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January / February 2019

Cycling through Israel was like a journey into endless patterns of dissimilarity. Multiculturalism and landscape diversity bombarded me with such stimuli, so intensely, that it even put me into trance. Contrast of the information heard with reality, as usual during bicycle trips, was a pleasant and positive surprise. This solo trip was not only an expedition through completely new environments, but also a realization of how dependent these environments are.

Who-What-How

  • Riders: Rafal Ramatowski

  • Distance: roughly 900 km

  • Duration: 9 days of touring

  • Gear: TRESHOMBRES the WOLFBORN

1.
After a few days of relaxation, good food and even better company in Tel Aviv, I arrived by bus in Eilat in the south of the country, where I planned the start the journey.
It was supposed to be a trip together with Richard, with whom we had previously explored Cyprus, but due to other duties Rich could not fly to Eilat.
On January 26, around 11 am I set out on a lonely road north into the unknown. As usual, I have planned a route so far, taking into account daily distances and more or less points in which searching for camp spots seemed sensible. Nevertheless, it was clear that reality would change this plan a bit..
Initial route planned for 9 days of bikepacking in Israel
1. Israel, the Southern District
I set off on a way quite late that day, supplying myself with everything I needed in this quite indulgent city, which is Eilat, and started a long climb to the highlands of the Negev desert.
I had to take into account the fact, that the days are not too long, and the first bigger city, Mitspe Ramon, is 160km away. The first day was getting pretty intense, but at the same time I was so pumped to go all the way to the desert and a fascinating road along the Egyptian border, I didn't care about the the 2,5 km of elevation waiting for me.
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The route through Negev made me so excited right away! Emptiness, raw rocks rising higher and higher and the ideal temperature of about 20 degrees gave me a proper emotional kick! After the first dozens of kilometers, high fences dividing Egypt and Israel appeared on the left.
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I got to Mitspe Ramon good 2 hours after sunset and really enjoyed the food and new water supplies after that demanding day! Earlier, looking at the map, I found a small grove about 5 km south of the city, where I decided to go and camp. This first night I spent alone with nature and unimaginably clear stars in the sky.
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It was not until the next day that I saw Mitspe Ramon majestically! Amazing gorges and canyons really made an impression! I packed the camp quickly and went to town for breakfast.
Desert landscapes and vast ravines accompanied me most of the day, almost in an extreme way! I could not resist and decided to move along the vast ravines further.
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Photos won't give you the vibe and adrenaline I felt riding the ledges of those canyons, but the video below might do!
That day i kept strolling through deserted and empty landscapes, stopping in some ancient temples on the way, until I reached my night spot just before the dusk came upon.
I was totally blown by the experiences of that day! Incredible, extreme cycling and the camp spot I found on the edge of a massive canyon.
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It was the early morning however, that revealed the full glory of this location...
2. Palestine
I had several dozen kilometers ahead of me that day, after which I had to leave the eastern mountain range of the Judean Desert down to the Jordan Valley and along the Dead Sea further north to Palestine. What I experienced that day exceeded all my expectations. I was not aware that my path to the Jordan Valley would be led by the ancient fortification of Masada, placed majestically on top of a rock plateau. The road to Masada was like a bicycle fairy tale! perfect road, many many swichbacks, total lack of traffic and a strong back wind! After reaching Masada, I was forced to hike up with the bike to the plateau, but the views from above were worth every effort!
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After spending good 2 hours on the top, gazing at the surreal views, I made myself on the long decent on the Snake Path, down to the lower station. I carried my bicycle, as riding was forbidden. I finally got there and waited under the palms until the huge angry rain cloud passes by. Now I was about to cycle into Palestine and reach the northern tip of the Dead Sea.
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Let me sum up this stage of my journey with a short video illustrating the road from the mountain area down to Masada.
I reached my destination after a long road along the western shore of the Dead Sea, unfortunately already after sunset. This part of the road got me tired. At a distance of about 80 km there were virtually no shops or gas stations, so I had to endure with an empty stomach. To make things worse, it started raining, but fortunately I managed to find some abandoned buildings of a former Jewish village, where I decided to spend the night. The next morning greeted me with sunshine so I rushed with a new motivation to Jericho for a Palestinian breakfast!
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I spent three hours in Jericho, relaxing in the central square in the sunshine, sipping coffee and smoking with a nice local man. I needed such peace after the previous day.
In the end, however, came the moment to go on the road. For a long time I wondered whether to go further north the Jordan Valley, or visit Jerusalem, which was only 40km to the west. Apparently close, like no great effort. So I decided to do it. As it turned out later, the road to Jerusalem was both a paradise and hell. First it was paradise, because the first 15 km I ventured through a beautiful desert road, climbing to empty, breathtaking mountains. On the way, I came to a place that will remain in my head forever - the Monastery of Saint George. A place in a desert landscape, which looked like the last forgotten bastion of life.
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Now comes the hell part! I reached the one and only road to Jerusalem from Jericho, the highway no 1. Suddenly a fact hit me! Jerusalem lies on roughly 700 m above the sea level. The problem is, the Dead Sea is 400m below the sea level! The highway 1 was literally a rough climb for more then 30km, with 3 lanes of wildly roaring cars, buses and tracks. It was a NOT A PLEASURE to slowly climb on the side lane for more then 2 hours in the desert, in the sun. Sadly I have not captured a single photo from this delicious section (surprise). I got to Jerusalem at around 2 pm. A super busy city with complicated network of roads and thousands of people on every corner. I decided however to dive with my bike into the old city center, made a quick look and realised, I have just 2 hours max to get out of the city and look for a camp spot. I decided to go even higher up the mountains to Ramallah, which seemed a bit off the main chaos.
I was lucky this time, I made it to a hill overlooking little villages round, alone and distant enough to all the big roads around. Could not dream of a better reward. 
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As you probably noticed, the landscape here on the mountain has changed significantly compared to the harsh and desert ones. Bikepacking through Palestine was really something else! All Arabic culture, interaction with residents, their daily activities! It's all just so different from the Israeli reality! I must admit that I was very happy about this sudden otherness!
My experiences are of course subjective, but in Palestine I had a feeling of greater ease. People seemed much more relaxed, paying less attention to taking care of their image. More smiles, more shops in small towns, and food was much, much cheaper. The presence of troops was also much smaller. What goes with it, of course, is more rubbish, less organization, and chaos on the roads. But this is how it is I guess ...
The roads through the extremely mountainous Palestine were like a roller coaster! Long ascents and long descents. All day long. A strong challenge, but what a fun!
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Israel, the Norther District
On the sixth day, I went down to the Jordan Valley and crossed the border of Israel once again. This time I was about to stroll through a part of the country that is called the green part of Israel. Soon I had to see why. After 60 km, I arrived for a second breakfast in Tiberias at the amazing Sea of Galilee. The landscapes around reminded me more of Switzerland than the Middle East!
That night I decided to go to the most northerly section of the route - to the Golan Heights. I was camping on one fenced field near the town of Quatsrin. Of course, it turned out the next day that it was a military training ground, and literally on the neighboring field, less than a kilometer away on the way I passed yellow signs with the inscription "DANGER, mines!". A close shot!
Nevertheless, a little amused by this situation, I rode to the West - towards the Mediterranean, on a beautiful road along the southern border of Lebanon.
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It was nice to be at the seaside again! After many days of crossing the desert and mountain passages, it gave me new energy.
I spent the night on the beach of course , and the next day, it was Saturday, I wanted to celebrate the new landscape and the environment with a good dinner! Unfortunately, everything was closed! I realized that it was a day off for the Jews.
The only option that came to my mind was to go get a good fallafel to Palestine, which western border was not that far to the east! When I got to there, an interesting situation happened..
To my surprise, when I reached the border post, everything was closed, there were neither people nor cars, only closed gates and high entanglements. There was no way to go to the Palestinian side. I did not want to turn back, I wanted that falafel!! to the south along the border there was a road leading to it, I thought without too much thought that it would be the next border crossing. After a few minutes I noticed, however, that this road is protected on both sides with rows of fences and entanglements. Suddenly I realized that I was on the military road between Palestine and Israel. A place where few of us want to be accidentally! Every now and then, I passed huge containers for altylerian bullets and giant scales. With an increasing chaos in my head, I suddenly noticed a military pick-up around the corner. Knowing that I was noticed, I immediately rode to the driver, pretending to be a fool. 4 soldiers looked at me with more surprise than I was on them, so I immediately said that I was lost and could they tell me how to cross the Palestinian territory? Soldiers examined me and my equipment with their eyes, and finally they said that there was no passage to Palestine from this side and that I could not go on to the pass-through border crossing in any way! Making a good face to the bad game, I explained quickly, thanked for all the clues and went back to the nearest village on the Israeli side.
At the end, the soldiers only smiled and waved to me. Eventually, I left the buffer zone in a positive atmosphere.
In a nearby village, on the Israeli side, mostly inhabited by Arabs, I even found my Fallafel!
The end
With this interesting memory, I went on towards Tel Aviv. I realized that this incredibly intense journey across the country so full of contrasts was sadly coming to an end.
I had one more night ahead of me and I did not know where I would spend it. As it turned out later, it was one of the most beautiful nights of this trip!
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This magical landscape, peace and quiet at night in the Gedor reserve! Incredible! I felt like in a fairy tale!
After carefully packing the equipment and cleaning up the camp, I went to Tel Aviv, which was only 50 km away.
Writing this text and coming back to these memories I have to admit, it was one of the most profound bicycle trips I've ever had. I hope I will come back with my bike to the Middle East one day soon! Thanks Israel, it was a pleasure.
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Here you can find the final route I made through Israel and Palestine within these 9 days