I am now in Arad, which is significant to most tourists because it’s a good jumping off point for the Dead Sea and Massada, but for the trail it is the last stop before the desert. One of my pictures below is a screenshot of google maps with the locations I stopped hiking every night
starred. The last few days have been dominated by rain, and a lot of it. It also briefly hailed on one of the days. Unfortunately all the rain made for slow hiking, as the trail was flooded or muddy almost everywhere.Other than all the mud, a couple moderately interesting things have happened while hiking the last few days.
First, while stopping at a gas station one of the off-duty clerks bought me a bunch of candy. The generosity I have experienced has been incredible. As soon as people see my big backpack they take pity on me and want to help. Or something like that. Speaking of the backpack, I finally got a chance to weigh it. With everything and food, but no water, it’s 20 pounds. I usually fill up 4-5 liters in the morning so while hiking it fluctuates between 20-30 pounds.
Second, I hiked very close to the West Bank border fence. So this is what Donald Trump wants to imitate, eh? I’ve included some pictures below (look carefully for the barbed wire) but was reluctant to get extremely close just for a picture- maybe not the best idea to be a young, dirty guy with a large dark object on his back poking around a highly guarded and disputed border fence. I also passed by (but didn’t have to go through) one of the vehicle checkpoints.
Third, today I hiked on an ancient Roman road that was used to send soldiers to and from Jerusalem, and stopped in a small Arab town called Drejat for lunch. I was referred there by one of the trail angels and had an incredible lunch in a cave. The town has an interesting history- unlike many of the Arabs in the near area who are wandering Bedouins, the villagers are “Falakhim,” Arabic for peasant. A man in the 1800s settled here, and until the 1970s the inhabitants, all of whom are descended from that man, lived in caves.
I have stayed each night at a trail angel. On night 10 I stayed at Phillips Farm, where I camped under a roof by the farm’s restaurant/store. The farm owner was very fond of fish and there were several tanks in the restaurant, and more in his home, where he invited me for hot cocoa and cake. I also was near a pen of assorted birds including geese, chickens, and even an emu. On night 11 I was in a room for hikers at Kibbutz Lahav. Yet another anecdote of the amazing kindness I have experienced: while walking out of the kibbutz grocery store a man saw me in my shorts and sandals (my pants and boots were drying), and asked me if I needed shoes. I politely declined, but was still pretty amazed that this man was offering to lend a complete stranger (and a very grimy one) a pair of shoes. On night 12 I stayed at Kibbutz Kramim, where I was again with the pre-military gap year people. I finally learned a bit more about this program, known as “mechina.” The students there did a mixture of classes, leadership training, travel, and kibbutz work. That mechina group was much bigger than the first one I was at- this one had about 50 people. I stayed in one of the male cabins, and had some great talks with them. After a hummus-dominated dinner, I found out that I was there at the halfway point of their year, and they were having a prom-themed party that night to celebrate. It turned out that none of the guys in the cabin knew how to tie a tie, and suddenly my skills were in high demand. I was happy to help- tying 6-7 ties in exchange for free food and lodging seems like great deal to me! On night 13 I was in a hiker’s room at Kibbutz Amasa, and tonight I am in a family’s backyard “Bedouin tent.”
I also have had a change of plans about the desert, and will be doing neither of the two options I previously wrote about. The German couple decided that hiking three weeks with me as a third wheel wouldn’t be a good idea, and told me that in the most polite way possible. I really don’t blame them. And fortunately, one of the water cachers/ jeep drivers I had asked connected me to a young Israeli man starting north from Eilat on Tuesday. So now that I am in Arad I will bus to Eilat, and do the Negev portion (which takes ~3 weeks) in the northbound direction. Then I can do the northern third of the trail, Dan to Tel Aviv, last (and with the best weather). Despite the hassle of lots of phone calls and emails to different people, I don’t really mind the change of plan. I already wasn’t doing a “true” end to end thru hike. But my goal remains to do the entire trail regardless of order or direction, and based on my hiking pace that shouldn’t be a problem.
One complication; tomorrow is Saturday and busses in Israel don’t run. So I will find something to do in Arad for the day, which may involve checking out the “Artist’s Quarter” and/or taking a taxi to the Dead Sea for a rejuvenating swim. However, the salt content in the water is ridiculously high and my open blisters might not appreciate the reality of the phrase “salt in the wound.” Anyways, within the next few days I will bus to Eilat and start hiking north from there.