Samadar. They host hikers for free, and you can eat with them and “camp” in the kindergarten building. It is also encouraged but not required to stay there and volunteer for a day or more. I decided to do this, while the Danes kept hiking. However they also enjoyed a unique dining experience, and a trip with me to the top of a really cool tower (picture below).

The day started at 5:30, when “morning meeting” happens. Everyone working that day heads to the dining room. You enter, and take a seat. No lights, no talking, no anything. There is coffee and tea, and you sit there for 20 minutes or so. Then someone in charge says “boker tov” (good morning) and the day begins. My first shift was agriculture, so for the next two hours I worked to spread compost around apple, pear, and lemon trees. Oh and guess who showed up- the German couple. You’ll have to read the last post to hear about them, but they finished the trail and had come back to volunteer. At 8:00 we stopped and went to breakfast. Everyone files in and you sit at the next empty seat. It doesn’t matter who you are or who you see or know. You just sit and start eating. Nobody talks, and as a result the meals go quite fast. If you need more of something brought to your area, you raise a hand and one of the people on kitchen duty comes to help. This style of dining was really strange to me because at college, I feel like it’s the opposite. Meals are a time to relax, talk to friends, and take a break from all the other tasks and responsibilities of the day. Anyways, after breakfast I was assigned to gardening. I pulled weeds, turned soil, and cut onions and cabbages out of the ground for the kitchen. 
During the agriculture and gardening work, I was mostly with people who were staying there to learn about agriculture and perhaps pursue a career in it. Before lunch, they had a discussion (they do every day) and they welcomed me and the Germans to join. The topic was faith. Not really in the standard religious sense (although of course the Germans brought Yeshua into it, earning a scolding from the leader, who asked for more “personal” points), but more about faith that you can accomplish a given task or goal. I didn’t end up talking, because by the time the guy translating for us had explained the latest point, the topic had slightly changed. It was still interesting to hear all the ideas going around though. Then we had lunch (silent obviously), and a meeting for everyone on the kibbutz, which was about 80-90 people. I didn’t understand any of it, except when the leader switched to English and asked me to introduce myself to the group and tell them something. I decided to thank the kibbutz for their hospitality toward hikers, and I told them how trail angels have been my favorite and most meaningful part of the trip. I explained how it blew my mind that in a world, a region, and a country where all you hear about on the news is violence and fear, suddenly I, as a total stranger, was being welcomed into homes and kibbutzes like a best friend. By the end of my one minute speech at least one woman was crying. 

I then had a break and finally, a three hour shift at the kibbutz’s store/restaurant a mile down the road. I helped clean the kitchen and bathrooms, as well as perform other jobs for the closing shift. Also, Noam, the hiker I had started the desert with, showed up. He is now staying at least a day to volunteer, while I keep hiking.The highlight of the restaurant shift was definitely getting the leftover cake. That, and for the first time ever I had goat milk soft serve ice cream. The kibbutz has plenty of goats but no cows, so all the dairy products are goat milk based. I thoroughly enjoyed the ice cream, and after the shift was over returned for a (silent) dinner. Afterwards I sat outside, made friends with a cat, and had a long discussion with a young man who was in the agriculture program but had hiked the trail a few years before.

I hope to catch up with the Danes within the next two days, and continue heading north at a good pace.

   
    
    
    
    
   

   
 

Day 20

This is the end of the third day in the Negev desert. It has been absolutely amazing so far- forget anything I called a “good view” in the previous two weeks. The desert is better. In case you didn’t read the last post, I took a bus to Eilat and am now hiking with an Israeli man, so I am doing the desert northbound.

Noam turned 35 on the first day out of Eilat, and we have been hiking and camping together. He is Israeli, and has done a decent amount of hiking in these parts before, which has been a great resource for me. I have learned so much from him already- about the desert, the animals we are seeing, Israel, types of Judaism, and so much more. It has also been good to have someone to talk to- I like being alone and in my own head at times but maybe not for several days in a row.
The most amazing part of the Negev so far has been the rocks. In other words, the entire landscape that I am seeing because there aren’t many plants. Not that I know much about the classifications or history of the rocks I am seeing, but even to an uneducated eye, the desert is a geological paradise. The colors are unbelievable. When I hear the word “desert” I immediately picture a sand dune of one color but I have seen so many different shades here. All sorts of purple, red, white, black, and yellow. Beyond the colors I have noticed other characteristics, even within similar looking rocks- some are crumbly while some are solid. And maybe the most interesting has been the sounds they make upon contact with my hiking boots or poles. Some sound like glass, or metal. Some sound hollow when I tap them.

As for animals, actually many of the ones I have seen are native to places more like New York City. There have been a bunch of pigeons, which Noam said is a sign of an unhealthy ecosystem in the area, which made a lot of sense to me. And at the first night camp we had a problem with mice. Since the place we were camping was a well established campground near the city of Eilat, all the groups before us (and their trash) had taken their toll and a small mouse colony was thriving near the best part of the campground. Unfortunately we discovered this after dark and after we had set up tents, but moving was well worth it- our bags (and the food inside) were untouched in the morning. The good news is that there have been several more interesting animals. My favorite have been the ibex, a sort of desert deer. Look carefully for it in the second to last picture below. In three days roughly 6-8 have crossed our path and they aren’t the least bit scared of humans. Other than that, a few lizards, one small scorpion, and several rock hyraxes, which are really cool and you should google.

You might be wondering how I am getting enough water to survive. The first night, a taxi from Eilat brought us water and most of our food, which we had given him in advance to lighten our load. The second day I was carrying quite a bit (about 9 liters) and at the end of the day we had a cache (6 liters each) waiting for us. A cache is a stash of water, food, etc that has been set up in advance of the hike. There are several ways to handle this, and in fact as part of my agreement with the Dartmouth Outing Club to get funding for this trip, upon return to campus I will be doing a trip report presentation with a special focus on how people handle water in the Negev. I will discuss the pros and cons of each method, based on talking to people involved with it (like jeep drivers), interviewing other hikers, and experiencing it myself. One method is to rent a car and cache yourself. Another is to hire a jeep driver who knows where you should cache (usually by night camps) and bring everything you want to stash away on a day trip with the driver. You can also pay, in advance, one of a few people who maintain water caches throughout the desert (this is what I am doing). It is also possible to hike with no caches, which requires going off the trail sometimes to refill in towns, and sometimes carrying two days worth of water. I originally planned to do it that way, but after two non-desert weeks I realized my daily water consumption is far above that of a normal human, and that it would be worthwhile to spend the money on caches. Finally (and this is a good transition to my next topic), today I learned about yet another method. Late in the afternoon, we crossed paths with southbound thru hikers, and of course for my report (and interest) I asked them how they were handling water, how they chose that way, and what worked and didn’t work. Their answer was largely based on Jesus. They were a very young couple from Germany who had started the trail in September and had been hiking at a very slow pace. They had chosen not to do caching because Jesus had told the guy that the way forward was with no caching, and they were confident that in any time of need, they would be protected. I guess I can’t really argue with that because they seemed quite happy and had plenty of water since starting the desert. They would often carry a lot of extra water after opportunities to fill up, and apparently had found bottles / been given water by other hikers at night camps. I have a strange feeling that in some cases they had stumbled upon hired caches and taken water without paying, but not sure.

Anyway, that leads my to next and final topic of this post, which is religion. I have encountered, in connection with the trail, a lot of Christianity, and Messianic Judaism, which is a Jewish sect (note: some don’t consider it authentic Judaism) of people who consider themselves Jewish but also see Jesus as their savior. First there was the Californian woman who was deeply Christian. Next, the night before starting north from Eilat, Noam and I stayed in a hostel that was free for thru hikers (because the owners had done the trail) and was a hub of Messianic Judaism. Most of the people staying there were part of it, we were given complimentary books published by the “Bible Society in Israel” upon checking in, and invited to bible study at night. The next morning, while starting the trail around 7:00 am on the beach, we met a French man carrying (and talking/listening to) a Virgin Mary statue. We chatted with him for a bit, and he wished us luck in the most religious way possible. And finally, today there was the German couple.

Well, that will be all for now. Enjoy the pictures below but please know that they don’t do justice to the stunning beauty of the Negev desert. You really have to be here.