It was like some strange alien encounter. Gone midnight our tent was suddenly flooded by an intense white light. I sat up quickly and looked through the netting of the tent. Silhouetted against the light I could see a huge figure walking towards us. He was wearing a large fabric poncho. He stoped a couple of metres from us, put his hands together and started speaking in Hebrew (Gil translated after) – “I do not wish to alarm you, I saw you earlier so don’t be nervous, we won’t disturb you, I’ve come here with friends and we won’t cause problems, I wish you the best for the journey”. “Ok” Gil replied sleepily and the man walked away, turned off the lights from his truck and drove to the other side of the picnic area.
Weird! There was a group of about 10. They played a reggae song from their car speakers so ridiculously loud I groaned – that was the end of my sleep. After the one song though they turned it off and sat quietly smoking dope. If it wasn’t for the strange introduction and the single song playing, we probably would have slept through without knowing they were even there. They left after half an hour but, after the abrupt and peculiar awakening, it took me a while to go back to sleep.
In all the times I have visited Israel, this is the first time I’ve seen Arabs and Jews socialising together. Illegal substances bridging the gap!
We were packed and walking by 4.50am. There was a lot of climbing this morning, nothing steep but just lots of ups and down. My legs were feeling heavy and my thighs were burning. It only started to get light as we ascended the first major hill in Lahav Nature Reserve. It was really windy at the top and we were sat in a damp cloud so, although I would have gladly taken a break, we didn’t stay long.
This whole area had been victim to a wild fire, leaving the place torched black and with nothing but a few splatters of tiny life. It was a harsh environment, made even more dramatic by the thickening fog.
Visibility was so poor at one point that we lost the track and had to navigate using Google Maps (which handily has the trail on it). The dampness was sticking to our hair and eyelashes.
Back down off the hills, the fog started to clear and we crossed a road and into a section that led to the border of the West Bank. A huge menacing barbed wire fence cuts the land into 2. It’s easy to forget that Israel is at conflict sometimes and it wasn’t nice to see the divide. I don’t like witnessing harsh boarders, restrictions and the huge traffic jam pilling up on the Palestine side trying to cross the border while the Israeli vehicles pass through with ease. It’s not a fair situation but, equally, I couldn’t imagine living in constant fear of attacks and suicide bombings.
Keeping the border in sight, we continued onto another hilly section, but less high than the one before. We arrived at the pristine and clean town of Meitar where we headed straight to the supermarket. A man we passed asked how far we had walked. I answered over 500km – he didn’t believe us.
We brought loads of food, enough to feed a family of 6, and sat on a grassy verge scoffing our faces. It was a mini celebration for crossing the half way point. We were way too ambitious in the shop and barely managed to eat half of what we brought. Shame as I was really hoping to squeeze in an ice cream as well.
We relaxed for a couple of hours then headed out of the town. There was a hill, then another sndbanother. The climbs just kept coming and my burning legs were really complaining.
The wind really got strong, it felt like it was coming all the way from home in huge gusts that whipped around me. I love strong winds. It feels so powerful and angry. At the peak of the steepest climb, Mount Horan, I stopped to enjoy the satisfaction of making it to the top. It took a few attempts to get a descent selfie!
We decided to hike just a little further to the tree line to try and find somewhere sheltered to camp. We normally just put the inner part of the tent up but Gil also added the outer so that we were a little more hidden from the road. Conincidently, soon after it began to rain. I took shelter inside and it felt like so familiar I could have been back on one of my hiking trips in Wales, cosy in my tent with the rain pattering on the roof. We finished off our dinner inside.
At 1am I woke with horribly painful hips and a lower back. My roll mat definitely had another hike as it had deflated the whole way. I re-inflated it to keep me comfy for as long as it would last but I was in too much pain to sleep. We had run out of pain killers so I lay with my legs up listening to the on and off rain pattering against our tent. This really has not been a good trip for sleep. With my sore body, noisy people, strange encounters, helicopters and deflating mats. I’m very much looking forward to getting back to a quiet room and a bed one day!
We put down our wet tent and set off. I prepared myself for the 18km of climbing I had ahead of me to reach the peak of Mount Amsa. As I expected, the path up seemed long and never ending.
We entered the Yatir Forest, Israel’s largest. Just as my burning legs were starting to get too tired, I saw a glimpse of the top of the Mountain. It didn’t look so far and there really wasn’t much climbing left to do so it gave me a boost.
It felt good to reach the top, although it was windy, cloudy and, for the first time, properly cold. I put my rain coat on.
The climb down was gentle on a rocky uneven path. The cold weather was making me think about home. This time of year is my favourite, when I get out my warm jumpers, light fires in the evening and the lights and excitement of Christmas starts to creep up.
We passed a quarry that was huge, noisy and dusty. It’s sad to see such a scar left on the side of an otherwise beautiful area.
The path flattened, we turned a corner and were met with a huge expanse of desert. The transformation from Forrest to desert was so sudden. I could see the city of Arad in the distance and, thankfully, a lot of flat land between us and it.
We walked the long road to Tel Arad passing a few scruffy looking Bedouin settlements. We had thought about staying in Tel Arad where there is a Bedouin tent for hikers but the place was deserted and expensive (75 shekels per person) so we decided not to stay. We charged our phones, filled up our water, ate an ice ceam and kinder beuno and set off.
3km further and we found a bench area with a patch of soft grass. I didn’t want to camp in a bench area again because of the potential interruptions from people, but, I couldn’t turn down the grass!! It was so soft. I’ve missed grass.
Gil put up the tent while I cooked a feast of a dinner using all the last of our food. I had picked up some ear plugs while in Tel aviv so put them in for the night. I said I would alternate with Gil on another night so at least one of us is alert to sounds in case there are any problems. Tonight though, I needed my sleep.
I am walking 1000km the full length of Israel. Part of the reason I have taken on this challenge is to raise money for Africa’s Children in Education. Each time I receive a donation it is a HUGE morale boost…please donate!