It’s where the travel bug bit me.
WARNING: The ending of this post will throw you for a curve ball. And it might give you goosebumps. Readers be aware…
Remember when TripAdvisor Niumba asked me in an interview where I recommend that the world visits? Well, they weren’t the only ones to ask me this question. Many of you have asked,
“If you recommend one country to visit besides Spain, where would it be?”
So here it is. ISRAEL.
It was the year 2011, and I was a young and innocent 19-year-old. I remember stepping off the plane like it was yesterday. The cabin door swung open, and I immediately felt the hot desert air hit me like a ton of bricks. An unfamiliar, dry air like I’ve never felt before. There was something about that first gust of Israeli air. I took a big, deep yoga inhale (you know; in through the nose, out through the mouth) and that was it. I found my inner zen. Maybe it was the big yoga breath? But I don’t think so. I think it was that first sense of new air. The novel, dry dessert air entered my body, plummeted down to my lungs, and then slammed its way right into my heart. THE EXCITEMENT. My heart started doing Jersey-fist pumps out of my chest…and then the adrenaline came. I don’t know what took over me, but all of a sudden…I SCREECHED!
Yes, that actually happened. I got some serious “what the hell is wrong with this girl” looks. But I didn’t care. I was just so damn HAPPY (luckily for them, Pharrell William’s “Happy” didn’t exist back then, or I would’ve started to break out in song…)
Now, if that rush of excitement all happened before I even left the airport, you could imagine what the next 12 days in Israel had in store for me.
Before I share with you guys the 5 most incredibly incredible things about Israel, I have to state a brief, really, really really important disclaimer:
It’s a common misconception that many people of the world have. But there are sooo many incredible things about this beautiful country that have nothing to do with religion. So, if you’re Jewish, you should go. And if you’re not? You MUST go. Why? Well, read on…
And if that that view alone didn’t get ya’, I present to you…
The 5 Most Incredibly Awesome Things about Israel…& Why You Gotta Go.
Yes, it’s (almost) the same size as my little New Jersey! So, grab a car, hop on a bus, or if your feeling really ambitious…put on your sneakers and tie them tight, cause the entire country of Israel is waitin’ for ya! And it might be small, but it’s got lots for you to see. Actually, it’s got everything…
2) Mountains, beaches, desserts, cities…It’s got it all.
So you say you’re the hiking type, huh? Well, that’s perfect! You can hike up the ancient ruins of Masada,or through the EXTREMELY high, rocky cliffs of the Israel National Trail. Climbers be warned… I almost fell off. YEA. So just promise me, you’ll be careful…Or, you can head to the Negev Desert and hang out with a camel.
Sweatin’ up a storm? Cool off at one of the many waterfalls dispersed throughout the country. I went to the Golan Heights for my waterfall fix, and it was b-e-a-uuutiful!And wet. Orrrrrr, if you’re more of the the sit back, relax, and grab a fruity cocktail type, you’re also in luck! From the city-scaped bright blue beaches of bustling Tel Aviv, to the surf haven of Haifa, the Mediterranean and you are gonna become best friends, reallllll quick. And if swimming is too straining for you (I won’t judge)…FLOAT!! Yes, float. The Dead Sea is one the saltiest bodies of water in the world. So salty, in fact, that it’s denser than you. Hence, you float. Boats are soooo yesterday, anyway…
Needless to say, if you’re a history buff your gonna be like a kid in a candy shop. The country is COVERED in history. Literally. Everywhere you walk, there’s a story buried beneath you (and maybe even an old dude as seen in the Bible…??) And if your the type who history makes you want to curl up in a ball and take a nap? You won’t. The ancient ruins of Masada, the Western Wall of Jerusalem, and the Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial Museum will have you grasping on to every word, and then some. Don’t believe me? Take it from a girl who used to fall asleep in history class.
4) Schwarma. And Falafel.
Let’s define these two bad boys.
Shawarma [sh-warm-a]: (Similar to a kebab) A blend of beef, lamb, and other delicious meaty things that are slow grilled to perfection, cut off a vertical spinny cooker (actually called a “spit”), and served in a warm pita with cucumber, tomato, feta, hummus, etc.
Falafel [Fah-lah-full]: Spiced and blended chickpeas (a.k.a garbanzos) rolled into a delicious ball of love and seasonings, and then FRIED. Often served in a pita with similar ingredients to our good friend the shawarma (cucumbers, tomato, feta, hummus, tahini sauce, the works…)
These two guys are a reason in itself to go.
5) You get close with an Israeli, and your world will be turned upside down forever.
It just takes one. A good one, of course. But one. I was lucky enough to have been handed a kick a$$ group of Isaeli soldiers served to me on a silver platter. I was traveling through a program called Birthright, that sent Israeli soldiers to stay with us throughout our traventures across Israel.They were commanded to take a temporary break from their services in the army, but not to protect us. Just to hang out with us. Arent’t they just the cutest? Now, among this stellar group of 8, there were two that I really connected with. We’ll call them Moshe and Avi (real names changed for security purposes, ya’ know- safety first). And there is one memory in particular that I shared with them, which I will never, ever forget.
We were camping out in the Negev Dessert (…casual, I know). It was nighttime, and the stars were blazingly bright, yet the air was inexplicably still. There was a silence and peacefulness in the world around us that I have never felt. I was sitting in a circle with Moshe, Avi and my two best friends. We weren’t talking, just listening. We weren’t listening to each other; we were listening to the world. You know that really uncomfortable silence you feel when you’re with a group of people, and it makes you all nervous and squeamish inside? Well, it was the exact opposite. I have never felt more at peace with myself, or my surroundings in my life.
And then I look over at Avi. He is crying.
I break the silence, and ask him if he’s ok. He replies in his thick Israeli accent,
“It’s just that I haven’t heard silence like this…ever.”
He proceeds to tell us about his nightmares of hearing sounds of gunshots out his window at night. And how when he wakes up, he never knows if they were real, or just a dream. And how on more than one occasion…
They’ve been real.
And how almost every night he gets out of bed multiple times just to check on his mom, his sister, and his dog…just to make sure they are ok.
And then Moshe starts opening up. He tells us about the things he’s seen while fighting in war, and what it was like to be a child growing up with the certainty that one day he’d be a soldier too.
Some crazy deep stuff, I know…
But you wanna know the craziest thing of it all?
Despite the constant Israeli war reports broadcasted across US news station… despite Guacamommy’s spaztic day-long rants freaking out that she was never going to see me again… and despite the fact that big hunky soldiers with huge scary guns line the streets throughout the country…
I wasn’t scared once. And I learned that neither are the people of Israel. They live their life, and they don’t live it with an ounce of fear. Look at this picture and you tell me…Do these guys looks like they are living in fear?
NO! But they’ve seen more in this world than most of our wildest nightmares. It’s freakin’ amazing, really. And quite unexplainable. Avi explained that because of the things he’s seen, he feels fear more than most Israeli’s. But the majority of the time, even he feels peace.
I ain’t the oh-holy-spiritual-praise-thy-God type, but there’s something in the air. Israel’s air is special. It makes you feel safe, in the most unjustified way. Maybe it’s the spiritual thing? IDK. But one thing is for sure…