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.
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.
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.
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.
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.bucket list, road trips