Magi decides to travel the length of the Israel National Trail, which crosses Israel from north to south, on her own. Hold on a minute, I say under my breath, where is my place in all this? Rather reluctantly, she agrees that I can accompany her for the first three days. If I am well-behaved, I can join her on her other hikes…
We leave at six in the morning, the streets still covered in fog. Then, once we leave the city and the last houses are behind us, a beautiful sunrise appears from the valleys. I realise that I left my smartphone at home, so we head back to the city which is white with fog and then back out again towards the sunrise. Double the pleasure J We reach Dan Kibbutz by seven o’clock and park the car. Another couple is leaving at the same time and after quickly taking photos of each other, we start the 1000 km Israel National Trail, which crosses the Holy Land from north to south.
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We walk among avocado trees and beside the road there is mallow, mustard and milk thistle. It’s all edible and we taste everything. We pass Tel Dan but we don’t visit the interesting biblical ruins.
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There are nettles, flowers, frogs, cows and horses next to the path. We cut across a branch of the Snir creek, where we meet a family who have never been hiking before and have just started the Israel National Trail. The father would really like his children to become fond of nature. He’s a bit late because his sons are lanky, spoilt teenagers.
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We didn’t bring sandals so we wade through the creek barefoot, which is very painful because of our heavy backpacks and the sharp rocks. On top of this, I have to balance a camera worth 16 thousand shekels in my hand if I fall…
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We go through a gate. „Border ahead. No entry. Closed military zone” is written on the other side. It’s interesting because up to now we haven’t seen one soldier or stepped on one land mine…
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Military vehicles quickly rush past us and excited soldiers get out of them. They lift up the gate, put on bulletproof vests, put their helmets on and proceed towards the border with war-torn Syria. This is the reality of Israel – we are on a pleasant hike while our sons are protecting the country.
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After hiking for a few kilometres we lie down underneath some eucalyptus trees. We can hear the splashing of water, birds, crickets and other insects. We have lunch: tuna, Passover cakes, nuts, dried fruit and water.
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I realise that I didn’t bring the mosquito net, which brings me down a bit but I get over my bad mood, and I kill a mosquito. That one won’t get me tonight either.
The entrance fee to the Snir Nature Protection Area is 29 shekels per person (a fortune). “We’re hiking on the Israel National Trail, it’s free for us, isn’t it?” I ask. “No, it’s not free at all,” replies the indifferent girl at the ticket office. “Do you want one ticket?” she asks, sweating and shouting over the queue of cars sounding their horns. “No!” I scream, startled. “Two, my wife is already inside.”
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It’s very crowded and we lose sight of the hiking trail, when a ranger on a truck suddenly appears alongside us and asks, “Are you looking for the Israel National Trail?” then gladly shows us which way to go. You could tell a mile off that we don’t belong to the groups of people grilling food here. Lots of them look at us like we’re freaks.
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In the creek, we try to balance on the rocks but we fall into the fast-flowing water several times. Fortunately I manage to stop the camera from getting wet. There are lots of Orthodox Jews with sideburns wearing tzitzits and skull caps.
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En route, we talk about how Hungarian folklore tales have affected our personalities. Immigrants from Hungary will do anything to win a princess and half a kingdom :).
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When we started our first blue hike in Israel over ten years ago, the hikers on the Israel National Trail (Shvil Israel) were called “Svilnyikim”, Russian-style. This has now become “Svilistim” in Hebrew. Which is best – svilnyik or svilist?
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The fellow-hikers who left at almost the same time as us have become almost “family members” since the beginning of the trip. In any case they are friends, close acquaintances at least, and a community. We overtake one another, the others disappear for a few hours, half a day, a whole day or two days and then reappear. There is the couple in love, two male friends, a married couple, and us. I wonder what the others call us! The photographers? The old ones? The bald guy and his girlfriend?
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It’s hot and my joints are aching. I know that my backpack is too heavy but I’d rather lug an extra four litres of water than run out of water. There have been cases of a tap being shown on the map, only to find that there was no water running from it. Dying from thirst is certainly no fun.
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A long stretch without shade is coming. A tractor ploughs the crop.
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We overtake two couples at the entrance to the Maayan Baruch kibbutz who are resting there for the afternoon. We don’t want to sit right next to them, so we carry on in search of more shade, although we can’t see any anywhere. The sun is shining brightly. I’m short of breath after climbing the steep slope in the Greek area of the kibbutz. We reach the high road where two old cyclists riding up a steep hill say to us “Kol hakavod” (’you’re doing great!’). “So are you!” we reply, laughing.
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We see and hear the battles between Syrian rebels and Asad’s forces. The border is white because of the smoke from the bombs. Over the past few days shots have reached the Israeli side several times. “If you see a rocket coming,” I tell Magi, “throw yourself onto your stomach straight away.”
We have a rest under the olive trees in front of the village of Kfar Yuval.
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We eat, have a nap and then after giving our boots a good shake (to make sure there are no scorpions in there), and we set off again.
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We bypass Kfar Giladi, then in Tel Chay we fill our water bottles in the military cemetery next to the statue of a roaring lion. During the second Lebanon war 12 reservist soldiers were killed here by a rocket. They left the rocket here in their memory.
Etyan calls to tell us that our dog, Dolly, is sick. She’s vomited on the sofa and has constipation. For some reason I’m not that bothered by the news. To be honest I’m actually happy that it’s him who has to clean the sofa.
On the way we look around at the beautiful landscape and I sing a Hungarian song about ’lilac flowers’ and ’peach trees’ but instead of those words I say ’avocados’ and ’olive trees’…
Eagles are circling high above us. This sparks a conversation about the personality analysis exercise based on four types of animals – the eagle, the turtle, the monkey and the lion. We discuss who is most similar to which animal and why. We then analyse our own relationship.
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Some hikers just look at the ground and concentrate on the distance they have covered. We, on the other hand, are the type that stop, look back, have a look around and enjoy the view. Obviously this means we are slower but there’s no rush – 15-20 kilometres per day is more than enough for us.
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We walk past a forest statue park. Then, after a steep walk uphill we reach a clearing where signs show the way. Not long after this, we get lost. My old map doesn’t show the recently modified trail and we can’t see signs anywhere either. We walk for almost one and a half hours before ending up in the middle of nowhere in the dark, then we realise that the whole time we were walking along wild boar tracks and imaginary paths.
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It’s already getting dark and we need to decide whether we should set up here for the night, or cut across a several hundred metre-long stretch of two metre-high thornbushes before it really does get dark. Magi insists on the latter. After walking for several metres, my armpits are bleeding and my arms are torn to shreds. I tell her that there’s no way we can make it across, but she just laughs at me and carries on with an obsessed look in her eyes. The only way we can get across is by stamping on the bushes, which are full of thorns measuring 5-10 centimetres. What seems like millions of insects sleeping on the bushes fly around and get in our eyes and mouths. After half an hour we reach the path.
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We walk for another hour until we find a place which is protected from the wind. I light a fire and then it’s coffee, tea, rum, boom!
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The next morning magnificent wild horses and the most beautiful wild flowers brighten up our wild journey. We reach Tzuk Manara, under Israel’s longest chairlift. Then off the path in Ein Roim we find a huge reservoir where we drink water, bathe and have a good time.
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We proceed up and down the Ramin mountain ridge. The beautiful view is absolutely enchanting.
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After this comes perhaps the high point of our tour, which is in reality a very low one: Nachal Kedesh, the amazing Kedesh gorge. We go deep down. With thick trees masking the sun we jump between moss-covered rocks and then climb up with the help of metal hooks.
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At the top we again see a view of the 2800 metre-high Mount Hermon.
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At the Metzudat Koach fortification I’m happy to see that (for a change) two big Orthodox families (with around 100 children) clear their rubbish up after their loud barbecue feast. I make tea on their fire as there is no point burning more wood for no reason.
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Young children simply place their mattresses and tents on the rocks. Is this comfortable?
A Swiss guy hiking on his own, who overtook us at the beginning of the day and who we meet again while searching for somewhere to sleep, asks for help making the soup. We translate the instructions for him.
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Two guys who are also hiking ask the families for some roast meat. We would also ask for some but we don’t have the nerve (civilised European behaviour?). Magi says that it’s OK for kids to do things like that but it’s not appropriate for adults. We decide that we’ll look through the bins after everyone has gone in case there is some tasty food left in there (civilised European behaviour?).
The children want to put the fire out by peeing on it but their father tells them to wait because maybe someone still wants to use the fire. We ask them to leave the fire as we would like to use it and then at the end we’ll pee on it.
„Anyone want any more steak?” asks the leader of the tribe, loudly. I look up, thinking that he is asking us.
My leg is covered in itchy spots: plant stings? Insect bites? Allergic reaction? I don’t know.
I’m sad because there is no arak left.
Everyone goes home before nightfall apart from the hikers, who stay for the night. They all pack quietly and everyone is quiet as we are all tired after walking all day. Magi and I debate where we can pee without stepping in someone else’s poo.
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I only change my socks and my underwear to avoid fungal infection and chafing (on the thighs) but women don’t even need to change their underwear if they use a sanitary towel. I don’t think it’s worth changing shirts or t-shirts because in this heat, after ten minutes it will be as dirty and smelly as yesterday’s.
Before going to sleep we talk at length about the past, the future, marriage and bringing up children. How and where we went wrong, who is to blame. Then I have a dream that I am naked at my older brother’s wedding. I seek refuge in the toilet until someone brings me some clothes. Then, in the restaurant I write notes on the back of a napkin, but Arab children disturb me by poking my bum from behind with toothpicks. The waiter, a ten-foot high Arab Goliath (all the waiters are like this), sees this and comes over and tells the children to leave me alone. I go back to the wedding and I slap one of my aunts (justifiably in my opinion), which divides the family in two – one group condemning me and the other enthusiastically standing by me.
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In the morning we get up early and leave in the dark at 5am. After the Nabi Yosha Arab mausoleum I look for the hiking trail using my headlamp. I don’t always find it.
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In the meantime the world wakes up. Roosters, birds, crickets and other insects wake up. I hear the noise of a thousand chickens in a henhouse, they must be feeding them. We climb up the Keren Naftali hill, from where there is a goregous view of the Hula valley, which is covered in lakes. We have breakfast in the shade, slurp on coffee with cardamom and then head down the hill on the other side.
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I tread safely as the noise of hundreds of flies buzzing around will alert me to the presence of a cowpat in the long grass.
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We cut across a prickly field, but I don’t do the bottom part of my trousers up. Am I a masochist? My legs are itchy from strange plant stings and nettle stings and the thorns pleasantly scratch them the whole way.
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After Bikat Yachmur (Stag valley) we have a lie down in a shaded area of the Dishon gorge next to the cows.
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The wind rises several times and leaves and small branches fall on us. Buried alive…
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We want to call an old friend of ours to ask him to come and pick us up in his car, but there is either no reception or the line is bad. What’s more, my battery has almost died. After unsuccessfully trying to call him for the umpteenth time, he tries to call me and I hurry across the nettles barefoot in search of a better position. I jump between the hot, sharp rocks in the dry creek bed and I step in a warm cowpat. Wow, there’s reception here! And on that note, my smart phone battery dies.
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Disappointed, I return to the fire, where a rock burns a hole in my foot.
We walk the last 3-4 kilometres to the Alma bridge past tractors, motorbikes, cyclists and pedestrians.
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While we are waiting for Steve, a cross-section of Israeli society passes before us. A pot-bellied grandfather holding a pocket radio, surrounded by his grandchildren. Orthodox Jews wearing three layers of clothing in the blistering midday sun. Girls in bikinis (almost thongs) accompanied by their hairy fathers. Arab guys with rattling tools hanging from their backpacks…
Steve, our elderly friend, arrives and he takes us back across the mountains to our car in Dan kibbutz.
So that is what we managed to fit into three days this time. We’ll continue next time.
Date: April 9-11, 2015
Distance walked: 16+18+15=49 km
1: Kibutz Dan, Tel Dan, Nachal Snir, Maayan Baruch, Kfar Yuval, Kfar Giladi, Tel Chay
2: Reches Ramim, Ein Roim, Nachal Kadesh, Metzudat Koach
3: Nabi Yosha, Ramot Naftali, Keren Naftali, Bikat Yachmur, Nachal Dishon
Participants: Magi, Peti
Other comments: without tent, but did not drive a car to accompany us