Sunday, March 9, 2014

Flowers in the Desert: A Hike Through the Anemones of Shmurat Pura

I recently discovered an English-speaking hiking group based out of Jerusalem and to escape my usual weekend routine (though I do love lying around watching TV, drinking coffee, and reading in my pajamas) I decided to go on a hike they advertised as a “flower hike”. The fact that it was Valentine’s Day back in the states and my boyfriend and I are separated by about 7,500 miles played no role in my desire to get out of the apartment and distract myself. None at all.

So I woke up at 5:30 Friday morning in order to meet them by 7. Everything went smoothly, so that at roughly 7:15 I was rolling away from the parking lot in Jerusalem in the back of a car with an olah chadash from America and two other veteran olim from the States. We chatted about our respective backgrounds and reasons for ending up in this beautiful crazy country. The new olah came to Israel because there is a lot of work for landscape architects. Another came to study, ended up taking a tour guide course, for which she made Aliyah (although it turned out not to be necessary) and in the process of that, decided to divorce her husband. Now she works as a hypnotherapist. But I didn't find that out until the ride home, as she initially introduced herself to me as a writer. How many jobs does this woman have? Frankly, I think her story must be fascinating. Maybe one day I’ll be able to hear her story in more detail and share it with you all here. I don’t remember her name though, which might be a problem. I am really bad with names and faces. Sorry, world.

Anyways, back to this hike. When I said I work for the Ministry of Aliyah and Immigrant Absorption the new olah mentioned her difficulties in reaching an actual person to talk to here, and I told her to try asking us questions on Facebook, as we always try to respond and point people in the right direction. I don’t really know enough about how this giant ministry works to give more help than that, I've only been here 4 months and my less-than-perfect Hebrew knowledge makes t a bit more difficult to understand everything that's going on in this huge Ministry.

Anyways. So we get to Shmurat Pura, which apparently is famous for the flowers at this time of year. And sure enough, pretty little red flowers that looked like poppies carpeted the rolling green hills. Not as many as I’d hoped, it wasn’t exactly a thick red carpet, so I was slightly disappointed at the beginning, but I held out hope that it would improve as time went on. And it did! It was an easy 3-hour hike, which would probably be even faster with fewer people. For an area called the Northern Negev it was extremely green. There were lots of green fields of some plant—wheat perhaps? Hills spotted with red anemones (Fun fact: not poppies, poppies have black spots anemones lack, and anemones have a little wreath of green just underneath the blossom that poppies lack). I tend to be pretty quiet when hiking, as I look around me at nature and let my mind wander and reflect, so I mostly walked alone. Occasionally I would end up next to someone and we would chat. Our group of about 30 people combined with another group of about 30 that hikes to raise money for disabled children, so we had a pretty big group. I was definitely the youngest, as I usually am in my activities because I have the tastes of an old lady (no, I really do. I like cats, reading, tea, antiques, bed and breakfasts, flower hikes…the list goes on).

When we were almost back the woman I was walking with spotted a smartphone lying on the ground. Someone had dropped it, so we tried calling the previous called number, which got us the name Jill and a home number, and luckily we found said Jill once we reached the parking lot. Success! The panicky fear of losing a phone is something I wish on no one.

At the parking lot, somebody had set up a little juice stand squeezing fresh juice. This was a genius idea, as Israelis love juice (well ok, who doesn’t?) and it was a pretty hot sunny afternoon. I didn’t get any juice, but on the way back we stopped at a gas station for a bathroom break and I got an ice café. That really hit the spot. If anyone reading this has never had an ice café…please, please try one. It’s like a coffee milkshake and it is so good my mouth waters every time I think about it. They have “diet” ice cafes too but…they just don’t have the same sinfully delicious taste. They sell them everywhere but I prefer the ones at a certain large café/bakery chain found all over Israel (that I cannot name for legal reasons, but hopefully you’ll figure it out).

I was home by early afternoon, tired, dusty, sweaty, and sticky from ice café drips, but glad I had forced myself out of the house to experience some of Israel’s gorgeous landscapes.

I have been on several hikes around Israel, including a daylong hike through the Negev during which we climbed an incredibly steep canyon (read: sheer cliff face with metal rings for handholds and occasional ropes) and I can see why it’s such a popular pastime here. Israel has some of the most beautiful natural landscapes I have ever seen. Lonely Planet listed Israel’s Negev desert as a top destination in the world and I have to agree. Those rocky formations and reddish brown vistas sweeping down to the salty sheen of the Dead Sea are breathtaking.

Our hike through the Negev

I’ve also done an uphill hike in the northern Galilee region, up to the ruins of a crusader castle, surrounded by forested hills. That was another gorgeous one.

The view as we began our hike

Compared to these hikes, this flower hike was very tame, but it was nice to meet new people and see some pretty flowers. I met another UCLA alum, who then gave me a ride to a UCLA alumni event in Tel Aviv a few days after the hike. Connections! Bruins! All good stuff.

Care to share some of your favorite hiking experiences in Israel? Feel free to comment! I’d love to hear about some new ones to try!

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