Camino Santiago 2018

Greetings again – this time from Spain. There have been many travels in between (2017 was a major year for trips- Alaska, France and Spain with my niece, California for Rachel’s graduation, then a grad trip to Greece, Italy, Morocco and Spain and finally last but not least Newfoundland with fraser and then Bens wedding on the farm in Balderson. Exciting events for our family.

May 20, Madeline and I arrived in London England, and after a couple pleasant days visiting a friend from the 70’s near Woking, we got to the airport and discovered our plane to Bilbao had been cancelled due to an air traffic controllers strike in France. Vueling would not put us on any flight except with the same airline which, as it turned out, was not for three days!! We were outraged, horrified etc… as were several other hundred passengers. The first day was a total waste as we waited for the airline to figure out where to put us. They moved us from a tacky downtown hotel to a boutique hotel near Heathrow airport. On day 2 we decided to make the most of the day and went to see the Tower of London . The third day we spent 2.5 hours getting from heathrow to gatwick in a nail biting taxi ride in traffic (bank holiday weekend). We made the flight and arrived in Bilbao around midnight in the pouring rain. Saturday morning dawned cloudy and cool and we set off  from Portulagata (a short subway ride from central Bilbao) on the Camino Del Norte. This time our packs are lighter (never light enough however!!) and we are excited to experience more of the Camino we spent 6 memorable days on last year.

Notes from Across the Pond Mar 22

The peripatetic pen is no longer so peripatetic, though it does wander around Edmonton with me. I arrived home last Sunday, compliments of KLM.  My knee actually feels pretty good, which leaves me  bemoaning the fact I’m not in Israel. I have to remind myself that at the time, the decision seemed to be sound, given the weight of the pack and the condition of Arlene’s ankles.  Since coming home, there’s been  a couple of very blue days and four episodes of sleeping  12 hours straight (more to do with the grey weather and lack of stimuli than actual fatigue). I’ve been to Mountain Equipment Co-Op and purchased more freeze dried mountain meals so the aroma can take me back to desert canyons and star filled nights.

Now that I’ve semi-recovered, my pen and I have decided to carry on blogging. I miss the Shvil and everything associated with it:  the thrill of the unknown, the mystique of the trail, my travel buddy, even the painful bits. I may not be in Israel in body, but I am certainly there in spirit, following Arlene as she heads north and east on her troublesome ankles. The blogs which follow stem from a pathological need to continue the adventure.


March 16

After leaving the archaeological site at Caesarea, we walked up the beach a bit further. The sand was wet, making the walking easier. After an hour or so we came to Nahal Taninim. A nahal, if you remember, is a stream bed or wadi. Nahal Taninim once was the alligator capital of Israel. In fact, the name Taninim means “alligator river”. According to the trail guide, the last alligator was killed here about a hundred years ago. This is another example of a serious omission in the trail guide. No sooner had I hitched up my capris, tied my trusty boots to my backpack, and stepped into the cold and fairly dirty water, I felt it. The swish of a scaly tail brushed against my bare leg. My heart raced, but I reassured myself that alligators had not inhabited  this river for nearly a century. I felt it again. This time I saw the shadow of a long reptile beneath the surface of the water. Arlene, who was gingerly stepping on rocks behind me on her sore feet, hadn’t noticed.  Thinking I was imaging things, I flung my hummus covered pita in the water  towards the opposite bank of the river. It floated for a second before the great jaws lifted from the muddy water and snapped up the bread. Those jagged teeth were definitely not a figment of my imagination. Alligators remained alive and well in Nahal Taninim! I screamed for Arlene to get out of the water, and in her confusion she slipped on a rock, saving her electronics with some fancy foot work (despite the sore ankles) I was in the middle of the river, which was about 12 feet across. What to do? The alligator was swimming  towards me. Was it going to try to pull me down and roll me in this nasty smelling water, just as I’d seen in the movies? Or would it just bite off a limb, sending my blood swirling downstream into the Mediterranean and leaving me wishing I only had a strained knee to complain about?  I decided to turn around. There is safety in numbers. I hurled more pita towards the opposite bank, as well as an orange I’d stuffed in my pocket. In my panic, I also threw my container of sun block and a full Nalgeen  bottle at the beast. The creature grunted in annoyance as the heavy plastic nicked the ridge of his crusty eyes. Stumbling to the bank, I grabbed Arlene.

“Did you see that? Did you see it?” I yelled.  She nodded, pointing to the streamlined body of the alligator lurking near the bank closest to us. Then, because Arlene is not one to be cowed into inaction, she picked up a large rock, climbed onto the grassy overhang above the bank and dropped that sizeable  sphere of quartz on the alligator’s head.  We grabbed our bags and slip-slid across the river trusting that the water was not infested with the creatures. Surely if had been, someone would have posted a warning!!  As we reached the north bank we saw the alligator bobbing on the surface of the water, floating aimlessly in our direction, looking dazed. With trembling hands, I took its picture just before it sank to the bottom – proof positive that alligators are alive and well in Nahal Taninim.

After drying off further up the trail, we wondered if we should notify someone. Sooner or later some other hapless hiker would follow the trail across the wadi, where a very antagonized alligator might be  awaiting  its dinner.  But we had just consumed a full box of halva, and were too sated on sugar to care.


From here, the trail heads along the coast to an Arab fishing village, then turns east towards the Carmel Ridge, where Elijah supposedly tangled with the prophets of Baal. What other adventures lay in store for us, we wondered, languidly laying back on the grassy slope, feeling the warm Middle-Eastern sun melt away the trauma of our reptilian encounter.








March 11 A Different Sea

March 11

Insurance has decided to send me home. A ticket has been sent through cyberspace, and I am  freaking out. Though I had decided this was likely a wise course of action, it is a shock  to contemplate leaving Israel early. I hate to leave Arlene, though I know she’ll be safe and that she enjoys the solitude of walking and camping. I vascillate between feeling eager to see Fraser and family again, though 3 weeks ahead of schedule, to feeling utterly sad about leaving the trail unfinished, and Arlene to soldier on with her painful ankles. The rest we’ve had from walking, both on the Dead Sea and in Kermit the car, has been good for the knee, and her feet. I don’t think she feels as if she’s walking on shards of glass any longer.

I had to pick up the parcel I mailed to myself from Eilat almost six weeks ago. The trail angel who had it in Dan brought it to his mothers place in Rehovet, just south of Tel Aviv. Turns out I could have picked it up at Kibbutz Dan in the Golan Heights, as we actually made it there, but who knew at the time?

We left our camp on the Sea of Galilee and drove down to the sprawling suburb. I chose a street at random to turn left, and if it wasn’t the exact one we were looking for! After retrieving the package, we looked around for someone who might fix Arlene’s solar charger, which just stopped working for no apparent reason. This is a major blow to Arlene’s independence. There’s no problem with the sun, so the failure must be due to something broken in the device connector. How we miss the little beeps as those shiny panels cheerfully powered up our phones!!

After leaving Rehovet, Kermit took us north past Tel Aviv and west to the Mediterranean. We found the Shvil sign in a seaside park but decided not to camp on the beach as it was cool and windy, we’d have to pack our stuff down the cliff, and when the tide came in we might have been washed out to sea! So we continued north. We considered driving up to the hostel in an Arab fishing village, but opted instead for a closer option. We were guided into a moshav with the lyrical Irish sounding name of Mikhmoret, by a man who told us about there was a place called The Resort for backpackers.  When I called, I got a message that the owners were away and the resort would re-open in April.

On the beach road, we saw a druz stand – exactly what we had searched for in Golan, without success, so we satisfied our curiosity and each ordered a pita ( druz bread cooked on a convex spherical hot plate) filled with either yogurt or a sour cheese, bulgar, chives, and then sprinkled with a spice found around Israel known as zata.  He also sold something that looked like a corndog but was filled with potato and mushrooms, as well as stuffed cabbage and grape leaves.

Not wanting to drive another the extra half hour to the fishing village, I decided to check out the “Resort”, and to our surprise it was not closed, but hopping. A party was in full swing. Apparently people rented rooms there during the winter and they were having an end of season bash. We were invited to join the party, pitch our tents in the yard, have a shower, power up, whatever we needed. Israeli hospitality once again. So we did. The beach was a 10 minute walk and spectacular, the blue Mediterranean , the surf, soft sand, in short, picture perfect. The young people at the party were lively and talkative, and thankfully, the loud techno music petered out by 9, leaving about 6 of us sitting around a roaring fire.

This is my last camping night in Israel. Tomorrow I’ll return the car to Ben Gurion airport in Tel Aviv and wait for my Sunday morning flight to Amsterdam, then Edmonton. Talk about bittersweet! Arlene and I will make the most of tomorrow. We will sort our stuff, exchanging what might be useful- my last freeze dried meal and power bar for her broken solar charger, my comb for her unused platypus, her large pot for my two smaller ones. She has cut the pages she might need from the trail guide, taken the list of trail Angels…I wanted to give her my SIM card, which has free calling, but neither of us knows how to remove/ install the cards. Thinking about leaving each other makes us both incredibly sad. We try to concentrate on the glorious time we’ve had, the anomaly of our sore knee and feet, the serendipity that has brought us to this point. We cry, we laugh, we review pictures, we both feel a bit lost. We remember the words of the young guy at Barack canyon that it is not the kilometres that matter, but the journey. And what a fine journey it has been. So very fine.

And we go to sleep knowing that by tomorrow night, our journey will have taken another turn. We have felt very protected, very cared for throughout this trip and we believe we carry this with us, even if we must be an ocean apart.

Galilee to Golan and Back Again

After breakfasting with the kids, we set off in our Kermit the imagefrog green Mazda 2, heading north towards the Sea of Galilee (known as Kinneret here). We passed through Nazareth but didn’t stop to see the tourist attractions, which are always full of buses filled with school kids, or foreigners, old and young. Early afternoon found us outside Tiberius. We stopped and ate some oranges, then carried on a bit further looking for a camping spot. A couple of signs piqued our interest. One was for a first century Jewish village and fishing boat. We found the parking lot (empty except for a devout Arab saying his prayers), but no signs to any historic site. Following a dirt track, we came to a small generating station, then another track that headed down to a ramshackle sea resort: cabins on the verge of collapse, lodges in various states of disrepair, a concession stand, a main lodge also in desperate need of repair. Turns out people store their boats there and the resort itself opens later in the season. For our purposes, it was perfect! Running water, steps to the lake, shade, power to charge our devices plus the bonus of two lovely golden retrievers, one that just gave birth to nine puppies. When the night security guard showed up we asked if we could pitch our tents, he agreed, and so we stayed, secure, behind closed gates, while the foxes howled on the track to the lake.

Tuesday March 8

After a breakfast of powdered eggs ( have I mentioned how delicious they are?) we headed north again towards the Golan Heights. Everyone has told us how beautiful that region of Israel is and we figured since we’d never walk there, we could drive. We passed the Mount of the Beatitudes and stopped for a look. A regal looking Franciscan monastery graced the hill and manicured gardens with stones portraying all of the beatitudes stretched out over the hilltop. image The church was also lovely but what made it seem other worldly was that a couple of priests were singing Santa Lucia in the most awesome tenors, which resonated throughout the round sanctuary.  Arlene captured it on video.

From there we drove north, choosing the narrow, winding roads. We stopped at a gas station in the middle of nowhere ( well, that’s an exaggeration because there were numerous Israeli military camps with bunkers, barracks, and tanks around. ) There, someone filled one of my tires with air while we ate ice cream. He told us we should go to Merlon Golan. We thought it was a small mountain we could climb and peek into Syria, but discovered, after we hiked up the hill, that there was a parking lot at the top. Merlon Golan turned out to be an actual  battle station complete with tanks, and trenches dug around the top, though now was a commemorative site, paying tribute to those that fought in the 1974 war. We chatted with a couple of UN imagepeacekeepers who were stationed in the area, overseeing the ceasefire dating back to 1974 when the Syrians occupied this part of Golan. The peacekeepers, one from eastern Europe and one from Ireland, pointed out the decimated Syrian villages to the east and the boundaries of the UN demilitarized zone between Syria and Israel. Apparently both governments currently maintain friendly relations. We sensed the area evoked strong sentiments for both sides in the conflict. This sentiment was confirmed while we ate some lunch in the gift shop/ café, for we noticed many people praying, reading from their holy books ( either Koran or Torah) and crying and bowing twice towards the walls. The grief associated with the conflict was palpable, and both Arlene and I actually cried while witnessing the mourners.

From the windy roads we had seen a huge ancient fortress atop imageone of the prominent hills, but by the time we got there at 3:00 pm, it had just closed. So Nimrod Fortress was put on the next day’s agenda. Back down we drove, through the green, rocky hills which looked so stunning in late afternoon light. We picked up a young German hitch hiker who tagged along on the rest of our adventures that day – an unplanned visit to the Lebanese border ( not sure how we ended up there) and to Kibbutz Dan, where we would have arrived victorious in April had we walked the entirety of the trail. We ended up camping in the kibbutz near the first/ final rock of the Shvil. Arlene cooked up one of her specialties seeing as we had a dinner guest, namely young Constantine, the German.  In the morning he took off down the trail and we loaded our stuff into Kermit and headed out to Nimrod.


Nimrod fortress was superb! It took a solid two hours to tour. Views were magnificent. Arlene posted some of the history of this fortification, which dated from 1270 AD. Afterwards we tried to find food in a nearby Druz village since we heard the food was excellent,  but we never stumbled on any roadside stand, so we carried on, past the minefields, the Arab hill towns, the eye-popping imagecountryside with its bombed-out shells of houses, past the Valley of Tears. For part of the ride south, we were only a few kilometres from the Syrian border. Golan was quite the experience and we were glad we had come to this part of Israel.

On the way back to Galilee, we again took the roads less travelled, down through a lush valley filled with agriculture, to the gates of Jordan River Park. I originally thought this was the baptismal site of Jesus, but have since found out it is actually on the south end of the lake where the Jordan River exits and flows towards the Dead Sea. Our previous campsite had been on the west side of Kinneret, so we drove along the east, past a series of beautiful beaches. At Zelan,  we found another great campsite. Here, the lake has a sandy bottom. The campsite is extensive, with running water, washrooms, showers (closed for the winter) and  surprise! Garbage pails every 20 feet. There is definitely a dearth of garbage pails in Israel and as a result there is a lot of trash lying around. In the south, hikers pack out their garbage, but in the more populated regions people tend to just throw it out the window of their cars or leave it behind. For example last night a couple of Arab men arrived with a picnic basket and stayed for a few hours. This morning we saw all the remnants of their dinner still on the picnic table despite the fact there was a pail  five feet away!

THURSDAY March 10 : This morning, besides being bitten by something that has left a large red patch surrounded by a hard white circle on my leg, I heard the insurance has approved my early return. This evokes a very mixed response. True, my knee is not 100% and with the pack it will probably suffer a relapse. Arlene’s feet are improving, though who’s to say what will happen if she tries hiking again. Her plan is to either get back on the trail just north of Tel Aviv and try hiking, even if it’s only 5 km a day, or walk from the Mediterranean back to the Sea of Galilee. If her feet hurt she’ll just stay off them a few days. Unfortunately, I am a more restless soul and feel that now that the hard desert hiking is done and that I’ve had my grand adventure, I could be more productive at home. I’ll camp out with Fraser, get some physio on my knee, go back to work and carry on with some of the writing projects I left behind. But if I indeed fly home in a few days, I will leave part of my heart in Israel, and with Arlene, who has become such a friend and soulmate. I don’t worry about her because she has so much common sense and can connect so easily to everyone she meets. And she is resourceful- I can attest to that!! So we will see what the next few days bring.

So now as I look out on the sun setting on the Sea of Galilee and watch the wind whip the leaves of the eucalyptus trees, I feel very blessed to be here in this moment and for the past 6 weeks. Shalomimage

Rags to riches ( for a day)

Today is the day we are staying at the David Citadel hotel overlooking the old city of Jerusalem. The hotel is apparently listed as one of the 10 best in the Middle East. A night at this prestigious abode  was Arleen’s Christmas  gift from one of her clients in Ottawa.

We prepared to indulge. We left the hostel and walked the short distance down Jaffa street to the hotel. On the way we met an American guy from Half Moon Bay, California, who somehow got chatting about his life changing vision – how he was shown a church hall with two men inside, two men named Bruce. He recognized the place and sought it out because, according to his vision, he would get help for his drinking problem. Bruce #1 apparently was obliging, but when our storyteller suggested he would come back the next day (because he really wanted to drink the cold beer in his van) Bruce told him salvation would happen that day… or never. They prayed,  dumped out the remaining beer and the story teller been alcohol free since. His deliverance has included multiple visions  and voices. He spoke quite matter-of-factly about how God had commissioned him to reunite the 12 tribes of Israel, which is why he was in Jerusalem. He informed us he was directly descended from Jesus’ line (Judah) and is one of the last prophets. He was heavily tattooed and proudly showed us the intertwined Greek letters alpha and omega engraved on his sternum (ouch!). This is the third person I’ve met who has made similar claims – one a young guy in Hawaii who regaled us with tales of his divine manifesto, of how he could turn back tropical storms among other feats. The second is a homeless person back in Edmonton that Fraser and I know.

As usual, I thought I would remember everything he said because it was quite the mend bending story. But by the time we were at the hotel his mystical,  or more likely schizophrenic experiences had slipped my mind. Instead I became immersed in another world, one of hot showers, thick white terry robes, 1000 thread count sheets. Despite us looking like street urchins, the hotel staff treated us royally. An extra bonus was access to the executive lounge for 2 days. This included all sorts of free food and drinks as well as the breakfast buffet the next day. For 2 days we ate napoleons instead of nan bread and sushi, olive purée, all manner of fancy salads, tuna balls,  cappachino, – you name it, it was likely on the menu ( though almost no meat). Because it was Shabbat, the city was shut down. We had no qualms about lounging in our swanky hotel room and eating to our hearts’ content.

The following day, Sunday, we ran errands. Arlene needed a new cell phone package, I required an insurance paper signed.  We had to buy camping gas and make arrangements for a rental car. These errands took most of the day,  after which we availed ourselves of the lounge once more where weIMG_1203 met some American tech workers and Joe Biden’s entourage – already  soaking up the ambience of Jerusalem and the American tax payers’ dollars a week before  Biden’s arrival. Nice work if you can get it.

We also learned there are many strange Shabbat rules. For example you can’t run any electrical appliance on Shabbat, hence  no coffee makers. You are not allowed to paint recreationally as it is considered working with your hands. This also includes painting your face, much to the chagrin of young girls who just plaster the makeup on on Friday morning and hope it lasts until Sunday. The same with their hairstyle. Of course women still lay out all the goodies for Shabbat dinner and presumably change dirty diapers etc…Not sure how the line gets drawn.

We picked up the rental car around 5pm  and decided it would be a gesture of gratefulness to find the botanical gardens where Arlene’s hotel benefactor has a plaque commemorating his on-going contributions to Israel.  We did find the park eventually, but it had closed. The gates to the trails were locked, darkness was falling, coyotes were howling somewhere in the park.  All we could do was  take a few  pictures to prove we’d been there. Afterwards, we were faced with the monumental task of navigating out of Jerusalem, on roads that were anything but straightforward. We headed in a general easterly direction, drove down some twisty winding hillsides, following the heavy traffic out of town. After about 40 minutes we decided that if we didn’t turn off the highway, we’d end up in the urban sprawl of Tel Aviv, so we ducked off an exit into some dark, unknown place.  I was about to stop at a gas station when Arlene said she’d seen a campfire across the road. Positive she was hallucinating, I turned the car around and behold! I entered some kind of picnic area where there was indeed a massive bonfire, surrounded by 35 pre -army youth on a hiking trip. But even more amazing was the fact that as we drove up the dirt track to find a good camp spot what should we see on a rock but the Shvil sign!! We had intersected that old familiar orange blue and white sign! Somehow in the dark, with no clue where we were, we came to the place where that narrow ribbon of trail crossed! It sent a shiver up my spine. A sign? Probably just coincidence, but it will stick in my mind as something more than a random event.

We were invited to join the hikers, eat from their barrel of noodles and sit by the fire. These fine 18 year olds were suitably impressed by our desert experience, which reminded me that though we are a bit incapacitated now and driving a car, we did indeed have a marvellous desert adventure!!

On to Jerusalem

The rabbis went down to the watering hole, and we carried on up highway 90 along the Dead Sea. Our first ride gave us a lift to a junction outside Jerusalem. His driving left a lot to be desired. Flying around hairpin turns while trying to get his GPS working. No need to dwell on that. Makes my scalp prickle thinking about it. We walked over to a bus stop where a soldier said the bus into Jerusalem would be there in 5 minutes. Not so. We waited over 20 minutes in the blazing sun until Arlene decided she’d stick out her thumb and see what happened. First car through the light stopped, and the driver took us within a few blocks of the Abraham hostel.

This hostel is big, roomy, big kitchen, full breakfast etc… A couple of older American women shared our room, one who was exploring the Jewish faith ( and an Internet romance) , the other exploring her independence.  We got there 3 hours before check-in but we were able to shower and use the laundrey. We towelled up and thew everything we owned into the wash. So pleasant to wash off all that salt and get into pliable clothing!  The staff was concerned about our sore knee and ankles and did everything possible to make us comfortable. We enjoyed a couple days of fame. Seems everyone knew about the injured women from the Shvil.  “Oh, you’re the ladies from 227!”  My knee is actually starting to feel better. I’m walking more freely and it hurts only slightly to bear weight. Arlene on the other hand, was suffering.  Here, she could ice her heels and get off her feet. The second day in Jerusalem ( Thursday) was cold and rainy so we didn’t even venture out, except in the evening to explore the local open market. Arlene’s  heels were killing her by the time we got back to the hostel.  Thursday was also the day of Sabrina’s surgery back in Ottawa.

Friday March 4

Today we explored the old city of Jerusalem. We started with a free tour but lost everyone somewhere in the Armenian quarter. And as a result Arlene had her pants fixed! We stumbled across a tiny tailors shop and the owner, who had run the same shop for 57 years was eager to chat. He sewed up her pants for the bargain price of 30 shekels. Seeing her wearing pants without a gaping backside seems sort of…unnatural.

We explored the winding cobblestone alleys and the narrow market maze, which imageimageimageseemed to radiate into all 4 quadrants of the city: Armenian ( orthodox Christian), christian, Moslem, and Jewish. We went to the Church  of the Holy Sepulchre, the site of the crucifixion and were both inexpressibly moved by the slab of rock where image imageJesus was laid out and washed. The church is built around the hill where the crucifixion took place and it is obvious it has significance to Christians, Jews and Moslems alike. What struck me was that 40,000 people live and work in the old city of Jerusalem, side by side, and appear to get along well. Outside is a different story. We’ve heard news stories about attacks, mainly on soldiers and security forces in the last few days.  We regularly see people in uniform and out of uniform with AK 47’s hanging imagecasually from their hips.  On the other hand I haven’t heard of anything more than random stabbings, which is quite different from the American style gun massacres so often in the news. I planned on taking a full day tour of the West Bank – Bethlehem, Ramallah … but decided not to, not because I felt unsafe, but because of the cost ($150).

The Temple Mount and the Dome of the rock are visible from the western wall ( wailing wall) .  Because it was the beginning of Shabatt, preparations were imageimageunderway for the feast and traditional Jewish dancing that take place in the courtyard beyond the wall. We took the opportunity to place our hands on the wall and pray. When done, the custom is to back away from the wall, rather than turn one’s back on it. As Arlene was backing away she bumped right into the woman she met at Toronto airport who was connected to the shelter hostel in Eilat (where we started and mentioned in an earlier post)  such a small world !! Turns out they were also in Eilat when we called to say we couldn’t find the water John had cached for us. Sandy and her husband have kids in Edmonton so I think we will meet up some time in the future.

By about 4:30 Arlene downed another pain pill to prep for the walk back to the hostel (1.5 km only)  as the tram and buses had stopped running (Shabatt). My knee is definitely on the mend. Haven’t had a pain pill for a couple days and walking is much easier.

We’ve decided to change the fancy hotel gifted to Arlene by one of her Jewish clients to tomorrow night and I have a rental car booked at the ridiculously low price of 10.00 a day for Sunday afternoon. Wonder what the catch is?  I’m still uncertain about the last few weeks of this trip. Will the knee hold up under the weight of the pack and the strain of the terrain? Will Arlene’s feet prevent her from walking and will she have to just camp somewhere warm for days at a time. Sometimes we think we could get back on the Shvil and walk a bit, even if only a few kilometres a day, but I’m a bit wary of reinjuring my knee once I’m carrying an extra 40 pounds.  A dr’s note will get me a free plane ride home. Decisions, decisions.

Sabrina had a rough night post surgery. Ben is flying down to see her on Wednesday for a few days. Rachel is in South Carolina with David checking out his new niece. Next weekend she goes to her ex roommates wedding near Seattle. No grass is growing under that girl’s feet!  If anyone is interested in  reading my interview, you can go to It came up on the website yesterday.  No other news, though I did lose the first of 4 damaged toenails.  Came off in the shower at the hostel. Oh well, the other 9 are hanging on. I’d actually forgotten all about the dismal state of my feet, having gotten accustomed to my completely numb big toe. Cheers to everyone. Shabbat shalom.



Mud Baths and Starry Nights

  • We spent two days in our secluded spa ( 3 night, until March 2) It was refreshing to get away from the commotion of Ein Bokek. We had a load of veggies, a can of tuna and our powdered eggs, which by the way are excellent. We rationed the water. It was impossible to have a fire since the salt encrusted bits of wood and brush would not light. What did we do for two days? We wrote a bit, read, enjoyed the ambiance, rested our knees and ankles. Amazing how persistent these injuries can be. I am noticing, however, that  it is easier to get in and out of my tent. A bit of flexibility is returning at last! Perhaps the mineral pools and salt are helping!! Speaking of the pools, they are HOT  and especially at night for some reason, they bubble more, giving off a pungent sulfur smell. image The peacefulness of the place, the unique scenery inspired me to write some poetry, which I might post when the muse overtakes me.We had great fun plastering ourselves with the medicinal black mud. Arlene sank up to her knees in it on one stretch of the beach. imageIf we weren’t confined to our backpacks, which have negative capacity at the moment,  we could bring back a load of mud for everyone to enjoy!image  It does make your skin soft but the salt water you have to rinse in eliminates the therapeutic effects of the mud. By the time we left we were both feeling quite pickled. imageThe novelty of shrivelled, tight skin and cardboard clothing wore off. Having only a litre of water ( and it was 30c ) and only powdered eggs left, it was time to leave. We packed up and hiked the 2 km back out to the highway. While we were waiting for a ride, a car load of 4 rabbis started down the rocky trail, presumably to the hot pools. Would they  have doffed their black robes and sat in the burbling pools when they discovered our tents?? Mmm, an amusing scenario.


Watch the sun slip

behind tangerine cliffs,

anticipate their shadows’ embrace.

Lie down on fine gravel,

absorb the stories pressing on your spine.

Hear the surf pulse,

the bubble and pop of sulfuric pools

their milky water tumbling seaward

fracturing boulders, peeling their crystalline skin.

Look into the sky

now pregnant with stars.

Consider new constellations.

Consider how strangers become friends.

In the darkness, feel the sun;

taste the salt in your pores.

Feel the breeze cover you

like a blanket.

Think of your journey:

the people you’ve touched,

the gift of their smiles.

Think how this land has touched you:

how it has captured your breath

and wrapped you with compassion.

MASADA and the Dead Sea

imageimageAfter a rather unpleasant night on the beach ( which by the way has an eclectic array of garbage on it- surprising, that Israelis, all who express a love for the beauty of their country, seem reluctant to pick up their trash!!), what with traffic and people walking along the beach in the early hours of the morning, we packed up, walked over to the hotel, helped ourselves to a couple of lemon Popsicles, and went up to the road to wait for the bus to Masada. Our painkillers had kicked in and, other than Arlene’s shorts suffering a major seam failure and the bus driver trying to cheat Arlene out of  50 shekels, we arrived at the entrance to the ancient fortress stoked with excitement. We bypassed the snake trail in favour of the cable car, stowed our packs and checked out the site. MASADA was built by Herod who, in typical megalomaniacal ( is that a word??) fashion, built a number of palaces complete with huge storage rooms and public pools. I can only imagine the labour required to fill the cisterns with water and then have that water carried up such a forbidding pile of rock. After Herod’s death the palaces fell into disrepair but the fortress was taken over by anti Roman rebels. ( Jewish freedom fighters). When besieged by Roman forces in 73AD they chose to kill themselves rather than be enslaved. Later inhabitants, included monks and rabbis, used the ruins as a spiritual retreat as evidenced by the synagogues and Byzantine church complete with mosaics. It’s been a while since I’ve had the pleasure of viewing such a significant archaeological site!

Afterwards we treated ourselves to falafels and would have gone for ice cream but the concession was charging $7 for a bar. We were pretty sore after a couple hours of walking through the rocky ruins.  We must really look in need of a lift as people sometimes just come up and offer. We think we are  stoic, exuding an air of confidence and independence but we must, in reality, look quite desperate.  I have my Terry Fox limp and Arlene has this hesitant waddle as she cautiously plots  the positioning of each step. Our reliance on hiking poles, along with the backpacks and grimaces add just the right touch of pathos! On the way out of Masada, a woman about my age made a beeline for me,  clucking like a mother hen about me being in Israel, about the pain in my leg. She gripped my arm and said “May the Lord God bless you”,  and I sensed the blessing through her touch. Not that it translated into any physical improvement, but to receive a blessing from a total stranger was touching.

The next couple hours were spent getting to a decent campsite. The bus driver filled us in on why the Dead Sea shrinks to almost nothing in the middle ( diverting water from the Jordan river for starters, ) to how the sinkholes form along this portion of the sea. He dropped us at the David recreation area, which had no camping but ample fresh water and where two Arab boys insisted we give them each one of our hiking poles. After all, if we had two each, we could give one away.  I had to remind them we had two feet, but English was lost on them.

Then two older Dutch guys who were in Israel for the weekend, gave us a lift to the local kibbutz where we could supposedly camp. The view was pleasant, but it was right beside the road, had no water – overall not a great place. While Arlene and I were contemplating possibilities and rummaging for the Advil, a man drove up to take some pictures of the sea. He asked us what we were doing… we told him…which  is how we ended up at this latest great camping spot. Picture a deserted beach on the Dead Sea with hot pools and the Dead Sea au natural – mo chunks of salt due to the mining of minerals. This part of the sea had waves rolling in. Salt mineral water and hot springs. People pay big money for these amenities but it was all ours for free. After a short but wild 4×4 ride over a rocky trail, our driver showed us the pools, collected a store of the coveted black mud , left 2 bottles of water, then drove off. We put our tents up in the dark and relaxed. We ate, listened to the surf, chatted, then went to bed, pleased with our private spa.

Most days we can never imagine where we will be by dark. Today,  we were expecting an uncomfortable night outside a busy kibbutz. Instead we have another piece of paradise and for that we are grateful. We have food and water for two days so we’ll stay here, enjoy the solitude, soak our painful body parts in the hot mineral pools then cool off in the sea. How amazing is that?


Saturday Feb 27 The Dead Sea

Why walk when you can crawl?
Salt crystals

I  am still totally disabled with the knee and I’m wondering if I tore the meniscus while trying to get a heavy pack on or off the bus. I stayed at Michaela’s until Thursday. She treated me to Israeli street food- falafel in pita, then took me to an emergency room doctor in Beer Shiva  who was totally useless. I had hoped he’d diagnose the injury with ultrasound or something, perhaps suggest a shot of cortisone to get me up and running, but he just brushed me off ” it’ll feel better in a week”, which given the continued severity of the pain on day 10, seems unlikely. I’ve gotten my travel insurance involved in the case… But let’s not go there at the moment.

On Thursday the plan was to get to the Dead Sea and meet Arlene, who would get lifts or bus from wherever she was (no easy feat, especially when her feet were killing her). I got a ride down to the Dead Sea with a friend of Michaela’s, an old sailor type who she assured me was harmless. He didn’t speak very good English but wanted my undivided attention. Of course after Arlene and I met up, I quit trying to decipher his broken English. He pouted, ignored us, and then rather unceremoniously dumped my pack in the parking lot. First bad behavior by an Israeli I’ve witnessed so far. I was shocked to see Arlene picking her way painfully across the sand on swollen feet, not  quite believing that this girl’s Achilles’ heel was indeed her Achilles’ heel! What a pair! A few weeks ago we were like two fillies prancing at the gate . Now we’re a couple of old mares waiting for the glue factory. How did this happen? Neither of us remembers a specific moment when something “gave”, no searing pain, no warning of trouble to come. Of course, it didn’t help to walk 40 km on a bum knee , but what choice do you have when you are in the middle of a desert wadi with limited water? And Arlene hiked 30+ km a day through rain, knee high mud flats and thorn bushes on tender tendons as well.

But we’re at the Dead Sea! It was cool coming down the winding road from Arad as there were markers on the cliffs indicating elevation every 100 meters – down to sea level, then -100, -200, -300, -400 and then the sea. There is a salt flat where you can walk across to Jordan, which if we were more mobile, we would  probably have tried. Just to the border, which is smack in the centre of the sea. We heard they put you in jail for trying to get into Jordan that way.

The Dead Sea is strange. Salt ridges along the bottom can cut your feet like coral. In places it looks like Arctic ice floes floating on the water. As for its healing properties, well it does nothing for knee pain. And don’t drink even a smidgon of it. Someone died here a few months ago. He swallowed a few gulps of the water and went into cardiac arrest due to the high sodium, potassium, magnesium content.

If you want to discover where all those hidden cuts are on your body, just take a dip in the Dead Sea. Granted, it does make your skin soft . The surface of the water is oily and almost impossible to wash off. The first day I went in with my leggings on. They have yet to dry despite the heat as the salt holds the water in the fabric.  When they do dry they’re as stiff as if you’d starched them. And we will never get the sand out of our undies… But wait, isn’t that how pearls are made??

Here’s something special that happened our first night in Ein Bokek. The couple who gave Arlene her last ride asked her if she’d ever had an Israeli BBQ. They said they’d come back at 7 and give us one. And so they did! They picked us up from the public beach and drove us a bit south to find a better camp spot. Then they took coals and a hibachi from their trunk. What a feast! Spicy meat balls, chicken, eggplant dip, pita, hummus, olives and tomatoes and some very smooth Israeli white wine. After chatting for a few hours, they loaded everything back in the trunk and headed back to Jerusalem (about a 50 minute drive). We’re quite spoiled, as you can tell.

The weather here is perfect. Clear blue skies, 27 c, a slight breeze off the sea. At night there is no condensation on the tent; it’s mild and dry. This camp spot is only 1/4 km from a hotel which was hosting an exercise weekend so we were subjected to lots of loud music ( noise), preening girls showing off their abs, and a few Adonises in their little white bathing suits. Quite the spectacle. One of the guards, who was actually supposed to keep the riff raff, meaning non paying guests like us, from the property so we couldn’t get fresh water to rinse off the salt, relented and let us stay ( on the outer fringe, like a couple of lepers). The price for this privilege was to watch videos of his new pit bull puppy for 20 minutes and listen to him whine about his miserable pay. Apparently he is moving on to greener pastures ( Coca Cola ) on Tuesday. Now he can afford to feed his growing puppy and possibly get a girl. We ended up going back to our usual spot, under our makeshift canopy just to stop the incessant chatter. Nevertheless he redeemed himself later by bringing us each a Popsicle. Now that Shabbat is over, the crowds have gone, the exercise gurus are sleeping off their frenzy. Arlene made a great dinner of fried onions, zucchini, tomatoes, some kind of grain and a can of tuna, then tea. I think she posted a couple pictures of the sea and our sunshade.

Sabrina, Arleen’s daughter and Bens girlfriend slipped on the ice and broke her ankle . Surgery is scheduled for Thursday to have a pin inserted . What the heck? Strained tendons, twisted knees, broken ankles. What will a day bring? Now it’s time to hunker down, take our pain meds and get some sleep.- or maybe I should examine my air mattress for holes. Something is noticeably different.

Tomorrow we plan on hobbling to Masada to see the ancient fortress. There is a cable car on this side of the mountain, which will make this venture possible. We will either camp there or go on to Ein Gedi which is supposedly a lovely beach with springs and a wadi- sort of an oasis on the shore of the Dead Sea. Toward the north end of the Dead Sea are the caves where the Dead Sea scrolls were found. So interesting! From there, the plan is to head to Jerusalem where we will reexamine the knee/ heel issues. It would be such a pleasure to walk freely again, to quit doing acrobatics to get out of the tent , to stop peeing on my shoes. Keep our ailments and Sabrina in mind when you say your prayers! Shalom.



Cooling my heels in Arad

It’s cold and rainy in Arad. The town only gets a few rain days a year and these are two of them. Arlene and I both stayed at the guest house Saturday and Sunday night as it’s impossible for me to hike at the moment and who wants to walk in cold rain? We blogged, chatted, talked to Michaela. I called Fraser. (I’m used to sharing my personal tragedies with him and he can certainly empathize with knee issues). So nice to have Arlene here for the extra day. I think the plan is she will push off tomorrow northwards to Jerusalem ( a 7 day hike  to the Jerusalem Trail if you follow the guide’s timetable.) I have no choice but to stay here and see what happens to the knee. I’ve been icing religiously, taking Advil- tonight I will take the big guns and hope they do their job without killing me). Arlene took a trip out tonight to get me groceries and some cash. Of course Michaela fed us and drove her around. Always helpful.  The name of her guest house is The Desert Bird. She has a website and is also a member of ILH which is the Israeli hostel network. Highly recommend this place for anyone – families, backpackers , anyone really.

I forgot to mention all the Orthodox Jews we saw on Saturday. I assume they dress that way all the time, not just on Shabbat – hopefully I can get a picture of the men in their black gowns and these huge round black fur hats. We were told it was some relic from Russian days when the weather was cold, but it is not really a hat to keep your ears warm as it sits too high. Sort of like the top of a spherical sewer grate perched on their heads. Apparently they wear this even in summer when it is 40c. Another version is more like a black cowboy hat.  The men walk like they have a board up their spine ( or something somewhere else), looking fairly unnatural. Orthodox women work outside the home, raise the kids, do all the housework, while the men “study”. Archaic. The kids go to their own school, just as the Bedouins do. This is certainly a very mixed, but tolerant society.


Arlene decided to leave around noon and go partway to Amasa, a kibbutz in the mountains. She ended up taking a bus to Tel Arad and then walking back to find the trail. While she was checking the map, a car drove up and the occupants told her it wasn’t safe to hike up the mountain where the rain would likely become snow. How fortunate for her! They gave her a ride to the Kibbutz, which reserves a small room with a mat on the floor for hikers. We talked to each other on the phone, both feeling a little lonely and lost- uncertain about what might happen next, missing each other’s company. We wondered if we should go back south where it’s warm but I think the weather will improve here in a couple days. Nights remain cold!  We could take a bus to Cairo and see the pyramids. But I need to be able to walk freely- maybe not hike, but at least walk. We still have to get to Masada and spend a couple days at the Dead Sea, so that’s on the agenda, and of course I still plan on meeting her closer to the Jerusalem Trail and walk the 40 km into the city. Perhaps a shot of cortisone in the knee might help. I’ve suggested it to the insurance and if they agree I’ll pursue that option.

Rachel is going to Nome, Alaska for a year. Home of the Ididerod, Balto the dog and apparently of alien abductions. How exciting- a community without roads in or out and 24 hour winter days (or nights, depending on your perspective). We had a nice long FaceTime chat which was great!!

Sent off the answers for the Malahat Review’s interview, which will be published in their March issue, so for anyone who is interested, you can check that out on their website next month.

Michaela trains post army students to go into schools and do tourist things- history etc… She had a group of 4 girls over this afternoon for lunch and training. This morning apparently they went flood chasing. Since it rained last night the wadi was flooded ( the one we would have walked up today) so they were all excited and went  to check it out and take pictures. I joined them later for food, but can’t help feeling a bit lost without the discipline of the trail – of  not being able to walk freely, of missing any action Arlene is experiencing, of just missing my hiking buddy.

So today, TUESDAY day 16,  the feelings are heightened because I’m all alone in this big house. Even the dog goes to work with Michaela. I’m assuming Arlene is on the trail heading north, so she will be fairly occupied. It will be a long day to Meiter and hopefully the trail will not be too slick. I’m sure I’ll get a text or call when she’s done for the day.

So I sit here, admittedly feeling sorry for myself, knowing that when the sun returns tomorrow I will be itching to get out on the trail.  I hope our cache of miracles hasn’t been depleted because I’m counting on another one for this wretched knee.

Oh no, the sun is beginning to shine and it’s only  early afternoon.  I have never NOT been on the move when the sun is shining in Israel. 😒