Israel Free Spirit
Bus 541

Connections Take Flight, JFK to Bus 541, Israel, Day 0/1

Our travel day and day one blended a 38-hour fog of waiting with a 12-hour lifting haze that was the beginning of our Israel excursion. The initial highlight was our near seven-hour wait at the El Al terminal in JFK.

“Struggling at the airport allowed the friendship connections to take flight,” said Ben from Seattle. We are learning that Ben is a master of puns.

Over the course of about 38 hours of travel consisting of our initial group meeting at the Pakistan station at terminal 4, flowing through U.S. customs like molasses, the 11-hour flight to Tel Aviv, boarding Bus 541 (our traveling home for the next week) and pulling into the Shlomi hotel (it’s 3:00am Tuesday at this point), we were finally able to get horizontal and catch three to four hours of anxious sleep.

“The trip was long and taxing but it was productive,” said A.J. from Massachusetts. “It sucked for all of us, but we struggled through it together.”

7:45am Tuesday came fast but the success of arriving in Israel and finally reaching day one brought a buzz to the breakfast dining hall. The buffet provided variations of eggs, good espresso and something that wasn’t pudding. The food options were enough and, accompanied by morning conversation with new friends, energized the crew.

At 10:00am we strapped on our water shoes and added ourselves to the hundreds of people that crowded the popular Hatzbani river trail. Alex, our lead tour guide, attributed the crowd to summer vacation season in Israel. Trail traffic reflected that theory. The water was cool, shade was refreshing and a naked Tarzan-looking baby eating Mango on a rock was – – enlightening? With zero river casualties we reached Bus 541 and at about 1:45pm arrived at an eatery near Golan Heights.

This would be our first ‘real’ Israeli meal of the trip. Half of the bus ‘bee-lined’ to the designated lunch spot, while the rest of us (a true group of rebels), including myself (of course), were lured into a competing food joint next door. All money savings and shouting chefs aside, Bus 541, packed with 50 riders full of falafel and shawarma, each of us 30 shekels lighter, left the parking lot at 2:20pm for the Golan Heights Winery.

The highlight of the winery tour was Shalom, our wizard of a tour guide with a voice that may have narrated Green Eggs & Ham or a cut scene in a Harry Potter film. His presentation brought on a mix of intrigue and muffled laughter. Shalom is a true ‘G’.

At 4:45pm we were back on Bus 541 on our way to Bental, a mountain overlooking the Israeli-Syrian border. A combination of wine and a lingering travel hangover put 90% of Bus 541 to sleep on the short 25-minute trip. The views at Bental brought some life back to the crew. I bought one of the best cups of coffee I’ve ever had, while others snapped group photos and explored the military bunkers before assembling for a quick group geopolitical update from Alex. The theme of that conversation was “Land for Peace?”.

We returned to the Shlomi hotel at 7:15pm, ate dinner, showered, and met as a group to joke about sex and review Wednesday’s agenda (#AbruptEnding). Time for a full night’s sleep.

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-JS