When the 4.40am alarm went I felt so so tired it took all my effort even to open my eyes. My body felt stiff and achy and I was sluggish packing down and setting off.
I could hear loud music from a party somewhere in the valley below, it eventually finished at 6am. I was getting up to hike 30km and people below were heading to bed after a night of partying. Different worlds. We passed a bench area, close to Kennedy Memorial, and my torch caught the light of 10 pairs of reflecting eyes, their heads all bobbing. A pair would disappear for a second and then appear somewhere else. The jackals were all huddled in a group and, unlike the ones that normally accompanied us in the morning, these were Getting very close to us. Gil also got really excited because he saw sheep. It took us longer than it should of to work out why they weren’t moving (they aren’t real, in case you are wondering)!
The climb down was steep and, as we reached the bottom, it began to rain, slow at first, then heavy. I stopped to put the cover on my bag, but a minute later the rain stopped. This is definitely not the UK. The short rainfall left a heavy mugginess in the air that was really stifling and sweaty.
I was just thinking that I hope the flat path continues as rocks would be slippery after the rain, when we turned onto a steep and very rocky scrambling section. Not only did the rocks have no grip, but there were also low branches to negotiate.
At the top, the trail flattened again. I was so sweaty I was desperate for even the slightest breeze. The path continued on a track that climbed up and down, but nothing too steep. I bumped into the first foreigner I have met hiking here, a nomadic Italian doing a bit of section walking.
(Spot the stick insect in this picture!)
We managed to get confused heading towards Kibutz Netiv Ha’Lamed Heh and ended up on an old route that took us through an industrial area. Not quite as pretty but it was interesting watching the trucks and workers. The dusty path was really flat and easy to follow so I called my mum for a catch up.
We rested for 10 minutes and, with only 1km left to hike, I swapped my boots for sandals – my favourite part of each hiking day. My feet were so swollen today they were really sore in my boots. They were in a pretty bad state and my veins looked like they were about to explode!
We waited at a junction on road 38 where we were being collected by Jacob Saar (Yankale) who had heard about our charity hike and offered to host us for a night. Yankale wrote the red book guide for the Israel National Trail (which has been priceless!) and is part of the team that has made the trail accessible to foreigners like myself, so I was looking forward to meeting him. After a shower, he cooked us a feast and entertained us with stories of hiking and history. He sorted us out with a comfortable bed, brought us some sweet pastries and agreed to get up early to drop us back at the trail. Genuinely one of the nicest and most interesting people I have ever met!
Not only were we completely spoilt, but Yankale’s enthusiasm for hiking and the Israel National Trail is infectious and I found myself with a new sense of excitement for the adventure.
I slept really well on the comfy mattress until 5.30am when my sore hip woke me. I stretched for a bit and enjoyed getting ready at a lazy speed. Yankale laid on a breakfast of eggs, cereal, yogurt and pastries and, as if that wasn’t enough, also packed us a lunch with cheese sandwiches, Nutella rolls for desert and fruit. He drove us back to road 38 and we said goodbye. His hospitality will certainly be something I look back on with fondness when I remember this journey.
We had done the first part of today’s section the day before leaving us with just an 18km hike. Today is Gil׳s mums birthday. Living in London for 6 years has meant we have missed out on a lot so there is no way we are missing this celebration!
The day started with a short steep climb up Tel Azeka with a good view at the top. The track followed the ridge to the next peak, Hirbat Shiklon. The area felt especially quiet and tranquil. 2 hours in and I couldn’t ignore the call of the Nutella roll any longer so we stopped at a bench area for a break.
It was sunny but there was a good continual breeze that kept me cool and I was able to keep up a comfortable fast pace. It was nice to not be so sweaty for a change and being cool makes walking so much more pleasant. There were amazing lush views and I was really enjoying the walk. My pace was much faster than Gils so I went ahead and plugged in my music just enjoying feeling content for a change.
I didn’t stop for another break for 3hours and, when I realised we were just 2km from Beit Guvrin, I made it a short one. When I arrived at the end point, a gas station, a guy recognised me from my blog. That was a strange feeling! Gadi is walking to Eilat as well so hopefully we will bump into each other again.
Gil’s uncle came to collect us and we went back to his house where the family got together for a birthday celebration. So much fun!
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!