Free Travel reports from Israel

Middle East 8While many of our group chose to plan ahead and have a relaxing time, James, Tim, and I decided to leave much of our trip open-ended. The first day we spent at Tim’s uncle’s house in a town near Tel Aviv. All the people in that family were characters, and we had a good time listening and learning about the life of an Israeli family. In particular, Tim’s uncle Jon had many insights about Israeli culture compared to American culture. We then took a combination of busses to get to Nazareth to pick up some camping gear and pick up some tips from Dave Landis, and then the shores of the Sea of Galilee. In three days we hiked from the southern tip to the northern tip. Contrary to what you might think, each day was full of varied experiences. However, there was always one constant. Pita. It was our main source of energy, and despite the quantities eaten none of us are sick of it.

Our adventures around the Sea included a hike up to the ancient Roman city of Susita/Hippos, which may have been the inspiration for “a city on a hill cannot be hid”, as well as finding our way through fields of reeds, crossing streams almost up to our waist, stumbling upon grapefruits so ripe they fell off the tree (which we of course saved from going rotten), and generally being amazed at the luscious fields of wildflowers that had sprung up thanks to the rain of the previous week.

We ended the week by finding a ride with a friendly Israeli to Yehudiya N.R. with its beautiful waterfalls, exploring Tiberias, and relaxing at the hostel in Nazareth. Free travel was such a great experience, and I am so glad that we had the chance to have the responsibility of our own food, water, shelter, and transportation depend solely on ourselves in an area where we couldn’t always depend on using English.

-Joe Hochstetler


Students relax in the Abraham Hostel in Jerusalem Freedom. That’s what free travel is. This past week we all finally had absolutely complete freedom over our schedules and it was utter bliss. The group split into several smaller groups with some going to Turkey, some to Egypt, some hiking in Israel, Aly stayed with a somewhat local Jewish family, and Jamila, Joel and I went back to Palestine for a few

Going back over the wall was a very strange feeling. For me, it felt like coming home. Jamila and I stayed with my old host family, the Awwads, while Joel stayed with Samer (our tourguide). There were two boys from Sweden who were also staying with Samer and we ended up spending a lot of our week with them.

We went back to Hebron where we hung out at a demonstration. It was incredible to see Palestinian flags waving around as the people chanted for unity of Gaza and the West Bank. There is something completely beautiful about people peacefully protesting. Later, we sat with a shopkeeper, Mohammad, for a couple of hours while watching soldiers hold up Palestinians for no real reason. Mohammad told us about his 7 year old cousin who was found a week before in a well. Dead. Another innocent life was gone. He was afraid of the dark. His family doesn’t know why he was walking alone at night. I don’t know why anyone could kill a 7 year old.

Most of our time in Palestine was either completely relaxing or ridiculously fun with either our host family or our new Swedish friends. I was very sad to say goodbye on Thursday afternoon as we packed up and headed back over the wall. We spent the remainder of our time relaxing in Jerusalem with the Turkey people. It was so nice to walk around the city and not be pushed for time. On Saturday, our hostel had a Purim Party and some of us dressed up and had a lot of fun. Around midnight we went out with our Swedish friends to see what others were doing. We ended the night with a rather large dance party in the streets. Think of it as a huge Halloween party where everyone wants to have fun and celebrate the book of Esther.

Now the group is back together and we are continuing our study in Jerusalem. Some of us are glad to be back together while others long for the sunny beaches (it is currently raining here). Either way, we all had fantastic independent travels. We all got a bit wiser, or a least a bit more tan.

-Jamie Heiner