Hiking the Israel National Trail: A journalist's journey
The landmark trail gives adventurers a number of natural wonders to explore.
The silence. The heat. The vastness. The solitude.
You never imagine you can handle it, until you do. And then it becomes etched in your mind, and it all turns into beauty.
My journey across the storied Israel National Trail, a 620-mile expanse that crosses the entire country, began as an unexpected piece of mail. A group of students at the Ben-Gurion University of the Negev in Israel invited me, along with several other international journalists and bloggers from around the world, to join them on a multi-day hike through the elusive terrain.
Realizing that it was a tremendous opportunity to learn about the natural beauty, culture and history of their country, I accepted the challenge, although I was a bit nervous about the idea of crossing part of the Negev desert in the first half of September, when temperatures can reach 100 degrees.
The author with the group that hiked the Israel National Trail in September. Left to right: Yaara Markus, Shachar Liran-Hanan, Dani Heinrich, Etai Coles, Hannah Luhmann, Anita Srarlik, Shiomit Simhon, Matthew Karsten, Vicenta Cobo and Yoav Gollub. (Photo: Vicenta Cobo)
Another seven journalists also accepted, and in early September we met in Tel Aviv to begin a weeklong adventure hiking different parts of the trail. Our guide was Asher Drimmer, a treasure trove of knowledge and understanding of Israel.
We spent the first night in Tel Aviv, a very lively and free-spirited city, full of energy and activity. The next day we faced our first journey hiking the Negev. At the beginning, the plan of hiking for about seven hours in the heat seemed entirely crazy and very difficult, but as we moved along, I started to appreciate the quiet, the peace, the openness of the space.
In our two journeys hiking across the Negev and sleeping in the open air facing the stars, we were surprised to see how life prospers in the desert. We admired the plants, trees, flowers, birds and many tiny forms of life that are able to adjust to this dry land. There comes a point that the emptiness becomes a part of you, and it feels great. The vastness of the space made its greatest impression when contemplating Mount Ma’aleh Ali, the “ascension upon," and its small and big craters. This compensated for the extreme of hiking through the extreme heat of the day.
Our hike in the Negev concluded at Sdeh Boker, a haven in the desert, where a community of “trail angels” live. These are compassionate people who assist hikers and take them into their homes overnight. There are 150 angels along the trail with the common purpose of helping hikers.
The next day we headed to the green mountains of Jerusalem, and as we walked these mountains it felt as if we were transcending the time and space of this land rich in history. Our guide, Drimmer, has more than 20 years of experience guiding groups, and his love for his country is contagious.
Matthew Karsten, also known as the Expert Vagabond, and the Globetrotter Girl, Dani Heinrich, were taking photos of every single detail and blogging to their many followers. "This is awesome, a land for adventures,” said Karsten. For the past four years since leaving his job as a photographer in Miami, this “expert vagabond” has been wandering from one place to another looking for adventure. He plans to stay longer in Israel after the hike concludes, exploring the country.
The next day we stayed overnight in Jerusalem. The city is like a different world, another dimension in time and space. American photographer and movie maker Jacob Ross knows that very well. He moved from Washington, D.C., where he earned his university degree, to Jerusalem three years ago, and he’s completely fascinated by the city. “There is a kind of energy that uplifts you and puts you in contact with spirituality," he told From The Grapevine. "This city is like a magnet for me, and I’m experiencing a deep transformation. And I’m not the only one. After you put your feet on the ground in Jerusalem, you are not the same anymore."
Leaving Jerusalem, we headed north to the Galilee Region and the Golan Heights, hiking to Mount Dora and Mount Tavor, overlooking the beautiful and historic Sea of Galilee, the main freshwater source for Israel.
Arbel National Park and Nature Reserve, our last destination in the north, provided an expansive view of the magnificently green heights of the northern mountains. Trails led to an ancient community's cave-fortress nestled in the rock as we ascended this site of unparalleled beauty. Many species of mammals find shelter here, the most common being wolves, hyenas and martens.
When the week in Israel ended, everyone in the group shared the wish that it would go on longer. Though we're back in our respective countries, Israel remains very present for all of us, and I know we are going to go back.
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