It was such a thrill to see the Israeli coastline as we descended toward Tel Aviv’s Ben Gurion Airport. A year of hard work was about to pay off as we began our inaugural Israel Adventure Tour. Last year I was honored to be the guest of the Israeli Tourist Board for my first visit to the country. However, as a pretty active guy I found the traditional tour a little boring, and set about working with our colleagues in Israel to design a tour that I would really love. In the next couple of weeks I would find out first-hand how successful I was in achieving that goal.
Once we were off the plane, my joy turned to frustration when I was stuck in passport control for ages. The young woman checking our line was drilling everyone for 10 minutes each. I stood in the line for what felt like forever, but when it was finally my turn, she practically waved me through without checking anything. It couldn’t have taken more than 30 seconds, but it ticked me off in a ridiculous way. I kept muttering to myself “at least if you are going to hold everyone up, I should get to be held up too!” It is of course absurd to think this way, but I felt insulted all the same. (It’s funny how 18 hours of traveling a third of the way around the world can affect your perspective!)
My driver picked me up, but grumbled the whole time about how long he’d had to wait for me, and what bad manners I had to make him wait. Then Captain Etiquette surprised me by turning on his cell phone over the car radio speakers, so I could hear his entire conversation.
I finally got to my fabulous artsy hotel in Tel Aviv and took a much needed shower. Who was it that smelled in the passport line? …Me!
After my shower I went to clean my face. When I tried to open my container of tea tree oil, the contents were under pressure, and I shot the oil directly into my eye. Have you ever done this? Of course not, this is the sort of ridiculous event that only happens to me. I had to stand in the shower with water running into my eye for 20 minutes. My eye was bloodshot, and my vision was cloudy. I found a local pharmacy and told the pharmacist what happened. He said to me “Why would you do that?”
What?!? What kind of question was that? Because I love the burning sensations in my eye sockets?!? He gave me drops to put in my eye to clear it up. My vision did eventually clear up, but the ridicule still stings.
That evening I walked down to the beach and took some pictures of the promenade and sunset. Ahhh, finally the Israeli experience I had been so looking forward to!
When I got back to the hotel, Russell (our local ground operator) was there with my local cell phone. He taught me Israeli phone numbers during happy hour and we met two members of our group, super fun guys, who gave me high hopes for this grand adventure!
Later I went out and had all kinds of foods that I can’t have at home. Fresh squeezed pomegranate juice, fresh dates, guavas and more. All that fruit and fiber … I’m not going to go into the details of why that was a bad idea – let’s just say the pharmacist didn’t even bother being sympathetic this time.
In the morning, I borrowed a bike from the hotel and went to the local market, looking for gifts for our group. I didn’t come across anything, but I did order another pomegranate juice. Why? Because I am a glutton for punishment. I spent about an hour sitting in the plaza watching the Israeli world go by. Then the pomegranate juice kicked in and I high-tailed it back to my hotel.
That evening all of us gathered for our orientation – 10 fit, active guys all excited to meet each other and hit the road. Everyone in this group already knew that the adventure level of this tour was much higher than some of our other tours, and were looking forward to getting started. Right off the bat, the group was meshing together fabulously! This group was full of good looking, fun and FLIRTY guys. I am not going to lie: good looking guys make for great tours! I knew immediately during the orientation that I would have to take lots of group photos.
We all took a cab to dinner, where Russell set us up at this great restaurant with outdoor seating under a huge 50-year-old tree. All the waiters were flaming gay. GO RUSSELL!! We ordered some great wine, spent way too much money tipping the hot wait staff, and ate a fabulous dinner. Afterward several of us walked along the beach back to our hotel. We discovered an area with public workout equipment that was all set up like a playground for adults, which was an interesting concept, and a bit more “clean fun”: than the “adult playgrounds” in places like San Francisco or Rhode Island
Back at the hotel I spent the entire rest of the evening relaxing and reading a really good novel (did I tell you I like tales of dragons and swordsmanship?). I never did fall asleep. Ugh… I knew tomorrow would be torture.
We started our morning with a Segway scooter tour of the Mediterranean beach front. Half of the guys were rolling their eyes at me for adding such a silly activity to the schedule. By the end of the tour along the beach promenade, everyone loved Segways: we no longer felt like dorks … we felt like popular dorks having a great time.
This afternoon we went kayaking off the historic seaport of Jaffa. While preparing for this activity, Sam, Lou and I went in search of a bathroom and couldn’t figure out which one was for men, and which for ladies. Everything was in Hebrew, and the symbols of men and women both just looked like dudes in military fatigues.
Many of the guys had never kayaked on the ocean before and really enjoyed this introduction to kayaking. Our guide was really hot. He looked a lot like the local guide that we use on our Costa Rica tour – have I mentioned that he is also hot?
Tonight we went to a Mayumana performance. They are a local Israeli dance company that are like a cross between Pilobolus and Cirque du Soleil. Everyone loved it, but we were all so jet lagged and tired from travel that we still fought dozing off. Maybe I will move the performance back a day for next year. Many of us went for a gelato after the performance. I got coconut and mixed fruit. HA! Totally appropriate for this group!
Today we headed north to Ceaserea, and got the opportunity to explore the old Roman amphitheater, learn about chariot races and more. When the rest of group walked off on their own, Ron, John and I went exploring in the ruins. This was good fun, until we got whistled at and chased off by a security guard with crazy eyebrows; they were all slanty and made him look soooo angry.
From here we drove to the rainbow cave, where we had the most incredible views. The views were even more incredible as we dangled from 300 feet of rope. I love rappelling! After everyone had descended from the arch, we hiked back to the top on a narrow trail where we had to use cables and grasp spikes in order to not fall to our grizzly deaths. Returning to civilization, where our biggest danger was speeding cars, we spent the night in Akko at a beautiful hotel that was built literally inside the space between the fortified city walls.
We had a nice breakfast in the dining room of the hotel. I soon discovered that everyone had taken bets that I would be the last one down with my luggage. Where do they get this? I’ve been the first or second person each time! Do they think I stay up reading dragon novels every night?! No, I finished that days ago.
We departed and went to the next town up the coast to meet our bicycles. It was so nice riding our bikes along the waterfront. The temperature was perfect, and it let us see a side of Israel that tourists normally never do. We stopped at a few places going on and off road, learning some history of Israel’s war of independence.
We rode our bikes all the way to the entrance of the sea grottoes in the cliffs of Rosh Hanikra, just south of the border with Lebanon. Then we doubled back to a parking lot about a mile away and got ready for our kayaks. Sam and I needed to use the restroom, and we went into the public beach facility. Oh my god, it smelled so bad! I was gagging as if I had swallowed an entire unpeeled boiled egg. The place looked perfectly clean, so I can only imagine what was going on in there. *Shudder*
We received a short orientation and then hauled the kayaks down to the beach. When we got into the water, everyone promptly forgot what we showed them the day before, and started paddling around like we were playing bumper boats. I think I got my hand smashed nine times, minimum.
We then paddled to Rosh Hanikra. Wow! The limestone structure of this cave is amazing! We paddled our kayaks right into the entrance. The water was a perfect crystal clear ice blue. You could see clear to the bottom, where there were flame colored corals. We were tailed by a military ship the whole time, which was really fun. We exchanged a good number of cat-calls between us.
Lunch this afternoon was in a Druze village. A tour guide specialized in the local culture came to explain a bit about the Druze to us. They are Arabic-speaking citizens who are considered a distinct religious minority in Israel, but serve alongside Jewish troops in the Israel Defense Forces.
We had to sort of hurry our way through this cultural experience so we could make it to our ATV adventure tour along the Syrian border and be done before dark. They offered us 4×4 Rangers and we broke into groups of two for each vehicle. It was so much fun, and way more intense then I had expected. Everyone was having a blast! At one point our local guide got himself high-centered (“stuck” for our city-bred friends) on a rock, and I got to show off my country boy skills by getting the 4×4 back on track with all four wheels having traction again.
We had an early start today on our trip to Black Canyon, one of the most remote parts of northern Israel. On the way up to the canyon, our Israeli national guide Mitch told us all about the history of the Golan Heights, which Israel won back from Syria in the 1967 war. Apparently this area has more land mines than any other place in the world, outside of Korea. The hillsides look much like the rolling golden hills of California, only there are signs everywhere warning you about body parts potentially being blown off if you step too far off the path.
After we got off our bus, we donned helmets and walked about a mile to the entrance of the canyon. You can tell that not many people come through here – it would have been helpful to have a machete to hack away at the growth alongside the path.
At our real starting point into the canyon we threw our backpacks off a cliff into a pool of water, then leaped in after them. The splash down into the water was exhilarating! As we continued to follow the meandering canyon, we enjoyed hours of hiking, cliff diving, and rappelling. The scenery was amazing with waterfalls and towering black cliffs. I brought a waterproof camera and got great footage of our group encouraging each other and of our voices echoing across the rocks.
We had a long tiring day, and a long hot hike out of the canyon. When I got on the bus I asked the group if they would like an unscheduled trip to a winery for a tasting. It was amazing how quickly the group was no longer too tired to go on. The tasting was fun and the wine delicious. We all bought several bottles of wine that enhanced our fun for days. You would think that this was the end of a really satisfying day, but we had an olive oil tasting after that, and then went to a brew pub for an Israeli beer tasting. The headache in the morning was unforgiving.
As we wound down this evening at our Kibbutz, playing cards and enjoying local wine, the guys gave me their opinion of the tour thus far. Everyone said that they signed up for this trip because they had never read an Israel tour itinerary as well designed for adventure travelers as this one, and that they had hoped it would be amazing. So far, the trip was exceeding expectations: the views had been incredible, the activities strenuous and grounding, and every man had faced his fears and come out with an adrenaline rush to top the charts.
As one member of the group said to the others in the group, “Do you know what makes an Alyson Adventure or an HE Travel tour so much better than their competitors? It’s the attitude; it’s the originality. These tours are more fun, the guides are the coolest, the most hip and more engaging then other companies… we love what you guys are doing.” I finally got a good night’s sleep after everyone gave me an ‘A’ for Alyson!
Click HERE to read Part 2 of Zachary’s adventure.
For more information about this tour visit the Israel Adventure tour page!