Full of excitement for the days ahead. Already I'm feeling quieter inside. The kids have been amazing looking after me and making sure I get to my destinations.
I arrived punctually at Ha Agana station to meet the motley group. There was even a rather overweight dog joining us. Not sure how he was going to manage as the pooch definitely did not look like the athletic type. We all piled into a very comfortable bus and off we went....
The route we will be walking, starting in the South at Eilat:
As we drove through the green monoculture , wattle trees litter the road sides and then sparse pine forest and then the low bush scrub of the desert begins from Dimona.
This remarkable Arcacia tree:
We arrived in the late afternoon in Eilat which was blisteringly hot as we set up camp on the pebbled beach. Not a moment to waste, my new Lithuanian friend Fima shared his goggles with me and I swam out to the nearest reef to be bedazzled by the rich exotic coloured fish life. I so wished that I had a snorkle so that I could explore longer, but tired and the water only 23 degrees, I soon got cold and had to make my way back to my tent which is to be my home for the next 36 days. A true baptism into the journey which is yet to begin. Early evening we gathered in a circle at the communal tent for tea, song and shabat prayers sung to out of rhythm djembe drums and even more out of tune singing, but with huge amounts of enthusiasm to make up for lack of musicality. A gentle peace has already taken over and I am so glad to be here with all these very different people sharing this experience with me. It's only 8pm and it feels like midnight. Time to settle into my cosy very untidy tent.
March 10 2018:
Today was truly a rest day spent swimming in the sea as if in some exotic fish tank mesmerized by the fish swimming past me seemingly unaffected by my presence in their home. Lazing under the communal tarpuline while talking circle was held to share who we were and any other information we each thought relevant to share, singing, the sound of beating drums, eating and generally getting to know each other. For the first time I've joined such a large group and felt so comfortable in the presence of so much gentleness. I know that it is early days, but the team quite obviously have a formula. The day ended with Shabat prayer and communal chopping for supper as the sound of music wisps through the air and quiet chatter pitter patters around the camp site as we each contemplate our intentions for the next few weeks....
March 12th, 2018:
The expansiveness of the open landscapes with their earth tones depicting millions of years of the earth changes. Passing through dry barren Wadi's that have traces of water having traveled down these water ways, not so long ago. The Arcacia trees which bring welcome shade, those that have managed to wait out the years of no water. I keep imagining the water flowing there once, how magnificent it must have been.
Walking through the canyons like great carved walls and narrow passages as if an entrance to some grand Palace. This ancient land. I thought I saw an old herdsman watching me from under a tree as I took shade in the coolness of an overhang.
The heat is relentless, but as we arrive at the saddle and walk through the next vista, a cooling breeze comes to give a few minutes refuse. The ground is hard, stony and very little green is seen anywhere. I look up and see eagles and birds flying in the cliffs and I know that somewhere the must be water, even if just a small pond.
Then I see the gift of water, just enough to dip my scarf and cool me and I'm so grateful and I'm reminded once again that only 3% of sweet water is on the planet and what a precious resource it is.
March 18th 2018,
Home for Shabbat
Thank goodness for the shade!
One week into the journey on the Walkabout Love.
It is hard to believe that one can be comfortable in the heat of the desert, yet I am. I have found a place next to some vegetation in the canyon and hung all my fabrics to make some shade. i had the luxury of washing all my cloths and my hair today. Everything was dry within a half an hour. Makes me wonder if I am indeed hydrating myself enough. I have found the perfect technique to pee into my bottle. A little jar to wash my hands afterwards.There is absolutely nothing missing in my life. I hear the chirping of birds in the background. The chatter of hebrew in the background and someone practising his Djembe drum. My belly is full and so is my heart. Although we are all so different, there is absolutely no tension in the group and everyone gets on with their own business. We are allowed to walk at our own pace and the map is explained each morning in circle. The heart of the desert has left me more hours to walk alone and sink deeper into myself. I''m finding myself getting quieter and less and less social.
I've spent time sending my boy deep love and understanding, even singing him a song and wondering if indeed he can feel it. I feel so far away from the world I have left behind and it is only the first week. I wonder where I will be at the end of this journey. I am definitely connecting my routes in a way I never believed possible before. I am even considering whether indeed Israel is my home. I'm feeling more and more estranged and hopeless about the political mess I have left behind and which has chased my sons away and wondering if indeed I too have another place to belong in this world other than Southern Africa.
As I walk closer towards myself, I believe that I will open up to whatever it is that this land has to share with me. All I know is that the Israelis here truly love their country and have a strong sense of belonging. I wonder if indeed I too can feel that way. I also know that I am forging friendships that I will revisit. Everything that I have longed to do is possible here if I chose. I will spend the rest of this Shabbat savoring the stillness and quiet if at all possible with this noisy group. I will possibly venture out later and find a cool Arcacia tree to talk to me.
I love walking through the canyons. It means we have entered our resting place
Playing on the dune waiting for the bus which will drive us for 30 minutes through the firing line. A reminder that this constantly on the defensive yet I feel so safe! A total contradiction. That's Israel I guess.
Just got in too exhausted to eat. Tomorrow easiest day will catch up.
A reminder that this county is constantly on the defensive.
Hot as anything. Shabbat a welcoming thought. Time to wash hair and cloths. My tent is so sorted. Hanging up washing to the sound of singing. Really so unbelievably satisfied.
March 20th, 2018,
The days are starting to role into each other. I have my routine getting up at about 5.20am and collecting my stuff together and preparing for each day. Water, food, wet cloths hidden in platic bags to bring out when the heat becomes too overwhelming. We spend the days finding cool overhangs and spending the hottest part of the days there. Moving as the shadows move. It's so crazy to be in the isolation of the desert and then the loud sound of the fighter jets above us obviously practicing their routines. I'm assured by Guru Sharon, that Israelis are practicing their right to protect themselves, as they depend on themselves, but always in defense and never attack.
I have found two perfect walking partners, Nama, the goddess, and Sharon the Baba Ji Israeli Guru who speaks his spiritual speak throughout the day. Stopping often. I feel as though I have connected deeply to this land and there is no place that I have walked that feels unfamiliar to me. I'm understanding more, the passion my mother has felt when speaking about this place and its people, who speak loudly and have such generous hearts.
I feel I have made connections here with people that I could call on at anytime and know there is something that we share..... and then of course there is the endless singing...... I have found a sister too, called Ayalalet, a Moroccan goddess and Fima, the gentle fatherly figure, full of heart and kindness. I'm in such unbelievable gratitude as we make early base in a welcoming place in the Gamalia desert. I am told it is a small Nomadic settlement set up originally for a Camel stop, when Camels were still being used as transport. There is a gorgeous community who have set up a restaurant with traditional food, showers will lots of water and places to do our washing, so, today is house-keeping.
The road is long....
Always following the waterways with the help of ladders and ropes as the stone is too smooth to walk on.
Ayalet and the Guru Sharon with his digeridoo carried like a staff.
Walking out the gorge.
Nama entering these unbelievable canyons.
Arid and hot as the paths become white powder beneath our feet.
Our kitchen where food is prepared every evening and morning for the journey.
Dry, stark, parched and hot.
My home for the night. Too hot to set up my tent.
the Sviel library, only in Israel. You may take a book to read and replace it with another book. You may add your tips and ideas along the way.
Inside the trailer, there is a water tank with 1000l of drinking water and a shower. Solar panels are on the top of the truck so the water is cool, never cold. If you are lucky enough to get in the queue in time.
Dry and hot, expecting 40 degrees on Thursday. Going to have to come up with all my tricks to keep cool. My friends have left now, so a lot of solitude and time for contemplation.
Unpacking the truck.
Breakfast, muesli, sunflower seeds, coconut, raisins. My daily diet for along the way.
Oasis for the night.
Water taps for filling up.
March 22nd, 2018:
I have no words to describe the heat. How moving each piece of fabric on your body can give you a moment of relief. Taking out a wet scarf from inside your bag. The absolute gratitude of a shady tree or lying against a cool rock. The most incredible views of ancient river beds, herds of Ayala coming down the mountain which sounded like a rock fall. The eagles and birds everywhere amazes me how than live in such a hostile dry place. What an incredible day even if I did get lost and had to walk an extra 5km in blistering heat on one of the difficult long days. I can't believe I've finally got here!
24th March 2018:
The past two days we have had temperatures soaring into the upper 30 degrees. We have climbed about three mountains approximately 250m and 300m high a day, with very steep inclines and descents looking for any shadow which might appear under any rocky overhang for relief and of course to eat as much fresh food as possible. Out comes a wet scarf with each ascent as a gift. The relief of something cool on your body give me more instant energy. The views of the craters are absolutely breath taking. Although called a crater, it is apparently formed from sand being washed away out of a massive bowl and then the lime deposits as well from water floods. It's so hard to imagine how old this must be. Our Shabbat sanctuary is in a Pine forest in Mitspah Ramon.
Last night we had a sand storm. I of course had been sleeping out in the desert under the fantastical sky when I decided that being so hot, I would leave both sides of my tent open for ventilation. This morning I woke up about 3am, as I'd literally set up camp, had barely enough energy to take my second shower this week, washed and creamed my hair. What a luxury to have any cream in your backpack! Off to sleep I go and at 3am I wake up in the sandstorm. Dusty Desertfield has nothing on me. Oh well, that's a desert hippie for you, or so I was called today. I had to laugh.
Never been so freezing cold as today. I'm totally amazed as to how my body had adapted to the heat, so the intense cold of 4 degrees feels like I'm back in the Himalayas, freezing in my tent too scared to go out for a pee, the thought of being so cold is agonizing. Not sure if this is too much information, but I can't believe it has taken me so long to learn to pee inside a large plastic bottle. So unbelievably simple. Make sure it is indeed large enough as it's not funny when it lands up all over the tent floor.
Anyway, washed some cloths, went for a walk into the Settlement, only found one very small shop open and bought two packets of crisps and the delicious lemon pops. What a luxury in the middle of the desert. What I have learnt is that my water bottle gets so hot by the end of the day, it's like having tea, so I've decided to try the crisp packet technique on my bottle to try and insulate it keeping it cooler. I'm finding that I'm drinking about 2litres of water a day. I get the rest of my liquids by eating cucumbers, carrots, oranges and grapefruit.
Feeling a bit better rested, although the walk earlier I could feel my exhausted body dragging itself along. Tomorrow is supposed to be 35 km, so it's been decided that we would take a jeep and walk the last 17km together. It's a short week as everyone is looking forward to the two day Passover weekend. Many of the walkers dip in and out of the walk visiting their families on the Friday and Saturday evenings. A constant reminder that civilization is close by, although to me I'm keeping the vision of Robyn Davidson, who inspired me to walk across a desert, only I'm not doing it with camels, but with a truck and trailer and the love and support of WALKABOUT LOVE!
Welcome week 3!!
27th March 2018:
It's dry, relentlessly hot and there is absolutely no shade. It's magnificent, but the body is tired, walking almost automated. My brain feels numb. I'm dreaming that every stream we pass has cool water in it. I feel as though my body is burning up and there is no respite, still many hours in the sun. The sky is turning as there is word that rain is on the way. Possibly another sand storm. Lets keep our fingers crossed. Arrived at camp and thank goodness that we have cold water to take a shower in a costume. What a luxury. What a day. There is nowhere else in the world I want to be right now!
March 29th 2018:
Oh my gosh today I'm totally exhausted after a very long day yesterday walking up to the top of another crater. Along the rim, up and down and then along the knife edge. Got into camp quite late and set up my tent, ate half my meal and fell asleep. Big mistake! At 12am I was awoken with my tent practically lying on top of me. Being so tired I tried to tether the tent using rocks as I had done in the past as the ground was too hard to hammer in my pins. Another big mistake! In a few hours it actually began to rain and the Gamsin, or in other words desert sand storm hit us. I was rudely awoken by being lurched upside down as the wind tore through the camp. All I could do was place my pack and body against the wind and hope it would subside. Of course it didn't. Trying to pack up I bent one of the pegs and had sand in every orifice of my body. Can you believe it , the Israelis were singing!
Hence the magnificent walk through this dramatic canyon with a few stagnant pools and the blessing of my first tree for days just added to my longing to find one cool enough to sleep under as I dragged my weary body along to our camp for Pesach. So many of the walkers has left to spend the Passover with their families leaving me feeling a little sad. Probably the tiredness talking. Only 5 more km for the day!
At least it's cooler. My body sinking into the ground 20 minutes to rest before I drag my body along in Auto pilot. Shower and set up camp again for two days of Rest! I look up. Did I forget to mention but down into a canyon means a steep incline up to get out. I see a falcon dipping and diving with the thermals. My inner voice saying."You can do it Ayala!" Off I go to the lyrics playing in my head "I'm all alone in the desert , but not for long. A family of rowdy Israelis pass
Me by singing and talking loudly and once more I am reminded that it's just day 17 on the Shviel and I take one breath at a time and before I know it I'm baco in my rhythm energized once more.
Every man needs An egypt To pull oneself out With a strong arm Or with grinded teeth
Every man needs terrors and great darkness And comfort, and promise and salvation So hed know ro look up to heaven Every man needs one prayer To reside on his lips Every man needs to bend once Every man needs a shoulder
Every man needs an egypt To save himself from slavary To walk out in midnight to a desert of fear To walk straight into the waters See them open on his sides Every man needs a shoulder To carry on the bones of Josef Every man needs to stand tall
Every man needs an egypt A Jerusalem And one long journey To remember forever With his soles
Wadis Yamin. Cistern craters
April 2nd 2018:
Leaving after eating too much and resting for 2 days. Time to get the bones moving again. So many people dropping in and out of the group. Met a new friend who speaks English. An interesting man from Florida in the States. He shared his book of poetry about his experience of the Camino. A reminder of why I was here and the many lessons I'm constantly being taught. This stark harsh desert landscapes, with it's water worn Wadis and water-ways. It's occasional cisterns holding water, a rare, but grateful stop along the way. The rocks with it's weather worn sculptures, dramatic in every earth hue possible. My body is tired, the overnight stops have started blending into each other, so many to remember. Connections made with people, who then leave. The new innuendos and the strange space one is in when everyone is talking to each other in a foreign language. Making it up by watching body language and tones. These loud, passionate generous people. Tomorrow another day down and over another crater, so it's going to be long and hot. I'm so grateful to Walkabout Love for their logistical support and good vibes. It's starting to feel like a traveling circus. All that would be required is a little more musical talent and in tune singing. I love the fact that I'm left alone to do my own thing. Walk in my own pace and just be who I am. Another day in the life of an Enviro Pilgrim.
Another grueling day 20km in extremely hot temperatures. Awesome views of the creator. The colour of the sands maroon , reds, blues and cores. Arrived at camp totally exhausted. Two walkers have got lost. Had to send mountain rescue to find them thank goodness for location pins on whatsapp. Been the first time technology hasn't been an irritation on the walk. Everyone of the locals are obsessed with their phones. There are solar chargers on the trailer. I guess this is called doing the desert in the 21st century!
4th of April 2018:
"The long hot and winding jeep track"
It's a baby! Left the Negev and entering the Judanean desert. Becoming more green. Met a goat herder and my first camels.
9th April 2018:
Cannot believe that I am finally out of the desert over 450km as we arrive after a day of walking through the last Wadi like a birthing back into another world. Arriving in the city of Arad. Mostly inhabited by Bedhoin. We spend the the final hour enraptured by a herd of Camels and baby who is but hours old.
We feast ourselves on rich food from a local bar and make or way to camp in the largest plantation of Canary Pines, Pistachio trees and a few indigenous palms and Olive trees. The feelings of those intense hot days focused on keeping cool, staying hydrated and landscapes carved deep in the psychy...
As we leave the Tinur Forest, the landscapes completely change into Commercial wheat crops, vineyards and another forest called the Meitarr forest. It feels like an Israeli Camino as we spend each day walking on relatively flat and easy terrain visiting Kibbutzes along the way and having time to chat as the distances are long and relatively easy. Attention is not required for every step along the way.
April 10th 2018:
As we leave the Yatir forest the landscapes change completely into commercial wheat lands, vineyards and the Meita forest. I'm walking with a crazy Morocon Yemenite Jew who has a sister in every kibbutz along the way. This means taking detours off the Shviel and a few more km on an already long day. It's starting to feel like an Israeli Camino. The terrain is easy along gravel roads and flat paths. The desert is starting to fade in a dream as the green harvests and wheat lands appear. So very similar to back home. The appearance of the West bank wall, the constant air traffic, the loud Long modern trains passing by and the busy highways a reminder that I'm back in Israel , a high functioning Industrial world. A Shvielusta graffiti on a wall while walking under a bridge. A poem of how the words disappear in the noise of the City looms and the poetry of the desert gets lost. The desperate attempt to keep the soul of the desert flowing in your blood, or something to that effect. The reality that I have only 3 days left is inconceivable. Instead I celebrate around the fire as we eat the long awaited fallafal and chocolates brought by a visitor.
Only in Israel!
Remains of an Ottoman bridge
12th April 2018:
32km from Jerusalem. 35 days with WALKABOUT love. 1 million and 8 steps and counting!