Three weeks have come and gone. It seems like just yesterday that I was packing my backpack and heading to Pearson, yet it also feels like it’s been forever since I’ve been home. Life is funny that way I guess.
After my ten beautiful days on being introduced to Israel through Taglit, I spent a day and a half winding down from group travel and soaking in the last few days with strangers who have become dear friends. And then Israel got an extra dose of love when The Zupnik party of one turned into the Zupnik party of three. I spent three days showing Mom and Dad around Tel Aviv (which they thought was insanely hot) and then we headed to Ein Bokek which is by the Dead Sea. At that point we no longer thought Tel Aviv was hot. We walked out of our car into Ein Bokek at 9pm and it was 42 degrees…AT 9pm!! It genuinely feels like a heater is on you at all times. The next morning we all woke up bright and early and made our way over to Masada. I enjoyed round two a lot more because it was a lot quieter (because of the hell-like heat) and so I was able to explore and learn a lot more. The Dead Sea was our next adventure which my parents had VERY opposite experiences with. My dad sat down to float, immediately decided he hated it and went to the pool. He laughed as he remembered that many years ago his mother had travelled to Israel and came back and reported that she did not like the Dead Sea. He now understood why. My mother on the other hand loved to float. The heat on the other hand, not so much.
From Ein Bokek we traveled to Jerusalem. We spent a full day shopping, and then another full day at Yad Vashem. As long as I live and as long as I continue to study and read I don’t think I will be able to understand and comprehend the level of hate it took for the Holocaust to take place. It was my second time at Yad Vashem and this visit one particular thought stuck with me. The holocaust did not take place in dark, hidden places. The oppression, the humiliation, and the extermination took place in broad daylight. Whilst entire neighbouring populations went about their normal lives. It wasn’t just the Nazi’s who are responsible for the inhuman and despicable treatment of human beings, it was everyone who stood by and did nothing. That idea alone is why I believe that the responsibility of bearing witness is so important. Ignorance is sometimes more dangerous than hate, because without it hate cannot flourish.
After that tough and taxing day a little ray of sunshine in the form of a 6’7 man child named Matthew came into town. Our party of three turned into four and we took the old city by storm the next day. We spent six hours walking through the four quarters.
Because we did a tour we were able to visit Temple Mount, which is something I never expected to do. Security was super strict going into Temple Mount- shoulders, necks, elbows and ankles all needed to be covered and you were not allowed to touch members of the opposite sex- even for a picture. Despite all of this or maybe because of this the area surrounding Temple Mount and the Muslim Quarter was probably the most peaceful area we were in all day. It didn’t have the hustle and bustle that the other quarters did but I guess when entrance is extremely limited to outsiders that will be a side effect.
From Jerusalem we made our way south to Eilat where Matt got his first taste of desert heat. Our bus ride there ran into a detour and ended up being seven hours instead of three and a half so by the time we got there the only thing on our minds were: where can we get beer?! Eilat is like the Niagara Falls of Israel. Super touristy, a boardwalk filled with carnival like games and shops, and Vegas style hotels on the water. We had an early night as the next morning we were up early and ready to go as our tour picked us up to head to Jordan.
The border to Jordan is ten minutes from where we were in Eilat and it was one of the more chill borders I have been too. It was a walking border meaning you go through security, passport checks etc and then you have to walk about five minutes through no mans land and cross into Jordan. All in all the hardest part was carrying our bags in that heat. We met our driver and he took us and a group of about 15 off to find the lost city of Petra. Arriving in Petra was a bit surreal. Tucked away in a town is the visitors entrance which then leads you into the winding canyons that leads to the lost city. It’s easy to understand why this city was actually lost for a long period. The day in Petra was incredible. Seeing a world wonder is a privilege and standing amongst the remains of a once bustling city that dates over 2000 years old is a humbling experience. While we were there I couldn’t help but laugh that back at home my fellow Canadians were celebrating 150 years, while I was standing in a town that dates back to 312 BC. What struck me most about Petra was it’s size. When we rounded the corner and saw the treasury for the first time I couldn’t help but gasp. Standing at about 40m tall the Treasury is a work of art. Coupled with the fact that it was built BY HAND and without cranes or lifts or modern tools and I was blown away. The treasury, while the most famous site, is only a small stop on the whole tour of Petra. In all we walked about 12 km that day, visiting ancient tombs, theatres, and marvelling at the ancient aqua-duct’s carved within the canyons. Our first day in Jordan was a pretty impressive one.
After a well deserved nights sleep the four of us, and our two new Aussie friends Kelly and Bianca, took off for day two’s adventures: a water hike. We drove about three hours into the desert (a hour of it down the scariest, most windy road I have ever been on) and ended up in this little river oasis between the mountains around us. We walked about two hours through what felt like a hidden jungle. It wasn’t as strenuous as the day before but it was harder because you had to concentrate on every step. I was SO impressed with my parents who tackled that hike like it was a piece of cake. (It was not).
Day three led the six of us (named by our guide the adventurers) to Wadi Rum. We had no idea what to expect from this day but I think collectively it was all of our favourites. Wadi Rum is the largest valley in Jordan and is often nicknamed the Valley of the Moon, as walking through it makes you feel like you’re in another world. Films like Star Wars and The Martian have been shot there due to its other world like nature. We took a jeep across the desert and explored caves, mountains, and dunes. I did some of the scariest free climbing of my life but it was worth it for the #views.
We drove back to the border around 6 and security going back into Israel was a heck of a lot stricter than leaving it was. Israel does not mess around with security (understandably so). After saying goodbye to Kelly and Bianca we made our way back to Eilat where we went out for one final dinner as a foursome.
A final day in Tel Aviv spent at the beach and pool awaits us before Mom and Dad say goodbye and head to the airport tonight. It’s been such a special ten days with them; they’ve impressed me so much with their spirit and willingness to try anything. They really are the best travel companions and I feel pretty blessed to have the kind of parents who would come on this adventure with me. I know these will be memories we share forever and I’m so glad that Israel was a place we all got to experience together.
Matt and I have a final day and a bit in Tel Aviv and then tomorrow night we are off to Budapest to begin our European adventures.
I’m glad we will be back in Israel mid august because I’m not quite ready to say goodbye yet. It’s a country that has surprised me, challenged me, and welcomed me. And I have been inspired by its resilience and chutzpah every single day I’ve been here. When I hear the word Israel now it will mean so much more to me that just another country. It’s a place with deep meaning, strength and a people I’ve come to love. I know that Israel can sometimes be a dividing subject but I feel more confident than ever in standing beside it (which does not mean I will always agree with it).