MICHA.ELMUELLER

 

Backpacking Israel

 

For two weeks of March I was backpacking in Israel. I flew there from Berlin and met up with some friends in Tel Aviv. I think this is the shortest vacation I had since a couple of years, but my work life constraints me in these terms now. Still, it was nice to travel again. Being able to float around, staying here and there, talking to people, taking photos, reading books, thinking about stuff.

Israel has been on my travel wishlist since a while now. Such a unique country; I’m never really sure how to grasp the whole Jewish culture. It seems like some mix of culture, religion, country, tribe. And the political situation makes for a very unique mindset of the people and their view on e.g. airport security, life, their country, etc.. If you have the time just read the Wiki article on the Six-Day War, it seems like a story straight out of Hollywood.

One of the things I enjoy most when travelling is to get up early in the morning, walk around in a city, sit down somewhere, get a coffee and breakfast, not doing much, just watching the city wake up for hours and hours, ordering another coffee, maybe read a bit, observe some more…chilling away the entire morning.
In Jerusalem I couldn’t sleep well and woke up very early in the mornings all the time. So I just walked around in the empty old city by myself. On the last day I ended up in the Jewish district at some kind of plaza and stayed there for a while, just watching the city wake up. In Jerusalem the unique thing is that on early mornings many orthodox Jews go to the Western Wall, return home and then go to work. It was somehow nice and calming to just sit there and observe this scenery.

There were some memorable conversations which stand out. One was with a woman of about my age. She studied at about the same time I did. I talked with her about the way the Israeli war with Gaza in 2014 affected her studies at university. The war had a major effect since her exams were always postponed due to attacks and she always started learning anew. That was quite a unique perspective.

The other conversation was with an 18-year old girl at a hippie gathering. She was very, very much full of life. I think I now understand why people tend to age slower when surrounded by young people. When I asked her about what makes up her mind she got quite emotional and talked about making art in order to feel like being alive. The things she said subsequently and that whole manner of having the immediate, very pressing urgency of creating something was a character trait which reminded me a lot of myself a couple of years ago. In the subsequent days I thought a lot about this conversation.

We visited a number of cities, with Tel Aviv standing out to me. What a vibrant city! Full of life! Seems quite similar to Berlin in the summer. Restaurants and bars halfway on the streets with loud non-mainstream music, many young people, alternative vibe, interesting people.

Israel is such a small country and travelling around in the Bus is cheap and easy. Wherever you go, it’s never far. We at most had bus rides of 2-3 hours. We also hitchhiked for a bit, which was really easy (even easier than in Germany). I was surprised by the Sabbath, which is taken quite seriously. Each week, on early Friday afternoon, most shops, restaurants, supermarkets, transportation facilities, etc. close down until Saturday after sundown.

Other stuff which stood out to me was the West Bank. We went to Bethlehem and I was surprised by the height of the wall, it is much higher than the Berlin wall was. And sadly it’s not just a relic of the past there, but rather an active part of everyday life there.

Besides those bigger cities we were also in smaller ones — Clil was a small, laid back town in the North with a focus on sustainable living. The houses there are off the grid and you can buy fresh homegrown vegetables directly from gardens. We did some hiking there and cooked each evening.

We were also in a town near the Sea of Galilee. A guy in the hostel there approached a friend and me, he said we looked like “fresh out of India” and that there was a hippie gathering at a river somewhere nearby. Of course we went there :-). In the past I have been to similar events in Mexico and Guatemala. It was very nice to attend something like this again. Music, families with children, vegan food, community kitchen, nice conversations, easy to talk to people, a place where you can take some time off from the real world out there.

The co-existence of two different cultures in one country is interesting to observe. It is a bit sad though. There seems to be little assimilation or effort to bring the Arab and Jewish culture closer together. In the majority of cases even schools are separated. It seems obvious that it’s hard for adults in both cultures to live peacefully together when they grow up separately from childhood on.

Another city which we visited was Jisr az-Zarqa, a 100% Arab village at the coast (the last Arab village at the Israeli coast). This felt a lot like being back in Morocco. Jisr has one of the highest (if not the highest) school dropout rates in the country (the criminality rate is similarly bad). We stayed in a hostel there and the host had to calculate 5% discount for us. He took a calculator and did this in a very complicated manner with a lot of intermediate results (instead of calculating “price * 0.95”). I guess it’s hard to see the value of education if most of the people you know don’t see it as well. There are few role models with a good education. Timo currently does his Ph.D. in a niche area of realtime systems on the intersection of computer science and electrical engineering. It’s already hard to describe his research to many people in Germany, but to explain what he does to people with such an early school dropout rate would be so alien to their view on the world that I can’t possibly imagine how they could form any understanding of the subject. I think education is really important to enable these people economic independence and reduce criminality and even though there are now a myriad of tools (Wikipedia, Khan Academy, Duolingo, Coursera, etc.) available, the bigger and more underlying problem here might be that people just haven’t learned to see the value of it.

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

One Bag Israel

 

If you’re a bit into travel blogs, minimalism, one bag philosophy, vagabonds, or digital nomads you will soon stumble upon one of those packaging lists where people elaborate on the stuff they take with them when travelling. I like to read those lists, considerations, and reflections. In this post I have compiled one such list for a short, two week backpacking trip to Israel.

In similar lists and reviews I have sometimes read stuff like this (original quotes):

Comment on an extensive packaging list for a trip to Asia:
Thanks for sharing! If you were to look back, would you have taken less?
Answer:
Actually built this over the last year, but haven’t gone on the big trip yet…

I don’t understand how you can compile a list of tips for stuff to take with you or review a product without having actually used it? So, well I have written this post only *after* I actually went to Israel. I have included some names of products in the post, though I did so hesitantly and only for stuff which I found worth mentioning.

  • Map with documents.
    Copy of health insurance, list with addresses of family/friends, copy of vaccination records, biometric photos, international drivers license, address and telephone number of German embassy, pen + some plain sheets of paper, blood donor card (it contains information about the blood group).
    The vaccination records are required by some countries to let you immigrate and even if they don’t require them, it’s still a good idea to have them with you in case of emergencies. Biometric photos can be required for all kinds of things (in India for a lot of stuff, e.g. to buy a SIM card).
  • 30 USD.
    Since a while I always carry 30 USD as immediate cash for emergencies when travelling (e.g. when I can’t find a working ATM). In all foreign countries where I have been to it was always extremely easy to exchange USD to a native currency. I usually also have some Euros in cash with me.
  • A small, watersealed bag with various small items.
    Rope (to make a clothes line), clothes peg, gaffa tape, Sugru (formable glue), power converter, Smartphone + charger, lighter, pocket knife, lock, flashlight (Fenix LD12), backup battery for flashlight, small mirror, case to store glasses, ear plugs, flexible strap (to e.g. attach stuff to the backpack).

    Also I always have some fresh waste bags with me. They can be used for all kinds of stuff: to wrap liquid stuff and prevent it from leaking, wrapping flip flops before putting them inside the bag, as a way to collect clothes from the washing machine, or — of course — as a waste bag.

    Since a while I always have foldable coat hangers with me, they are quite small and it’s easy to hang stuff to dry or just to let clothes gain some fresh air.

  • Large Microfiber Towel.
    Lightweight, dries fast.
  • Something to eat.
    Nuts or a muesli bar (a Cliff Bar usually). Something which can survive heat and being buried in the backpack. I found it calming to always know: I have something to eat with me. For example, if there are no shops open when arriving somewhere I will still have something with me. For long bus rides it’s also comforting to have something small as a backup.
  • Analog camera + 5 films + throwaway camera as backup.
    I separate the used from the fresh films by storing them in two different, small, labelled vacuum bags (Noaks Bags). The films should always go in your hand luggage (see this site of Kodak on why).
  • One long trouser (which I wore), one short one (which it was too cold for), one swimming trunk (which it was also too cold for). Some shirts, sleeves, underwear, a normal jacket, and a lightweight, foldable rain jacket.

    I usually don’t take thick pullovers and instead go for a layered approach of wearing multiple layers when it gets cold. This way I need to carry less stuff. I usually have some Icebreaker merino shirts with me, they are very comfortable in hot and cold climate and they dry fast. Also: wherever I go, I always take long thermal underwear with me. And I always carry a scarf and a hat. Even when it is hot, bus rides or train rides might still be windy. Carrying a hat is easy, it doesn’t have a lot of weight or take a lot of space — but if you’re cold a hat can already help a lot, since your body evaporates a lot of heat via the head.
    I always have two vacuum bags with me (by Nordisk), in which I store all clothing: one for clean clothes and one for dirty ones. The vacuum bags keep them properly separated.

  • Flip Flops.
  • Kindle.
    An eBook reader has an immense value to me when travelling. Sure, books have their pros, the feeling of reading a worn-down, color faded paperback is of course nice. But books also take up a lot of space. In previous journeys I often went through 2-4 books and they were often taking up way too much space. One time I had a book with me and realized after a couple of pages that it wasn’t working for me, I then put it away and went on the sad search for an appealing alternative in Thailand’s outback. The Kindle solves all these issues and I think the pros outweigh the cons.
  • Foldable, lightweight backpack.
    For walking around in the city and not having to carry the bigger backpack everywhere. I use one by North Face (the Flyweight) which has a clever feature: The pouch (in which it is kept in the packed state) is integrated in the backpack in a nice way when it is expanded; it then functions as a theft protection pouch, since it isn’t easily accessible when someone unzips the backpack.
  • Foldable, lightweight blanket.
    I used it for picnics and sitting at the beach.
  • Some medical stuff, band-aid, rubber gloves, something against insect bites.
    I store these things in one vacuum bag as well.
  • Ethnotek 46l backpack + rain cover for it.
  • Bag with toiletries, handkernchiefs, and sun protection.
  • Wallet.
    Two credit cards of different providers. Organ donor card.
  • Passport.
    The most important thing last :-).

That’s it. Not that spectacular, but that’s how it should be. Minimalistic. I quite enjoy that it takes me maybe 5-10 minutes to pack everything up when leaving the hostel. I have reflected over each item and thought about why I take it with me.

And now the list of all the things I should have taken ;-):
I didn’t take my hiking shoes with me, but I should have. It would probably have been best to solely take them with me, but I don’t really like the style of them when walking around in cities or going out in the evenings.

About Me

I am a 29 year old techno-creative enthusiast who lives and works in Berlin. In a previous life I studied computer science (more specifically Media Informatics) at the Ulm University in Germany.

I care about exploring ideas and developing new things. I like creating great stuff that I am passionate about.

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