Caitlin Wood shares her recent experience of joining our Walking in Palestine tour.
Palestine – what an incredible and eye opening part of the world! Split between the West Bank consisting of chaotic cities, ancient biblical sites and beautiful desert landscapes, and Gaza – a war ravaged strip sealed by Israel and Egypt which is currently off limits for travellers. Recently I was fortunate enough to travel to the West Bank, get off the beaten track and witness what this incredible part of the world has to offer. Below I explore some of the highlights of my travels to the Palestinian Territories, a destination that often hits the headlines for the wrong reasons but is truly such a welcoming and hospitable place to visit.
1.The city of Nablus
I began my travels in Nablus, a bustling, vibrant and exciting city set in a valley between Mount Ebal and Mount Gerizim. Nablus is a hotbed of Palestinian activism, with its central square covered in banners, flags and posters of martyrs, those killed in the decade-long conflict with Israel. This was a confronting experience at first because I was saddened to witness the daily struggles of the Palestinian people but I was soon reassured with what an amazing place this was with all of the local people approaching with smiles saying “Welcome!”, “How are you?” and “I hope you enjoy your time in Nablus!”. To see how happy and proud they were of Nablus, made me feel so welcome and at home.
As I continued my travels through Nablus, one of the highlights that stood out to me was their stunningly beautiful Old City. It is known to be very similar to Jerusalem’s, just without all of the tourists (in fact, I think we were the only tourists in Nablus!) As our group made our way through the beautiful old town streets, we explored some of Nablus’ famous soap factories, vibrant and fresh fruit and vegetable markets, the local Bath Houses and the bustling old town markets just to name a few. We also tried Kunafeh, a syrupy wheat and cheese pastry which is absolutely delicious and famous throughout the Middle East.
2. Hiking Abraham’s Path
Another highlight of my travels through the Palestinian territories was partaking in a five day hike along Abraham’s Path. I started my journey in the small village of Awarta and hiked to Bethlehem covering a distance of approximately 70km across the five days. I had previously not done much hiking making this a very daunting experience, but it is safe to say that hiking is my new favourite hobby and the trek turned out to be more enjoyable than tiring because of the copious amounts of super sugary Palestinian tea we were given for energy!
Some highlights of Abraham’s Path included walking alongside Shepard’s with their flocks of sheep, spotting donkey’s and mountain goats amongst the rocky mountains, taking in the stunning scenery and landscapes along the way from desert landscapes to beautiful mountains and gorges which encompass the trail. I was so amazed at how beautiful the West Bank is and even more impressed that we had this beautiful part of the world to ourselves.
3. Overnight Bedouin Community Stay
We spent the night in black goat hair tents, learning about the Bedouin culture and traditions. We were welcomed by the Bedouin people with copious amounts of delicious Palestinian food, kids running up laughing and high-fiving us and not to forget the incredible sunset accompanied by a clear outlook into the night sky filled with stars and a full moon. This was definitely one of my favourite experiences of the trip because it is not often that you have the chance to spend the night camping out in the desert in such an untouched part of the world!
It reached 8:30pm and our whole group had fallen asleep after a strenuous day of hiking. In hindsight, this early bed time was definitely a good thing because little did we know we would be up at 4am due to the Bedouin people milking their goats, roosters crowing, donkey’s eeyoring and of course the snores of fellow travellers (no need for an alarm clock over here!). However, it was all still worth it to witness the astonishing sunrise to start our days. The Bedouin people are some of the most welcoming, warm and generous people who educated us deeply about their simple way of life!
Whilst the media may portray this region as a war torn destination, my recent experience challenged this view because I have never been to such a beautiful destination that has so much to offer and where the locals are so kind and generous. If you are looking for a truly unique and authentic travel experience for your next getaway, I would definitely recommend Crooked Compass’s Walking in Palestine small group tour!
This category of tours involves light trekking, walking, cycling, rafting or kayaking for a few hours each day with a small amount of inclines and declines. You will require a reasonable level of fitness and good health to participate. It is important to note that due to the nature of some of our trips, they may take place in remote areas (with basic facilities) and can involve long travelling days on various modes of transport.
Suggested preparation : At least 3 months prior to departure, it is recommended that you undertake aerobic exercise (this may include jogging, cycling or fast walking) for 30 minutes, three times a week. It is also advised to walk on variable terrain and in variable weather conditions. For a cycling adventure, road cycling twice a week is recommended and for adventures which involve paddling and kayaking, it is important to gain confidence and rhythm rather than speed prior to departure.
This category of tours involve trekking, kayaking and cycling for period of 6 to 8 hours a day at a fairly consistent pace. Ideal for people looking to slightly increase the heart rate. For our moderately rated tours, you must have a good level of fitness and also be in good health. It is also important to be prepared for variable weather conditions. Altitude may also come into play. This category of tours may involve visiting remote areas where facilities can be quite basic. Accommodation may also involve camping, homestays or basic accommodation where facilities may not be considered of western standards. To enjoy this style of travel, it is suggested for travellers to have a reasonable level of fitness and health, a positive attitude, as well as a fairly active lifestyle. An open mind is also required.
Suggested preparation: At least 3 months prior to departure, it is recommended that you undertake 45mins – 1 hour of aerobic exercise, three to four times a week. Some potential exercises that could be beneficial include hill walking with a backpack on over variable terrain and weather conditions, as well as running and cycling dependent on the activity you plan on undertaking.
This category of tours involves trekking, kayaking, cycling or other adventure activities in remote areas for up to 8 to 10 hours a day. It is important to note that with the remoteness of some regions comes a variety of other challenges such as variable weather conditions, accommodation as well as facilities. You must have an excellent level of fitness and good health to be able to partake in this category of tour. You must have confidence in your own ability and be in good physical condition. Includes extended periods of endurance.
Suggested preparation: At least 3 to 4 months of strenuous exercise, four times a week. When preparing for treks it would be beneficial to participate in hill walks with a weighted day pack (approximately 5-8 kg) once a week for aerobic fitness and strengthening of leg muscles. It is also important to do this on variable terrain to prepare for challenging adventures. When preparing for cycling adventures, regular bike riding (at least 4 to 5 times a week for 1-4 hours is essential). It is also important to cycle on uneven surfaces or even participate in other aerobic exercises such as running or swimming to build up strength and stamina. Altitude may also be a factor in these tours.
This category of tour often involves extreme trekking, cycling or other extreme adventure activities. It is important to expect remote and poorly defined tracks and to be prepared for variable weather conditions for 10 to 12 hours per day (may sometimes be more depending on weather and altitude). These adventures are suitable for travellers who have prior experience in strenuous travel and activities, are extremely fit and have excellent health. It is also important to note that some of the terrain on these adventures will involve trekking in snow, at high attitude levels and may require technical equipment.
Suggested preparation: It is important to note that physical fitness should be an ongoing activity, commencing around 5-6 months prior to departure, or even before if you have no prior fitness. Exercise should focus on building maximum endurance and stamina. Four to five hard sessions of 40-60 mins per week should be completed and can include exercises such as going to the gym, running, swimming or cycling to focus on building aerobic stamina. It could also be beneficial to prepare by hiking on rough terrain, in extreme weather conditions or partake in altitude training.