"For Experienced Hikers and Swimmers Only": Day Four

After picking up our sporty Kia “Rio” from the Tiberias “Eldan” branch we felt like we had graduated to our big boy/girl pants. As Max said several times “we have a car!...well, a Kia…” Having a car is really an exhilarating feeling. All of a sudden the map was open to us instead of the handful of things I’d planned when I thought we were confined to the bus routes.

Before Max and I came to Isreal we had this idea that while here we were going to take advantage of the outdoors-ness there is to be found in Israel. We often said “We are going to be different people. We are going to hike.” On our trip up north we started to make that a reality.

I had read about the Yehudia Reserve on Israel’s national parks website and in my trusty lonely planet and we decided that we wanted to try and hike one of the trails while we were up north. The Reserve is around the north tip of the Sea of Galilee and just into the Golan Heights. After further reading we decided to hike the trail that included a 30 foot descent on a ladder attached to the rock and into a pool that you had to swim across to continue on the trail. Awesome. We almost chickened out when we got the trail head after reading the “instructions” from the pamphlet. I’ll share some of them with you:

-Attention! Only general and approximate areas of the army-firing zones are marked in the pamphlet. Their exact borders are unmarked.

-Do not deviate from marked trails

-Please keep the reserve clean: take your garbage out with you (remember this one)

-Swimming in the pools is at your own risk. Jumping into the pools is strictly forbidden (Bear in mind what I’ve just told you about how you have to continue the trail…)

-and the degree of challenge for our hike that said “For Experienced Hikers and Swimmers Only” (To be fair we are fairly experienced swimmers and we have hiked before…a handful of times…)

We knew we’d be sad if we chickened out so we bought the overpriced water and went for it. The first part of the path winds through a defunct Syrian village with the remains remarkably intact. It was something. We then descended a very steep set of stairs into a canyon. At the base of the stairs was a beautiful waterfall that we spent some time at. At the waterfall’s edge I noticed white pieces of cloth hung over the tree bows. It occurred to me that they were prayer shawls. There was a large group of Yeshiva students before and after us and they had all stripped to their shorts to jump from the cliffs above the waterfall, leaving their prayer shawls swinging in the breeze. It was quite poetic. “Yeshiva” is an institute for learning sacred texts in Judaism. This particular group must have been some sort of summer Yeshiva youth program for kids from the United States – think EFY but more excited because it’s traveling EFY in Jerusalem (and if you smell where this is going, you are right).

Tiberias Hot Springs

I can't believe I totally skipped over this part of our trip up north!  On day three, after the disappointing fish, we walked a little bit further into town, away from the sea and into the crowded parts of the city.  We packed our swimming suits in our backpack just in case we came across a swimming opportunity (I'm part fish, what can I say) and swimming opportunity we did indeed come upon.

We took a little shared taxi/bus to the Tiberias Hot Springs and spent an evening of therapeutic swimming with the seniors of Tiberias.  When we first got there I said to Max "let's go in a check around to see if we really want to stay here and swim or not".  When I went into the room with the inside pool my mouth dropped a little.  I went back to Max and said  "huh.  I don't know about this."  And so he went to check it out.  He came back with a grin on his face and said "It's too goofy to pass up!"

The goofiness that Max referred to was this: 

A giant pool of green water.  There is an indoor pool and an outdoor pool on the other side of the wall, as well as a large fresh water outdoor pool. I actually had to close my eyes the first time I got into the water.  It gave me the major ooks.  Bu the water was warm, only slightly iron tasting, and evidently full of minerals that will cure anything that ails our bodies.  We spent a few hours here an it was actually very enjoyable.  


Still Kickin'... er, Still Typing, at least

Hello all, I am still alive though obviously not pulling my weight blog-wise. I am very well, we are returned from a triumphant tour of the Galilee region as you can see from Brookie's exquisite photographs and now I have begun my classes. Here's where we stand:

I got an A in my Hebrew Ulpan during the summer, which puts me in the Gimel category of Hebrew learners (that's the third level out of six and I have to pass the fourth level, Dalet, by the end of my MA program). I have two teachers and they both seem great. What's more, I can actually understand them when they talk. That's a huge plus.

These first few days on campus have been interesting. I am seeing formerly deserted halls packed with students returning from the summer and there are lots of people from various companies and organizations who are thrusting free materials into my face every time I walk by. They accompany this with incoherent speech that I assume is Hebrew in origin but, combined with a speedy delivery and a touch of desperation, incomprehensible. I scurry away in fear.

The Boyar Building, the hub of the Rothberg International School and all international programs, houses all of my classes. They are as follows:

Israeli Politics in the Comparative Perspective: this class looks to be very fun, because the professor has already insulted the six or so history majors and there is going to be a brawl in every class. The professor is a lot of fun and his idea is that you can indeed achieve comparability between many different nations and states if you follow the methodology of comparative politics and keep your examples to a minimum.

Introduction to Israeli Society and Politics: this course is the opener for people like me who are hoping to get their MAs in Israeli Politics and Society. It is taught by the academic advisor for the program, Gideon Rahat, who has some extensive writings on the Israeli political system and I think that this class will provide enough background that I can find some sort of emphasis or focus for my program.

Israeli Society between Colonization, Globalization and Americanization: yes, there are perhaps too many -izations in that title, but suffice to say that these are important factors to consider in the history and development of Israeli society. You can argue that Israel grew under the imperialist and colonizing auspices of the British Empire, is both benefitting from and radically evolving under globalization and, according to some, suffers from the onslaught of American media and culture in its everyday life. Should be very interesting.

Historical Geography of Jerusalem: this class is just going to be fun. The professor is quite gifted and gave his entire 3-hour lecture today without notes or slides. He just found a marker and started drawing maps, dates, factoids and everything purely from memory. He will lead at least 5 expeditions into Jerusalem's Old City, the Kidron Valley and the Mount of Olives.


Something Found

I'm going to interrupt our our trip (I'm keeping track of the interruptions - that's 2 so far) to share something that came to me on my cell phone.  Actually, they have been coming for about two days now.

Evidently before I owned my illustrious "Talk n' Save" phone a couple shared it.  That couple, from what I can gather, is getting married today.  I have received several messages of congratulations and at first it annoyed me, but it's kind of sweet to be the unintended third party to such messages of good will.  I feel a little bad that they will never receive the words of encouragement and that I am publishing something that was never meant to be published....but not that bad. 

Here are two of them (I've edited some of the text messaging garbage (lol!) that gets sent around for your non puking pleasure)

Mazal Tov Mazal Tov!  Wish I was there! Miss ya tons and gonna call ya at some point.  Ah. You are finally getting married you guys!  I wish you best luck in the future and I hope you build a bayis ne'emon b'yisroel - and I'm sure you will since you are both amazing people!  Love you loads.  Enjoy every moment of tomorrow- you deserve it! I'm sure you'll have an amazing time.

The full phrase is "May they be zoche to build a Bayis Ne'eman B'Yisroel."  I'm not exactly sure what it means, but it has something to do with getting married and constructing a new home, I think in Israel....? Maybe there is a blessing attached?  It's sounds sweet though.

Just want you two to know I am thinking of you and wishing you a mazal tov on your special day.  Only wish I could be with you and not here!  We will celebrate tonight.  May this be the start of an amazing future.  Mozal tov from XXX too.  
With lots and lots of love,

Has anyone "found" anything lovely lately? 


St Peter’s Fish Tastes like ‘Nothin’ at All’: Day Three

(This is train of bananas being pulled by a tractor.  We saw it cross the road while we were waiting at a bus stop)

After the bus dropped us off at the Karei Deshe bus stop we had to walk quite a long loopity loop towards the sea of Galilee to the Karei Deshe guest house. The Guest house/hostel is actually very nice for normal standards so for our hostel expectations it was exceptional. All except for the fact that it was a little difficult to access by bus and walking and getting anywhere around the lake would require waiting a long time for the very few buses that passed and walking a long time in the blazing heat with our packs. We are such wimpy back-packers. So we had a quick “planning meeting” and decided to stay only two nights at Karei Deshei and the third in Safed or Tsfat, the highest city in Israel. We had wanted to visit Tsfat, but without a car it would be nearly impossible if we didn’t stay the night. We’d deal with how to get there after dinner.

All that thinking made our tummies grumble and we called a cab to take us to Tiberias. Tiberias was a little bit of ghost town and a meal of less than mediocre fish at “Laguna” set us a little off for the night. We’d heard so much about the “St. Peter’s Fish” – it’s like, the thing that people eat at the Galilee, but it tasted like nothing dipped in batter. I couldn’t even spruce it up with the juice of an entire lemon. I have eaten a St. Peter’s fish, and that’s great, but it wasn’t anything to…blog about…

We walked up and down the pier for a little bit before taking a cab back to our hostel. As we were deciding what to do the next day it became clear to us that we couldn’t do everything we wanted (or anything really) unless we had a car. I thought it would be uber expensive, but the local car rental agency rents vehicles for what turned out to be a little over 40 dollars a day. So I made reservations to pick up a vehicle the next day in Tiberias, canceled out last night in Karei Deshe so that we could spend the night in Tsfat and went to bed pleased as punch.

"I Saw Him Putting on His Pants": Day Three

This day was a mostly filled with tedious and often times nerve wracking trips on busses. To get from where we were to where we wanted to be was a little bit complicated and we ended up traveling on four busses to get to our next hotel and waiting at train stations for what felt like hours. We rode from Akhziv, back into Nahariyya, to Acre (Akko), Amiad, and then to our hostel in Karei Deshe.

Despite the marathon bus rides, there were two pretty awesome parts of traveling that made it all worth it - well, other than getting to our actual destination. When we got to the bus stop at the Amiad Junction the bus dropped us off in the middle of nowhere. It couldn’t have been more nowhere. The landscape is very hilly with gold stalks of some kind of plant and it’s hot. There is small road crew working on repainting the lines in the stress and us and that’s it. Our bus wasn’t scheduled to come for another hour and so we sat down in what little shade the bus stop offered and prepared to wait. Just after settling in we saw a man approaching the bus stop from the right. And as he is descending the hill towards the bus stop it clicks to me that the something I can’t put my finger on that isn’t quite right about him is that he doesn’t have any pants on. He’s not naked, but those certainly were his undies and not his shorts. Max emailed about the experience to his brother and I’ll let him retell the story.

“We were taking buses all the way in from the Mediterranean to the Galilee two days ago and we were stuck at this ridiculous bus stop north of the lake. Suddenly, we see this disheveled, pantsless Israeli walking towards us with a goofy grin, a boat cap and a backpack. Seriously, no pants, no shorts, just some skimpy boxers that had probably lasted long past their sell-by date. Anyhoo, he walks around the side of the bus stop for some privacy to put pants over his ratty boxers and Brooke leans over to me and says "I just saw him putting. on. his. pants."

I would like to add that he didn’t put his pants on immediately, he hung around for a little bit talking to Max before nonchalantly reaching into his bag for his pants. The “putting on his pants” is a Stoneman joke that they will especially appreciate, but you don’t have to know the joke to appreciate the insanity of this moment.

(Here is a video of the nothingness)

The second moment that was hilarious in hindsight, but a little nerve racking at the time was when Max told two religious teens waiting at the bus stop where we thought we were headed. “Karei Deshei?” The red headed one said with his eyebrows arched way above his glasses. “Karei Deshei?” He repeated incredulously. He then went on to discuss in Hebrew with the man painting the street that he’d never heard of this place and certainly this American had the wrong information and maybe the street painter man could explain it to us in English. “Karei Deshei?” he said, as if to say “Good luck, you sucker”. Karei Deshei wasn’t on the pantsless man’s map either (yes, we made friends) and so we were indeed a bit worried at this point. Our bus picked us up a while later and with the help of a newly immigrated guy riding the bus to his next military post we made it to our hostel in Karei Deshei, which did actually exist.

The courtyard at the Karei Deshe Guest House. It was delightful.


The Cliffs of Insanity, Israeli Style: Day Two

One of the problems with staying in “remote”ish places without a vehicle is that food isn’t always accessible. We had a bit of that problem and for that reason alone, partly, we treated ourselves to an amazing lunch/dinner at a steak house on the way back from the beach to our hotel. We were sweaty from walking, salty from the ocean, and starving from all of the swimming. We actually kind of worked out a food system here where most days we ate one more expensive meal that we could really enjoy, and the others were hobbled together from supermarkets and what we could sneak out of the breakfast buffets of our hostels. We saved up our days worth of food money and blew it on one meal. I would highly recommend this type of travel eating so that you can actually try the restaurants that the places are known for. But eating is half the vacation for us.

Anyway, after a great meal we hustled back to our commune, showered, and literally ran to the bus stop to catch the last of the 3 busses that day to Rosh Hanikra. Rosh Hanikra is a town right on the border between Lebanon and Israel and has some of the most amazing natural phenomenon in Israel. The cliffs of Rosh Hanikra are chalk white. They are made of fossilized something or another and are quite stunning. At the base of the cliffs there are multiple grottoes that have been carved out by the sea for thousands of years. They have built a cable car (the world’s steepest) that takes you down to the base of the cliffs where you can then walk through tunnels displaying the grottoes in all their dankness. They were very impressive and I was glad that I didn’t kill myself last summer trying to make it to the blue grotto on Italy’s Capri island – these were much more elaborate.

After being promised that a bus would come by the site to pick us up in about 5 minutes, we starting walking what turned out to be a three mile “headstart” back to our hotel when it didn’t show. That’s one of the realities of traveling without a car. We walked passed banana field after banana field and only after a particular bizarre stare-down with a heavily bearded fella driving a tractor right by our hostel did we feel the ooks. We are just at the beginning of the slow season, so the whole place is pretty deserted and actually quite ooky. But mostly in a fun way.

Max and I finished the night with a West Wing we had on our computer, a can of Pringles, and a chocolate bar. Disgusting, I know.


We Burn Easily: Day Two




After vowing to wake up early and swim in the sea by our hostel, we slept in. But no worries, our first activity of the day was the Akhziv National Park Beach about ½ a mile down the road. Another thing on my list was to visit the rogue micronation of Akhzivland. In the 70’s a man by the name of Eli Avivi set up camp just north of the National Beach and declared the ½ square mile an independent nation from Israel based on, what else, love peace and harmony. I had read that he even stamped your passport upon entering his magic kingdom. But as we passed by Achzivland on the way to the beach, it looked absolutely creepyfied. Not “cool, let’s check out that creepy place that claims to be it’s own nation”, but “woa…we’d like to live to sea 27, let’s run passed the rusty iron gates that were stolen from the set of Return from Oz.” So we were there, but we didn’t go inside. That’s good enough for me.

We were sweaty mcsweaty when we got to the park but delighted to find it almost entirely empty. The park consists of castle ruins from the crusader period and an amazing beach with lots of sea plants and various creatures. The beach is a popular place for sea turtles to come on shore and lay their eggs during the night, but we missed sea turtle season by a few months.

The beach did not disappoint and we spent the better part of the morning and afternoon playing In our own private cove and laying under the shade provided by the generous national parks service of Israel. Our bright red sunburns the next day might lead you to believe that we forgot our heads and our sunscreen in our delight and played in the cove with reckless abandon, but I’m sure that’s not true...

While on the subject of losing one’s head, after we came out of the water for the first time Max looked at me and said “um, I did something dumb.” And sure enough, he pulled out his wallet with all of our cash and various important papers from the back pocket of his swimming suit. We both thought it was hilarious. We put coins and batteries and whatever else we could find on the items after spreading them onto a rock and let them dry in the sun. Max remarked just today about the “special quality” his wallet has taken on since being submerged.

Welcome to the Dharma Initiative: Day One

I’m aware that I have disappeared for a week and that I have left the Jordan trip in mid telling, but the reason for both is that we’ve been traveling around the northern part of Israel for a little while now. We’ll get back to Jordan later, but if I don’t blog about our trip now it probably won’t happen. (Or at least without as much gusto).

On Sunday, October 11th we woke up early(ish) and boarded a bus headed for what we hoped was the Jerusalem train station. It was, but since I had it in my mind that we were pretty much 30 minutes from everywhere, the one hour bus ride caused us to miss our train by 10 minutes. The next train wasn’t for two hours, but I finished up some homework in the station and Max read his book about Masons (nothing having to do with Robert Langdon). The train was fine, but the last leg was especially nice as we drove along the coast through Tel Aviv and Haifa in order to get to Nahariyya.

In Nahariyya we met two the nicest Israeli’s we’ve met so far. One of them figured out which bus we needed to take into our next and final destination of Akhziv (about 20 minutes north of Nahariyya) and fetched us from our restaurant close by to tell us when it was leaving. The next nicest-person-in-Israel that we met was actually boarding the bus with us and she talked to the driver for us before we got on. It was dark, we were sans map, and the place we were headed, the West Galilee or Akhziv Field School, was on the side of a pretty barren road – hard to find. This dear woman talked to the bus driver several times for us and came up from the back when it was near our stop and told us that it was time us to get off. Gem.

(blogger's new birthday feature is the "read more" jump break.  I'm thrilled!  Click on the little 'read more' label below to finish reading this post.  It shouldn't affect the way this post appears in your reader or the emails you receive, but let me know if it does. Hooray for new technology!)


Why wouldn't the power go out JUST in our building?



When Max picked me up last night from my English class (which is going great, by the by. I'll post about it later, but I have 10 students!) he informed me that the power had been out for almost 4 hours. That included our refrigerator chuck full of food. Not awesome.

He was pretty frazzled about the way it had ruined his afternoon plans, so we swung by the grocery store and picked up a box of little tea-light candles and a carton of Ice Cream. I said to Max, "When I was little and the power went out we played Clue". So we lit two platefulls of itty candles and set up Monopoly. We finished off the ice cream (I know, all of it. We didn't have a freezer, what were we supposed to do?) and Max beat me three times in a row.

Once I got over my rage of loosing so terribly, we realized that it was a pretty fun night.

*The power came on later that night. Not the end of the world like we'd originally thought. I was drafting my request to the office for reimbursement of our spoiled food. I didn't have to use it, but it's nice to know that I've got one in there if I need to unleash it in the future.


Happy Birthday Max - It rained just for you!


It my Max's 26th birthday and we woke up to rain in Jerusalem this morning. Rain! This is the best birthday present ever - for both of us.

Isn't that just like Max to offer you a drink on his birthday?

On a side note, I like him a lot.


"Internet People Are Real"

That's what Max lamented after we spent 45 minutes or so reading out loud through Amazon reviews of Dan Brown's new book The Lost Symbol. If you are as nerdy as we are and need something hilarious to distract you (fall down hilarious) and you've got the patience to sift through a gazillion egomaniacs, you should head over to Amazon.com sometime. It's a bit of found poetry in a way... If you read the follow up comments things get even better.

This review and ensuing comment board was especially entertaining. (They are supposed to be kids going to wizard school...)

**A Brief Disclaimer*** There are many good reviews and many good reviewers on Amazon.com. I like Amazon.com, I buy many of my books there. It's scary to step outside yourself and write a review of something for it to be published...especially if jerks like me are laughing at them across the world. But some of these reviewers are asking for it. The 6 point list of advice for Dan Brown followed by the equally snarky response comments? It's "Waiting for Guffman" and it doesn't even know it...but that's why it's Guffman...