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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)

Spelunking for a Restless Widow Widow Repair

Spelunking for a Reckless Widow

Caving — also traditionally known as spelunking in the United States — is the recreational pastime of exploring wild (generally non-commercial) cave systems…

…Note that I use the term ‘spelunker’ to denote someone untrained and unknowledgeable in current exploration techniques, and ‘caver’ for those who are.


Being a widow can make you reckless. You care less about safety because you’re not afraid of death. You feel invincible because the world is ironic. No matter what kind of hazard you’re exposed to, fate is determined to keep you from the one you love. You feel lonely and bored, and danger sounds like a great distraction. Or maybe I’m just speaking for myself.

Walmart: For all Your Spelunking Needs

In July of 2007, my job shut down for the worst heat of summer, so I traveled to Nashville to visit one of my best friends from high school. Shopping and playing pool downtown got old after a day or two, and *Dave got a call from a friend in Clarkesville who invited us to explore the cave in his backyard.

I pictured a tour like the one I did in Mammoth Cave National Park- walking along a roped-off path while our guide explained the stalactites and stalagmites. I didn’t realize that I had agreed to go trekking through rough underground terrain.

We were warned to prepare for mud and water, so we hit up a nearby Walmart. Dave’s roommate found the first person in a blue apron and asked, “Where can I find the spelunking equipment?”  She was understandably no help, so we found the camping section and bought headlamps, water shoes, waterproof bags and water-repelling workout clothing.

Twilight Zone Rafting

TWILIGHT ZONE. n. The outer part of a cave where daylight penetrates and gradually diminishes to zero light.

It was night by the time I finally met our “guide.” *Rob gave us a short briefing about the cave, including a disclaimer that we should be fine because it doesn’t flood very often in the summer. The cave ran for about three miles, and if there was a map available, Rob wasn’t concerned with obtaining it.

Dave’s roommate strapped on a 12 pack of beer in a mesh Corona backpack, and Rob and his girlfriend dragged two inflated rafts from the pool. I locked my phone in the car and followed the other four spelunkers toward the cave. Rafts?

At the cave entrance, we had to duck under a long, low wall of rock into cold water. Not just chilly, it was cold. Clearance was only about three feet, and Rob and his girlfriend sprawled on their rafts and sailed through the twilight zone without a problem. “This is completely flooded in the fall!” Rob reminded us cheerfully. The rest of us shuffled along for about 20 feet until we could stand up straight again.

Spelunking for a Reckless Widow Widow Repair

Blotting Out the Moonlight

DARK ZONE. n. The part of the cave system which daylight does not reach, no matter how faint.

Soon we were abandoned by the last traces of moonlight. Beams from our headlamps roamed over glittering rock walls and grotesquely shaped formations. The walls were coated in slippery orange/brown clay, and rivulets of water ran along the pathway. We noticed evidence that other people  had been there, and Rob grudgingly agreed that a group had been doing research a few weeks earlier.

The path was like a wide hallway, and Dave decided to climb into a hole in the wall that was lined with clay. I admit, this was not the best idea for the guy who was voted “most accident prone” in high school. That stunt ended with Dave sliding down the steep tube and hitting his head on a stalactite. I watched the blood ooze from above his ear and marveled at the bizarre situation.

No worries though, we moved on. Channeling the Goonies, I scanned the surroundings for any stray skeletons.

Spelunking for a Reckless Widow Widow Repair

Don’t Think About What Lives  in the Water

LAKE. n. In caving terms, a deep body of relatively still water with a surface area upwards of several square meters. There may or may-not be underwater passages leading from the lake.

The next obstacle was a body of water that was about as wide as a typical inground swimming pool. The five of us stood over the eerily placid lake, questioning whether it was wise to continue. It was nothing but blackness, no doubt harboring blind, translucent cave creatures with razor sharp teeth. In the spirit of self-preservation, I waited on the bank until two of my companions made it safely across.

Running along the wall over the second underground lake was a narrow shelf of rock. This time we enjoyed safe passage by hanging by our fingertips and inching along the shelf with only our legs dangling in the water. From there, we climbed over massive rocks and small waterfalls, sometimes crawling because the mud made it impossible to stand up.

Spelunking for a Reckless Widow Widow Repair

Avoid the Labyrinth

LABYRINTH. n. Syn. maze cave.

We came to a cavern that was about as spacious as my living room. From this central hub, we would have to choose from three halls that would lead us away from the main path and into the cave’s labyrinth. The guys wandered farther into a tight hallway, and soon their progress was drowned out by the sound of a waterfall in the distance.

Rob’s girlfriend and I stayed in the cavern, nervously discussing whether or not we could make it back if the batteries died in our flashlights. “Have you seen The Cave?” she asked ominously, referencing a horror movie that seemed too much related to our current situation. I tapped my dimming flashlight, commanding it to outlast the expedition.

When the guys came back, all thoughts turned to hot dogs and hamburgers. We made a fire in Rob’s backyard, lounged on the deck chairs and looked at the stars until the sun came up.

I’m guessing that we were not too far underground, and we probably traveled only a mile and a half, but it seemed like a separate world. Clay and waterfalls added up to insulation from real life. It was a spontaneous adventure that I never thought to put on my bucket list.


*Names changed for privacy

Caving terminology by Gary K Smith.