Walkabout Love is a project started by Rea Pasternak, offering logistic support while doing the Israeli Trail which is about 1000km long. It consists of a truck with a kitchen, water and a shower and another vehicle which carries comfortable mattresses and our gear.
Each day we wake up at about 5.30am, depending on the intensity of the days walking, pack up our tents and all our belongings; assist with the cleanup of the camp, drink good coffee and have a hearty breakfast. Each day volunteers are elected to prepare a huge pot of wholesome food for us to take along on our journey for the day. We fill up our water bottles from a huge water tank provided on the truck and take along oranges or grapefruits with us, which are like eating bursts of energises, when the temperatures are soaring in the latter thirties.
Each day comes with its challenges in the desert whether it is the heat, the difficult terrain with lots of steep ascents or descents, but with the use of hand held posts and ropes this makes the scrambling easier and safer. The nearly four weeks in the desert felt really demanding and sometimes I wondered if it would have been better to have someone assisting Walkabout Love with the food. Many of the participants were really exhausted and having to cook for such a large group was very stressful and a big responsibility after a very long and hard day walking, sometimes up to 25km in distance.
Each individual is responsible to walk at their own pace and follow the marking of the Shviel (Path). This is explained to us at morning circle. Israelis rely intensely on their phone apps and there is even a recharge station attached to the truck. Many times, I found that the use of phones intrusive in this stark and beautiful terrain. Israelis as a whole are very loud people, but the constant use of phones and music became quite challenging for me being used to walking in total solitude. After a few weeks I was forced to accept it and try not to let it interfere with my personal space. Sadly, little attention is taken to the way ablutions are dealt with in the desert. I found few people using bio-degradable products and the use of toilet paper and wet-wipes were strewn all over the desert paths. Only two compost toilets were available over a distance of over 500km. This is very problematic, has terrible consequences for the already stressed and fragile Eco systems, never-mind the impact on the animal life. It was also a huge concern the swimming in already limited water sources and I wondered how the animals are deleteriously affected by access, never-mind pollution.
Walkabout Love is a young vibrant community. Ria the visionary behind the project which was started about ten years ago is a deeply spiritual and gentle man, who is clearly supported by his loving family indicated during the Pesach (Passover) ceremony which was held in the heart of the desert with about 100 guests, ironically near a nuclear site.
Now this is what makes the experience completely other worldly. One is walking in the desolation of a desert when you have fighter jets practicing overhead. I have consequently heard that Syria was being bombed at the time and wondered if these fighter jets where indeed involved. While walking on one of the more demanding days over the Karberlot, a high mountain crest which required concentration and sure foot-work, a bomb goes off in the distance and the sand is lifted a few hundred feet into the sky, luckily far enough in the distance to be blown away from where we would be passing. For a few hours a day the echo of gun shot was heard in the distance and one of the days we were required to be escorted through firing lines. A clear indication that we were near army bases and combat. It is compulsory for every Israeli to do army service and everyone in the group seemed not to hear any of this or were not in any way disturbed by it. Once while climbing down a narrow gorge, the base rumblings of the jets overhead was so loud, I found myself rolled in a ball trying to block off my ears to the overwhelming base booms.
Each day we are welcomed into the designated camping spots which are not always aesthetically pleasing, but seemingly a place to set up camp. Walkabout Love lays out mats, mattresses and gets a fire going to create a welcome space for us to land each day. There was nothing more inviting than seeing the trucks arrive or walking into the camp where the multi-coloured tents are set up with their glowing lights. People chopping and preparing food, music being played in the background and lots and lots of loud out of tune singing and chatter. My tent became my safe space, my comfort and cozy nest for the duration of the 36 days I had chosen to walk with this group.
I forgot that Israel is so small and merely the size of the Kruger National Park! Many of the participants dipped in and out of the trail, leaving for a few days or weeks and then to return. I wonder if indeed it would deepen their experience if they committed to remaining on the trail for the entire time. Breaks are taken on Shabbat (the Sabbath), to rest and are vital especially through the desert. A tarpaulin is erected for shade and becomes the communal space during our resting time.
After weeks in the desert, the vision of commercial wheat fields, intensive farming practices, trees and vegetation is a sight to behold as one leaves the Judea desert from Arad, where one meets the Bedouin settlements with their herds of sheep, goats and camels. A reminder that one is still very much in the Middle East.
The Pine Plantations, Canary Pines as I was told, look like endless plantations of Stoney Pines, made me wonder why this water scarce country had chosen this water guzzling dry hot forest tree as their main tree. Could this have been a very big mistake from lack of knowledge from misguided, good intentioned settlers, or is there another purpose? To my knowledge, this tree affords little shade or environment for bird-life and animal life to thrive.
I was comforted by the sight of many different species of birds along the way from Eagles, Falcons, Raptors, Cranes on their migration route, Parrots and many more species who serenaded me as I walked into the outskirts of Jerusalem, nearing my destination at Tzur Hadassar.
I have seen Ayala’s along the way. Female and Male herds of them when I have walked alone. A chance to understand and connect with my spirit animal. I am also in gratitude for my mother having the foresight to give me a name which would give me insight into my life path. While walking with this animal it was confirmed when I ended my journey reading a magnificent book written by Graham Saayman called, ‘Hunting with the Heart’ where he allures to the symbolism of this animal, this Rock Jumper which connects us to our heart centre, which balances the consciousness of this world and the vision of the next. I saw Rock rabbits, large reptilians, lizards and chameleons along the way. Spoors of porcupine, some animals I didn’t recognize, cattle, horses and goats.
I visited Moshavs, Kibbutz’s and little villages along the way and was a little sad as I walked into the craziness of the City to leave the group who would be continuing their journey for another month or so to the North. A beautiful poem was graffitied under a bridge, clearly the author was feeling the same way as I was, that the noise of the Industrial world was so loud, marring the sounds and visions of the Arava, Negev and Jordanian deserts we were leaving behind.
I made some deep connections, I felt alone, sometimes isolated, sometimes great comradery and lots of fun and laughter. I learnt about my tribe who I hadn’t ever identify with before and it was a gift to walk with my Soul Family in a country where each and everyone of them felt connected and safe. For the first time in my life I experienced a deep sense of belonging. We were Jewish and felt proud to be.
I prey that in the future more attention will be taken to preserve this experience for future generations. I know that Walkabout Love is a great platform to educate people not only in healthy kind and loving interactions with each other, but also to walk mindfully, sustainable and more consciously on the back of the greatest, most generous mother of all. Mother Nature.
Should you wish to know more about the Walkabout Love Project.