Project Exploring Soldier

Backpacking Israel from a Kibbutz

How I traveled the whole of Israel and earned some money doing it:

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What is a Kibbutz:

The first Kibbutz (meaning gathering in Hebrew) was built in 1909 by a group of young Zionists from Palestine, these communities/society’s were traditionally based around agriculture and live a life where everything is owned by the community from clothing, tools and even property.

In the 1970s the modern day kibbutz started to form and has adapted to a changing reality, this movement has changed how most Kibbutzim work and in 2010 Kibbutz numbers were at a record high, studies have showed that more and more people were joining these communities.

Kibbutz volunteers Programs:

Some Kibbutzim have opened their doors to a small organization that is based in Tel Aviv called the KPC (Kibbutz Placement center) to allow young people from all over the world a chance to work in one of these communities for 2 to 6 months under a volunteer visa. The Kibbutzim have a wide range of work they offer in their programs:

  • Orchard fields (Harvesting of fruits and vegetables).
  • Kitchen and dining.
  • Gardening.
  • Factory work.
  • Dairy farms.
  • Fishponds.
  • Maintenance work.

In return for your work you receive food, accommodation, pocket money for traveling and some Kibbutzim even offer planed trips and events for the volunteers. Have a look on their website if you are thinking of going.

My volunteering experience:

Tel Aviv:

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I arrived in Israel in June/July 2013 which was summer season, I only had 4 months in the country so was ready to immerse myself in the Israeli culture.

As I left the airport I had to navigate my way around a confusing train and bus system at the time, but I caught the hang of it soon enough and found out that the mini bus system works out the cheapest, on my way to Tel Aviv (Israel’s capital) I went straight to the KPC head office to try and secure a spot on one of the Kibbutzim.

This placement process can take up to 2 weeks so if you are heading that way prepare you finances for Israel’s party Mecca which is Tel Aviv (not a very cheap place might I say).

I went to the only hostel in Tel Aviv at the time called the Hayarkon 48 hostel, it is fully equipped with a kitchen and entertainment area, everything you need to keep your trip’s cost a bit lower. There I met a lot of like-minded travelers on the same mission I was and soon I learned a few tricks of the trade, one being how to make skittles Vodka something that has been a travelers secret of mine for a while now. It is a very good idea investing in a bottle of alcohol (about $20) and having pre drinks at a hostel than trying to buy drinks at local bars which are very expensive but have the best party’s I have seen and I never expected a big clubbing scene there.

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(Making skittles Vodka: Take a full bottle of Vodka and drain it just a bit then you add 3 bags of skittles in the bottle. You shake and leave it for about 6 hours then the skittles would have dissolved leaving a red sludge you can sieve out. This mix tastes just like skittles but with a punch.)

Food:

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Best advice I can give you about the food situation is eating shawarmas, falafels and burgers at the local food stands on the street and spending some time in markets to buy things to make at the hostel.

Cheap and fun Things to do in Tel Aviv:

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  • The old city of Jaffa (About a 15min walk from the Hostel and has a lot of cool things to do with nice views as you walk along the beach front).
  • Old Tel Aviv port area (The ideal place to grab a nice lunch while looking at some of the beautiful yachts coming into the harbor).
  • Carmel market “Shuk Ha’Carmel” (A market in town that only opens on weekends but a good place to buy some supplies and have a walk around).
  • There is a free city tour that picks guests up on a few different locations.

 

Kibbutz Bar ‘am:

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I was in Tel Aviv for a week before I found my host Kibbutz that goes by the name of “Kibbutz Bar ‘am” it is in the northern part of Israel and is about 300m from the border of Lebanon, it took me 3 hours of traveling to get there by both mini bus and bus.

I was not sure what to expect from this experience and as the bus dropped me at the gate, there was a group of 20 volunteers from all over the world waiting to invite me into the Kibbutz family which was 500 people at the time and about 50 volunteers.

I was a bit shocked at first not knowing what to say or do but I learned that I was now part of the Kibbutz community and thus far I have only read about it. I had the next morning off just to have a look around and get familiar with my new home for the next 4 months, we had a big living area which all the volunteers stayed in there was a kitchen, living room with a big map of the world on the wall and a television that was rarely used. We all had to walk to the dining area which started serving at 6pm where the whole community sat in on.

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That next morning I started my work in an apple factory with a group of 15 volunteers that have been working there for a few months already, my job was to sort through 1000s of apple’s, classifying them as A, B, C and D grade (A being Great quality, B = Good quality but has a blemish, C = has a few spots and marks and D = Rotten). Just for interest sake D grade apples are used to make apple juice.

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I have never been shy of hard work but those first few days were hard. I worked in the apple factory for one month after that sorting apples and carrying boxes before I proved myself as a hard worker and found a part time job as a maintenance worker for the community.

A lot of people think you can only be truly be happy if you are living out your life in some place that resembles paradise but looking back on the life I had there, with the hard work I was doing and the people I was sharing my time with this was one of the most magical experiences of my life and a memory I will keep forever.

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After working on the Kibbutzim for over 3 months saving all my off days on the work schedule for one big road trip me and 3 friends were planning me, Caleb, Justin and Rasmus .  We wanted to see Haifa, Jerusalem, Bethlehem, Dead sea and Eilat. Our goal was to swim in 3 oceans in 5 days the Mediterranean sea in Haifa, Dead sea and red sea in Eilat (I know the Dead sea is not a real ocean but the plan we had sounded pretty cool so we stuck with it).

Mount Meron hike:

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What better way to kick off our trip than hiking the highest peak in Israel standing at 1,208m above sea level (3,963 feet). The hike is 10km long and starts from a small village, you can either hitch hike to there or catch a mini bus, in the winter season you can go skiing there as it snows.

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Acre to Haifa:

Hitch hiking is pretty easy in Israel and we made use of it most weekends but now we planned to hitch hike to Acre one of the oldest cities in the world, with a lot of historical sites and also the holiest city for the Baha’i religion.

The city makes you feel like your in a movie scene about to witness the Roman war, the city has very high stone walls right around it that was built to protect Acre during the Roman war and we thought it would be fun doing some cliff diving off those walls into the Mediterranean ocean, our first of 3 oceans on the list.

(In these photo’s you can see me barely missing my friend as I land right next to him in the water.)

 

 

 

After our swim with death we made our way to Haifa a beautiful city 10min from Acre, we first went to the Baha’i gardens one of the biggest attractions in the city and it was worth it.

 

We heard about a place run by a small Scandinavian family called Beit Scandinavia where we can spend the night for free, all they ask for is a small donation once you leave. The accommodation was full but the nice old lady said we can spend the night on a small balcony overlooking the city of Haifa, we would have taken it above a room in anyway.

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The next morning we left our donation and made our way to pick up our rental car, there is a very good bus system that travels around Israel but it worked out very cheap between the 4 of us for a rental car. We were on our way to Jerusalem while our one friend Caleb had planned a small itinerary for this leg of our journey.

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Jerusalem:

 

The old city of Jerusalem is probably the most important site in the hole of Israel and being the holiest site for the Jewish people.

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Giving you an idea of the environment would be to describe these beautiful old stone walls that date back to the year 1538 while overlooking the Judean hills in the background and a sweet smell of shawarma’s being made by the local food market lingering in the streets, I could not help feeling like a modern day pilgrim as I walked these complex alleyways looping around historic churches and monasteries with the golden dome of the rock gleaming over all the buildings as a symbol of this iconic city.

 

While walking around the old city Jerusalem you learn that it is divided into 4 quarters:

  • The Christian quarter:

Containing the church of the Holy Sepulchre and is in the north-western corner.

  • Muslim quarter:

Being the biggest and most populated and is in the north-eastern corner.

  • Armenian quarter:

It is the smallest of the 4.

  • Jewish quarter:

Containing the famous Western wall and is in the Southeaster corner.

 

Interesting facts about the old city:

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  • There always was a Moroccan quarter but was destroyed to give tourists access to the western wall.
  • The city has over 2,000 archaeological sites.
  • There are over 70 cultural centers that teach art, music, poetry and literature to young people.
  • The length of the wall surrounding the city is 4 kilometers long.
  • There are said to be 8 gates around the old city of Jerusalem with 7 open to the public but rumor has it that the 8th gate being the “Golden gate” as it is called will only be opened upon judgment day.
  • East of the old city lies the “Mount of olives” one of the best viewing areas in the city and also marks the edge of Jerusalem.

While walking in the old city crowds of slow moving tourists can become a pain and that is why I would recommend a tour guide as they know the area and the best times too view each site.

Banksy art work in Bethlehem:

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Bethlehem is just south from Jerusalem and is known in the New Testament as the birth place of Jesus. But what I found really interesting in the Palestinian territory was the street art “graffiti” work Banksy (known as a political activist of an unknown identity) had painted in a trip he did in 2005, he had created 9 images on the Israeli west bank wall that shows the struggle between Palestine and Israel. I do not want to give my opinion on the matter but I want to show Banksy’s art work.

 

 

 

 

 

We only found 5 but his artwork is skated around the city and makes for a fun adventure walking around trying to find all of them.

Free camping by the Dead Sea:

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Very few people know that the Dead Sea is the lowest point in the world, standing at 423m (1,388feet) below sea level and is 377m deep. The salt content is 33.7% that is 8.6 times higher than that of the ocean.

We decided that rather spending our money at some fancy resort, we would look for somewhere nice to camp while still experiencing the Dead Sea but for a bit cheaper. We found a nice camping spot just before you hit the big resort area on your left next to the road that was free of charge with a 5min walk to the saltiest swim ever and a view of some beautiful mountains behind us. We decided to camp there for the night with no real camping equipment but a real passion for roughing it.

After settling in we made our way for a late night swim while one of the guys was suffering from diarrhea at the time we did not know that the high salt content can burn some irritated parts of the body (like the butt-hole), we heard a scream and us being in the dark unknown water were not sure if it was a shark attack or what and fled out of the salty water just as quick as we entered, after hearing the story it turned into one of the best jokes of our trip.

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The next morning only 3 of us went swimming and did the whole mud ritual that is expected from a trip to the Dead Sea and slowly made our way to the Masada Fortress.

Masada Fortress:

This fortress sits upon an isolated rock plateau overlooking the whole 18km wide Dead Sea, Herod the great built this palace/fortress for himself 31 BC and towards the end of the Roman war he ordered a mass suicide of the 960 people living with him on the mountain, in fear of the war that was unfolding beneath them.

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There are 2 ways to ascend the mountain, one is by a 3 hour hike and the other is by a 15 cable car ride costing only a few Shekels. We chose the hike and were not disappointed by the challenge it held for us.

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The view from the top is as beautiful as the story of the people that lived there is heart-breaking. We only had a few hours to spend there before making our way to Eilat.

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From a small crater to the red sea:

This was the last leg of our journey and as it was Christmas eve we thought we will do something special so we found a wild camping spot near a small crater on your way to Eilat and spent Christmas there it was on-top of a high mountain so was very cold but was worth it waking up with a beautiful view.

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We made our way to Eilat that is world famous for it’s diving/snorkeling  but I can say from my opinion it was not a very friendly place towards budget travelers, all the accommodation was over priced and it felt like the most touristy part of Israel. We enjoyed the snorkeling but that was all Eilat could offer us, the rest was not really wort it.

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If you are someone who can spend a holiday at a resort reading a book this might be for you for backpackers I would recommend staying on the Mediterranean side of Israel.

I hoped you enjoyed the post and leave a comment about what you think.

Safe travels

2 thoughts on “Backpacking Israel from a Kibbutz

  1. Slosh

    What a lovely account of your Israeli travels. I just sent you a DM but I think I got all I needed from here. Going to keep track of your blog from now on

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