Last week I returned home from the Optimist Kayaking Symposium in Israel. It was my second year at the event and it was wonderful to be back. What makes Israel unique from most places is the warm water, and it is the only event that I’ve been to all year where I left my drysuit at home.
The four day event takes place in the crystal clear water of the Mediterranean near Kibbutz Sdot-Yam, located on the northern coast, and for four days I taught Greenland style classes (mostly rolling) in the warm sun… the rain cleared for exactly the four days of the symposium. Ben Lawry and Jeff Allen were also instructing in all kinds of topics ranging from Incident Management to Edging and Bracing.
Israel is wonderful in so many ways, and I thoroughly enjoyed the friendly and relaxed people, the weather and the food… the hummus, falafel and tahini can’t be beat.
After four days of instruction we went exploring. We had two days, and organizer (and totally awesome friend and paddler) Hadas Feldman took us out to be tourists.
The first day we went to Jerusalem and played around in the marketplace. We visited the Western Wall and Church of the Holy Sepulchre. We also marveled at the teenagers walking around with guns on their backs. In Israel at age 18 everyone serves in the military, and guns are never left alone, so even if uniforms weren’t being worn, guns were slung over shoulders.
Groups of people filled the streets, many of them on spiritual journeys and many more being tourists for the day. We spent the day exploring, people watching, tasting local food and playing in a very old, and very special, city.
The next day we went wine tasting then heading to a viewpoint where we had a gorgeous view of the Syrian border from a set of trenches. During our travels we also drove next to the Jordan border, and marveled at the strip of dirt next to the border that serves as a footprint indication of anyone getting too close.
We played around, stopping at lots of interesting spots, including at the remains of a Syria Mosque. We also went to a spa and had a natural foot treatment which consisted of four fish tanks that we sat on the edge of and hung our feet into, allowing the fish to peck at our feet. Hadas, Zviki, Jeff and myself laughed and laughed as the fish tickled our toes, and although this practice is not common (locals Hadas and Zviki hadn’t seen it before), it made for a very entertaining 20 minutes. We then drank a traditional drink made of orchid bulbs, then headed to some hot springs for a relaxing swim before heading to the airport.
Israel is truly a magical place. Thank you to the Optimist Kayaking Club for having me out there!