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Trip Report Yikes, How did I get here? A hiking Isreal trip report.

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I have not seen much listed on this topic so I will share a little of my experience last week. It all started last year at the silent auction at my childrens school, this Isreal trip was offered. So although I have always planned my own trips and never taken a tour, I jumped at the offer to go to Isreal. DH purchased an additional tour so that we could go together. I knew this was to be an in depth tour and the brouchure said to expect 3 miles of hiking a day. I thought no problem, I walk 3 miles a day everyday. Other than that I really did not read up what to expect and was thinking of this a restful spiritual tour. Just about 3 weeks before we were to leave, we received camelbacks in the mail from the tour company ( I figured they just wanted us to be hydrated, but did not make the connection about how much hydration I would end up needing,) and we were told to pack hiking boots, sunglasses, hats, etc.

Day 1: Fly day; we met up with the tour group at the airport which were mainly students and we were to meet up with others mainly adults on our connecting flight. This was my first inkling that something may have been a little amiss. Everyone appeared to be in great shape. By this I mean shapely, toned, and defined. I was starting to get a little worried. We arrive in Isreal and the tour begins. After a very brisk walk through customs we board our bus and head for our first excusion.

Tel Gezer: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gezer : It was just around sunset when we arrived and parked. We were told to follow and follow we did. At an extroadinarily fast pace we trampled grass and jumped over bolders finding our way to the top. This is where I first learned that although there may be parking lots near the sites, we would not be using them, we would have our driver take us much farther out of the way and drop us off, therefore allowing us to appreciate our approach into the site. I was overwhelmed, just arriving into Isreal and watching the sun go down on this tel was amazing. I have to admit I was drawn back into the old testament.

From here we were taken to our hotel we arrived after dinner had been served, but our guide called ahead and had them save some food for us. This was to become quite typical, arriving back after everything had closed. Dinner was delicious. We were then told to head to bed because we had a 6am wake up call. I was worried about money, we went through the airport so fast, we were not allowed to use the ATM. I kept asking, how was I going to get money for lunch. It turned out not to be a problem, lunch was served on the hikes each day and there was no time for shopping, therefore no need for money.

Day 2
After a wonderful breakfast buffet ( but no coffee because coffee was not made until 7 and we were there at 6:30), we were told to follow. We followed our guide and did some quick morning devotions and boarded the bus. We were told to fill our camelbacks. After a short 5 min ride we arrived at our destination which seemed to me to be right off a major road with no signage what so ever. We get out and talk a little about the geography of the land ( coastal plain, sheppelah, mountains, etc.). From here we walk up to Beth Shemesh http://www.bibleplaces.com/bethshemesh.htm . It was a brisk pace but nothing I couldn't handle and as I always try to be the good student I was right up behind our leader. This is where I learned that we did not follow trails but rather walked on the land whatever it may be, whether it be rocky, steep, wet, bushy, fenced, thorny or anything else. We did a short lesson here and then head over to a mountain side to learn about Samson. It's here where I asked about bathrooms and found out that most of our bathroom stops would be behind a tree. We visit one more location up a step hill and chew carob as we walk, just like John the baptist supposedly did. We we arrive at the top of our steep climb, I am surprised to find a crowd of people and I wonder "how did they get there?". I find out there is a parking lot at the top. There are a couple of school groups and some gunmen. I find out that a large majority of teaching in Isreal is done outside the class room.

I start to get a little winded and hot but I think surely lunch must be next. I board the bus eagerly anticipating our lunch stop. We drive a short distance and

to be continued..

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    As I said earlier, I found out lunch was served on the hikes. What a surprise, all my hopes for a sit down meal with rest were dashed. I soon learned to love pita sandwiches and the short 20 minutes we would get for lunch each day. Occasionaly we would lunch in a location with restrooms, but more often then not we would be too remote. I actually started to prefer the locations without public toilets as there was never any line to use the woods.

    As the hikes went on, my hopes of being a star student were also came to an end, I could no longer keep up at the front of the group and drifted to the back, only to be pushed up the hills by dh. It's at this point when other people were telling me how they had trained for months for this tour and they were telling me about the person who started the tours, not our particualar guide but the orginal. I was stunned, I had never heard about this. When we arrived home I checked the website they had told me about http://www.followtherabbi.com/Brix?pageID=1983&article=2849 . I also found this qoute "Be prepared for up to 10 miles of vigorous to strenuous hiking/climbing/walking per day each day of the trip. You will benefit greatly from training yourself before departure for these physical fitness requirements. " Yes I was not prepared. My 3 miles of flat walking a day were no match for the requirements of the trip. But what do you do when you are in the middle of no where and essentially stuck. You just do the best you can and that is what I did.

    Day 3
    I wake up and can hardly move, my calves we tight, my thighs ached, I was a mess, but I pushed on. Our first stop was Arad. I soon discover there was also a parking lot near the top, but we did not approach from that direction. It was an interesting and nice little hike to the top. From there we walk down into a dust storm and keep on walking on almost a dirt road. We wonder where we could be going but we are not usually told until we arrive.
    It turns out to be a Bedouin family compound.

    We are told that our guide has visited this family for years and they allow tours to come to their home to see life as a Bedouin. About 1 mile from the family home 2 young boys come down to the road to meet us, they guide us dispite the lanquage barrier. We arrive and sit on carpets under a tin shade cover. This is very nice because other than the cover there is no shade around. They offer us all hot tea and refills and then they prepared hot pita bread over the fire. The pita bread was amazing and so hot, yet they held it with their bare hands. They obviousley have a tolerance to the heat which I do not. After ther the little treat, our guide said they would like to bring out some homemade items to sell to us, but we were under no obligation to buy. This may have been an understatement, the push to buy was great and hard, and the items were not homeade and were well worn ( used head scarfs and dresses). DH and I bought a scarf with a hole in for $20 as a thankyou for their hospitality. On the way out, the younger boys approached everyone for money. I think they did pretty well that day.

    We are tired but told we have a short bus ride to our next stop for lunch;

    Masada: At the base of Masada there is a small concession area where we eat and fill our water. The guide tells me " you will have no problem with this" , I should have known that the fact that he was even mentioning it, that it was going to be a problem. We hike just a little and then stop in the sun for a long discussion about what is at the top. We then proceed to the cisterns and I am amazed. We then proceed up to the top, he tells us we can stop whenever we need to, but in reality that is not an option as the trail is thin and steep with no room to rest or move out of the way. I manage to make it up all of the stairs with the help of dh pushing me. I cried most of the way. But I made it and there was even a little shade to sit under at the top. We then move on to visiting all of the sites at the top, I am surprised when we get there to see all of the people. How did they get there, and some are wearing flip flops and dresses, some are elderly, some are overweight, I saw none of these people on the way up. It's then when I saw the Gondola. One member of our group actually became overheated and ended up taking the Gondola down. But our guide told me " you are going to love the way down" Then we head down with people from our group in front and in back of me. It's here I realize I am afraid of heights. Oh no, I try to get back to the top, but I can't I am cornered in with people. The ledges are narrow, the railings felt as if they could fall, I screamed the entire way down. It was tramatic to say the least.

    to be continued

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    With Masada out of the way, I can barely eat dinner that night, the next morning is no better I am still shaking. I get the courage to speak to the guide alone and ask him "what does one do if you find out you have signed up for the wrong tour" . He tells me "you will be fine and he thinks that God is telling me I am stronger than I think." Well great, how am I going to argue with God, I just can't, but I tell him that no I am pretty sure God is telling me to stay on the bus today, and I do.

    It turns out to be a good thing, the next stop was Timna, and from what I heard it was many steep ups and downs. My DH comes down from the hike leaning over in pain, his kidney stone is acting up, I could tell it was not good. Some one from the group gives him some medication that they had on hand. It took away his pain but left him nauseous. We have have two more hikes before we arrive at the hotel for the night. Dh is able to trek on, so I figure if he can do it, then I can do it.

    We arrive at our beautiful Dead Sea hotel after the pool has closed but just in time for dinner. So what does any slighty selfish wife do when there are only a couple of hours to be spent at the Dead Sea. She drags her sick husband to dinner, allows him to get sick in the bushes on the way to spend 30 minutes in the Dead Sea. I am pretty sure this was not his favorite night. But DH woke up the next morning feeling healthy again and had no pain after that day.

    This is a 12 day tour, so I wont go on with all of the stops, I'll just list a few of the funny ones.

    Jordan River stop: I don't know where most people go to get a look at the Jordan river, but we went up some dirt road, crawled through a barbed wire fence and walked on rocks , grass, through mango trees and bulls. Along the way our guide told us to pick up a rock to carry with us, we all did. We find out later the rocks were to have on hand in case a bull came charging after us.

    Capernaum: We were told to wear our modest clothing for this day. Which on a hiking trip is different than a regular trip. We had all taken it to mean skirts and nice shoes for the ladies and pants for the men. Little did we know that before we would visit Capernaum, we would visit the shore of the Galilee, which meant climbing down a hill, walking over stones, trying not to fall in and sitting under a waterfall. It was beautiful and humorous at the same time.

    More to come, please excuse my spelling and grammar errors, writing is not my strong suit.

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    To finish up, there were a variety of funny moments, and thats what kept me going. At one point I was counting the days until it would end, now that I'm home, I can see the benefit of getting out of my comfort zone, my overworked job seems like a vacation compared to what I went through. But I would do it again in a heartbeat.

    My advice to anyone considering something like this is to prepare, prepare, prepare. "Failure to prepare is preparing to fail"

    The one thing I did right was breaking in my hiking shoes months before. Some people had an unbelievable amount of blisters on their feet.

    It ended up being an incredible once in a lifetime trip that I signed up for on a whim.

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    Treesa, the cost was not bad at all, I think it was around $4300 -$4500 a person including air and all meals (hotel buffets for breakfast and dinner and then lunch on the hikes: usually very good), lodging ( the hotels were all really nice but we spent little time there), lots and lots of water for refiling the camelbacks, drinks were not included unless they were available on the buffet : the Isrotel on the Dead Sea included wine, beer, and soft drinks, others had it available with a charge. It was really one of our least expensive trips ever because everything was included and there was no time for shopping, we probably saved money just by going.

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