We began the day at Rosh Hanikra, the ocean swept caves of the Mediterranean. The view was absolutely breathtaking. The Bridge and Railway tunnels at Rosh Hanikra are part of the rail tracks Haifa – Beirut – Tripoli that were established by the British Mandate Government during the Second World War. This was done to connect the Israeli and Lebanese rail networks and to establish a continuous rail network from Egypt via Sinai, Palestine, Lebanon, Syria and Turkey to Europe. Today, the tunnels leading have been sealed for fear of intruders.
The big difference between our birthright experience and other groups was that we had the opportunity to complete the Sea to Sea (Yam l’Yam) trek after finishing up the traditional 10-day experience; we hiked from the Mediterranean Sea to the Sea of Galilee. Upon arriving at Achziv Beach, we were told to choose a rock that we were to carry with us throughout the trek. This rock was meant to remind us why we were setting out on the path – a spiritual journey, a physical journey, a pilgrimage – whatever it may be, this rock was to be our tangible reminder.
The beginning of our hike was beautiful, from Nahal Kziv to Goren Park to Montfort Castle. The hiking was easy enough, but the heat was a killer. Upon arriving at Goren Park we found ourselves trekking up a cliffside then perching ourselves on cliffs overlooking gorgeous forestry.
We went to our campsite and all took part in making dinner. We had a vast array of food – salads, hotdogs, hamburgers, veggies, potatoes, hummus, tahini. After a spectacular sunset, we set up our “beds,” aka a yoga mat and a thin sleeping bag without a pillow, and passed out under the stars. I woke up at 3am to a pack of howling jackals but was so exhausted that I was able to fall right back to sleep.
I awoke with a spider in my hair. Yes, a spider. I was beginning to embrace this new outdoorsy me, although I could do without the spiders. After a nutella-packed breakfast, we visited Hurfesh, a Druze village. We spoke with a member of the community, and he explained that the Druze “believe in all the prophets – Moses, Jesus, and Mohammad.” That days hike was less exciting than the previous day, but fulfilling nonetheless.
The highlight was definitely our visit to the Circassian Village in Rehaniya. While the majority of us unintentionally zoned out (due to fatigue) through the history of the Circassians, we had a delicious homemade meal. We sat down, drank some sweet ginger lemonade, and then an array of food was put in front of us – spicy beets, potato salad, eggplants, carrots, corn salad, warm bread, and noodle soup. We devoured the food, and then learned that that was only our first course. Then they brought out our (entirely dairy-filled) meal – bread stuffed with ricotta (similar to empanadas), something similar to pierogis dipped in a yogurt sauce, and a cheese plate. We could barely move we were so full. But then they brought out some juicy watermelon and we just couldn’t resist.
Stuffed and exhausted, we made our way back to the campsite. By the time we arrived it was pitch black and we had to set up our sleeping areas in the dark. Thanks to Drew, I somehow ended up with a perfectly rockless spot to sleep on. That night was exceptionally cold and, even though I had on sweatpants, a sweatshirt, and a buff wrapped around my neck, I could not get warm. Needless to say, I didn’t get much sleep, however, the view of the stars above me while I was drifting in and out of consciousness was remarkable.
David and I were some of the first up that morning, and the first thing I saw was someone’s very empty food bags spewed across the entire campsite. Turns out, my darling Casey forgot to tightly secure her food before passing out, so a wild boar got into her food. David then went on to tell me that he heard the wild boar growling next to him while he was trying to sleep; he just went deeper into his sleeping bag and tried not to move until the boar went away.
We left to climb Mt. Meron from our campsite at 7:30am and we were climbing straight uphill from the get-go. A very good morning to us all. It was truly a beautiful hike. When we reached the peak, we had a Hebrew naming ceremony for those that didn’t already have one. I chose “Ezraela” which means “God is my help” and David chose “Raphael” meaning “God has healed.” We, as a group, chanted our names in the direction of Tzfat (remember, it’s one of the four holiest cities).
It was a long path down, and an even longer path to our next campsite. With painful shin splints, parts of the rocky path were tough but manageable. After 9.5 hours of hiking, we finally reached our campsite for the night.
We were greeted with watermelon and more importantly…bathrooms! We had a scrumptious pasta dinner and made s’mores by the fire before passing out early.
David woke me up at 5:30am to watch the sunrise on the final day of our trek. As he nudged me awake, I sleepily sat up and felt something itching my chest. I looked down to find a huge creepy-crawly nuzzled between my boobs! Within seconds I ripped off my sweatshirt and stood there topless laughing at myself (covering myself as much as possible, of course). We got ready, ate breakfast and took off for our fourth, and final, hike.
It was straight downhill for a while, so we moved pretty quickly before coming to a pretty little lake surrounded by some cliffs and ruins. We kept on trudging, entered a valley, and continued our trek. It was uphill for a while, and then we were virtually scaling the rocks which was just incredible. I was loving every second of it. It was brutally hot, to the point where all of the trails got shut down due to the intense heat.
Lucky us, we were stuck in the middle of the trail already and, thus, had to complete it no matter the heat index. We were drenched in sweat, bodies aching, and soaked in the view. When the end was finally in site, some of the group jogged there … until we realized there was a barbed wire fence blocking us in. We couldn’t figure out how to exit the trail. We looked around and realized that the only way out was straight up. So straight up we went. Another fence. This time, the barbed wired fence had a very small hole in it. Well, there was our solution. We crouched down, one by one, and slid through the tiny gap in the barbed wire fence.
We ended at the Sea of Galilee. Remember the rock that we chose four days prior? Here, we threw it in the water. Despite the heatwave, we completed Yam l’Yam and I couldn’t have been more thrilled.
We then relaxed in the hot springs in Tiberias. We immediately went into the mineral water pool, which stung our scrapes from the hike but felt so lovely. From there we jumped in the main pool and ultimately settled in the outdoor mineral pool, which felt like a hot tub. After a relaxing evening, and another great meal, we sat outside to discuss the trek.
Before doing so, we realized it was our guide, Itay’s, 13th birthright trip, so we gave him a Birthright Bar Mitzvah; it was so heartwarming. After a beautiful goodbye sunset, we took off for the hotel and were so excited for our first post-trek shower.