Northeast America sola trip - a 62-year-old Israeli/ American camping journey through nine American and Canadian states, with a focus on Nature, culture and self management. Prologue provides easy navigational tips and a "warning".
This page is a collection of ramblings regarding and connected with my North American sola camping journey and some general thoughts about traveling.
For practical matters look in the Getting Ready section. For background and further thoughts about traveling generally seek the Introduction , and for a basic basic first look, including site navigation aids, see the Prologue. Here is a link to the full Table of Contents.
For ease of read you can change the background color / contrast of this page by hovering / not hovering over the text with the mouse.
On This and That - Thoughts about Traveling
The Medium is the Message
Private or Public?
This was the first trip abroad I was driving. Prior to the trip I asked my dear friend about public transport options “up there”. His answer, as expected, was clear: none.
The next day we started looking for car rental options and wrecked our brains on the different insurance deals.
But, hey, having your own car on a trip can be wonderful indeed. In North America, traveling by car has several advantages over backpacking. The distances are vast, and there is virtually no public transportation. You can drive to places, park and walk, as long as you don’t trespass into somebody’s sacrosanct private property.
This is a problem, of course. Private land accounts for 60.2% of U.S. territory. In Canada, where ownership still lies with the Queen, it is only 9.7%. Still, sizes being what they are in North America, there is plenty of space left for huge national and state parks, where most of the travelers interest spots lie.
By the end of a walking day, the car will be waiting for me like a devout servant. The car is my “burro” and there’s no need to look for Sherpas… That, by itself, is a great bonus for an over-packer like myself, and it clearly lends itself for the tenting/camping scenario most easily.
Going on a bus/train limits your degrees of freedom to their prescribed routes. Cars ares still limited to drivable roads, of course, and can constrain you in other ways as well – say, if you are cautious about leaving the car alone in certain places. Bicycles can do a lot, but not everything, and depend heavily on your physical abilities. Walking can get you into the heart of Nature, but like bicycling depends a lot on you. Some places, like Torngat park in Labrador, can only be approached by boat or plane or not at all. Ah…
Those Were the Days: Mochilas, Israeli Houses and Haylofts
Traveling in Latino America was feasible for me at the time only beacause I could leave the heavy mochila in a hostel or “an Israeli house”, and take a smaller backpack for the hike or trek. Several such houses were scattered across the South American continent to help the “Mochileros”. If no “official” accommodation could be found, we would sleep on a school floor or, for some pesos, in somebody’s hayloft or guest room.
In my young bussing days in Latino America, I met people on the way, mostly at hostels. As long as we were heading more or less in the same direction, we would simply merge our courses for as long as that worked for the two of us or the group of us. Sometimes it also meant joining our hammocks/sleeping bags/sheets together, or just our naked bodies under a whirling ceiling fan or the stars, and we were as happy as could be…
That was another universe altogether – 1981-2 – post-Vietnam, sexual revolution, make love not war, girls of the world (or at least the West) unite, and female consciousness rising. Gringo trails allowed us, young adventurous Westerners, to touch lives shaped by totally different circumstances, mindsets, climates, political histories, economics, geographical zones. We breathed different atmospheres, widened our horizons, so as to include and try to get to know “others”. The world was opening up.
It’s another planet now. Trump is huffing and puffing behind our necks, the public in the United States has turned confused and weird, sometimes ugly. Everybody is post-trauma: 9/11, terrorism. Isis still holds territory and sends “activists” to just about everywhere.
Good Old Greece – Grapes, Ratzina and Rounded Corners
Going back even further, traveling Greece and Italy, 1976, me and my girl-friend sometimes slept outdoors – in people’s yards, boats and train stations. Otherwise it was hostels or the YWCA in Athens. Transportation was buses and boats.
In Santorini, we were picked up by a local elderly guy from the port, who rented us a room in his family’s home. In a whitewashed room with rounded corners, cold water in ceramic jugs and clusters of freshly picked grapes in wicker baskets expected us by our bedside. Home-made ratzina was served at breakfast. We were invited to watch the family trample the grapes by feet in their home wine press…
Those were the days, and now I was going to travel by car, sola, the American way, pretty much the one and only mode here… And the medium dictates the message: to each their own.
Tenting Scotland, Driving Croatia
On other European trips there were trains and buses, hostels, inns, bed and breakfasts, some basic hotels, and always a lot of walking. Later in America, travelling as a family, trips by car, motels, an occasional hotel.
Incomes being what they are for Israelis, me and my second husband travelled the Scottish Islands – Hebrides, Orkneys and Shetlands – by bus, tenting. Once in a while we slept in B&Bs and hostels, with an occasional 3-star hotel thrown in. But the islands were blessed with great hostel/campground combo options. You could use the common kitchen/bathroom facilities and common rooms, where social life was alive and easy, while sleeping for less in your own tent on the grounds…
Eventually my husband got tired of carrying the tent, and that’s why we ended up in Croatia with a car. We slept in small hotels or, along the Adriatic Coast, in rooms people were renting out of their homes. I couldn’t drive, since automatics are significantly more expensive in Europe, and despite repeated attempts, I never suceeded to manage a stick. Something about that clutch business… Traveling by car, rather than using public transport, tends to augment issues of control and power sharing. That was our last trip abroad together.
The Tool is the Message
Our trips are determined by our physical and financial means that, in turn, affect our perceptions of what is possible and what we experience.
Bees and wasps see the world through five eyes, two of them are compound. Compound eyes are made of hundreds of little lens and are capable of detecting UV. The bees compose a picture of the world around them from hundreds of images they record from the multiple lenses. Their other three eyes only detect light and shadow. So what does their world look like? How do they perceive the reality that is meaningful to them?
Similarly, our man-made instruments affect not only what we produce but our actual perception. Each flute or recorder has a differnet scale. These scales determine the music that can be played on them. They even affect the way a culture creates its musical style. Middle Eastern cultures use, and compose, in quarter notes; they don’t use stops on the strings.
Young Israeli folk travel the vast world on a few dollars a day. During my Central American trip in the 80s I spent up to $5 a day, with cheapie rooms costing only 1-2$ per night. Many young Israelis go even further by camping out in the wild with a little gas stove and an occasional shower. On the bus in Lewis Island, Outer Hebrides, me and my husband met a young Israeli couple. They asked the driver to drop them off in the middle of absolute nowhere to pitch their tent. And the two of us thought we were adventurous, camping on hostels’ back yards…
Again, the medium is the message, both the door to freedom and the inevitable constraint.
We also see what comes in front of us through the eyes of our cultural upbringing. That literally colors our perception, the interpretation of what we encounter. A cross for most of us is not just two lines intersecting at right angles. But that is a separate topic requiring several books to develop.
The Territorial Imperative and Personal Space
The Israeli Campground
So here I was now in North America, sola with a car and a tent – a different kind of adventure altogether. No problem getting an automatic here – most or all rental cars are automatic. Prices are low. You can get insured through your credit card!!!
In contrast to the cheapness of the gas and the car rental, the campgrounds themselves were expensive for a single person.
It was all new and strange to me. In Israel, campgrounds are a mess of tents set one next to the other as space allows. You pay at the gate and then it’s up to you to find the few square meters to build your tent on, delineate an amorphic territory. People’s music and BBQs are right in your ears and noses. Privacy is not to be sought here. The difference between various campgrounds on the Kinneret (Sea of Galilee) was that some had noise restrictions after midnight while others played loud music until the wee hours …
The North American Campground
Coming to my first American campground was a revelation… My space was reserved in advance. The lady in charge expected me and cared which time I arrived. I got a spot over the water as shown and, strangely, I was soon to discover, the whole territory was mine, including the picnic table, the grass patch and the space (not shown) for parking the car…
The vast majority of the campgrounds I visited later had some contraption for making a fire as well – all the way from half a barrel stuck in the ground to a fancy structure with a grid on top. All of them sold firewood for people who, unlike me, knew how to make fires.
There was an ecological reason for that as well. Wood carries insects and other creatures from place to place. In national parks in particular, they disallow bringing your own wood. I decided to leave mastering the fire-making art for my next trip, even though on some cold nights it might have been nice to have one. On the other hand, I figured, if I got really nice and warm standing or sitting by the fire, I would freeze even worse when I got back into the cold tent to sleep….
Not only do all campsites have a parking, but almost without exception, they are super clean and safe for tenting. The ground might be grassy or sandy or just plain earth (I cannot accept the word “dirt” to describe our sacred soil, so I use the translation from the word in Hebrew, Adama – Earth). There are never any rocks or gravel, nothing to scratch or tear the bottom, and in almost all cases it was easy to stick in the pegs. The difficulty was actually to FIND a rock to hammer those pegs in. Camping regulars drive around with a special rubber hammer for pounding the pegs…
In many campgrounds I was specifically told not to step through other people’s sites, especially RV sites. You wouldn’t get shot, obviously, but it is considered, for the time you are there at least, to be private property… Quiet time is invariably 10 pm and even generators are usually not allowed.
Well, the price for all that luxury was also remarkable: $30!!! Some campgrounds, like Jigger Johnson, that had no electricity, were cheaper, and the Canadian ones ended up cheaper because of the exchange rate.
From my hosteling days I remember paying $8 for a bunk bed in a beautiful hostel in New Mexico with a large well-furnished and partially stocked kitchen. There was also a large communal room to hang out. Later down the line we used to pay 40$ for an average motel with nice clean twin or double bed, three kinds of towels, a TV, and little soaps and shampoos. What happened?
Most of the American and Canadian campgrounds I stayed in did not have spaces to socialize, common kitchens or gathering rooms. The setup did not enable easy socializing. Most of the time, meeting people happened despite the setup, not thanks to it. A few notable exceptions were: Sidney’s KOA, which had a nice meeting room, and the Chowder House hangout at Meat Cove, Cape Breton. In several campgrounds, like the Lazy Lions in Vermont or Campbell’s Cove in PEI there actually were common kitchens or meeting rooms, but in real time I always found them empty. Perhaps my luck, or just that most campers, being either couples or families, did not have a use for them.
The campground pictured above (Lobster Buoy, Maine) was full of RVs with families vacationing. It was still August and it was Lobster Day weekend, so the place was full of visitors.
I did not realize then that in many campgrounds people actually lived on a “temporary-permanent” basis… These residents often had their names on plaques, the boundaries of their sites marked by colorful Christmas lights. To make their lives more cheerful and homey they would rent from the owners, or bring with them, various trinkets for decorations – garden gnomes, little fountains, sculptures, dolls. Sometimes whole sections of the campgrounds where inhabited that way like a little suburb. One wonders if this is a positive life choice or another side effect of the lingering economic crisis.
The Messenger is Part of the Message
From my account of American campgrounds you can learn just as much about Israel and about me as about American campgrounds. I once read a paperback called “The Russians”. From what the author found important to mention about the Russians, I learned even more about how Americans perceive the outside world.
Israel is located in the middle of everything and therefore Israelis might have more tools to understand foreign cultures on many sides of the spectrum. Even so, we all see the world in the spectacles of how we were raised and where we grew up: the colors, sounds, smells, words, dimensions, the music of our upbringing.
The Hebrew Exodus and North American Campgrounds
As mentioned in the introduction , I believe it’s good once in a while to practice basic living. The world is in a mess. The fact that things usually work – food gets to the supermarket shelves, gasoline to the gas stations and broadcasts to our TV sets – cannot be taken for granted. That is especially true in the Middle East with its insanities.
Jewish holidays try to recuperate the Exodus conditions and drill us in deprivation. During the 8 days of Sukkot you are expected to live in a Sukkah, an ancient equivalent of a tent. On Passover you eat Matzo instead of bread. This is equivalent to not having everything you like to eat available. And, of course, on Yom Kippur you fast. Similar practices, especially food restrictions or fasts exist in most other religions.
On the positive side, voluntary camping can feel great. This is true up to a point, of course, but for me the “normal” four walls also feel heavy and constraining after a while. Sukkahs / tents are great opportunities for breathing fresh air, seeing the night sky, hosting friends and family or socializing with new people…
Camping brings us to elemental humanity. Making fires (which I did not do, but joined others…) transports you directly to the hunter-gatherers tribal period. With the addition of music and storytelling, it’s magical.
Matzos are quite horrible by many people’s tastes, including mine, but it’s clear their plastic quality has nothing to do with the original “unleavened bread”. That was probably more tortilla-like: healthy, basic, universal, and tasty.
The real modern deprivation, though, is not from leavened bread but from media. No TV, no Internet. The most serious calamity is the unconnected cellphone. From that viewpoint campgrounds can be divided into four categories:
Wi-Fi yes, sockets yes /
Wi-Fi no/ sockets yes
Wi-Fi no/ sockets no…
Adjusting oneself to these alternative situations every few days is part of the “training” in dealing with what is.
What’s Safe I?
What’s safe, really? I am now sitting in Jerusalem at my window writing this and occasionally peeping at CNN to “check” the attack on Mosul that started today (Oct 17th,2016). There was haze yesterday as I drove past the Dead Sea, and I wondered if there was a connection. I know they were burning tires and oil to obscure vision for pilots, and in general pounding and blasting the already dusty ground.
So what’s safe?
Life is a constant worry, isn’t it? Fears, apprehensions, misgivings, concerns, anxieties. Rich vocabulary here.
– You went alone???
– But you met people, right? You actually travelled with people, right?
What’s Safe II – Har Eitan
Ah… yes. Here near my home city of Jerusalem there’s only one nature walk I feel safe walking on my own. It’s an 8 kilometer loop circumnavigating Har (Mount) Eitan (picture here). The top of the mountain hosts an old British army camp and on its slopes there are ruins of an old Arab village.
The loop itself is a wide dirt road among planted pine trees with beautiful views of the Jerusalem forested hills. Being close to a big middle class suburb and closed to motorized traffic, this circular trail provides residents a no-leash doggie walk, a pre-army service opportunity to practice running and improve fitness, a bicycle, hiking and jogging trail for all.
The trail is very busy on weekends, but even during the week, there are almost always some people there. Still, once in a while I find myself alone there and it’s a bit desolate. I always carry pepper spray and/or my Swiss army knife. Would I know how to use them if I needed to?
My insecurity is a sad fact of our life here. As chioldren and youth we used to walk everywhere in the city and around it, even after 1967, alone or with friends, girls or boys. That feeling of safety is almost unimaginable today.
What’s Safe III
I’m watching CNN’s Arwa Damon’s coverage from Syria, Iraq and other war zones, the amazing Kurdish ladies fighting ISIS (Here is a poem I wrote about them…). I laugh to myself about people’s reactions to my trip: You went alone? How brave. These reactions are ubiquitous, and surprisingly similar in North America and Israel.
The walks in Canada’s Atlantic Provinces, in particular, felt so much safer than, say, trying to walk by myself along the Mediterranean coast of Israel. From every spot that is not crowded with people, some guy, Arab, Jew, whoever, can come at me all of a sudden with intentions. Many expose themselves. I walked along beaches in Canada and hardly ever felt concerned about guys. “Hello”, “Bon Jour”, “Hi”. Once in a while I admit I was wondering how I will react if a black bear or a moose showed up, but guys? Nay.
The beauty of that kind of trip, really, is that you are basically at the heart of Civilization in as much as you are at the heart of Nature. Not too many places, I think, where these elements create that kind of safety for a single woman.
What’s Safe IV
My friend in rural Maine does not lock his door. The lady I stayed with in Campobello Island, NB, does not either. She invited me to just walk straight in … That might be typical of many islands , as long as they do not attract the wrong kind of tourists, of course. As to the woods of Maine – close to zero crime rate.
As time went on, I knew I found a territory to travel where I could temporarily shed my learned worries and fears. I can leave stuff in the tent. Nobody will look inside my car. Just the perfect setup for a restful vacation after years of intifadas, locked houses and dangerous travelling in third world countries or in big cities. Nobody will imagine waging a terrorist attack here. People live their lives. So refreshing.
Sola - On Being Alone
I came to North America with the intention of giving a relationship a try. I had no illusions, but I hoped. That did not work out, but the friendship that developed instead was beautiful. It was clear from the onset that I was going to travel Canada alone, so there were no surprises.
I do not want to stay alone for the rest of my life, but, and there is a “but”, there are also advantages to travelling alone, great advantages.
More than anything else, it’s my trip, no interventions, shared decision making, giving in, compromises, coercion, arguments. My responsibility. (Also see: Epilogue).
And, gosh, I can turn the car radio to whichever station I want. Who else I know would let me listen for hours to “Urban Radio”? or to lengthy interviews with Canadian immigrants, or even to the relax channel when that was what I needed and wanted?
OK, well, I fuss a lot. I take off and on layers fifty times a day. I take off my hat the minute I step into the shade. Things have to be just right, the windows opened / closed/ half opened in car/house, the A/C at max/middle/minimum, music the right volume, radio playing the right music….
Men don’t. I mean, they do, but not as much.
I remember a song my father learned in his army service during WWII: “And when she feels cold, she puts on her sweater, and when she feels warm, she takes off her sweater”, and it goes on and on in a round…. It struck me as a kid. So men don’t do that? What does it mean? I felt the slight sexist slant in the song, but did not have a word for it, and my father was a liberal and a beautiful soul. Well, apparently men do do that less. They sense these things less. They mind less. They keep their hats on throughout the day no matter how the sun goes. They endure through these small changes unphased.
In baby steps I expanded my range of tolerance, mostly by necessity, but later also consciously – to temperatures, to more or less sun in my eyes, to obnoxious music on the radio when I had to concentrate on the road conditions, to no Wi-Fi, no cellphone, not the foods I like or think I must have or believe are healthy! Oh, not all the time, sometimes! Well, yes, I can tolerate some coolness without immediately putting something on. I can tolerate some heat without instantaneously taking something off. Yes. One doesn’t die that fast apparently…
Small Instances of Empowerment
Clothes pins – really! Well, I bought a nice little batch of those at Walmart and gradually they started to break down. The springs fell off and they disintegrated into their components.
My technically helpless upbringing led me to discard the first ten, but then I thought better of it: perhaps I could fix them instead? Wow! Revelation!
So, what do guys do when you ask them to help you with something technical? First they look at it from all angles, then they start touching and manipulating elements. So I looked at a good specimen and found out there were three parts (really…), then tried to reconstruct a broken one accordingly.
Well, it did require a BIT of force for sure, as the spring was resisting being pushed, but, well, definitely (defnitly in the local jargon) I could do THAT. Voila! No more disintegrating clothespins! One small step for Womankind….
You can laugh, you are welcome to, ladies and gentlemen, but let me tell you, you start with clothespins and gradually work your way up to get over that conditioning, yes. The conditioning to let THEM do everything for us! At the top of that ladder is the Presidency…
Of course, we love it when “they” act their miracles on our appliances, cars, computers. Most of us do not have the will or do not bother to develop the necessary knowhow or skill. But, hey, clothespins? Building a tent in ten minutes? Come on, sisters….Why not????
How Fast do We Walk?
This section is very important, older ladies, and ladies in general.
It’s about the ten percent or so difference in oxygen capacity between “us” and “them”. We all know these numbers apply to top athletes and not to the majority of us females, so 10% is usually closer to 30%. Well… we have less physical capacity on the average, although some guy couch potatoes-nerd-silicon-valley-glasses-number-4 fall short of some every-day-in-the-gym-jogging-Pilates-junkies-personal-trainer-attached-type women. Still, at the old boring average, we walk slower than them. Da!
As a consequence, when we walk or hike with our beloved, he makes concessions – walks slower, converses with thee, cruises a bit ahead to scout the territory, then returns and loops again, or, in other words – he rests the 10%+ difference between the two of you, as he waits for you to catch up! So, clearly we get the short edge of the stick here!
Well, that is a grand advantage of going sola. You walk your own pace most of the time!
Taking objective constrains, like nightfall, into consideration, you must plan according to ability, but once you do, you can walk your own pace. That can be tricky as you can never calculate exactly how hard an unknown trail will be for you even with trail maps that give you a time estimate. Those are based on some averages that might be irrelevant.
But, that said, wow, still, what a relief. Rest when you wish, run if you can, stroll, powerwalk, stride – whatever you do, it’s your pace. Assuming a dearth of predators outpacing your running capacities in the area, you will usually get to your destination by the end of the day, but, well, 10-30% slower than the “average guy” – SO WHAT?
Did you enjoy the walk? Did you breathe the pristine air? Did you take pictures when you wanted to stop to take that picture? Taking the five minutes necessary to adjust the camera to the light conditions, even if nobody but you is interested in another mushroom… Who cares? We are travelling first and foremost for ourselves, aren’t we? This is our journey, isn’t it? If we want to compete with ourselves, fine, but if we want to see, breathe, listen and exercise, we are doing exactly that, aren’t we?
I Walk in Beauty
Can’t go wrong. No matter where you go here. Beauty is all around, all over, seeping through the pores of one’s skin, crossing the blood-brain barrier to settle inside the sulci and gyri of the cortex, touching everything from toes to the tips of one’s hair, eliciting long-buried memories.
Politics, or “The Summer Before the Dark”
I travelled during election season. The ground was quietly shifting underneath.
People were nice, very nice, sometimes exceedingly unbelievably nice, like the librarian at Clayton’s public library who helped me with my car insurance claim. Here and there, some exceptions of course. The Quebec level of friendliness oftentimes fell well below their English counterparts, but in all, human interactions were super positive, averaging 9+ on a scale of 10.
The majority of individuals I met on the campgrounds were married, very married, looking happy together and in their togetherness. Nice, quaint, relaxed, enjoying their retirements or their vacations with their children. Some were probably somewhat religious, like the woman on the Boulder Loop Trail who wore a cross, the Amish or Mennonites I’ve seen in Northumberland, PEI, or the orthodox Jews I met on Whiteface Mountain. The majority did not show any obvious signs of religion.
There was little talk about the politics in the U.S. I raised the topic with people I befriended once I was pretty sure their political inclinations were more or less in sync with mine. These conversations were held in low voices. Somebody even recommended I do not discuss the candidates, as whatever I’d say might offend someone. It was hard to refrain, given the intensity of this election season, but clearly much preferable to the opposite: having loud discussions, marring the atmosphere.
Meanwhile in Canada
I could talk more openly in Canada, for obvious reasons. Most people thought T. was a catastrophe. One woman suggested Canada build a wall with the U.S. if he won (and have the U.S. pay for it…). Nobody understood America’s “fascination with guns”, and it’s not like there’s no “game” (another revolting term) to hunt in Canada, or a history of hunting…
Some thought Americans in general were rude. I personally found again that the vast majority of humans of both nations were nice, cordial and friendly, but, yes, the Canadians were perhaps even more open and easy-going. There seemed to be less tensions hidden in the closets. Again, southern Quebec was a bit different.
If Humanly Possible, Practice Avoidance
If humanly possible, it’s better to avoid politics during traveling altogether. Allow Nature to permeate the conversational space. Difficulty in following the news helps, and the non-availability of TV is a bonus. Still, it’s good to know we can get it all on car radio, the computer/tablet or the cellphone if we really wish, like when I wanted to watch the Olympics or the Presidential Debate. We are hardly ever really disconnected anymore.
Maine, Vermont and New Hampshire are considered “Blue Belt”, but, curiously, I have not seen a single , I repeat, a single, Hillary campaign sign anywhere. The yards and country roads were cluttered with “Trump Pence” signs. That was true from August through October, the duration of my trip. I don’t even know what Hillary’s signs looked like.
There can be two interpretations: either nobody in the rural parts votes democrats and the Blue comes from the cities where I spent less time. More likely, people were afraid of their neighbors, a recognized phenomenon in Israel as well. The fact Vermont was “Bernie’s Land” might have played a small role as well. Seeing the rise in hate crimes across the country in the three days post elections, that seems to explain itself.
Is the American Middle Class hurting?
So Where do all the RVs and Boats Come From?
Well, yes, “Trump-Pence” signs everywhere. Clinton’s – zero. Supposedly, Trump voters come from a hurting white middle class, but the campgrounds were full of fancy RVs, the marinas overflowing with beautiful yachts and sailboats, and in Camden and Rockland in early October there was no room to be found for less than $120.
I came to the North American woods and lakes to get away from everything heavily civilizational. That included politics and security tensions in Israel in particular and in the “Old World” in general.
On previous trips I got bad reactions from random people when they heard I was from Israel.
At one time, a good-looking Hispanic guy flirted with me as we were both waiting for a table at a local Santa Fe restaurant . When he heard I was from Israel his face changed color, then he went into an angry rant how “we” all are killers and terrorists, and then he quit talking to me. Apparently on that very day, unbeknownst to me, a racist extremist massacred Muslims in the Patriarchs Cave in Hebron.
This was an extremely rare event of Jewish revenge terrorism in Israel, one of its kind then, and probably still unsurpassed in its scope to date. The perptrator was originally an American Jew, not an original Israeli, and most everybody in Israel, except for a handful of religious extremists, condemned it, but who cares? Would any of that matter to this guy? He clearly held me personally accountable and/or percieved me as inherently evil simply for being who I was. As so often happens with pro-Islamic self-righteous leftist bigots he did not let me open my mouth. So who was racist here? (The following poem deals with the question of guilt and blame).
A line of Defense
Several more experiences of that sort brought me to plan a line of defense. I prepared in advance some possible answers to unwanted anti-Israel attacks directed at me. Most were on the line that I was here on vacation and not to talk politics. If it got worse and I would have to start answering back, which I really did not want to do on my trip, I had some answers ready.
Luckily, I never had to use any of my “sentences”, as most people here were polite and proper, or simply couldn’t care less, which was just as well. Perhaps most were generally supportive of whatever they thought Israel was (both lovers and haters of the country are usually equally ignorant. We are just people like any others).
For whatever reason, the majority did not relate to it much and I was free to enjoy my vacation un-harassed. I did not expect much bad energy in these quarters, a main reason why I travelled here, and I was right. Thank goodness there are still some spots on the planet where our local conflict is not the overblown focus of attention…
At one of the viewpoints off the Cabot Trail, I met a family group from Bangladesh, dressed traditionally. They called everybody’s attention to their sighting of a moose somewhere in the bush way below. I told them I was from Israel. No reaction, just a bit of a befuddled look. They digested the information casually and we parted, each to our respective cars.
At its best, the civil atmosphere Northeast America creates allows for cordiality and connection between people who might otherwise have historical, national, political or religious difficulties. That’s what I so love about this culture. I hope despite the elections, this openness and tolerance will still be a mainstay of American relational etiquette, with hostilities concentrated at the fringes. I definitely felt that in the English-speaking provinces of Canada.
On Blacks and Whites and Everything in Between
Where are the Blacks?
Urban America was not well represented in the tourist crowd. I probably saw a few dozen blacks during my entire two-month trip. I compensated for their absence by listening to the “Urban View” radio station, a fun and informative broadcast run by and for the black community.
I can imagine a black urban household where a child might say: “Mommy, I want to go camping”, and the mom will say: “Why? What for? Don’t you have a house? Your mom and dad worked so hard to give you a proper home… Do you want to be like those crazy rich whites who play games at being poor? Let them be real poor for one day, they’ll stop camping.” And she’ll be right, of course…
The Tourist Population
So what did I see other than white Americans and Canadians? Well, lots of Chinese. In every “touristic spot” mentioned in the guide books, they will be conspicuous. I can’t tell Chinese from Japanese or Koreans, but everybody I asked said “Big China”. I saw many of them in the Thousand Islands’ castle, on the Skyline Trail, in Cavendish, PEI. Many, apparently, actually live or at least study in Canada, and secretly tell you they want to stay there. I met a Chinese guy with his wife and two daughters on the boat to Boldt castle. He divulged to me that he and his family have citizenship in New Zealand, but he would have preferred to live here in Canada… Curious.
As I was walking the Coastal Trail, Gros Morne, with the nice family I met there, we encountered two middle aged Chinese men who were rushing to get their car. They said we would see their wives waiting down the road, and, indeed, when we met them we understood: high heels. On the Green Gardens hike I met Chinese girls who quit the walk because of moccasins.
The greatest Chinese show was on Skyline. Everybody in the group wore identical red rain jackets that were flying vigorously in the furious wind at the top of the trail. They hugged each other, laughed, took pictures of course. Some dared walking down the steps, wind and all, but most stopped short, especially the squeaky girls and their partners.
So that was the tourist social scene. A few Europeans here and there. I met this wonderful Belgian girl in Parc National du Bic, a few Germans, some Israelis (Meat Cove, Sidney’s KOA, Ingonish), some East Indians. That’s about it. Everybody else was North American.
Those Days in Latin America
That was a very different scenario from my South American journey thirty-something years ago, where the “gringos” on the so-called Gringo Trail were British, French, Americans, Canadians, Dutch, Israelis, Spanish, Australians, even some people from beyond the Iron Curtain. The Australians, like Israelis, were always on some very lengthy trips away from home…
The locals, then, were generally more “background”, and the travelers constituted the natural social group for each other. Sadly, during a year of active travel, I barely met locals sightseeing their own countries. The majority could not afford to, and those who could, did not find interest and preferred, instead, to fly to Europe. They were not brought up, I felt, to connect deeply to their own local cultures, and did not see backpacking as a dignified way to take their vacations.
The Latin Middle Classes were more oriented to connect with Spain, France, even the U.S. One of the benefits of travelling to me is the travelers’ society – you learn simultaneously about the places you are in, and about the places where the other visitors come from in a sort of “Multimedia”.
Global citizenship and patriotism
Yes, I’m very patriotic for both Israel and the United States, but also, bottom line, and on another level, I see myself as a global citizenor “Planet’s Daughter”.
The Human Element
When in Guatemala, I was immersed in love for that country, for the Indians. I felt deeply for their plights, their exploitation. When in Mexico, I was identified with their pride, their difficulty to define themselves vis-à-vis the U.S. I loved the people, I loved the warmth. When I was in Ireland, I sympathized with their historical plight as well and loved their music and culture. When Palestinians refrain from aggression and blind hate, I support a reasonable settlement. We are co-existing anyway…
Imperfect humanity is not foreign to me. I know my own limitations. I know I can lose my cool, be impatient, pushy, rude at times. I don’t have illusions about my own perfection, and that helps me relate to what’s there in most of the world.
I don’t have a fixed view and do not vote tribal. I deeply enjoy seeing people of all colors, genders and nationalities thrive. Movies like Mira Nair’s “Queen of Katwe” about the Ugandan girl winning chess championships, move me. I wish for this world to become peaceful at last, but also to keep the different colors and cultures. That’s what we travel for, and that’s what traveling teaches, if we pay attention.
Because the World is Round, it Turns Me on…
From another perspective yet, the planet itself is a continuum. Yes, because the world is round, it turns me on…
Borders are crossed not just by illegal aliens but also by birds, lizards, foxes, winds and rains. Mountain ranges cut across, seashores stretch beyond all frontiers, floras and faunas have never read the shifting news.
Basically, the entire region I was travelling, in both the U.S, and Canada, is a part of a larger geographical unit affected by elements like the St. Lawrence River, the Atlantic coast, the Appalachia mountain ranges, none of which have anything to do with how we organize power and divide what we call wealth among people. It has everything to do with the elemental forces shaping the history of our planet as a whole. For anybody who really loves Nature, borders are lines in the sand, hindrances to a full understanding, specks in the eye.
When I came to Mexico I did not know it was divided into states. I did not know it had a revolution. I knew nothing about what happened in 1910, never heard of Pancho Villa or Emiliano Zapata. In my first few weeks in Mexico D.F. I got a crash course about imperialism and the Third World, pride and patriotism, multinationals, agrarian reforms and the migration to the cities.
When I came to Quebec I did not know the English beat the French militarily before they got to become a confederacy. I did not know about Acadians and their expulsion. I did not know Canada was twice invaded by the United States. I had no idea how Canada came to be a separate country. I did not know the Newfoundlanders felt more affinity with England than with Canada, and how NL was actually joined into the confederacy. Hey, I did not even know Canada defined itself as a confederacy…
But I knew A LOT about “America”, even before I lived there and became a citizen. You just do. It’s in the “atmosphere”, the air we breathe. Any American states I could not name when I finished high school?
Hi, Hello, Bon Jour
Back to Har Eitan, Israel. It is beautiful here too, but on a more minor scale. And it is the end of fall, but rain hadn’t come yet to save the land. Even the ubiquitous prickly burnet is now so brown it takes a stretch of the imagination to see the option of colors and liveliness.
People pass by, eyes elsewhere. You go “Hi” or “Shalom”, but an answer is not guaranteed. Some will return in kind or even upgrade to: “Yom Tov” (have a nice day); many will ignore, most will “Hi” back, few will initiate a greeting.
The difference is striking. Almost everybody on the trip either advanced or returned a “Hi”. That simple gesture creates a positive vibration, a feeling of well-being.
On Bonaventure Island, Quebec, hundreds of us crossed paths with hundreds others coming back from “Les Colonies”. It was a Sunday and crowded. I would usually say “Hi” and get back a “Bon Jour”, or I’ll “Bon Jour” and the up-comer would respond in kind. After a few dozen, my mouth ran dry. I was suspecting a “Hi” would be considered too English to be acceptable. Nonetheless, they at least answered, even if most did not offer. In that, as in many other things, Quebec was somewhere in the middle between us, Israelis, and the “Anglos”.
Money - The Bottom Line
It is an ordeal to calculate the total trip expenses. Part of the time I was a guest at dear friend’s house. Some bills include staples as well as equipment. Bank records can be confusing.
In a gross calculation, I spent 56-60$ a day on accommodation, food, gas and other expenses, $22 a day on the car rental and $900 on the flight. The car rental was more than covered by renting out my place in Jerusalem, so the net expenses, not counting equipment acquisitions were about ~3300$ for 58 days of active travelling.
Gasoline is extremely expensive in Israel as well as car treatments and garage fees. I, of course, keep paying my house insurance and car insurance while travelling. I also pay extra medical insurance. On the other hand, my car in Israel was almost idle, so that expense can be deducted…
Now, of course when I live at home I also have expenses… Actually, I spent almost as much on the everyday stuff over there as over here, but the calculations are not comparable due to taxes, etc.… So all in all, this trip was fairly economical. It did not create a large dent in my bank account and the camping equipment is here to last, at least for a while…
Can We Acclimate to Changes?
Molecules around our bodies (and inside them) move faster or slower. That’s what temperature translates to physically. The body adjusts in various ways – sweating, goose bumps, shivering. Bedouins and Inuit have physiological adaptations to their respective climates.
I lived six years in the Israeli South. The first summer I thought I was dying. When locals said: “Oh, great, summer is here”, I was crawling under the air conditioner. The second summer was easier. By the sixth, I came to actually like it. At first, I was the only one to plunge into the pool in June. To me it felt like a wee-wee pool, but the “natives” said the water was still too “cold” to swim in. Their attitude became more understandable as my time there prolonged.
Before I moved there, I was very fearful of moving in and out of A/C. I actually abhorred the whole concept of A/C, but nothing happened. I did not get sick. To the contrary, I got acclimated. Sometimes I moved in and out of A/C a dozen times a day as my job, which was spread over several buildings, required it. My body learned to deal with it. It adjusted both ways – to the cold and to the heat.
I also passed 10 winters in New Mexico. We once measured -19ºC on our porch. Interestingly, I have no body recollection of how it felt. People adjust. Russian immigrants live in Eilat, Arabs live in Sweden. But what I found curious is how these adaptations register in the body and make the next change easier. The move from 30ºC in Israel to a reality of gloves, scarf and a jacket in Canada in August, came relatively easy. My body already went through that before on previous trips to the Scottish Isles. Something in the body’s “computer” registers and recognizes the range it experienced in the past.
I Say Cold, You Say Hot…
Paradoxically, what conditioned me to deal relatively well with low temps was actually my childhood in Jerusalem. It rarely gets to zero or below here, and only once every few years it snows. I cannot recollect a temperature lower than -3ºC, but the winters are still cold: high ceilings, bare stone floors, poor heating. And outside: penetrating cold and winds. Jerusalemites who were to Moscow or Stockholm in winter report feeling cozy. I’m kind of proud of it, and of the fact I was the one who always turned down the heat in our house in New Mexico…
On the day of my flight back home, temperatures were 13ºC to 4ºC in Maine. It started raining early in the morning and despite a forecast for sporadic showers, it rained all day nonstop. The drive was beautifully surreal as the oranges, yellows and reds of the trees shone through the water curtains hanging in the air. In Istanbul, it was hot and humid, and landing in Tel Aviv, temperatures reached 29ºC. A week later, going to a festival in the Arava was surprisingly very easy. The 30ºC+ during the days passed as normal, and the nights I used in past years to sense as cold, felt mild in comparison to northern Canada. I transited back and forth with “amazing grace”, I must say.
All that said, most Canadian girls were running around in shorts when I was wearing layers. At 25ºC when me and an Israeli guy I met were extremely comfortable sitting outside at a café veranda, they would complain of “heat” …In general the Canadians seemed well adjusted to their climate, including the Newfoundlanders. Moreover, they were proud of it. Most would not necessarily move down to a Canadian “Florida” except for one young woman I met at a B&B in Shediac. She was travelling south to check out a warmer spot to migrate to. “Her body” could not sustain the cold anymore. She was a massage therapist and highly aware of what was right for her. I doubt I could live in Canada for a long stretch of time either. I am too Mediterranean for that…
Woke up early today, and, surprise, surprise, a few minutes later I heard a familiar sound from the outside. This short rain lasted for only three minutes, but was a nice reminder of pleasant moments in the tent. A soft drizzle, or even a hard downpour would tip-tap on the fabric so close to my body, only to slide downwards and sideward leaving me high and dry. Hopefully, this little song of the skies is a good portent of things to come this winter.
Years ago, in one of my first transatlantic flights, the pilot took us over Canada. My mouth was open with amazement and envy as thousands of lakes, big and small, shone in the oblique sun. This year in Canada, people were praying for rain…. The lakes were low by a few centimeters and there was a sense of anxiety.
And I am thinking – there’s no comparison… The Kinneret is so low now I start to doubt my own memory of how high it used to be. The pole showing the different levels seems surreal, like the tide poles in Alma.
In the Dead Sea, you walk hundreds of meters over land that used to be submerged in water, and all that despite desalination, despite gray water irrigation, despite drip.
What do we have in our little country? Nothing – one fresh lake, one salty lake – both endangered. And the Med is not what it used to be either – less fishery, less invertebrate life, more jellyfish.
But the Canadians were also worried about climate change and drought. They had a huge fire last year. A catastrophic fire broke on May 1st, 2016, just two months before my visit, and destroyed 1,500,000 acres of forested land, about a third of the size of Israel, and 2,400 homes. It wasn’t under control until July 5th. So sad and depressing. We should all protect the treasures we are lucky enough to be custodians of.
Our world picture is, indeed, shaped by our homelands. Up until Santa Fe I thought that, with the notable exception of India with her monsoons (something exotic and different), rain always comes in winter like it does in Israel. It gets cold, so it rains, my Israeli logic went. Another reason why travelling is so necessary to open the mind.
Time and Imagination
It’s all about time, anyway, that shapeshifter element that accrues so much meaning when you go out into an unknown world experiencing with all your senses, but passes by almost unnoticeably once you come back into whatever consists of your “routine” at the time.
True, even while travelling, there is a certain element of habituality and repetition – the more you do it, the more familiar it gets, but no comparison. Time on travelling is acute, sharp and non-trivial. You wake up in the morning to live. And it’s never the same, unless, like many people I met on the campgrounds, you make it just another scheduled part of your comfort zone, keeping coming to the same old familiar.
The Comfort Zone
It can be great to have a fixed place to vacation, for sure, everything is legitimate. I met this very the nice lady who has a timeshare on a cabin at Northumbria, PEI: “We always come back here. We love it here.” They know the beach, they know what they get, they need a rest from “life” and this is a perfect location. No need to challenge perfection, especially with a family.
Many times people vacation simply to rest, not to make huge efforts to discover the world… Even at Campbell’s Cove, I was told most young folks there were “regulars”. They come to party, re-unite with the gang. That’s another style.
But sometimes you get the sense that people come back because of a lack of imagination. Lack of imagination seemed big to me in the overall population. People come to a place to settle into a home a bit away from home, like the Quebecer couple in the same Northumbrian beach. They settled near their trailer, on the plastic chairs, on the grass. The sea, about a hundred meters away, was invisible from where they located themselves, and, voila. That was Life. How do you measure happiness? And is this about “happiness” at all?
The Big Opportunity and the Big Escapes
The Big Question really is what we do with the Big Opportunity given us every morning. Many people think the answer is to make other people’s lives as miserable as possible, usually because they are overwhelmed with the personal responsibility to confront their own freedom.
By limiting Freedom for everybody through Halachas and Shariahs, institutions and bureaucracies, formal organized educational systems and heartless workplaces, people avoid looking into our Situation, namely, the Time we have on our hands and what to do with it.
We get addicted to screens, entertainment, games, substances, whatever, to bypass that essential dilemma: what to do with MY day?
At one point, out of compassion for myself, I learned to accept my latest escapism: watching CNN on the round hour. What for? What will I tell myself on the hour of death? That I know all CNN international anchors? Pat myself on the shoulder for knowing what used to be going on? Unsurprisingly, addiction disappeared with travelling but came back crashing upon home arrival, just like the binge that follows a fast or a diet. And is the word “escape” appropriate? What are we escaping from?
Verticals and Self -Acceptance
It is not necessary to do “verticals”, or anything else too difficult or uncomfortable. We have enough imperatives in our lives. The world offers its beauty also on plane ground. Still, interestingly, I found out that the more I did the verticals, at my own pace, the more I extended my vision for myself for what was possible. Yet, again, there are verticals and there are verticals. Doing Mount Cadillac’s eastern slope was within my current ability range – by that point in the trip I had already mounted several peaks and saw I was capable. The Himalayas will probably keep their lure for younger people…
This is me at 28 climbing Mount Tungurahua, Ecuador (5023 m). I wasn’t always so careful and hesitant. At that age, I just “went for” things. Being in much better shape, having the stamina and courage, yes…
But, hey, I acknowledge where I’m at now, and that’s OK, perfectly OK…
One purpose of this writing is self-acceptance. Interestingly, my physical problems started on the very day he above picture was taken. As I started my descent from the volcano, I felt my knee for the first time. It did not quite brake the way it should, painlessly.
The knee issue had gone up and down over the years, but is always there in the background, if at a low level. There were periods I could barely bend to sit down, and there are periods where I can run and jump. I learned the hard way what not to do, e.g. aerobics, some yoga postures, deep squats. It is “under control”, but the thing is I lost that innocent trust in my body I had in my early twenties.
The knee problem made me aware I had limitations and am therefore never secure enough that things won’t get out of hand (out of leg…).
So, caution, working things gradually, mindfulness. Self-acceptance on the one hand and self-challenging on the other. Good luck to all.
Bottom Line - Why this Journal?
It’s all About Decisions
Me and my girlfriend had our nice walk this Saturday. She asked: what is the core message of your “book”, what do you want them to take home once they forget all the details? I was silent for a moment, then said I don’t know yet. That’s why I’m writing everything down now before I forget. When I edit it, I’ll think about the message.
I told her I wasn’t into deep psychological analysis, but am focused on one important aspect for me: how I make my decisions, how I navigate in the world. The writing revolves around using my agency to pick and choose, carry the weight of whichever choice I make and live with it. It’s about knowing when to linger and when to move on, understanding my strengths as well as limitations and working with them.
No huge psychological insights, some things very mundane, but, hey, it’s life. And details are not a dirty word either. This is perhaps the message I’m trying to convey. One never knows who you can inspire and what impact your sharing might have.
Sure, I have my own specific interests and foci – photography, ecology, walking, swimming, geology and biology, music where I find it, and others have theirs, but the “point”, if there is one, is how I followed my heart on a day-to-day basis, redirecting myself as I went, being open to what’s there and to what I wanted at the moment and in general.
This orientation worked for me very well on this trip, from the economic and practical levels to the scientific and spiritual. It was a terrific voyage. Anybody who would like to partake of anything I described – welcome to the roads and the trails of the world.
Regarding taking decisions, also see Epilogue.