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. 😒


Some miracles are not to be!

I have to admit the knee is in a bad way, but there was nothing for it but to walk out of the wadi ( about 7 km) and head for a road to Arad. Surprising what you can do when there is no alternative. We climbed boulders, ascended gradually up narrow trails only to find ourselves back in the wadi, confronted with piles of rock, or skirting deep pools of water. The weather was cool and overcast, which was actually a blessing. The sun came out as we were reaching the final ascent out of the wadi. We met a small group of day hikers who suggested getting to the top and following the transmission lines to a road where we might be lucky enough to catch a ride.

I had said, when we left Sapir, that I wanted to walk out if the desert into Arad . I got my wish. On reaching the mountain top, we kind of stumbled through several Bedouin camps with their  tin and  tarry looking papered shacks, mangy half feral dogs, and  roaming kids. The views were spectacular but the ground so rough and full of sharp rock. It seemed an unpleasant surface to live on! I’ve learned since that the Bedouin men can have several wives, that they get government welfare to support their nomadic lifestyle, but the kids are expected to go to school, especially the boys. They speak Arabic and have their own school s scattered about the settlements. After crossing through their property ( though who’s to know the boundaries?) we came to the road. A green trail sign! This was the shortcut given in the trail guide.

But on a sore knee, this was no shortcut. We ate our last cans of tuna just before making the descent into Arad. It was a slow and painful walk. And no cars except for ones driven by shifty looking characters – sorry for seeming guilty of racial profiling, but I did not see anyone who changed my impression of  Bedouins. Perhaps this is the persona they choose to put forward??

We walked into Arad and when we realized that Arad was much larger than we anticipated and that the simple directions to the youth hostel were hopelessly wrong, we were delivered once again. Arlene has a knack for stopping just the right cars. ( there were very few, this being Shabbat ) a young couple immediately took us into the car, drove us around to look for camp fuel,  took us to the hostel, which was full. So they found us another spot- a guest house called the Desert Bird, run by another Israeli angel. A lovely big  house, four bedrooms upstairs, large kitchen downstairs and huge sitting room with fireplace, pool table, a yard full of flowers and hammocks. Idyllic really and she charges only 100 shekels per person ( around 35-40).

When we arrived, four families who had met up in Arad for the weekend were just finishing their gathering with a bbq . We were invited to join this eclectic group of people and nine kids, so we ate and chatted and ate some more. The day before when it had been so hot I had told Arlene I felt like an ice cold Coke (something I have not had in probably 30 years) and she agreed but it had to be diet. And lo and behold, did they not offer her cold Diet Coke?? This is what I mean about the little things that make us feel protected and cared for.

That said, there has been no miracle for my knee, which has decided to quit. I can’t put any weight on it at all and have to drag myself upstairs. But how lovely to be fed and showered, clothes washed etc… Michaela took me to a medical clinic and for 130$ I got a diagnosis of tendinitis and given a prescription for anti inflammatory pills ( though I was warned a side effect was sudden heart attack or stroke)  rest and ice. How inopportune. I never have had knee trouble and would have thought if I was prone to it, it would have happened back in those early mountain climbs near Eilat.

We will have to come up with a plan and see how the knee recovers. Fortunately the weather has turned cold and rainy so we are content to stay put here for at least a couple more days, but after that?  Hard to say. Stay tuned.

There are angels among us. I have been reminded that I too can be an angel,that I can go out of my way for others, that compassion helps keep the world in check.

PS I have a lot of pictures I want to post but have to figure out how to get more than one feature picture up per blog.

Shalom for now.

Friday, Day 12

A very hot day. At least 30c . We carried on over the plateau, came across several 4×4 trying to make it up one of the steep ascents. Lots of people headed out to the Dead Sea as this is almost Shabbat , the Jewish weekend. One guy spoke French, another gave us some extra water which came in very handy. They took our picture.IMG_0846

Eventually the plateau descended into a series of wadis – expansive wadis that seemed about 1/2 km wide in places. It was almost impossible to find the trail signs. But the trail guide steered us in the right direction, north and it was with relief that we saw those comforting orange, blue and white stripes. The effort of walking over jumbles of stone through the wadis with a painful knee, in the heat, was very trying. I had to take a break under a rock ledge and cool off. ( poor Arlene having to put up with all my aches and pains. She’d have  been off in a cloud of dust, probably in Arad by now, if not for me slowing her up! this journey is a lot about endurance – for me physical, for Arlene, patience.

I prayed for a breeze and we got one. The wind blew up by about 3:30, and turned into wild, blustery blasts that nearly knocked us off our feet at times. We walked through the rock strewn wadis  until almost dark. At times we were surrounded by cliff walls, then rocky hillsides. There was green on those hills and I think Arlene mentioned some if the landscape reminded her of northern Scotland- an impression I also had. Bedouins grazed camels and sheep on the hills. Must say they seem to be a scruffy, rather mean lot. (The bedouins, not the animals)The kids make lots of weird vocals ( to the animals perhaps??)

Where to camp? Nothing like a pile of boulders to try pitching a tent on. Then we discovered a cave- deep enough to be out of the wind but still lots of air, large enough for our gear and two mats and sleeping bags. Another trail fantasy fulfilled ( we’d read about this in the walk the land book)  the wind had turned cold and the cave, which was the only one we encountered that day or the next, for that matter, was providential. We treated ourselves to a freeze dried meal and went to sleep – warm for really the first time at night. Again, my knee was ready to give up the ghost, but ever hopeful, I dreamt of a miraculous recovery overnight.IMG_0897




Day 11

We have decided to skip a section of the Negev because it requires caching water in about 8 camp sites. It is hard to coordinate these drops because we never do the distance as outlined in the trail guide. How would anyone ever find us in the midst of these wadis, boulder fields and canyons?? Additionally, there is the expense: it seems the standard drop fee in these remote sections of the desert cost about 650 shekels each ((around 200$) Arlene could likely carry enough water to tide her over a few days but 5 litres is my max. This section of the desert also includes the dreaded Karbolet ( two craters where you ascend steeply and walk along a very narrow rim, up and down, ( Karbolet means ” like the comb of a rooster”) If this is the most challenging day of the trail, as the guidebook indicates, then it must be terrifying ( based on previous experience). Arlene was warned not to try it alone.

We took the bus up to highway 25 through the most scenic desert terrain I’ve seen -huge cliffs of rock, sheer canyons, reddish plateaus and breathtaking vistas. When we had climbed almost to the top (kilometres of winding road) a sign proudly announced that we had now reached sea level!! Such a strange sensation.

As usual the bus was packed . The driver couldn’t stop at the trailhead so we had to walk uphill in blistering heat several kilometres with all our water bottles and the camel pack filled to the brim . Somewhere in all the bus commotion I must have twisted/ strained my knee. The pain worsened after we reached the trail and headed north towards Arad.

We passed a quarry and large conveyer belt strung across the hills , looking very much like a Roman aqueduct . Then we noticed the camels. Two young Bedouin boys and their unfortunate donkey were pasturing their herd on the scrubby, rocky ground. How cool to see camels. We noticed some had their front legs roped together, presumably to prevent them from running off? Our first impression of the bedouins was negative.IMG_0841image

We walked on for a few hours, almost til dark on a high plateau. The ground and trail was very rocky but we noticed countless sea shells littering the ground, evidence this place was likely under water. We found one of the few sandy spots around to set up camp, ate a can of tuna each and half a power bar . Camp fuel is getting low so we forgot about tea. Mountains in the distance, a waxing moon, high up in open country and the silence after that last eerie camp out in Ein Yahav. Everything is good. My toes have healed though two if them look a bit odd, my back is fine again…..but my knee is starting to be a problem. I go to sleep hoping that in the morning all will be well with  the knee.



Moa and north

About an hour into our days trek we came to the ancient ruin of Moa,  a Nabatean settlement along the spice route. Very cool. I’ll have to check the date in the trail guide but this whole area was traversed by caravans carrying spice and other trade goods. An ancient fortress, a multi-roomed structure perched on a hill complete with grinding stones, mortals and pestles.  We took a load of pictures, then carried on to what we thought was Zofar night camp. Somehow we missed the camp. I think it might have been near another moshav ( a farming community where each family has their own livelihood – non communal) but we ended up walking an extra few kilometres to Sapir. This town boasted a park with GRASS. Real grass but an extraordinary colour of green which looked totally out of place against the surrounding desert. Arlene has posted in her blog about how the grocery store was closed in Sapir so someone gave us a lift to the supermarket in Ein Yahal, a large moshav that seemed to specialize in pepper growing.  We loaded up on veggies and cheese, hummus, olives etc… and picked up assorted melons and peppers that had fallen from the trucks along the road. I’m talking about perfect peppers ( export grade)  Arlene can’t bear to see anything wasted so we had a couple bags of freebies.  A young guy gave us a ride to the campground with all our grub. Joy! A campground with a water tap, bags of fresh food and again, we got there as a result of the kindness of strangers AGAIN!  We decided to take a rest day there, rinse out clothes, catch up on writing and of course eat a couple bags of peppers!!

The following morning the same  guy who drove us from the grocery store returned with 2 more bags of assorted veggies, melons, a cabbage, onions and …more peppers. He invited us to flafel night in the moshav but after 9 days of walking neither Arlene nor I could face walking back into town in the dark. We were kind of creeped out that night by howling dogs or coyotes right in the campground. The farm animals were restless. Do roosters typically crow all through the night? Sheep bleating, cows bellowing, dogs barking. Some kind of strange vibe in the air, in a place that had seemed perfectly benign earlier in the day. My guess was that a volcanic eruption was imminent or that, more than likely, an  alien spaceship had landed nearby.


Trail day 8 Feb 15

  • We packed up from camp at Barack wadi and started out on the trail, through wadis and over rolling high plateaus. Some of the hills were very chalky, a bit slick. So I would slide down, getting totally covered  in a fine white powder.Probably not so good for the lungs. We stopped early and camped in a beautiful spot at the junction of 2 wadis, a spot with two large acacia trees and a brilliant white wall of rock towering over us. DSCN0254People had camped there and we’ve noticed they often bring large wooden pallets for firewood. Good for us except for the heaps of rusty nails buried in the dirt. We had just made camp when a young Ukranian guy named Alex stopped to rest under one of the trees. He was quite proud of the fact he was carrying a pack that weighed 75 pounds!! Twelve litres of water (almost 30 pounds right there. )He was heading to Eilat for 10 days of hiking, and had all his meals in small packets. Looked like bird feed. Anyway off he went, this little guy with the enormous pack, prepping for a summer trip of extreme hiking on the Kamchatka peninsula in Russia. One does meet interesting people on the trail!

The Canyons

What an exhilarating day! Yoel made us some lunches and drove us to the trailhead. This was the day we were going to tackle Vardit and Barack canyons. The guidebook says the canyon walls are steep and 70 m high “you will climb vertically up a ladder with the help of metal rungs and handholds.” And so it was. it was scary but the smooth rocks were stunning. Some of the pits were flooded. At one point the water was deep . A rope had been strung across which we attached our packs to with carabiners. (I left my big pack with Yoel who was going to meet us at the campground afterwords and Arlene left most of her stuff in a green garbage bag but we still had our electronics and shoes…) We had to remove our clothes and walk through icy chest deep water – rather green from algae – to the other side ( an interesting photo op), slither up onto the rocks and re bandage my toes, then climb up the metal ladders through the canyons and maneuver up metal runs.


It was terrifying and exhilarating at the same time. We had just got our boots back on when a group of five guys came by. I imagine they had to do the same thing. Anyway we were long gone before they were done. Between canyons was a 5 km walk across the most fabulous plateau. DSCN0240The type of countryside I love – desert, bare high country with the Jordanian mountains off to the west. The second canyon had a narrow path on the edge of the DEEP canyon – not a walk in the park for someone who gets dizzy easily. We followed a group of four Israelis down into the depths of the canyon, down ladders and sliding down water water smoothed rocks and forded a knee high pool.DSCN0242

When we exited the canyon, the brilliant blue sky against the rock walls was incredible. IMG_0740

The Israelis were perched on a ledge eating fruit and chocolate. a couple of them, including one guy who made travel videos and look like a young Brad Pitt, were in the tourist business. We sat with them for half an hour, drank a bit of herbal tea made from a local dandelion like plant and shared their snacks. They were very curious about our trip and suggested getting a bag service so we could ditch the packs ( which I would love to do but have since discovered is outrageously expensive. Their main advice: it is about the journey, not the mileage enjoy, stop and smell the roses. They seem to be suitably impressed by 2- 50/60 women attempting The Shvil. They were also quite surprised to hear we thought the trail was dangerous. One of the young men said we need to redefine what we consider dangerous. He didn’t explain but I think for Israelis, their existence has been contested for centuries and THAT is danger. Facing challenging landscapes, especially in a land they love, is not in the same class at all. That is the best I can figure it because there isn’t a person I know who wouldn’t be shocked by some of the obstacles on the trail, and yet very few Israelis seem to understand our apprehension. Strange.DSCN0234DSCN0205

Arlene and I started walking out of the canyon down the wadi to the campground but it was about 10 km! Thankfully that merry little party picked us up about 3K into the hike and drove us to the campground. They picked another couple hitchhikers up who sat up on the roof racks. Respectful, lovers of nature, mellow… Maybe it was the tea??? But what great people. So again we were looked after, arriving at the campground before dark, when it could have been a long slog over rocks in the dark (our headlights were back in our packs. ) We made a fire and kept it going, joking that we didn’t want to be huddled in the dark looking pathetic when Yoel arrived with water and the bags. They came around eight, hugs all around, invited them to Canada, – anything we need they said, just call. Such a surreal Can’t help but feel thankful for this experience. Would love to be posting pictures but I need Wi-Fi to get the pictures from my camera to the iPad or phone. No Wi-Fi yet . I think may be Arlene will post one or two on her blog.

PS – lots of Israeli fighter jets heading out over the desert. military exercises seem fairly regular.

Day 6

Saturday – the sixth day on the trail. We woke up inside the visitor center to discover the parking lot was full . I assume this was the back way into Timna park and people had come here to hike – after all it is their weekend. We hastily gathered up our stuff and found a sunny wall out back to recline against , have breakfast and chat.

We decided not to get back on the Park Loop( having seen the geological formations of Timna up close and personal the day before). So we took the narrow road out of the park that led to Highway 90. There is a 27 km stretch about 15 K further north that runs alongside the highway. You can rent a bicycle and ride that section but it seems most people just bus it. However being Shebat the buses would not start until mid afternoon

Arlene should’ve been an archaeologist. All along the way she’s found stuff we’ve made use of : four tomatoes, a can of tuna, half an apple Along the highway she found a sun hat a bottle of water , a half  eaten package of Mento’s, rubber cord ,a keychain a zipper pull. Some things we kept or ate (meaning the Mentos).

A lovely older man in a beat up van offered us a ride about 10 km up the highway and dropped us off at a bus stop saying he expected the bus to show up within 30 minutes. And so it did. The bus was packed and we were obstructing the aisles with our humongous packs. People were so nice . some held the poles, others just made room at their feet for the packs . They all seem pleased we were hiking the Shvil . About 3 o’clock the driver let us off at the junction to Highway 13 which would eventually hook us up to the trail once again.

Across the road was a small mini mart with benches under an awning where you could eat a sandwich. Chickens and roosters were running around in some kind of petting zoo. We refilled our water bottles from the tap and bought some dates from a young Ethiopian sales guy who let us sample different kinds of dates from various packages which he then put back on the shelf . Happy with the dates and water we shuffled off under our heavier loads. Highway 13 was deserted and we had anywhere from 10 to 17 km to walk . no one seemed to know exactly how far. It was about 4 PM and we figured we would just have to camp by the side of the road despite the signs that warned “firing zone.”Only one car went by in about three quarters of an hour so we were resigned to keep walking till dark . The countryside was lovely – brown rolling hills ,mountains in the background – totally peaceful.

Then things took a sudden turn. A car was coming but it was going in the opposite direction. We decided to get the drivers attention and ask if he knew how far it was to the trailhead. (By the way almost everyone speaks English around here some very fluent; others struggle a bit but seem happy to practice on foreigners. ) Anyway to shorten the story they insisted we come back to their house for the night and they would drive us to the trailhead in the morning. We could leave our packs and they would bring them and water to the camp we would end up at after that after the  days hike. So generous. First they served tea and cookies then gave us the run of a tiny house joining their own that they built for their son who is off in Colorado grooming ski trails. We showered , washed our clothes and as if that wasn’t enough they took us out to the community café that serves pizza and yogurt. Svia bought us an olive pizza and two yogurt parfait’s covered in pomegranate seeds and some tart berries and Chocolate. Such a treat. We met a bunch of her friends , gave them our blog addresses then went “home ” for the night . Svia and Yoel -trail angels – though not on the official list and that is not the end of their hospitality.

Such a lesson in kindness – many we’ve seen since being in Israel. Part of it is the national character , part sensitivity to being sort of homeless/isolated for so many centuries. Also they believe in the overall goodness of people and that good deeds are karmic – in other words it comes back to you. Plus I think many israelis travel and many of these “angels ” have received or their kids of been the recipients of the generosity and kindness of others.

I am writing this on Wednesday and much has transpired since this account of Saturday but Arlene and I are becoming completely enamored with the people and landscape of Israel.

Trail day 4

We completed day 2 from the trail guide. As you can see the guide is totally out of whack with reality. Arlene and I are no slouches but it would have been impossible to go faster. We woke up outside the wadi in a camping spot- well beside the official one. We moved over because about 30 high schoolers were on a field trip and sleeping out under the stars ( which, by the way are so amazing in the desert.) We got our gear together, ate some porridge and powdered eggs and set off, toes bandaged and hoping for the best. As usual it wasn’t long before we were climbing another mountain- another long steep slog up gravelly slopes -20% grade. It took hours and near the summit who should we meet but a cyclist, dragging his mountain bike across the rocks. I don’t know how he could possible manage the descent WITH A BYCYCLE!! He was a geologist who came to the desert once a month. People do all sorts of crazy stuff though he seemed a down to earth kind of guy. He warned us about the trail down – two dry waterfalls and a bunch of boulders to navigate “but you can slide down them”. Nothing about that in the trail guide. But he failed to tell us

you can slide down them if you don’t mind careening down 80 feet with your pack propelling you onto a pile of rock. Somehow, again with Arlene’s ingenuity we came out alive. I swear she is an angel sent to save me. The boulders – well there were dozens of seemingly impossibly high and treacherous rocks. Sometimes we slid the packs down first, hoping all our electronics would survive(in the event we survived, otherwise who cares, right??? I cannot believe the Israeli govt allows this trail to be certified. It’s well marked all along the way with fresh paint on boulders. I picture some evil person gleefully freshening the orange, blue and white markers at all these potentially lethal points on the trail. Our pictures will never do justice to the impossibilities of the trail. ( though to Arlene they are obstacles to be overcome). After defying the odds yet again (and I am thankful for prayers and guardian angels) we walked for a couple hours along a very wide wadi (dry streambed) and came to the camp. We set up just before dark, ate another of those delicious freeze dried meals – and I’m not being sarcastic- they are fantastic-. The area was lovely, as is all the open scenery we see, and appeared to be used by dirt bikers

In the morning I told Arlene I slept badly. I was cold, sunburned, blistered and dirty. She laughed and said she slept better because she was only cold and dirty. The previous night I had slept really well despite the teenagers, dud to the fact at that time I was only blistered. At the time this seemed hilarious and we laughed for 20 minutes.

We have created a few guessing games for example: what time do you think it is? How much charge do you think the solar charger put into the iPad? How long do you think we’ll live on this section of the trail? We should up the stakes. Loser has to give up a mountain meal or cut her water ration in half.

Decided not to check my toes, after all nothing I can do about them until we reach a town somewhere. They were no sorer than the previous night and looked a bit less red under the blister pads. I’d never seen a blister that went from the tip if the toe under the nail and down to nearly the first knuckle. Quite strange. Arlene said she lost several toenails on her Kilimanjaro trip. She also had Asolo boots that dye loved ( like mine) but discovered they were too snug above the toes. So that “fits like a glove” admiration I had for these boots turns out was not a good thing after all. Not sure what the solution is. Maybe my toes, after getting over the shock, will adapt.

Day 5 (for us)

Ok so here’s the scoop on today. Clear blue skies, warm- lovely, scenery absolutely awesome. We left at 7 and walked down the wadi for a good 2 hours before reaching Timna park. Fabulous place. Striking rock formations such as Solomons pillars (misnamed by a British archeologist – nothing to do with Solomon  anyway. There were also the ruins of an Egyptian temple and a replica of the biblical tabernacle. We missed the latter as a park employee offered to give us a lift to the pillars. The surrounding mountains and valleys are magnificent, the stone itself ancient. Would have been a lovely place to  cool our heels ( and toes) for a day. However it was only about 11, so we set out on the trail. We knew it would be hard since even that inept trail guide said so. But again the ascent was underplayed . It was straightforward ( meaning no ridiculous impasses but it was VERY steep, in fact the final push was basically vertical, all on rock. But what a view from the top!!! We rehydrated, ate some power bars and peanut butter/sand on dried out bread. The summit was a tabletop with sheer sides. NOTHING in the trail guide said anything about easing yourself backwards off the rim with nothing but 2000 feet of air below you and a couple of metal handholds on a narrow lower ledge. But that’s what we had to do. We had seen three guys’ heads appear mysteriously over the edge but dismissed their route as having anything to do with the INT. They invited us to smoke a joint so the trip down wouldn’t seem so bad. As if smoking pot would help! What I wanted was a helicopter evacuation off that tabletop. Somehow we did it and the rest of the descent was…sketchy.. Once again we lived to tell the tale. This was actually a geological trail with explanatory plaques but no one in Canada would dare take a bus load of school kids to see it! Just below the tabletop summit we passed a cheery group of people with about 15 young kids in tow. One guy had a four year old slung across his shoulders, another a baby on his back and one on his front. The kids were all scattered over the rocky, razor thin trail. They were headed to the top for a picnic!!!! We expressed our amazement and concern but they seemed unfazed. We were completely flummoxed by this reckless endeavour.


It was after 5 ( 10 hours of hiking) when we got into a more open wadi. The trail took a turn up again so we decided to camp in the wadi, which is a no-no because of flash floods. The wind had picked up, so we walked a bit further to see if there was a more sheltered place, decided to pitch the tents, when to our amazement a car whizzed by not 200 feet from where we were standing. A road? Sure enough it was a very narrow paved road and looking right, we noticed a building. We knew everything would be shut down because Shabbatt had begun (sabbath) but went to investigate. Turned out it was an almost completed visitors centre and someone had left the door unlocked!! Unfortunately there was no running water yet but there was power to charge up our iPads. We forgot about tents and just blew up our air mattresses, put them on some ceiling tiles for insulation and that was our camp for the night. Warm and out of the wind. Providential. If that car hadn’t gone by we would never have known. We only saw two other cars that entire night pass by. Of course we didn’t turn on lights but ate dinner under the green glow of the exit signs.

I forgot to mention that while Arlene was helping me down backwards from a rock she started laughing about the holes in the back of my pants. On the trail I found a pair of black stretchy capris and we both thought that was an amazing coincidence. Unfortunately they were about 2 sizes too small. Wouldn’t that have been something if they’d fit perfectly??

Day 6

Another cloudless warm day. The night was uneventful . No police arrived to throw us out which was surprising because this place should have been locked and have security cameras. There are lots of antiquities mounted on the wall. We’ve decided not to back to the trail as it does a loop. We can see the town we would have ended up at across the valley so will just head out as the crow flies. Not sure what will be available when we get there. Things only open up in the evening of the sabbath. The next section of the trail is supposedly (from this flawed guide book) a much easier walk, though still 22 km. We’ll see how it goes – and what the toes look like” Arlene pulled her Achilles’ tendon on the descent which is a bummer.

After such an extreme day yesterday I’ve decided that whenever I know a section of the trail is too hairy and unreasonable I’ll give it a miss. The problem is the guide, and there’s only one, does not really warn you. It might say “difficult “ or “steep” but it in no way prepares you for the actual conditions you find on the trail.IMG_0639

All sections of the trail are challenging but I didn’t come over here to look death in the face, plus it’s hardly fair to Arlene who I’m sure feels some responsibility for both our safety. She has quite literally saved me countless times over the past 5 days. But we are still enjoying ourselves, revel in the accomplishments ( surviving so far), are in awe of the scenery and history. Day by day, step by step, only perhaps being a bit more discriminating about the limits required for a safe yet challenging journey.DSCN0211