As a backpacker who has been on the road for a number of years, I’ve tried any style of living and any mode of transport. My last few years have been filled with freeganism, volunteering and temporary homelessness, hitchhiking, ridiculously long bus journeys, and cross-country cycling.
Quite frankly, I have winged almost every travel decision I have ever made, and travelling with such spirit has given me beautiful friendships with an array of people from all over the world, and it was one of those friendships that led me to Israel.
Arriving in Israel
Home to many ancient wonders, Israel is a country not often visited by backpackers. Having met so many Israeli backpackers, my desire to see the country for myself had been subtly growing. After all, Israel is often spoken about as being ‘like no other country’. With my friend as a guide, I was not disappointed.
I landed in Tel Aviv at the height of summer. The city sits on the eastern shores of the Mediterranean Sea and is lined with golden beaches, clear turquoise water and a gentle backdrop of city buildings.
I was taken by surprise at the small number of travellers in Tel Aviv considering that it’s home to the old city, Jaffa, which has an ancient port famous for its association with many biblical stories. Patiently waiting for my first taste of falafel and hummus, I meandered around the colourful streets of this Middle Eastern treasure.
Mountains of Syria, Jordan and Israel
I was taken north to stay with some family members of my host. My next surprise adventure was to watch the sunrise in the mountains at the intersection of Israel, Jordan and Syria. While the rest of the country was at home or in the synagogue to pray, I visited the countryside.
Very close to the Sea of Galilee, on the northern edge of the country, lies a small natural pool, surrounded by trees and mountains. It is completely cut off from the tourist trail and we were the only people there. I dug my bare feet into the ground and pinched myself to make sure that I wasn’t dreaming. As I slipped into the water, I felt in awe of Israel and its glowing landscape.
Jerusalem and the Western Wall
Jerusalem is one of the most famous cities on earth, as well as being a holy city for Christianity, Judaism and Islam. To visit Jerusalem had been a dream of mine for years, and it was impossible to visit Israel’s capital without visiting the Western Wall.
Located in the 3000 year old city of David, the Western Wall is the holiest wall in the world for the Jewish people, who visit it every day as a location for prayer. It’s common to write a prayer or a wish on a small piece of paper and slot it into any available crack in the wall. Alongside citizens and other inquisitive tourists I wrote my wish and added it. Standing for a few moments, admiring my surrounding, I felt increasingly inquisitive about the culture and history of Jerusalem. Slowly, walking backwards so as not to turn my back disrespectfully to the wall, I made my way out the city gates, leaving the wall behind, wondering if my wish would come true.
The Dead Sea
400m below sea level, bobbing about in The Dead Sea’s ultra salty waters is a surreal experience. It gets its name from the fact that nothing can live in its waters because of its concentration of salt. Reportedly great for natural beautification, the Dead Sea contains 21 minerals, as well as being surrounded by healthy, natural clay that enhances your skin.
You can visit the Dead Sea by going to an organised beach with shower facilities, or find a quiet spot further away from people. I chose to adventure further into nature. Parking the car on the side of the road, I climbed down a dry and dusty hill towards the water.
The Dead Sea is 10 degrees hotter than anywhere else in Israel, so I was looking forward to dunking myself into the water. I marvelled at the tall red rocks that border both the Israeli and Jordanian side of the water, and then happily smeared thick, gooey clay over my body, ready to start my natural beautification process. When the time came to finally cool down, I carefully ran into the water only to gasp at its temperature. It was hot. Almost as hot as the temperature outside. Nevertheless, nothing could take from me the experience of not being able to sink. You can make any shape in the Dead Sea and the salt will hold you at the surface.
I continued my Dead Sea expedition by camping on the red rocks that surround and contrast with the salty blue water. Conveniently, it was a night due to have a meteor shower, supplying us with an abundance of glistening, diamond-like shooting stars. The sun was setting over the Judean desert, shedding a magical glow of pastel colours while we set up camp.
At sunrise we started our journey up to the ruins of Masada. Masada is an ancient fortification situated on the plateau of an isolated rock. Offering a 360 degree view of the desert and the Dead Sea, the old fortress of Masada gives off a true feeling of what it once would have been like to live in Israel 2000 years ago.
An electric country that you must visit
I was lucky enough to have been invited to Israel, but even if you don’t know a local I highly recommend you consider adding it to your bucket list. Whether you experience the unbelievable countryside, its incredible history and culture, or its delicious food, I promise you that Israel has something to surprise you.