The 7 days at sea on a Grimaldi Lines cargo vessel went very peacefully. There was no internet so I caught up on some writing, watched lots of movies and ate lots of pasta. Luckily there were two other passengers on board – Ingrid and Peter from Germany so I at least had somebody to talk to during the voyage.
Getting into Israel
I’d been hearing lots of stories about how difficult immigration can be in Israel and I was a bit worried that I might also encounter problems. My concerns were unfortunately confirmed.
After our arrival in Ashdod, I had to stay on the ship and wait for the immigration officers. Finally, after a few hours, a group of people came on board to interview everyone on the ship – the crew and all the passengers regardless of whether they were getting off in Israel or not.
My biggest worry was the fact that I’d been to Iran which could be a reason for not letting me into Israel. I used my “clean” Polish passport which had no visas from the Middle East, blindly thinking that would solve the problem. After a long, very intimidating interview answering all the questions: where I’d been to, what I was up to and where I’d got my money from, the officers searched my cabin and went through the files on my laptop before they then disappeared for a few hours. These hours felt like forever and I had a feeling my visa would be rejected and I was already panicking: how the hell am I going to get to Africa if I can’t get off the ship. Finally, a couple of officers returned on board to interview me again in an even more intimidating way. This time I knew they had read my blog and been through my social media – all the questions started again:
Which Arabic countries have you been to?
Hmm… Arabic?… I haven’t been to any Arabic countries yet.
Haven’t you been to Iran?
Iran is not an Arabic country! They’re Persians. Are you asking me which Muslim countries I have been to? Plenty: Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, Iran, Azerbaijan, Bosnia… so many!
And there were a whole lot of questions: why, with whom, when. And sure I understood why they needed to know all of that, but their aggressive tone really pushes your buttons. At some point they got me and I lost my temper, I just couldn’t help myself and told them that I’d crossed so many borders in this world and I’ve never been so intimidated in my life. I travel around the world on a motorcycle and I want to see as many countries as possible and it’s not my problem that they don’t get along with some of them. After these words, I bit my tongue and thought there’s no way they’re going to let me into Israel now. The officers left again, and again I had to wait a few hours without knowing what was going on. I was devastated and so stressed out. And finally, after dinner, the officers came back on board with my passport in their hand and a smile on their faces – “Welcome to Israel Ms Tanajewska”. I can’t express how relieved and happy I felt at that moment! Woohoo – I’m in!!!
Of course, it was already too late to get off the ship, all the port offices were already closed. I stayed in my cabin one more night while the ship was unloading.
The next day Koby, an agent who was organised by the Grimaldi Lines company came on board to pick me up and to help me with all the paperwork before another problem arose. To exit port, I needed insurance for my motorbike which couldn’t be purchased at the port. So I had to get a lift to Tel Aviv to get that insurance. Israeli insurance is the most expensive in the world, at that stage, I thought I’m going to have to return to Israel from Jordan so to save myself future headaches I paid 283 Euros for 2 months, ouch! And by the time I came back to the port, it was already late Thursday afternoon which means the weekend was about to start and I couldn’t finish my paperwork until Sunday. Oh, the humanity!
So here’s the rundown of my costs for the shipping and all the other fees:
Grimaldi Lines ship (7 days on the sea, transport of the bike, cabin, all meals) 827 €
Port agent fee 130€
Port fee (including bike parking for 2 nights) 84€
Insurance for the bike 283€
Taxi to Tel Aviv to get insurance 50€
So yeah I paid a lot but if your bike is registered in Europe you can get an extension on your green card for Israel and that will be a big saving.
Although getting into Israel was very stressful in my case, that was the first and last negative experience in this country. Once Chillie was out of the port I just had the best time there. Israel is one of the kindest countries and I’m so glad I made it there – it was an eye-opening experience and helped me understand this nation on many different levels.
My first taste of Israel started in Tel Aviv where I was hosted by Achinoam and Noam – the best hosts I could ever dream of – such a friendly and caring couple and they are riders! Their home was my main base and every now and then I would wander off for a little ride and due to torrential rains, I would go back there and wait for better weather. Also there I experienced my first Hanukkah and wow I must say – there’s lots of singing involved during this celebration (and I got it all on camera, you gotta see my YouTube video!)
A few years ago Achinoam crossed Africa solo on a BMW F700GS from Cape Town, South Africa to Kenya and back. She’s one of the youngest women ever to do such a trip. At the moment Achinoam is focused on finishing her law degree and rally racing. She’s such a legend!
And let’s not forget their dog Paco and his hypnotic blue eyes! He could get a little cranky and bailed me up once or twice, but we’re still friends.
As for Tel Aviv, I’m just going to say wow! What I imagined about Israel was completely different from what I witnessed, especially Tel Aviv, it’s just something else – this city never sleeps. It’s not massively overpopulated (only 430k people live there), but it’s modern, vibrant and cosmopolitan. It’s got great beaches and a relaxed atmosphere – it reminds me a little of Sydney.
Jaffa was my favourite area of Tel Aviv – narrow streets and courtyards, small unique boutiques, design shops and great restaurants and vibes!
Testing My New Home
Finally, I had a two-day gap without rain. Perfect! I finally got to test out my new tent from Lone Rider. I packed Chillie light and rode to the Carmel Forest. MapsMe showed me a camping area that looked quite appealing. The campsite looked more like a picnic area with toilets. I asked the family which was just having lunch at the picnic table if I was allowed to camp there. Sure you can they said. So I happily set up my brand new tent and sat down to admire the sunset and my flash new home. This is the life! Suddenly a park ranger stopped their car near me.
What are you doing here?
Ehm, I’m camping.
You’re not allowed to camp here at this time of the year, we’re still closed for the season.
Oh no, sorry I didn’t realise. Do you think it’ll be ok if I stay here for the night?
Ok, but I have to lock the gate so you won’t be able to get out until 8 am tomorrow. And if my boss asks you tomorrow what you’re doing here, you never saw me, you set up your tent after I left!
Well, too easy. I love the Israelis and their relaxed attitude. And this way I had a great undisturbed night.
As for my new home – I love it! It’s more spacious and durable compared to my last one so hopefully it will last longer…
There is no other place like Jerusalem – a city of tradition, religion, and history. It is one of the oldest cities in the world and is considered holy to three major religions—Judaism, Christianity and Islam. I did go for a walk on the Old City Walls Promenade to get a better feel for the heart of Jerusalem.
Where you can throw your legs in the air like you just don’t care!
Millions of people visit the Western Wall every year, which is one of Judaism’s holiest sites. They leave written prayers on pieces of paper wedged into the cracks of the ancient stones.
The Muslim quarter is also very unique but a bit challenging to wander. The tight, super crowded streets are hustling and bustling, It’s a wonder of sights, sounds and smells.
At the end of the day, I was buggered. Jerusalem is very crowded and super expensive so for the night I went to Bethlehem, another historic city with great religious significance.
Bethlehem is only 10km from Jerusalem in the West Bank/Palestinian Territory. To get there I had to go through an army checkpoint where my passport was checked. These days only non-Israelis can enter the West Bank/Palestinian Territory.
There are two main reasons to visit Bethlehem these days — the Christian religion and street art religion. The first one is quite obvious to everyone – it’s the biblical birthplace of Jesus, but the second one is experiencing the artwork on The Wall. The Wall is the Israeli barrier with the West Bank/Palestinian Territory and ever since famed British street artist Banksy chose the city for some of his works of political commentary, The Wall in Bethlehem has been covered in graffiti slogans and murals.
The next day I rode through the West Bank/Palestinian Territory and enjoyed the views. It felt serene and peaceful…
The Dead Sea
As I was getting closer to the Dead Sea I was going deeper and deeper into the earth…
And finally, I reached the Dead Sea!
The Dead Sea is really more of a landlocked lake rather than a true sea, its surface is 423 m below sea level which makes it Earth’s lowest elevation on land. It’s also recognised as one of the saltiest bodies of water on Earth. Because of the high salt content of the water swimming here is a one of a kind experience – you actually float on top of the surface of the water.
Due to high concentrations of salts and minerals, the Dead Sea mud has been used for all sorts of medical treatments – it promotes blood circulation, relaxes your nerves and has anti-aging properties – sounds like it’s perfect for me!
The Dead Sea shore has lots of hidden gems. Any kind of accommodation here is super expensive but there is a way to enjoy it all for free if you are a little adventurous…
Secret Camping Spot (Metzoke Dragot Nude Beach)
You can hardly find any info about this place online. Someone along the way recommended this special place full of hippies to me and to my surprise, nude peeps, cause it turns out its an unofficial nude beach as well. You can just set up your tent anywhere you feel like, there are no utilities but great views! There are also freshwater springs in which you can bath after a dip in the Dead sea. Perfect camping in my opinion!
Einot Kedem Hot Springs
These hot springs are 9 km South of the Secret Camping Spot. There is a bit of a steep walk from the parking area near the sign “Ein Kedem”. There are two hot springs next to each other – one is burning hot so it’s a no go and the other is not so hot, but still, 10 minutes in it will be enough. It feels a bit like bathing in mortar with sulphur, but hey… it’s good for you! There is no freshwater around so it’s important to take water bottles with you to wash the sulphur off, otherwise, your skin will be oily and achy after the dip.
Abend Military Barracks Art
Some Abandoned Jordanian army barracks on the northern Dead Sea shore have been recently painted by artists. I rode through this area by chance and I wish I could find out more about this place. Unfortunately, there isn’t much information available online but it’s definitely worth seeing this clever art.
Staying in towns was out of the question – accommodation in Israel is super expensive, generally speaking everything is expensive here! But the good thing about Israel is you can camp pretty much everywhere for free. The iOverlander app showed me a few wild camping spots near Haifa but they weren’t really suitable for the bike and tent. Ok, I need to get out of the city and after a bit of poking around, I found this little spot at the picnic area near Beit Oren. And again, there was no one around. Just perfect!
The next morning I quickly packed up early so I didn’t get into trouble, then I headed to the hairdressing salon to have my hair done. It’s kinda an important thing while on the road. And voila this was the outcome 3 hours later (yes, that’s not a typo – it takes 3 hours and lots of patience to do my hair).
And I was good to go, off to see more of Haifa. Haifa is Israel’s third-largest city set on the slopes of Mount Carmel facing the Mediterranean Sea. You can also have your bike shipped here with other shipping providers and apparently, the port officers are much more relaxed compared with Ashdod.
A must-see here is the Baha’i Gardens which is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The Gardens go from the top of the mountain to the bottom, built around the shrine that hosts the body of the founder of the Bahai faith. There are lots of steps to do the walk through the garden, which was way too many for my healing leg so I just admired the view from the top!
At the bottom of the Baha’i Gardens, there is another interesting location – The German Colony which was established in Haifa in 1868 and these days is lined with trendy cafes, restaurants, and boutiques.
25km further north there is another historic town – Acre, which is well known for its well-preserved old city walls. I only stopped there to take a pic.
Along the Borders
Ok, enough of the cites! I followed the coastal road to the border with Lebanon. Unfortunately, this is the closest I ever got to Lebanon. Crossing into Lebanon from Israel is impossible unfortunately these days.
Northern Israel is very lush and green. The ride along the Lebanese border was very scenic.
At the end of the day, it was time to look for a campsite again. The closest site on Maps Me I could find was Horvat Hamama Camping at Mount Meron. Again a free camping site that looked more like a picnic area and there was no one around – just perfect!
The next morning I wanted to get as close as possible to the Syrian border so I rode up to Mount Hermon which is a ski resort (yeah I was also surprised to find out you can ski in Israel) to admire the views of Syria…. tada… how’s the serenity?
Sea of Galilee
The Sea of Galilee is in fact, a freshwater lake and not just a normal one either. It’s the lowest in the world, over 200m below sea level and it also has biblical importance – here was where Jesus walked on water. The landscapes here are breathtaking – the water in the lake is bright blue, and the surrounding mountains are pinkish. At sunset, it looks very epic.
Noam had recommended me a restaurant in the area “They serve the best steaks in Israel” he said. Well, who am I to say no!
The Merinado Restaurant looks quite low key, prices… well, pretty standard for Israel (read expensive). But Noam was right – their steaks are amazing! It’s been a long time since I had such a delicious meal!
I desperately wanted to camp at the Sea of Galilee that night. It was off-season so all the camping grounds in the area were closed so there was no other way but to break into one of them to get close to the water. After a little recon, I found this little spot!
The weather forecast didn’t look promising. There were big storms coming for the next few days so I decided to head back to Tel Aviv to stay dry. Which was perfect timing, Achinoam took me to a little get-together. It was just an annual casual catch up of local travellers, they did some great presentations and it was so good to be surrounded by like-minded people.
The Negev Desert is just wow and it pretty much covers the Southern half of Israel. All the roads in Israel are in great condition so it was a very relaxing ride amongst such beautiful nature.
And it’s time to introduce you to this special place in the middle of nowhere – The Naot Farm! A couple of adventure riders Lea and Gadi decided in 2003 to settle down here in the desert far away from the city, water or electricity. It took a lot of years and hard work to build this incredible and unique place. These days the Noat Farm is a dairy farm which produces various cheeses made with milk from goats that they breed. There are also 4 large cabins with splash pools and for low budget accommodation, the Tube Hostel was created.
The Tube Hostel was built from unused stormwater pipes. The tubes internals are very simple – they’re fitted with a comfortable double bed and AC, that’s it, well that’s all you really need. You probably know my fascination with concrete by now so you can imagine how excited I was to sleep in one of these!
There is plenty of chill-out area in front of the tubes, you can have a fire or a nap on a hammock. Bathroom and showers are outdoors – literally, the showers don’t have a roof so you can admire the milky way during your shower at night. As for the toilets you have plenty of privacy… in the concrete tubes of course!
A Kibbutz is a community in Israel that is traditionally based around agriculture. There are over 360 kibbutzim in Israel these days. Their factories and farms account for 40% of its agricultural output. The idea of a Kibbutz is based on socialism, all the members are equal, they all get the same amount of money, the community gives them accommodation, medical support and education for the kids. Kibbutz members have different jobs in the community, whether in the fields, kitchen or kindergarten.
For someone who grew up in communist Poland the idea of collective farming was familiar to me but what I witnessed in Israel was hard to believe. Unlike the Polish “PGR” or Soviet “Kolkhoz”, this system works and it’s very prosperous. Many Kibbutim pursuits have led to great successes and they gross several million dollars a year.
I was invited to Kibbutz Yotvata by the world traveller Avi. After a one year round the world trip on his trusty BMW R1150GS Avi returned back to Israel to continue his life in Kibbutz. Avi works here as a metal craftsman and he’s also an artist. His workshop is full of creative sculptures.
Avi gave me a little tour around the settlement and gave me some insights about his life at the farm. It’s quite incredible to see how they created such a successful dairy factory in the middle of the desert and developed it so perfectly, everything works so well!
All the members work and contribute to running the Kibbutz and in return, they get paid based on the size of their family not on their job. Their basic living necessities such as food and accommodation are provided free, members don’t pay any bills. All meals are eaten in the kibbutz dining hall. There is also a carpark full of cars for everyone to share.
Unfortunately, I only spent one night there because I was in a rush to get to Jordan. Avi joined me on my trip to Eljat where we met some other riders. We had a nice chat in the cafe and then rode down to the Taba border.
I’d decided not to have a go at this border cause apparently 99% of overlanders get rejected here because of the unstable situation in the North Sinai of Egypt. Now I know it was a good decision – having a stamp from the Taba border would’ve caused me a headache later on in Sudan. Although Israel doesn’t stamp your passport, the Egyptian Taba stamp would indicate that I’ve been to Israel which could be a reason for rejection at the Sudanese border. Politics in the Middle East are kinda complicated and frustrating, but you have to be aware of it all if you decide to travel here.
Duration: 13 days (3-15th December 2018)
Total km’s: 1503km