The next time you think about packing your bags and traveling, think about visiting Israel, a destination that packs a lot into a small country: mountains, desert, sea coast, forests and history. Israel is situated on a moving tectonic plate separated by a section of the Great African Rift and the legendary Jordan River is chilly and cold, Hallelujah from neighboring Jordan. As Haim Watzman writes so eloquently in his book, A Crack in the Earth: A Journey up Israel’s Rift Valley:
This rift is one of the globe’s largest features, clearly visible from space, and I live on its edge. It forms an intricate landscape that makes the human soul turn end over end in wonder…
Israel’s highest mountain is snow-peaked Mount Hermon at 2814 meters above sea level whose ridge crosses into Lebanon in the north of the country. The Hermon has Israel’s one ski resort with downhill skiing and snow-boarding during the winter.
A short drive from Jerusalem, actually a descent of more than 1100 meters and you are in the Judean desert, the place where prophets, monks and hermits struggled to understand what God and life are all about.
Israel does not have an abundance of lakes and rivers but the Sea of Galilee, at 209 meters below sea level, is the lowest fresh-water lake in the world (in Hebrew, the Kinneret) and the Dead Sea the lowest point on earth at 410 meters below sea level.
Israel extends along the coast of the Mediterranean Sea with the modern city of Tel Aviv (built in 1909 on the sand dunes) challenging New York as “the city that never sleeps”, a party town where you eat and play, surf and swim during the day and rock into the wee hours. And if that is not enough partying, at the southern-most tip of the country is Eilat, a resort town on the Red Sea with snorkeling, scuba, wind and kite surfing and more.
Thanks to the Jewish National Fund over 240 million trees have been planted in the last 100 years and Israel is the only country that entered the 21st century with a net gain in trees.
As the land bridge from Africa, Israel contains the remains of prehistoric humans from millions of years ago. Israel’s history goes back to the Biblical account of Abraham and Sarah leaving their home in Mesopotamia and settling here, the 12 tribes of Israel, the exodus from Egypt to return home, the Kingdoms of Israel and Judea and the conquest by the Assyrians, the Babylonians, the Romans, the Arabs and the Crusaders over the ages. The land of Israel is where Jesus lived and preached and you can walk in the places he did, there is even a Jesus trail that connects Nazareth to the Sea of Galilee.
Because Israel is small, it’s possible to hike the width of the country in a few days from sea (the Mediterranean) to sea (of Galilee).
There is a tradition on this hike that you should perform the ritual of starting and ending the hike by immersing all or at least part of your body in the sea. You can start the hike from the coast at Achziv, follow Nahal Kziv (a nahal or wadi is a dry stream or river bed) past the Crusader Montfort Castle, the spring at Ein Tamir and on to the Druze village of Horpish.
From there you turn south and join the Israel Trail, past Mount Meron (elevation of 1208 meters) and hike Nahal Amud. You climb to Mizpe HaYamim (570 meters above sea level) from where you can look back and see the Mediterranean Sea while below you shines the Sea of Galilee and Tiberias where you will end your hike, remembering to dunk in the sea.
The hike takes 3 or 4 days depending on your pace. You can sleep along the trail or arrange to be picked up each evening, taken to a nearby zimmer and returned to the trail in the morning after a sumptuous breakfast.
About the author
Shmuel Browns is a photographer, writer and licensed tour guide who specializes in tours to archaeological and nature sites in Israel. His knowledge and insights will enable you to uniquely experience this amazing country. Shmuel blogs at http://israeltours.wordpress.com/.