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Widows Pilgrimage to the Holy Land Widow Repair

Travel heals a widow’s heart.

My best friend Alli invited me to accompany her on a trip to Israel in the summer of 2008. Her older brother Andrew was a student at the Hebrew University, so we stayed at his apartment in Jerusalem.

I wanted to share some of my favorite experiences, so here is Part 1 of a Widow’s Pilgrimage to the Holy Land:

When in Israel, Do as the Israelis Do

June 18, 2008. Alli and I walked almost everywhere in Jerusalem for a few days, so we decided to treat ourselves and rent a car for a longer trip.

When I got behind the wheel, Andrew pointed out that instead of turning from red to green, the traffic lights turn in this sequence: red-yellow-green. He laughed, “People will start honking when the lights turn yellow.”

He wasn’t kidding. Every intersection was like the race lineup in Mario Kart. It was just a mad rush to beat the other driver, and there was no signalling. Curiously, there was no anger, no road rage, no presentation of middle fingers.

Other drivers are simply insistent—it’s part of their culture. Parents fiercely defend their children in every activity, teaching them confidence and self-assurance. Adults do not come across as rude or entitled, and I learned from the Israelis to be more assertive in everyday situations.

Back to the traffic though, I gripped the steering wheel nervously until we made it out of the city and into the peaceful, mountainous desert.

We jammed to Israeli music until we reached Masada, the ancient fortification of Herod the Great. It was so hot that people were not allowed to hike up the mountain, so we took a ski lift to the ruins which date between 37 and 31 BC. Smiling and sweating, we toured Herod’s palace, storage rooms, bath houses and the commandant’s quarters.

The wall openings behind me were used to roost pigeons for food, and their droppings were used for fertilizer. I made the “flappy hands” motion so I would remember the trivia. Haha.

Widows Pilgrimage to the Holy Land Masada Widow Repair

We hiked down the Snake Path (980 ft.) on the eastern side, and I swore I would die from heat and exhaustion before we made it to the museum!

The Kindness of Strangers

When we were ready to leave, I punched in the security code on the rental car, and it wouldn’t work! The guard at the parking garage tried to help, but we only succeeded in shutting it down completely.

I had to call the rental office for the correct code, and they advised waiting an hour before re-entering the code. Thank goodness we didn’t stop anywhere in the desert!

There was a little trouble with the language barrier, but I was so impressed by the security guard’s hospitality. He introduced himself as Kaed, a Bedouin (Arab nomad), and showed us a travel kit containing supplies for making a cup of tea in the desert. Next, we were entertained with an impromptu drum concert when his friend arrived.

I place so much value on these unexpected experiences. My only previous knowledge of Bedouin culture comes from a school textbook in fifth grade. A perfect stranger was kind enough to offer help and let us share in his traditions.

A Swim Float in the Dead Sea

We tried to find Ein Gedi, the oasis, but finally gave up and went to the Dead Sea. I first read about the Dead Sea (“sea of salt”) in a history book. I was mesmerized with the idea of floating in the water. How could you be in water and not have to swim? At ten years old, I resolved to swim in the Dead Sea one day. It was the first item on my bucket list, but I never imagined I would get the chance.

Salt deposits on the rocks actually looked like snow or crystals, and groups of people were coating themselves with the fine mud on the shore. One of Alli’s friends told us a secret: the Dead Sea products that are peddled in the mall are not really from the Dead Sea!

I felt like a big bobber in the water—diving would be impossible. With no effort, I was completely buoyant, sitting back in the water like I was in a recliner chair on solid ground. Movement was like I imagine the astronauts feel without gravity.

Widows Pilgrimage to the Holy Land The Dead Sea Widow Repair

On the way back, we passed the Qumran Caves where the the prophetic books of Isaiah were discovered. We saw the Dead Sea Scrolls in the Israel Museum just the day before.

A true tourist, I also stopped and paid 50 shekels for a camel ride. I tried to decline the turban, but the camel-tamer insisted and plopped it on my head. He was from Jericho, one of the many place-names that I hold dear from a lifetime of Bible lessons.

The camel was cute but a smelly beast. He (or she) didn’t look excited to give me a ride.

Widows Pilgrimage to the Holy Land Camel Ride Widow Repair

When we were coming into Jerusalem’s gate, I had to elbow my way into the line of traffic. By this time, I had gotten the hang of “offensive” driving.

We got in okay to pick up Andrew. He drove us to the Mt. of Olives where many Jews are buried to be the first to meet the Messiah. Between us and the Old City of Jerusalem was the Kidron Valley, and the sun was setting right behind the Dome of the Rock.

Normal Life: Widow’s Pilgrimage to the Holy Land (Part 2)

Disclaimer From a Foxhunting Widow Widow Repair

A Series of Unfortunate Events for a Foxhunting Widow

March 8, 2008 I went on my first foxhunt this morning with TomBoy, a fat bay Quarter Horse from the plantation. *Nina was riding a Thoroughbred named Kegger, and being aptly named, he refused to stand still or walk calmly for more than five seconds straight.

After I planted myself in the saddle, I was handed a small cup of red wine to kick off the event. TomBoy promptly got excited when her companions trotted away for a warm-up, and my “stirrup cup” was splashed onto my new riding pants, creating a lovely, permanent dapple.

Our leaders blew the horn to rally the hounds, and we rode off at a canter in third field. Third field is the back of the herd, reserved for the slowpokes.

We proceeded with intervals of every gait. The galloping was exhilarating, and TomBoy is capable of very smooth, focused movement- when she wants to. At home, she settles into a crooked canter. I actually stand in the stirrups and twist my body sideways to avoid bouncing off.

My hunt jacket was purchased from Ebay, and the too-tight sleeves were really restricting my movement. TomBoy bravely jumped over an obstacle, but I lost a stirrup and caused a slight pile-up for the riders behind me.

Nina didn’t notice because she was too distracted with Kegger. Her horse was more intent on scraping his rider under low-hanging branches than jumping over a log.

We plowed through a slushy field until the hounds ran up on a dead cow. It was violently windy, so they didn’t find a better scent. Nina’s mount was maddening, and we had to give up and leave the field early.

Who Cares About 5 o’clock? We Drink at Brunch!

Nina warned me with a huge smile, “This group likes to drink!” In fact, being a member was all about following the hounds and enjoying the after-party. In this sport, “Hunting” is a title by tradition, not practice.

Widow Goes Foxhunting Widow Repair

It wasn’t quite lunch time, but the riders were gathering poolside at the plantation house. A gazebo was set up as a bar, and I walked up to join in my first post-hunt celebration.

Unfortunately, the bartender had me mistaken for a junior rider. “No drinks for you. Forget it!” she said loudly before turning away.

Shocked, I glanced over my shoulder to see if there was a kid behind me. I shrugged, picked up a Mimosa and squirreled it away to my table.

On my second trip, another woman asked if I was a junior rider. I must have looked confused because she said, “How old are you?”

“Um, 23,” I stated in defense of the spiked orange juice.

Foxhunting to Cure an Introverted Widow

During the ride home, we talked briefly about Jason. In her boisterous voice, Nina proclaimed that I was doing okay now, a complete change, as she had predicted, from the dullness and quiet heartbreak that I was suffering after Jason’s death.

She narrated  a conversation she’d had with the owner of the plantation horses: “Oh, Bonnie will talk your ear off;  she’s just gone through a lot of s*** recently.”

According to Nina, this boost in my personality was due to my job as a tour guide. She said that my job forced me to talk to people, and she was sure, a year or two ago, that it would bring me out of my depression.

Nina can be less-than-delicate in how she communicates, but I appreciate her bluntness, and I think she’s right. I had to push past the boundaries of my comfort zone.

Whether it’s historic tours or racing around a plantation with riders who deny having ever killed a fox, it’s healing to spend time with people who share similar interests.


*Name changed for privacy.