Why? Why would anyone want to lug mattresses, a grill, sleeping bags, a tent and toothbrushes into the wilderness of Israel?
I ask myself this question every time my husband Jonny and I load up our Fiat 500 with all our camping gear and other stuff to make our tiny car look like a circus wagon from which we remove all of the above items.
Oh, did I mention bug spray, bathing suit, towels, and a folding chair?
And a light to see in the dark, provided you check the batteries. Which I forgot before we left our home in the western Galilee and headed north.
A car full of camping gear. Photo by Diana Bletter
I’ve been camping with Jonny and our blended family of six for almost 30 years.
We have often camped in Horshat Tal in the north. Once, when soldiers at a nearby army base were told to go to shelters because of the possibility of missile attacks, we were in a tent.
We camped by the Sea of Galilee and instead of grilling our food we drove to the Pagoda Restaurant in Tiberias.
We camped near Mitzpeh Ramon where “Star Man” Ira Machefsky set up telescopes for us in the middle of Ramon Crater when there was very little moon and thousands of stars. Try as I may, I still can’t fathom why the stars I was looking at no longer exist and how they traveled millions of light years just to get here.
The pop-up tent that escaped
This time Jonny and I decided to camp alone. Not that we didn’t like being with the whole Hamula (clan) but a few weeks earlier 18 of us had gone camping in the Jordan Valley. We used our proven pop-up tent. You take the tent out of the suitcase, throw it in the air and voila, it’s set up.
A week later one of our sons took it camping near the Jordan River. He and his friends forgot to put something inside the tent to weigh it down, and voila, the tent popped up and flew away.
Jonny and I drove down the north road through the hills. There’s a section at Rechaniya, the Circassian village, where I feel like I’m in a mountain forest in Switzerland. As we drove it seemed very quiet in the car.
I thought of the times we drove our van to camp and looked in the rearview mirror and saw — well, not the smiling faces of our kids, as you’d expect — but their wriggling limbs as the three boys wrestled carried out even though he is buckled up.
Now it’s just the two of us. I was driving and could hardly see through the rear view mirror because of all our stuff.
“You brought a sweatshirt to the camp in Israel in June?” Jonny asked me.
I had to laugh. Before we rode our bikes from New York to Alaska, Jonny had convinced me not to take a sweatshirt because I wouldn’t need it. Who doesn’t take a sweatshirt to Alaska?
I had to buy one in Edmonton, Alberta.
“I like to bring things, so I have them,” I said. “I probably would have taken our whole house if it could have fit in the car.”
how to be
Then we pulled into a campsite in Beit Hillel near the Snir Stream (Hatzbani) nature reserve and pitched our 27 year old tent.
The Snir Current in Galilee. Photo by Diana Bletter
We all used to sleep in it, so I felt like I was the old woman who lived in the shoe.
I put our new mattresses in place so we no longer felt like we were sleeping on a bed of nails.
The author’s husband boils water for tea. Photo by Diana Bletter
Then we decided to swim to the creek. Jonny put our lamb skewers in our insulated bag, under our dry ice and water bottles, but the bag wouldn’t close.
“Are you sure it’s safe?” I asked, thinking of bears and moose, which we always had to consider on our Alaskan trip.
“Who comes here?” Jonny asked. “A cat? And is it a weight lifter that can hold two liters of water?”
The author’s husband stokes the coals with a ‘nafnaf’, an Israeli barbecue tradition. Photo by Diana Bletter
We followed a path along the Snir, the longest tributary of the Jordan. Pass towering eucalyptus, oak and ficus trees with incredible sculpted root systems.
Jonny sat on the rocks by the shore while I waded in. The water was ice cube cold. The area was so green and lush that I was no longer in Switzerland but in a jungle in Papua, New Guinea.
That’s the thing about camping. Life concentrates for a few hours. It’s not about what to do, it’s about how you are.
I watch the sun set behind the hills of Galilee. I listen to the rushing of the water over the rocks.
At night when I’m lying in the tent I look through the netting and then through the leaves of the oak trees and there, right above me, the moon shines down on me with a ridiculously happy expression on its face that perfectly mirrors my own face.
Israel is a small country and we don’t have wide open-air vistas. But when I find that perfect spot in nature, I appreciate it all the more.