There are 2,747 hiking trails in Israel just waiting to be explored. Full of beauty, ancient ruins, and people seeking adventure, no matter where you choose to go, you’re sure to have an unforgettable day. Of course, it would be great to have a memorable day full of excitement, relaxation, and ease rather than panic, stress, and hardship; but a girl can dream.
One of my family’s New Year’s resolutions for 2022 is to get out of the house and visit new places; so, on my mom’s birthday, we set out to hike someplace with flowers and water — my mom’s requests. After a brief Google search with her objectives in mind, I found Nahal Kziv and Montfort Castle (Fortress). Excited to see the site and go for a fun hike, we packed our bags and bundled into the car, using the directions from a blog called Israel By Foot to lead the way.
Now, my family are not hikers — despite what we might tell you — and we don’t know how to pack light. Prone to getting lost, we always take precautions when planning a day trip. Of course, following clear instructions for a 7.7-kilometer hike seemed to ensure our success, but you can never be too careful with us. While the website said that the hike could take up to four hours, we packed enough to last us a whole night in the woods (just in case). With snacks, a packed lunch, eight bottles of water (don’t ask), food for our dog, my camera, mom’s binoculars, and other supplies (minus a jacket and water shoes – oops), we stuffed everything into our backpacks before starting our expedition.
The journey caused us to question what we were doing from the very beginning. Using the Google Maps directions supplied by the blog, we followed the navigator, growing apprehensive as we were directed onto a dirt road adjacent to the main road. Rationalizing that the road was too new for the GPS to register its existence, we carried on and prayed that we weren’t making a huge mistake. After all, this was my mom’s birthday, and we wanted it to be a special, stress-free day.
Keep in mind, the definition of a hike is “an activity of going on long walks in the country for pleasure.” And, this is precisely what we were hoping for. A quiet, beautiful walk in the woods with the possibility of seeing the blooming flowers and playing in the water. What could go wrong?
For a Shabbat afternoon, the trail was busier than expected. With groups of young people carrying speakers blasting club-like music (shawty got them apple-bottom jeans; boots with the fur — I kid you not!) and couples looking forward to a sunshine picnic at the ancient ruins of Montfort Castle, the vibe around us was exciting and energizing. Along the trail, there were pockets of warmth from the sun and shaded reprieves from the trees which made the walk bearable during the heat of the day. My parents and I wore smiles as we lizard spotted with another hiker and descended the hill toward the famous ruins. Our dog, Joey, even had a spring in his step and kept up the pace as we rock climbed and slid down the path.
Montfort Castle was built in 1228 during the Crusades. Rather than being a military fortress to protect the Teutonic Knights, the castle was used as an administrative headquarters (click here to watch a short video). Today, the ruins attract locals as the perfect picnic and lookout spot. Overlooking the Mediterranean Sea, Kziv creek, and Upper Galilee region, it’s a prime location to take in the view and history of the area. My family and I enjoyed a snack in what was once part of the Knights hall before moving toward the Kziv creek.
With clear waters and a strong current that created mini waterfalls, we had an entertaining time finding ways to cross it. From tip-toeing across a wobbly bridge (more like wooden planks haphazardly joined together), balancing on the stones, to running across with our shoes still on, it was refreshing to feel the cool water after the strenuous hike down. Joey, our eleven-year-old Jack Russell, who abhors cold water, enjoyed jumping into the water too. It was so cute to watch him try to catch a fish, though if he wants to succeed, he’s going to have to learn not to splash.
Everything was going perfectly. We’d only made one “wrong” turn but were on track and confident with the instructions we were following. How could we mess this up? We only had to follow the red path before crossing onto the green, and then taking a left to trek up the black path before returning to the car. Simple, right?
Remember the definition of a hike? Well, that’s what our afternoon had felt like until we came to the green and black intersection. With sunset about an hour away, we wanted to get a move on, but the way forward was passionately debated between us. Knowing our car had to be on the right side, my dad was adamant about continuing on the green path; however, according to the directions, we were supposed to follow the black trail to get back to the top. With a reputation for leading us into the middle of nowhere, my mom didn’t trust my dad and made the deciding vote to follow my lead. Uh oh.
The definition of a trek is as follows, “to make a long journey or difficult journey, especially on foot.”
What had started as a pleasant hike quickly turned into an arduous trek as we huffed and puffed our way up the black trail for the “final” leg of our journey. Maybe if I’d found a map before setting off, we wouldn’t have made this dire mistake; but, whenever I looked for one, it said I had to pay. Anyway, the blog’s directions had been right until that point, so why shouldn’t we have trusted its lead?
We reached the top of the trail and whooped in jubilation at the sign of civilization. At least, if we were to get lost (which we were), we wouldn’t have to camp in the woods. The website explained that it would be another 1.5 kilometers to where we’d parked, so we followed the road, hoping our doubts would ease. Nevertheless, we couldn’t help noticing that we were on a different hill from the one we’d started on. In fact, we were looking across the valley to where the castle ruins lay, which couldn’t have been right… hmmm.
Tired and losing steam, we hitched lifts in a golf cart and car before being told that the exit was less than five minutes away. Grateful for the rides, we thanked our rescuers and grew excited that we’d completed our loop…
I’d double-checked and read the instructions at least a dozen times to make sure we were going the right way, but as we walked down the road, all of us knew that something was wrong. We hadn’t had a phone signal until that point, so when one bar appeared, we quickly tapped on Google Maps to see how far we were from our car. I balked at the results. According to the GPS, we were 23 kilometers away from our car!! A 25-30 minute drive (a more than five-hour walk)!! What?! How could that be right?!
Adding another two kilometers (half an hour) to our trek, we practically fell into the gas station at the end of the road. The cashier was a sweet girl who called us a cab while we sat down, much to our legs’ relief.
With sopping wet boots, exhausted muscles, and disheveled appearances, we rejoiced as the cab pulled into the gas station. Our savior was a welcoming and chatty Israeli who was thoroughly entertained by our epic tale of the day’s events. Since there was no name of the street we parked on, I handed our driver the GPS route we’d followed and watched as he too grew concerned at Google Maps’ capabilities. Led down more dirt roads, through gates, and other dark roads that seemed to lead into the middle of nowhere, we all clapped when the taxi stopped at our car — the last one in the parking lot.
Six hours after leaving the house for our hike turned trek, we finally arrived home. Dropping our bags onto the floor and peeling off our soaked socks, we looked at one another and burst into laughter.
Only us, I remember thinking through tears.
We may not be hikers, but the Russell family sure knows how to have an adventure. It will be a birthday my mother will not soon forget, and a lesson for future hiking expedition to ALWAYS carry a hikers map. Thankfully, Israel is full of kind people willing to pick up a couple of strays 23-kilometers in the wrong direction. Once our legs, hips, and shoulders recover, my parents and I are determined to return to the trail and do it again; this time, making sure to take the correct route home!