Friday, April 17, 2009

There's just no English word for it

Tiyul. It can mean a hike, but more often it means a particular type of trip that involves visiting a place or places. Usually a day trip, sometimes an overnighter. Always within Israel. The closest equivalent I can think of is if you live in New Jersey, and your cousin from Scottsdale, Arizona is visiting and you can take him or her on a trip to New York City to see the Statue of Liberty. That's a tiyul. Or, you live in New York and you and a bunch of friends drive to Central Jersey to go to Six Flags Great Adventure. That's also a tiyul.

For our most recent tiyul, we went to the desert. First stop, Sde Boker (home to David Ben Gurion, first Prime Minister of Israel) and Ein Ovdat National Park (home to Ben Gurion's grave) and walked to the waterfall. We had a wonderful guide, but wound up doing a lot of standing around to listen to him speak. I don't enjoy standing around, but the information was interesting. The area is beautiful. We only had time to do one route, though.

Then we went to Chan HaShayarot where we listened to a real Bedouin (that's what he said) give a very short speech about the Bedouin way of life. It's a tourist site, so it's not a real Bedouin tent, and he gives the same shpiel a few hundred times a day, but he was funny and it was interesting. I think I would like to visit a Bedouin family in their home to get the real story. The cool part was when he described the coffee routine and how it relates to hospitality. Making coffee for a visitor is very important, right down to how you pour the cup. Apparently, the polite way is to fill the cup about a third. If you want to send the message that the guest is not welcome, you fill the cup all the way. The Bedouin would send a call out to alert travellers that there was hospitality by grinding coffee.

Click here to see a particularly fancy coffee grinder. The drumming sound is made by knocking the pestle on the bottom and sides of the container.

This was followed by a camel "ride." The ride itself was a bit silly; we went from where we got on to a half kilometre away (if that) and back. It wasn't a trail, we didn't go anywhere, and the field that we walked to was literally covered with broken glass - bottle remains with bottoms facing up - and rusted tin cans. I jokingly said it looked like the remains of target practice, and then I noticed the holes in the tin cans. I know camels have hard feet, but still, it can't be comfortable trekking over shards of glass with 300 or more pounds on your back.

It also wasn't very comfortable for me, because my saddle was cracked through the middle and dug into my thighs. I also didn't like seeing the camel in the corral who hadn't been trained yet. Because camels are pack animals and what one does, they all do, a camel who hasn't been trained yet will take off after the convoy, so they keep it shackled by the front ankles. It can only take little shuffling steps. And to eat or drink, it has to get down on its knees. This is probably more humane than some trainers who hit their camels, but still, it doesn't look pleasant. I'm probably totally projecting, but the camel actually looked (and acted) lonely.

If I ever go on another camel ride, it will be to go somewhere.

On the other hand, the jeep ride through the desert was a blast! I truly love the desert and seeing it from trails was amazing. It's still a national park, and the trails are controlled (and well used), but it's nothing you'd enjoy from just driving the highways.

I would love to rent a 4-wheel drive (oh, the irony of having had a 4wd in Vancouver. Trust me, it got used on the logging roads, but still...) and cruise through the desert by myself, without the constraints of a tour (by "by myself" I mean with Morey, of course, but he's afraid of scorpions) and camp overnight. There are tons of ruins in the desert, some set up for tourists, some just there, that I would love to explore.

This wasn't the best organized tour I've been on, or one that made the best use of the time available, but I am so grateful that Nefesh b'Nefesh, the city of Modi'in, AACI and so many other organizations make these trips available to new olim. We've gone to places I just wouldn't think to go to, or gone to places we normally couldn't afford. I can't wait for the next trip.

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