Israel (יִשְׂרָאֵל | إِسْرَائِيل) is a country in the Middle East, on the southeastern shore of the Mediterranean Sea and the northern shore of the Red Sea. It has land borders with Lebanon to the north, Syria to the northeast, Jordan on the east, the Palestinian territories of the West Bank and Gaza Strip to the east and west, respectively, and Egypt to the southwest. The country contains geographically diverse features within its relatively small area. Israel's economy and technology center is Tel Aviv, while its seat of government and proclaimed capital is Jerusalem, although the state's sovereignty over East Jerusalem is not recognised internationally. (Source: Wikipedia)
In February and March of this year 2017 I was delighted to join two good friends who planned to walk the Israel National Trail (Shvil Israel in Hebrew) from south to north.
As I was still struggling with a nerve pain in my leg I hesitated to join them until the last moment but finally decided to leave my comfort zone again for one of the biggest adventures of my life, to cross the stony Negev desert by foot. We trekked 400 km in three weeks together before we split up to have a more personal experience.
Tabea and Bastian did walk the entire Shvil on their own, but for me, the desert was such an incredible experience which I wanted to keep unspoiled from the rest of the way and so decided to come back later in life to finish my Shvil. A big thank you to my fellow walkers for getting me through this trip with all its required planning and unpredictable obstacles!
Israel, hiking the Negev desert
Israel's (in)official territory is not much larger than the state of Hesse in Germany and even half of it is covered with sand. On this small area, a narrow trail with a staggering length of more than 1.000 km winds its path through the country. From the Golan Heights, passing the Mediterranean towards the actual star, the Negev, the stone desert in the southern part of the country.
Largely uninhabited, rough and ascetic, yet full of life, fragile and beautiful, that's how it presents itself to the hiker who takes it upon himself to cross it on foot. But first you need to get some organization done for your own survival: stages must be planned, food and water buried into the ground and hidden at places which are reachable by car. Later you just start walking without a clue of the expected and you will directly get thrown into the slingshot of the desert.
Finally you’re allowed to run, climb, and be amazed by the beauty and your freedom. Great geological rock formations reveal their naked presence, delicate and seemingly untainted. Sometimes you don’t even see a path but yourself is sweating uphill on a gravel field.
If you just have filled your water bottles and bags, you’ll find yourself with up to 23 kg balancing on your back and hips. Your body faces unimagined efforts with equally unbelievable power and the soul enjoys pure satisfaction. You always have to be here and now, not ableto think but to act. You can’t even allow the fear of the next step to arise before you breathe. Love with faith, accept everything as it occurs, and at the same time find the best way through the mess. The desert teaches you many lessons how to survive, makes you strong even if you seem fragile and wise out of nowhere.
You learn to appreciate the little things again. Nocturnal activities like freezing cold, blowing wind, stinging scorpions or curious foxes can’t diminish the fascination of lying under an acacia tree in complete silence and gazing at the starry sky. Here you arrive quicker at yourself then anywhere else, nevertheless grateful of the gifts and the opportunity for your self-reflection.
As we started on the shores of the Red Sea the trail immediately began very harsh and steep and we soon left the last blue of the ocean behind whilst walking close to the Israeli-Egyptian border to our left. The path didn't wait to surprise with gorgeous rock formations and challenging difficulties even on the first day.
Pictures can't do justice how incredible the nature in the desert feels. All the colours are so intense and saturated and get underlined by the very specific energy of the landscape that you only can embrace with every sense you have.
It certainly wasn't an easy trek, actually the Israel National Trail ranges under the most physically demanding hiking trails on earth.
The days are hot, the nights are cold. There are almost no places to hide yourself for inclement weather. You're only walking on stones, sand and gravel, climbing the steepest paths and through the narrowest canyons. There is almost no infrastructure with only few places to get a proper night sleep. You have to burry your own food and water and have to face that animals were also interested in your life saving groceries before you could dig them out again. It certainly isn't an easy trek, but you get rewarded with so much beauty around every corner which is impossible to describe.
This shows a typical night camp in the desert. I didn't have a tent with me, so I preferred lying under some rare trees, gazing into the sky. Usually it was quite freezing at night and occasional rain, scorpions or foxes added to the unforgettable memories.
I often just shaked my head, unable to believe that the trail-markers really want us to go this or that way. The Shvil never follows the most logical route, instead it leads you from one detour to the next just to make sure that you really got onto the most difficult path. But I must admit, it provides you with the most beautiful scenery imaginable.
I often stood in front of a vertical wall of stone and asked myself how I should get over there. And every time I climbed and jumped and managed it, it supported my believe of the power of my body and mind and to trust life even more.
Jesus was crucified at the age of 33. And it's exactly 33 years ago that a special child was born. A freedom seeker with an old soul opened his eyes into a new incarnation. This not yet grown up boy returned to the holy land to walk the path of Christianity, to cross the vast and dramatic landscapes of the Negev desert on the Israel National Trail. Meanwhile it's difficult to tell if he rather looks like Alexander Supertramp, Rambo, Peter Pan, Robin Hood or Jesus Christ himself.
Peace, Shalom & Guten Tag.