As antidotes to the busyness of day-to-day urban living, people are increasingly looking to long-distance trails. I suppose that’s one of the reasons I walked the Israel National Trail (INT):
I wanted to sidestep the clamor of my life.
The Holy Land is the original pilgrimage destination. And while I am no spiritual zealot, I did want to learn firsthand about a corner of the world that—from an outsider’s perspective—seems incredibly complex.
In February of 2015, I arrived in Israel with a backpack and a bit of ambition.
I had never walked a long-distance trail in my life, but I hypothesized that with the technical support from a friend named Igal (who had previously walked the trail), I just might be able to succeed.
I started cautiously.
The first leg of my journey was in the north, from Tel Dan to Tel Aviv.
The beginning was muddy, and I didn’t come across any other thru-hikers for weeks.
I thought about giving up.
But my legs grew stronger and I began to feel more competent.The generosity of local trail angels was vital in maintaining my morale.
For the second leg, I left the INT for two weeks, and hiked in Palestine along a trail called Masar Ibrahim. With a guide named Mohammed, I walked from Jenin to Jericho. I stayed with Palestinians in their homes. The food was incredible, and the people were immensely welcoming, immensely gentle.
The third and final leg was the expansive stretch from Jerusalem to Eilat.
This leg daunted me the most. In Canada, hiking landscapes are typically cool, wet and green.
The Negev Desert was the polar opposite: hot and parched. Slowly, I made my way forward and, to my surprise, began intersecting with other people.
I danced with Bedouins. I spent Pesach near The Big Crater (HaMakhtesh HaGadol) with a family from the Golan Heights. I met a fellow foreign hiker from France. Paradoxically, the desert wasn’t so deserted.
For me, walking across Israel and Palestine was a seminal journey.
Due to the complexities of borders and landscapes, however, visiting Palestine and/or hiking across the Negev desert is not for everyone.
These words and photographs are not intended as an itinerary, rather they are a glimpse into how one Canadian man experienced the region. I continue to talk about my journey simply because it’s a story that doesn’t make headlines.
My story is not conflictual or shouting to be heard: one person walks quietly across Israel and Palestine—and all goes well.
Daniel Baylis is a writer and photographer. As the official photographer for The Great Trail, he spends much of the year visiting and photographing trail sections across Canada. He is currently completing a memoir about his experiences walking across Israel and Palestine. Recently, Daniel returned to Israel to photograph sections of the INT.
Category: Nature Trips
Tagged under: Israel National Trail, Hiking INT
SPNI Foraging Tour
One sunny Saturday in November, I participated in one of SPNI’s Foraging Tours along Nahal Taninim (Crocodile Creek).
We are all familiar with the term ‘hunter - gatherer’ which relates to mankind’s food sources prior to agriculture, when human communities relied on naturally growing fruits and vegetables as a main source for food and medicine.
Modern agriculture and urban living enabled humankind to produce food and on a much larger scale. A relatively comfortable routine was born, but this evolution entailed a down side; we lost touch with our gathering traditions, and most botanical information, that was once common knowledge in every household, was forgotten.
In modern times, the uses of Israel’s wild plants are mostly remembered by women in Druze, Bedouin or Arab rural communities and with every new generation less and less of this herb lore is being passed-on.
Luckily, some professionals have made it their mission to provide us with first-hand experience of traditional harvesting and cooking of commonly -found wild plants.
One such culinary educator is Yatir Sade, whom I met on SPNI’s guided gathering tour, which took place along the Taninim stream one Saturday in November.
Sade’s family name fits him well – it means field in Hebrew and he certainly possess a field of fascinating knowledge on wild leafy greens.
Yatir opened his tour with a brief introduction, and made it perfectly clear that we will pick only wild plants that are abundantly found and under no risk of extinction.
As we made our way towards the stream, he picked seemingly different plants only to show us it is actually the different development stages of the same plant; thistle (Gdilan in Hebrew).
he informed us when will be the optimal picking stage and what will be the best use of each stage.
The Taninim stream was chosen by Yatir since it is one of the few clean rivers left in Israel - another SPNI success story - so the wild vegetation that grows along its banks are safe to eat.
The first plant we encountered grows almost everywhere in Israel but is often overlooked, maybe because it has no remarkable features - rumex, (Humea in Hebrew) has medium sized leaves that form a basal rosette at the root. But don’t let the plain-looking weed deceive you; once stir-fried with a couple of chopped onions and mushrooms it creates a delicious dish, prepared in no-time!
Rumex is also considered as possessing anti-oxidant qualities and the ability to alleviate skin irritation.
The second plant we gathered was watercress (Gargir Nahalim in Hebrew) an aquatic plant and one of the oldest known leaf vegetables consumed by humans. Since it only grows in fresh flowing water, you need to get your feet wet to pick it - but it’s truly worth it!
Watercress is botanically related to mustard, radish and wasabi and is often added to salads in its fresh form. We turned it into a mouthwatering pesto spread; balancing the piquant flavor with roasted cashew nuts, traditional olive oil and crushed garlic. Watercress was traditionally used to ease digestion and raise low blood pressure. In Arab culture it was believed to prevent impotency in men.
We collected three more wild herbs that are found in wetlands - a type of wild celery (Apium nodiflorum) and two types of wild mint which we used to season a fresh tangerine salad.
The rising awareness of sustainability and the growing realization that nature is disappearing around us does not mean we can’t enjoy the great nutritional and medicinal benefits of native plants – it’s simply calling on us to get educated and learn how to do it responsibly.
If you want to join one of SPNI’s tours please contact our call center +972-3-6388688
Category: Nature Trips
Nature through Art
Although nature is beautiful to see in person, different style of artists are able to help bring a new appreciation of our natural world to the public. The Eretz Israel Museum in Tel Aviv, is currently hosting two different nature photography exhibits. The first exhibit is the International Nature Photography Exhibition which contains gorgeous photos from all over the world. These photos are broken down into several different categories based on the subject of the picture or the age of the photographer. The other exhibit was the Local Nature Photography Exhibition which consisted of photos that were taken throughout Israel. These photos showed not only the beauty of Israel but also Israel’s vast biodiversity. The Local Nature Photography Exhibition was judged by a series of environmental experts that included many members of SPNI.
Another form of art that is using nature as a model is sculpting. The Jerusalem Bird Observatory was hosting the Nature of Material exhibit. This exhibit was created by the Bezalel Academy of Arts and Design, Department of Ceramics and Glass. The sculptures were of various aspects and interpretations of nature.
Category: Nature Trips
When Nature and Industry Meet
My journey to understand the environmental projects and issues in the northern part of Israel began with Haifa. This city has some beautiful environmental features. Haifa sits along the coast 93 km (57.8 miles) north of Tel Aviv. The Keshan River runs through the city and Haifa extends into nearby forests.
The gorgeous and varied environment that is within and around Haifa, finds itself in danger by the city. Haifa is the largest industrial city in Israel. This has led to extremely high air and water pollution. The Keshan River is considered to be one of the most polluted rivers in the Middle East. Haifa is about to have a new and larger port built, which could further damage the species that live within its bay.
Despite the high amount of pollution, the city and neighboring hills contains some great hiking trails. Every summer there are 22 creeks that dry out. These creeks become nature paths that can lead to Haifa’s bay, the port, or the sea. These trails serve both and ecological purpose as well as a social purpose. The trails are completely free for people to hike and are easy to reach by bus, car, or foot. Community volunteers work to keep these trails clean throughout the year. Once a month SPNI hosts free tours of the trails and throughout the school year students come to learn about the environment through the trails.
The Blossoming of HaEshel
When we arrived in Acre we met with the Director of the Western Galilee Eco-Community, Mordi Edri. As we walked through a small neighborhood, he explained how Acre has a littering problem. The plan to address this problem is to build community gardens in different areas to make residents more interested in the beauty of the area they in which they live. After seeing the community garden in HaEshel, I understand why this is their plan.
HaEshel is a neighborhood in Acre that contains people from a variety of backgrounds. Both Arabs and Jews are working together to build a beautiful garden. Although this was one of the smaller gardens I have seen, it contained the greatest variety of edible plants. They grow various spices, fruits, and vegetables which are used for community meals. Frequently the local residents celebrate birthdays, holidays, and other celebrations in this garden.
Shiran, the Community Garden Director, explained how important this garden was to the community. She told us how the garden brought members of the community together in ways that were unexpected. This one garden has led to other residents being inspired to create their own personal gardens and neighbors helping each other build these gardens. Shiran explained that one of their most active gardeners almost never left his house before the garden was created. Now he is outside socializing and gardening every week. Since the community garden was established three years ago, both Mordi and Shiran agree that there has been an incredible improvement in the HaEshel community.
Category: Nature Trips
Rebirth of the Holy Land
Tikkun Olam, repairing the world, is an important part of Judaism and there is no better example of this commandment at work than the community gardens of Jerusalem. During my time in Jerusalem, I was able to see four different community gardens that were thriving with life. These gardens were sitting in areas that were previously barren. This land had been destroyed and discarded by development and either left desolate or filled in with trash. It was inspiring to see how the different neighborhoods became fed up with those areas and worked with SPNI to cultivate the land. Colorful gardens emerged from bleak areas.
One garden was previously a small landfill. The people that lived nearby not only built a garden, but also used the materials there to build ovens, arches, and artwork. They held festivals and community gatherings in their newly built garden.
It wasn’t just the land that was reborn; it was the community as well. Communities were brought closer together. Schools taught children the importance of building something from nothing through the gardens. Those that were retired had an activity that gave them a sense of purpose.
Category: Nature Trips