Friday, January 3, 2014

Galen's Days in Israel: Part One

For the next 8 days, I will be traveling around Israel with a Birthright group. I'm with 39 other young (22 to 27) Jewish people from Atlanta, and we're getting crash courses in Israeli history, Jewish lore, and outdoor exploration. Galen's Days of the Week has gone international, y'all.

Jan 1:
I was told to get to Hartsfield four hours before our 5:40 flight to JFK. Good thing, because it took two entire hours to get our bags checked. As you might expect, a group of 40 does not navigate anything speedily. 

In New York, I found my cousin, Zach. We were on the same flight to Tel Aviv, traveling with separate Birthright groups. We had no idea we were both doing the trip, and less idea that we were leaving on the same flight. But there we were, speeding over the Atlantic, proving that the world and it's seven billion people is not so large after all.

It was a Wing'd Wednesday

Jan 2:
We arrived in Tel Aviv at 2:15. I had about 5 hours of sleep under my belt, plus a cup of weak airplane coffee. We met our tour guide (his name is Shabat, of all things) and we boarded our bus (285, of all numbers - a great joke for this Atlanta crew). Our first destination was a kibbutz in the Negev (a desert). After a round of icebreakers, we ate dinner and heard our itinerary for the next 9 days. I got in bed at 9:15, and fell asleep instantaneously. Some people stayed-up and drank in the courtyard; those people are insane.

What a Tired Thursday.

Jan 3:
We woke up at 4 to take a bus to Masada. We hiked a trail and watched the sunrise from the top of the mountain. Shabat took us around the site - I stood in one of the world's oldest synagogues and King Herod's secret mountain palace. I have trouble believing that something can stand for two thousand years, but there I was, among the stones. It must be easy to believe in creationism - the world seems much simpler if it is new. We came down the mountain via the Snake Path, and finally ate breakfast (after being awake a mere 6 hours). Next up, Dead Sea.

Guess what? You really do float in there - you basically have no other option. I tried to put my feet down, and the water flipped me onto my stomach. I had to paddle back to shore with my hands. I slathered my skin with mud (20 shekels a bag) - it made my skin really soft, but I made the terrible mistake of putting it in my hair. If you ever get this chance, DON'T DO IT. It will not make your scalp soft and hydrated - it will only make you crunchy. 

As I changed out of my bathing suit, I caught a glimpse of myself in a mirror. I looked like a stranger - no makeup, stringy hair, a t-shirt and jeans. My face was slightly ruddy, and my arms looked strong. I liked the sight of this Outdoorsy Galen - I felt new.

We drove to Elat and passed a mountain of salt. When it rains (every few years) the mountain melts. The rocks looked like ocean waves, like blades of grass, like feathers - like anything but rocks. Lot's Wife was there, a large singular pillar apart from the rest. Our guide, Shabat, says she used to be much taller - her head fell off a few years ago. Now she's just a dress.

We're getting ready for our first Shabbat dinner. I'm showered (finally), and am wearing makeup for the first time in three days. It was a lovely luxury to paint my face this evening, but it's nice not to worry about it during the day. Who needs to see my liquid-liner skill when I'm hiking in the desert?

So ends Frenetic Friday.

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