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ISRAEL


“You can’t love without sweat.” Bold words from a man I’ve just met. I glance across at the bearded Daniel Gino, ready to be met by a sultry gaze. But his eyes are looking elsewhere: at the undulating hills of Israel ’s Upper Galilee region.


I can’t blame him. These lush jackal- and boar-haunted woods are a world away from the arid desert of the south, and through them runs Yam le Yam, a 47-mile ‘sea to sea’ trail that starts on the Mediterranean coastline and arcs south to the Sea of Galilee; a route that’s finally on the verge of international attention. “I was 14 the first time,” continues Daniel.


He, like many other Boy Scouts have done for decades, trekked it during Passover as a sweaty rite of passage that binds the boys to the country of their birth. “It’s a short trail, but it connects you to the land emotionally,” he says, as we make our way to the start. In Hebrew, halach — the verb ‘to walk’


— encompasses many meanings: to grow and go forward; to flow or be poured out as water (about which I later learn more); and to walk hand in hand with God. It would be just the two of us — Daniel, my guide and a former forest ranger — on this four-day pilgrimage of sorts. We probably wouldn’t be holding hands. Israel has long been a destination for


pilgrims. Movement flows through the bloodlines of its people, not least in the lore of the ancient exodus out of Egypt led by Moses. Today, most pilgrims — nearly a million of them every year — make their way to the holy city of Jerusalem, but this would be a journey of a different kind. One through nature. For out of all Israel’s 6,000 miles or so of hiking trails, Yam le Yam is the greenest. It weaves through the far northern valleys of Upper and Lower Galilee;


84 nationalgeographic.co.uk/travel


its ripples forged by the Great Riſt Valley that starts in Lebanon and cleaves ever southward to Mozambique. The night I arrive, a third of the country’s


annual average rainfall plummets from the sky. Huge, plump raindrops flood the streets, causing parked cars to float and swelling the rivers. Forget cats and dogs, this was rain on a biblical scale. But the next morning, the sky is blue and combed free of clouds. I grin at Daniel, full of hope. “Bad news,” he counteracts, dourly. “Big chunks of the trail are flooded.” I point to the sunny sky in confused protest. “Doesn’t matter. Look.” He leads me across the road and points to a reed-studded lake. “That’s meant to be the start of the trail.” We retreat back across the road and down


onto the sand. Cantering toward us are the feisty rollers of the Mediterranean. A few early fishermen stand with their lines in the muddy-as-cocoa waters. Right on the shoreline are the remnants of a dwelling. “A Phoenician fishing village,” explains


Daniel, scraping away a thin layer of soil from a nearby mound. Out tumbles the handle of an ancient jar. A bit more clawing and he unearths a fragment of a clay pot and even a shard of skull. Not a single protective barrier guards these lightly buried treasures. There’s so much archaeology under foot in Israel, the experts only investigate the bigger findings, such as the rubble of the village buildings 20 metres from where we stand, which balances on a thumbnail of green called Achziv National Park, where the trail starts.


RIGHT FROM TOP: A group of horse- riders on the trail below the Amud, a striking limestone pillar rising from a stream of the same name, Upper Amud Stream Nature Reserve; a hiker passes a trail marker, Upper Amud Stream Nature Reserve PREVIOUS PAGE: Fishermen cast lines into natural lagoons and sea pools at Achziv National Park on the shores of the Mediterranean Sea


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