Wind has taken me to some interesting places in my 29 years. . . because I have allowed her to. I haven’t constantly questioned her judgment. In fact, when I feel called to a certain place but can’t explain why, I know she has something to do with it, and so I surrender to her. Wind is a mutable element, it’s ever changing; it allows us to flow through time and space. Have you ever just completely surrendered to sudden change, or to the present moment? It’s likely that you surrendered to Wind. Have you had a change of heart or mind? Again, could be your intuition who told you to go with the Wind. In Israel my elemental Healing began at Yam ha melah but continued further south. Setting off at 11, backpack in place, map on my phone and thumb ready to do some hitch-hiking, I stood on the main road ready to catch my ride. With my thumb out in the Wind saying “Shalom and please take me somewhere” I waited for a ride that never came. Odeya, my friend, had proven to me days earlier that people in general are comfortable with the notion of picking up strangers in their car and driving them short and even longer distances. She often picked up Israelis going to work or traveling a short way, practically an unwritten rule here. Perhaps she had made me over-confident. On my first attempt 10-15 cars drove right past me. I was bummed, but lucky that a bus on its normal route approached not long after. I caught it without hesitation and retired my thumb for a later point.
I soon realized I didn’t even have enough shekels to get to Ein Bokek. I scrounged up every last coin I could (couldn’t have been more than a 17 shekel ride/about 4 Euros) and offered it to the driver who didn’t speak English and was a bit pissed. Next I tried to give him a return ticket I had prepaid for to make up the difference. He refused it and just let me be. Moments after a Frenchwoman in the seat directly behind mine began chatting with me. I guessed she was likely retired, though I didn’t confirm by asking. She was also alone and was headed to Eilat. She asked me where I had been and where I was headed. I told her I started in the north of Yam ha Melah and now, Ein Bokek and then who knows. She seemed worried that I didn’t speak Hebrew and that I was a young woman traveling alone. Maybe she had made her judgment after witnessing my exchange with our driver and the fact that I was shekel-less at this point. I assured her that I’d manage just fine in this country, even though I had no Hebrew skills and hadn’t planned on traveling alone before yesterday. But here I was.
WIND / RUACH
Then Wind did something truly magical. . . when I arrived in Ein Bokek it was immediately clear to me that I wouldn’t spend the night here. Ein Bokek, the southern tip of Yam ha melah, was a resort hub. In every direction I looked were high rise hotels lined up along the Sea pleasing all kinds of travelers, but not me. I wanted somewhere natural, not commercial. I ate a quick plate of hummus in an overpriced restaurant and connected to wifi to see what my options were. Thanks google, who confirmed there was not one place in this whole region that I could afford; the prices were outrageous in fact. I checked the nearby cities/towns and booked a night in the city of Arad, which I could get to by bus. Quick stop at an ATM for shekels, and I headed to the public beach to relax until my bus (though all the chairs were owned by the private hotels and therefore not available to us plebeians). The clouds were rolling in again and rain followed, cutting my lounge time short. With over an hour to wait at the bus stop, I just hoped I wouldn’t miss my bus. It was the Pesach (Passover) holiday and transportation might be less reliable or less often. The longer I waited, the more I worried that maybe it wouldn’t come. At the hour mark, I noticed a fellow female traveler with a similar look on her face as me, a look of doubt. She had a backpacker size bag (bigger than mine) and had approached a few different people at the stop to inquire about a bus. In the course of 25-30 minutes, she walked past me four or five times. I overheard her ask for the bus to Eilat and when her bus arrived (before mine) she hopped on, only to hop off a minute later, and the bus left. Seemed strange, but I’ve learned in my years that there aren’t any coincidences, only signs. Minutes later she came back and sat next to me. I asked her why she had gotten on and off her bus, telling her it would be a long wait for another one.
She said she wasn’t even sure where she was headed anymore. . . and that’s when I knew that, like me, she was open TO THE MAGIC OF WIND.
We began chatting and eventually manifested a collective shuttle in the direction of both Arad and Be’er Sheva (a city with a main bus station for more connecting routes). My fellow traveler was Adeline. She was from France and living in Bretagne, quite possibly one of the best regions in my humble opinion that I got a taste of last summer (click here to read how I spent my 29th birthday under the fireworks on Bretagne’s Coast). She was traveling solo in Israel and later to Jordan. She had such a warm energy emanating from her and in those first moments of chatting I had pretty much made up my mind that I wasn’t going to Arad. Something just told me not to. When the driver stopped in Arad, I stayed on until Be’er Sheva. This drive from Ein Bokek back inland was epic by the way. Mother Nature’s desert is stunning, those familiar tan and umber earthen rocks. I said goodbye to views of Yam ha Melah (the Dead Sea), but hello to the Negev Desert, where we also passed Bedouin neighborhoods. I marveled at the camels roaming on grassy hills along with men and boys herding sheep, those towering mosques always signaling of a Muslim settlement. It was so much to take in, so many sights that told me I was exactly where I was supposed to be. When we finally touched down in Be’er Sheva, I decided to stick with Adeline. We grabbed kebabs at the bus station, clearly the Kebab stall of choice for all the young traveling soldiers, guns in tow. . .
FIRST STOP. . . KIBBUTZ
Kibbutz? I admit I didn’t know a thing about this when coming to Israel, mainly because I had decided not to google or research before going. I rather wanted to be surprised by Israel and discover things organically, so when Adeline mentioned she was looking to stay the night in a Kibbutz, I had her explain the concept to me. Kibbutz were some of the first communities in Israel back in the early stages of the country. Agriculture was the center of these communities, who focused on getting the land to produce so that they could thrive, and the People were the heart. Everything was shared, including money and facilities. Some compare it to communism. I think it was an idealistic way to live off the land and share duties, land and resources. Today, there remain kibbutz all over the country, though some are now for profit (privatized), some are still close to the original concept and others like the one we visited in Sde Boker are made up of both volunteers from abroad and young men and women who are living and working in the Kibbutz to take off time from their Military Service. (I’ll explain further)
Arriving late at night, we walked over to the first home with our friendliest faces to ask if we could stay (we had been told they wouldn’t charge to stay in the Kibbutz). First home turned us down; told us to ask further on. Second attempt we asked the next guys we saw, friendly youth who offered us breaded chicken and told us to ask further up the road. Third attempt was the charm. We asked at a cluster of homes, they said sure, and told us there was even a private room for the two of us to stay the night. Then they proceeded to invite us to their community dinner where they were celebrating a makeshift Pesach. This meal took place in a dining hall, part of the facilities of the Kibbutz, complete with lots of wine and a crash course in Kibbutz life for us. Those attending were all between 18 and 22, men and women who were of military age. ***If you didn’t know MILITARY SERVICE IS MANDATORY IN ISRAEL. What age do Israelis get incorporated into the military? Ripe ‘ol age of 18. So here on the Kibbutz we were amongst the youth of Israel, many of whom had already done a few years of service. Getting accepted into a KIBBUTZ like SDE BOKER for an Israeli could be a ticket out of FULL MILITARY SERVICE. Full Service for Men is 3 years of Military Service, and for Women 2 years.
With a stint in the Kibbutz, men only have to go to the Military for 2 years and women for 1 year. It’s a system that for many young Israelis, is a no brainer.
Serving less Military time for many Israelis is the golden ticket. However you may feel about the Military, it’s something that is engrained in the culture here. My friend Odeya says Israelis always ask each other where they did their service, and the proceeding question is always “Where did you travel after you finished your service?” Perhaps those consecutive years in the Military weighed heavy, leaving you with a need to get away from it all, to decompress after those years given up. I don’t say this lightly, nor are these my words. These are the sentiments from others, Israelis who I spoke with in my two weeks in the country. There are really only two ways you can be completely exempt from the military: Religious affiliation or Mental Illness, and neither exemption is so easy to achieve. I really wanted to share this side of Israeli culture, because it’s a reality for each and every citizen of Israel. Although it breaks my heart that in the United States many youth are MARKETED TO to join the military service (***like we’ll pay for your COLLEGE DEGREE MARKETED TO, or WE’LL HELP YOU TO ATTAIN CITIZENSHIP MARKETED TO), for now at least it is not mandatory. The Military and War is something that absolutely does not resonate with my values. Now I’m not comparing Israel’s military needs to those of the US. For one thing, the Middle East remains to be a hot spot, one where both terror and land and border disagreements make Military more of a necessity, though I’m hopeful that one day that could change.
NEXT UP, MITZPE RAMON
After one night in the Kibbutz, RUACH took us to the heart of Israel to a natural site called MAKHTESH RAMON, and guess what we even got there by hitch-hiking with a lovely local Israeli woman, talking the whole drive which lasted about 35-40 min. You can take a bus too, but with the holiday there were less in rotation so we took our chances, feeling more confident after all the synchronicity we had experienced up to this point. When we arrived at the National Park, the MAGIC CONTINUED. Even though I had heard it was a “must see” I wasn’t sure I would have made it here so far south; I didn’t know it be possible. WIND made it possible, and intuition too. Instead of doing a hike into the crater, we sat just sharing stories about each other and our travels, with the vast Negev Desert as our backdrop. I cannot emphasize enough how impressive the view was. How was I here? How was this epic Crater our chill spot for the day? What an adventure, and with a new friend made too, I couldn’t be happier. We even did a little Yoga at the cliff’s edge (I left a little room between me and the end of the earth here; no need to risk my life). My heart pounded as I took position trying to stabilize myself, to feel balanced, to feel grounded into the Earth. I took deep breaths, felt RUACH all around me even swaying me slightly, my heart rate increasing as I looked out … though not down.
RUACH in hebrew also means “breath” or “spirit” and this is who I connected with here. I connected with Spirit who told me I had made it, that I was blessed here.
We even met a group of Israeli girls on a short holiday from the military enjoying the views of the Crater, Makhtesh Ramon. They invited us to share some Green Tea and a chat. They were so sweet, so full of life. It’s these moments that make me root for Israel, for its prosperity as a country and for peace in this region of the world, because of the amazing people that inhabit the country. I’m grateful for these genuine ladies and all those I met on this leg of my trip. Gratitude goes a long way and I’m beyond grateful for these days. My journey continued, further south. . . where WIND, my intuition and a few nice Israeli locals took us all the way to very tip of the country, to the southernmost city called Eilat, and all with my new French friend Adeline. Details to come in my next post.
All photos taken APRIL 2017- ARIANA DEL RÍO