Day 23: Arad to Amasa
Day 23, March 22: First day out of desert - great start. Nice landscape of rolling hills, bottom of Judean mountains. Green appeared very soon. Biblical scenery, Tel Arad. Weather perfect. Then Nachshon's foot kept getting worse (first day back) and had to leave. Everyone very sad but trying to still enjoy hike. Lunch near village, guys with donkeys came and offered water. Big mountain to climb, 2nd or 3rd highest of trail. Very pleasant little kibbutz Amasa with free cabin for hikers but nobody around. Tomorrow first hike in forest! Excited. Trekking poles very helpful also.
My impression of the hiking on this day was that this was what the area must have looked like that Abraham lived in. The landscape is relatively undeveloped compared to the Galilee, but at this time of year it was green, so it didn't feel like a desert. All of the Levant region is briefly green in the spring - it rains in the winter, grass and flowers come up; by the end of April they're dying and everything turns brown until December. In this area it's even more dramatic but we caught it just the right time. It's probably prime sheep-grazing season, too, and we would spot shepherds and flocks periodically throughout the next days.
Nachshon had just rejoined us after taking an extended break to let his foot heal from an inflammation which I can't remember how to spell. A few miles in, it was hurting him so badly that he couldn't continue. We all sat around being bummed for a while, but we continued on, resigning ourselves to hike without him. The group at this point was me, Joyce the Dutch girl, and Idan, the Israeli guy from Ra'anana, a city in Israel's Europe-like, cosmopolitan "center" region.
Climbing up the mountain to Amasa was hard, and the result incredible. At the top, you could look down and see green landscape and desert all in one panorama. It was a very distinct divide. Not far to our east, the landscape seemed to fall away as the hills plummeted down toward the Jordan Valley and the Dead Sea.
We slept that night in one of my favorite places along the trail, a little town called Amasa. It had a sign welcoming thru-hikers ("shovlim", following proper Hebrew word derivation, rather than usual "shvilistim") and directing us to a house, but there was not a soul around except an Arab teenager who seemed to be working as gatekeeper. I was kind of surprised to see they employed an Arab guy in this way since the town was just a very short distance from the West Bank fence.
Anyway, the town was a really pleasant little place full of pine trees and cozy houses. The directions were vague, but from what we could tell, the house for hikers was a longhouse-type structure with a sink, wood stove, and some benches along the walls, which we tried to sleep on. It got very cold and rainy outside and although the building's interior was kind of dingy, we (or at least I) found it to be one of the nicest places we slept, thanks in part to the surroundings and bad weather outside. We got a roaring fire going in the wood stove (by cheating and tossing in a tissue doused in the gasoline from my stove) and only later discovered the actual hikers' room was a different, much smaller but better-kept space with a shower and toilet! It was already full so we stayed in the big house anyway, and the other hikers came over to enjoy our fire.
Trekking poles are the walking sticks you see hikers with. Dorky-looking to be sure, but I will never backpack without them again. They help take weight off your body and joints, which is a subtle but significant difference, and when going downhill, they really help with balancing.
The Bedouin town of Drejat, at the southern end of the Judean hills, where the desert begins
From the top of Mt. Amasa, the second-tallest peak on the hike, you could see the desert
and the green land coming together
Photo by Joyce Bosman
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