No long-distance hike has ever started easier than the Shivl Israel (lit: ‘Israel Road’) or, as it’s better known internationally, the Israel National Trail.
During our first three weeks on the trail we spent 15 nights in comfortable beds and only 8 in our little tent. That means we’ve also never had as many warm showers after intensive walks, or clean clothes.
We’d almost think that hiking the Israel Trail is a piece of cake (which it is not).
The hospitality of Israelis has given us a very easy start indeed. In a way, the trail began with a simple announcement on Instagram/Facebook that we were going to do this hike. Seen by Daniel from TCT Magazine, (which we write for), he tagged his friends here and one contact led to another.
Thank you Dudi & Ronit in Tel Aviv, Uri & Ronit in Hadera, Dudi & Mina in Alfit, and Guy and his family for sharing your homes with us.
Meet the Fantastic Israeli Hospitality
But the homestays have gone beyond fellow 4×4 aficionados. We strayed a bit off the trail and crossed the village of Nofit because we needed water before we’d set up camp. We found two parks with flat pieces of grass and a drinking fountain.
The one thing missing was a toilet and so we wandered about in search of a public toilet. The adjacent school was about to finish and the street was lined with cars and waiting parents. We asked a man where we could find a toilet.
”Oh go to the country house across the road. They help hikers, you can shower there, and camp. Or stay with somebody in the village. People do that all the time here. In fact, I could host you if you like.”
This is how we got to meet Udi & Rachel and five of their 6 kids (the oldest being away on a journey) and had a wonderful night at their home.
We sat out two rainy days in the house of an online friend, Lesley. We have known each other for ten years or so, through a digital magazine called Suite 101. It had a great community of writers and some of us connected really well through intensive discussions we had on the forum. Like many others, Suite101 was the place where I learned about the online writing business.
Suite101 folded as a result of mismanagement but a whole bunch of us have stayed in touch. Mostly online, but many have met in real life. For me this was the first ‘real life’ meeting and it’s been great fun with Lesley, talking away the hours. Thanks, Lesley!
The Israel National Trail was founded after an Israeli hiker was charmed by the long-distance trails in the US. He brought the idea of a nation-long trail to Israel, including the concept of trail angels.
People who like to assist hikers in any way, can be contacted. This is often for a place to sleep and shower, sometimes laundry and/or a meal. Sometimes this is in peoples’ homes, but in Israel many towns/villages have some sort of community center.
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As a result we stayed in two community centers and stayed with three families. Thank you, Miriam & Jozef, Ariel & Tal, and Einaf & Ariel for having us, the meals you shared with us and the great conversations we had.
One of the great things of traveling in this country that many speak English. What a joy after all that time in Central Asia, where this is not the case. Speaking English allows us to have long, interesting conversations and learn a lot about this country, which is so complicated and where each story is compiled of so many layers.
The Israel National Trail
In between being spoilt and having great conversations, we do actually hike as well. Our original plan was to start in the north in Dan, and make our way south. However, it is still rainy season and this complicates the route – most rain is in the north.
”Why not start from Tel Aviv?” one of us wondered out loud as we sat at Dudi & Ronit’s table.
Indeed, why not!
This way we could start walking right away in beautiful weather without wasting a day in the bus to get to Dan. Plus, we’d start hiking on the coast, on flat terrain, which would be the best way to get into shape properly – which we really needed to do as we didn’t exercise since our hike in Turkey, last year.
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We’ve walked across boulevards, through a national beach park, across hills, through lots of olive groves and grassy fields, and battled through canyons that came with dozens of water crossings. Our muscles are growing stronger with every kilometer and every climb and descent.
Asphalt alternates with dirt roads and muddy tracks with loose and slippery rocks, and we cross streams jumping stones, cross railroad tracks, climb under or over fences. We traverse urban areas with high rises, Jewish kibbutzim, Arab villages, and lovely countryside that is beautiful green this time of year with the first explosion of wildflowers.
We traversed the heart of the New Testament stories and Jezus’ life: Nazareth, Cana, the Transfiguration church, the Sea of Galilea. We met an American couple who, like so many Christians, come here specifically for these sites.
For us they are part of a greater journey through time, which include the old Roman city of Caesarea on the coast, random remains of buildings dating from the Byzantine era, a wine press, and so many other old stones.
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Mostly, we are thoroughly enjoying being on the trail. Putting one foot in front of the other, taking in views, being away from the laptops, taking up invitations for coffee from complete strangers on the road, learning so much about this complicated yet fascinating country.
With some 380 kms covered, we have another 64% (or 670 kms) to go.
After we walked to Dan we took the bus back to Tel Aviv and are currently walking south to Eilat.
We share regular dispatches on Facebook, and next month will follow up with another Where are We. Stay tuned!
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Practical Information on the Israel National Trail
- The Israel National Trail is an 1000-km hiking trail across Israel. It runs from the Kibbutz Dan in the far north to the Red Sea in the south. In 2012 National Geographic named it one of the 20 Best Hikes – Epic Trails.
- Website: Israel National Trail.
- Guidebooks we use
- We are hiking without laptops and use a foldable keyboard instead. The pictures are snapshots we take on our iPhones.
- Books specifically about the Israel Trail:
- My Israel Trail: Finding Peace in the Promised Land, by Aryeh Green
- Update: New in October 2020: Angels & Tahina: 18 Lessons From Hiking the Israel Trail, by Tzippi Moss
- Currently reading:
- Israel: A History, by Martin Gilbert
- My Promised Land: The Triumph and Tragedy of Israel, by Ari Shavit
- The Lemon Tree: An Arab, a Jew, and the Heart of the Middle East, by Sandy Tolan
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