Six personal travel managers (PTMs) were invited to represent TravelManagers on a Crooked Compass seven-day hiking famil – to Palestine and Israel – the first time each of the PTMs had experienced those destinations.
The seven-day itinerary, which started and ended in Tel Aviv, took the group through remote but beautiful terrain in the Nablus region, hiking on remote trails shared by shepherds and their flocks, and saw them visit iconic sites in and around Bethlehem. They also visited the ancient city of Jericho, and swam in the Dead Sea.
Personal travel manager Kerstin Rheinlander, representative for Sinnamon Park in Queensland, describes herself as a huge fan of the Middle Eastern countries in general and says the itinerary her group followed would best suit history buffs, but also those with religious interests, too.
“Participants need to have a reasonable level of fitness so I wouldn’t recommend this particular tour to families with younger children, but older teenagers would be able to handle it.
“If they were simply travelling through Palestine independently, then the region itself would be of great interest for families of all ages.”
Rheinlander was surprised by the welcoming kindness of the Palestinian people and their generous hospitality.
“They shared everything they possibly could, even though they had so little for themselves.
“Strangers walking in the street called out, ‘Welcome to Palestine’ … shopkeepers beckoned us to hear their stories. A family with young children even stopped harvesting their olives to chat with us and invited us to join them for tea, but unfortunately we had to continue on our path!”
The opportunity to visit historic sites, that are of great significance to millions of people, was too good to pass up and, for Karen Doyle, representative for South Yarra in Victoria, the warmth of the Palestinian people, in particular, was an added bonus.
“[The people] were very warm, friendly and welcoming, wanting to know where we were from and offering us sweet tea and food. They were a generous people, who often had very little in terms of material possessions, but were always very generous to us as their guests.”
Doyle said there was no moment during her visit to Palestine that she felt unsafe.
“It was interesting to hear the stories from the locals and our guides of life living under Israeli domination. You can only admire and sympathise with these people, who demonstrate amazing resilience and perseverance under difficult conditions.”
She was also delighted by the local cuisine.
“I enjoyed Palestinian tea, which is sweet and strong, and also the cardamom-spiced coffee, which is by far the best option for coffee in Palestine.”
The fresh, locally-produced ingredients included “… spiced flat bread with hummus, baba ganoush, tabbouleh, fried chicken, yoghurt, and soft cheese with olive oil and zaatar spice – yum.”
Doyle, who also chose to add a side trip to neighbouring Jordan, says it was relatively easy to reach Palestine, flying via Dubai and Amman to Tel Aviv. However, she warns that patience is required when crossing borders.
“Be prepared for lengthy questioning from Israeli officials about your intended visit on entering and leaving Israel after visiting Palestine,” she advises. “It can take a long time to get through immigration on arrival and departure, with multiple checkpoints and a lot of questions asked.”
For Theresa Kwong, representative for Hughesdale in Victoria, the wonderful hospitality was matched by some of the trip’s key highlights which included taking a drink from Jacob’s Well, floating in the Dead Sea, hiking across mountains, and discovering and exploring hidden valleys and ancient secrets.
“This was my first time visiting Israel and Palestine, and there was so much to learn about both countries’ political and religious history.
“But the feeling when we reached the end of our walk, to view the cliffside Mar Saba Monastery in Palestine, and visiting Nativity Church in Bethlehem to touch the spot where Jesus was believed to be born, were truly awe-inspiring. For me these were two remarkable experiences in a trip packed with highlights.”
TravelManagers’ Executive General Manager Michael Gazal, says although client enquiry for travel to Palestine is not particularly high, it is valuable for PTMs to have first-hand experience of more niche destinations.
TOP IMAGE: On the road to Tell Balata, the site of the Bronze Age city of Shechem, where Abraham arrived in the Land of Canaan. L-R: Bev Fitzsimons, Cath Graham Theresa Kwong, Di Yates, Kirsten Rheinlander and Karen Doyle.