This trip was talked about for so long that my friend Rony and I can’t remember when he first invited me to Israel.
Backstory: In dental school I bought a brand new 2004 KTM 450 EXC by using student loan money. Riding dirt bikes became my hobby, obsession and stress relief from school. I was fanatical about riding and was a frequent poster on the internet message board KTMTALK. Now on the message board there is a section called Ride Reports. It is a section where people can post pictures of where they ride. A KTMTALK member named ROG (Really Old Guy) posted amazing pictures of the riding in Israel. I was shocked on how amazing and diverse the riding in Israel was. I admit, I was ignorant as I thought that Israel and the Middle East was just a sandy wasteland. Every time ROG would post amazing pictures and stories about his rides I would comment. I soon became “internet” friends with ROG. He invited me to come ride in Israel.
Life kept changing for me. Wife and I had our first daughter. I could still ride my dirt bike. Then daughter number two came around and dirt bikes stopped. I took over a retiring dentist’s practice and was now a business owner.
I transitioned into my new hobby shooting guns. Now Brazillian Jiu Jitsu is my main interest. However, I would still keep in touch with ROG periodically throughout the years. Late 2017 I emailed ROG , his real name is Rony. He told me that he is getting old and if I was ever going to come I need to come. I talked to my wife and got permission to go to Israel in 2018. I was initially thinking in April around my birthday.
My dental office got water damage from the hurricane. The damage was minor but extensive. Water seeped up through the foundation and got underneath our wood floors. We were able to put off repairs till the end of the year. The office was going to be closing December 8th for the repairs. I emailed Rony and asked if December was a good time to ride and he said yes. My wife was amazing and gave me permission to go on my Israel trip. Actually December worked out great for me because my office was going to be closed for repairs, kids were still in school, wife was still working at the Hospital and I would not have to take time off in April and miss work.
Here is my Israel Adventure:
Wednesday December 13th 2017 Arrive in Israel
I arrive at Ben Gurion Airport in Tel Aviv. I get through customs, grab my bag, get money from an ATM and go outside to the Taxis. I am staying in a small city right outside Tel Aviv called Jaffa.
Jaffa or Yafo, is the southern and oldest part of Tel Aviv-Yafo, an ancient port city in Israel. Jaffa is famous for its association with the biblical stories of Jonah, Solomon and Saint Peter as well as the mythological story of Andromeda and Perseus, and later with oranges. Jaffa is one of Israel’s most ancient cities inhabited 7,500 years ago. Jaffa is one of the most ancient port cities in the world. Perched on top of a hill overlooking the Mediterranean Sea with a natural harbor and fertile soil, ancient Jaffa was a strategic prize. Jaffa was conquered and reconquered countless times throughout history. Notable conquerors include the: Canaanites, Phoenicians, the Pharaohs, King David, and the Assyrians.
I arrived at my Motel at 10:00 a.m. and my room was not ready. I left my bags and went exploring. Jaffa is pretty small so I was able to see the Jaffa Watchtower, fishing port, Mediterranean, Flea Market, St. Peters Franciscan Church and the home of Simon the Tanner from the New Testament. I was very jet lagged. I ate lunch and went back to the Motel where I took a 5 hour nap. I got up walked around the city at night. Jaffa is filled with restaurants and bars and the city came alive at night. I ate a small dinner and made my way home and went to bed. I woke up at midnight and was hungry. Jet lag was killing me. Normally I would not leave my Motel at midnight but my room was facing the street and I could see that the night life was still going strong. I went outside looking for a quick bite. I purchased a shawarma. This is a sandwich where the meat is sliced and marinated and then roasted on a huge rotating skewer. The cooked meat is shaved off and stuffed into a pita, plainly with hummus and tahina, or with additional trimmings such onion, salads and pickles. Instead of pita bread, I got my shawarma in a baguette.
Thursday December 14th explore Tel Aviv, Dinner with Rony.
Tel Aviv-Yafo is a major city in Israel, located on the country’s Mediterranean coastline. It is the financial center and the technology hub of Israel, with a population of 438,818, making it Israel’s second-largest city.
I visited The Tel Aviv Museum of Art. The museum houses a comprehensive collection of classical and contemporary art. I saw works by Vincent van Gogh, March Chagall, Jackson Pollock, Pablo Picasso, and Roy Lichtenstein. After the museum I walked the 6 miles back to my Motel so I could get a “feel” for the city.
Rony came and picked me up from my Hotel and took me to eat dinner with his family. This was the second coolest thing I did on the trip (riding dirt bikes was number one). To be invited for dinner, eat, talk and sit with Rony’s family was a fabulous experience. To think about it was crazy, here I am a goofy dentist from Texas and I was sitting and eating dinner in an Israeli household. This was an experience that tourists don’t get to experience. I even got to do a dental consult as Rony’s wife asked me to look at some dental x-rays on their youngest daughter.
Friday December 15th Riding in the Judean Desert
The Judean Desert, or the Judean Wilderness as it has been known throughout history, is one of the world’s smallest, yet most unique desert regions. Passed through by most people as they descend from Jerusalem at around 800 meters above sea level, to the Dead Sea, the lowest point on earth, at 400 meters below sea level, it is a fascinating region to stop and explore, full of fun outdoor activities, as well as a rich history and fascinating geography and geology. The Judean Desert is a rock desert characterized by a large number of wadis (valley, ravine, or channel that is dry except in the rainy season) cutting through the rock.
Throughout history, the Judean Desert has been an important, and much documented place. It was the main entry route to the Holy City of Jerusalem from the east, and Moses famously looked out across it, and the Holy Land into which he never entered, from the Moab Mountains of Jordan which lie across the Dead Sea from Israel.
Rony picked my up and we went to his friend’s house to load the motorcycles. Rony’s friend graciously let me borrow his new KTM 350 4 stroke for the two days of riding. One thing that Rony kept reminding me is how small Israel is and how there is so many different geographically different riding areas there are in Israel. In less than an hour we had traveled all the way across Israel, entered the West Bank and made it to the trailhead. I was introduced to Rony’s dirt bike crew and we geared up for the ride.
The riding in the Judean Desert reminded me of the riding outside Las Vegas but everything was on a larger scale. The views were non-stop amazing. We stopped and Rony pointed out the city of Jericho in the distance. Archaeologists have unearthed the remains of more than 20 successive settlements in Jericho, the first of which dates back 11,000 years (9000 BC). Copious springs in and around the city have attracted human habitation for thousands of years. Jericho is described in the Hebrew Bible as the “City of Palm Trees”.
More breathtaking scenery and then we popped out of the desert, crossed a highway and stopped at a large gas station. This was a large gas station / rest area. I got to experience a freshly squeezed orange and pomegranate juice drink. Walking around Israel I had seen lots of fruit stands. Like Starbucks in other cities, it’s hard to walk more than a few blocks in Israel without stumbling upon these colorful fruit kiosks, where you can get your fruits and veggies served up with a straw. Rony ordered for me and the drink was delicious.
We re-entered the desert and were off to go see the Dead Sea from a spectacular vantage point. The Dead Sea is a salt lake bordered by Jordan to the east and Israel to the west. Its surface and shores are 1,412 ft below sea level, Earth’s lowest elevation on land. The Dead Sea is 997 ft deep, the deepest hypersaline lake in the world.
We stopped at a shaded picnic spot overlooking the Dead Sea. Here is where I got introduced to what I like to call BLACK DEATH coffee. However, the accurate description would be Arabian coffee spiced with cardamom which ironically is called “Hel” or “Hell” in Arabic. It is made by boiling very finely ground coffee beans with water. My dirt bike friends loved this coffee. I could not drink it as the cardamom spice was so overpowering. I was assured that this style of coffee was an acquired taste.
We kept riding till we came to an ancient Monastery that is still inhabited by monks. We stopped and rested and I took tons of pictures of the Monastery. Then we were off to the highest point in the Judean Desert. We could see the city of Jerusalem from this vantage point.
We were heading back to the trailhead when I spotted several camels walking. I stopped to take a picture. The guy behind me stopped and asked if I was ok. I was super excited and said “Wow…look there are camels!!” I had never seen camels in the desert. The other rider just shrugged it off because camels in the desert are a normal occurrence.
Saturday 16th Riding in Central Israel
Today we would ride in Central Israel. Rony and I stopped at a large highway gas station rest stop for coffee as we were ahead of schedule in making it to the trail head. Israel is a small country as Rony ran into some people he knew.
It was funny to me that Central Israel reminded me a lot of Central Texas. There were rolling hills, green grass, small trees/shrubs and LOTS of rocks. This ride was much more difficult for me then the desert ride. The bike I was borrowing was not set up for my giant frame so I did not feel comfortable standing. When you stand you take less of a beating when going over rocks and obstacles. The single track was epic and we went from woods, open pastures, to hills. We stopped and the BLACK DEATH coffee made another appearance. I declined the coffee.
Texas is almost ALL private land and there are limited areas to ride. However, in Israel almost ALL the country is open to riding.
I had an amazing opportunity to ride in Israel. At the end of two days of riding I was physically spent. I had not been on a dirt bike for almost two years. Most people do not know how physical riding a dirt bike is. My legs, abs, chest, back and arms were so sore.
Another cool thing is that dirt bikers in Israel are just like dirt bikers in America. I just met these guys but they were so cool. They tease, badger and harass each other non-stop. Everyone was grinning ear to ear after the ride as there truly is something magical about riding a motorcycle. It’s almost impossible to describe to non-riders the sensation of freedom you get while riding. However, every motorcycle rider knows the incredible thrill of riding.
Sunday 17th Israel’s Northern Coast
The first tour of my vacation is to explore Israel’s Northern Coastline by visiting Caesarea, Haifa, Rosh Hanikra and Acre. Israel’s Mediterranean Coast has been ruled by tens of empires throughout history who have created a fascinating mosaic of historic sites.
Caesarea is a town on Israel’s Mediterranean coast. It’s known for Caesarea National Park, which includes a large Roman amphitheater and the historic port. On the site is an archaeological park with pillars and sculptures, and the remains of a hippodrome, with frescoes and stone seating. The ruins of the seafront Promontory Palace include the remains of a mosaic floor.
Caesarea was originally an ancient Phoenician settlement known as Straton’s Tower, it was rebuilt and enlarged in 22–10 BCE by Herod the Great, king of Judaea under the Romans, and renamed for his patron, the emperor Caesar Augustus. It served as a port for Herod’s newly built city at Sebaste. Caesarea had an artificial harbor of large concrete blocks and typical Hellenistic-Roman public buildings. An aqueduct brought water from springs located almost 10 miles (16 km) to the northeast. Caesarea served as a base for the Herodian navy, which operated in aid of the Romans as far as the Black Sea.
Haifa is the third-largest city in the State of Israel after Jerusalem and Tel Aviv. It is home to the Bahá’í World Centre, a UNESCO World Heritage Site and a destination for Bahá’í pilgrims.
Haifa was built on the slopes of Mount Carmel, the settlement has a history spanning more than 3,000 years. The earliest known settlement in the vicinity was Tell Abu Hawam, a small port city established in the Late Bronze Age (14th century BCE). In the 3rd century CE, Haifa was known as a dye-making center. Over the centuries, the city has changed hands: being conquered and ruled by the Phoenicians, Persians, Hasmoneans, Romans, Byzantines, Arabs, Crusaders, Ottomans, British, and the Israelis.
Rosh Hanikra is an incredible geological creation at the farthest point north on Israel’s Mediterranean Coastline in the Western Galilee region. Rosh Hanikra refers to a vast network of grottoes and caves along the Mediterranean coastline in the Western Galilee region. These grottoes and caves were formed as a result of the interaction between the waves and the rocky cliffs that make up the coastline.
Old City of Acre: Acre is a historic walled port-city with continuous settlement from the Phoenician period. The present city is characteristic of a fortified town dating from the Ottoman 18th and 19th centuries, with typical urban components such as the citadel, mosques, khans and baths. The remains of the Crusader town, dating from 1104 to 1291, lie almost intact, both above and below today’s street level, providing an exceptional picture of the layout and structures of the capital of the medieval Crusader kingdom of Jerusalem.
Monday 18th Petra, Jordan
For the Petra tour I had to be at the SDE airport in Tel Aviv at 5 am. I was flying south toTel Aviv to Eilat. Then it took 1.5 hours to go all the paperwork to transfer from Israel to Jordan. There was a lot of paperwork on both sides.
Inhabited since prehistoric times, this Nabataean caravan-city, situated between the Red Sea and the Dead Sea, was an important crossroads between Arabia, Egypt and Syria-Phoenicia. Petra is half-built, half-carved into the rock, and is surrounded by mountains riddled with passages and gorges. It is one of the world’s most famous archaeological sites, where ancient Eastern traditions blend with Hellenistic architecture. An ingenious water management system allowed extensive settlement of an essentially arid area during the Nabataean, Roman and Byzantine periods.
The most famous attraction in Petra is Al-Khazneh. It is one of the most elaborate temples in the ancient Arab Nabatean Kingdom city of Petra. Al-Khazneh was originally built as a mausoleum and crypt at the beginning of the 1st century AD during the reign of Aretas IV Philopatris. Alas, when I visited I did not see Indiana Jones nor did I find the Holy Grail.
Tuesday 19th Jerusalem
Jerusalem islocated on a plateau in the Judean Mountains between the Mediterranean and the Dead Sea, is one of the oldest cities in the world. It is considered holy to the three major Abrahamic religions—Judaism, Christianity and Islam.
Jerusalem was named as “Urusalima” on ancient Mesopotamian cuneiform tablets, probably meaning “City of Shalem” after a Canaanite deity, during the early Canaanite period (approximately 2400 BCE). During the Israelite period, significant construction activity in Jerusalem began in the 9th century BCE (Iron Age II), and in the 8th century the city developed into the religious and administrative center of the Kingdom of Judah. During its long history, Jerusalem has been destroyed at least twice, besieged 23 times, attacked 52 times, and captured and recaptured 44 times. The part of Jerusalem called the City of David was settled in the 4th millennium BCE. In 1538, walls were built around Jerusalem under Suleiman the Magnificent. Today those walls define the Old City, which has been traditionally divided into four quarters—known since the early 19th century as the Armenian, Christian, Jewish, and Muslim Quarters.
In its thousands of years of history, Jerusalem, a place of major importance to three main religions – Judaism, Christianity and Islam, has seen countless conquests and destruction, triumphs and disasters. I visited The Western Wall, the holiest site in Judaism; The Church of the Holy Sepulchre, where Jesus was crucified and saw Al-Aqsa Mosque (Dome of the Rock), the third holiest site in Islam. These places are located in the “Old City’”, an extraordinary walled city, filled with unique buildings, narrow passageways, bustling markets and a mix of cultures and languages. Just walking through the narrow streets and alleys one is immersed in history.
The Old City is roughly one square kilometer. I was able to walk the The Via Dolorosa (Latin: “Way of Grief,” “Way of Sorrow,” “Way of Suffering” or simply “Painful Way”). The Via Dolorosa is a street within the Old City of Jerusalem, believed to be the path that Jesus walked on the way to his crucifixion. Along this route are the Stations of the Cross.
On the top of the hill in Jerusalem known as Golgotha stands the holiest Christian shrine in the Old City, the Church of the Holy Sepulchre – the site of Christ’s crucifixion, burial and resurrection. Today the church is shared by five different Christian communities; Roman Catholic, Greek Orthodox, Coptic, Syrian Orthodox and Armenian. This often led to violent squabbling among all arms of the Christian church which continued for centuries until the 1852 Status Quo sharing agreement. The agreement still stands today and has resulted in various parts of the Church of Holy Sepulchre being dedicated to the different sects. The church contains, according to traditions dating back to at least the fourth century, the two holiest sites in Christianity: the site where Jesus of Nazareth was crucified, at a place known as “Calvary” or “Golgotha”, and Jesus’s empty tomb, where he is said to have been buried and resurrected. The tomb is enclosed by the 19th-century shrine, called the Aedicule (Edicule).
The Western Wall is the most holy place accessible to the Jewish people because of Muslim control of the Temple Mount. Known in recent centuries as the “Wailing Wall,” this was built by Herod the Great as the retaining wall of the Temple Mount complex. When the Romans destroyed the temple in 70 CE, the support wall survived. For hundreds of years, people prayed in the small area of the wall that could be seen. In 1967, following the Six Day War, Israelis dug below the ground of the wall, exposing two more levels of the wall. They also cleared the area around the wall to create the Western Wall Plaza that visitors see today.
The Western Wall is a surviving remnant of the Temple Mount in Jerusalem, which was destroyed by the Romans in 70 CE. The Temple was the center of the spiritual world, the main conduit for the flow of Godliness. When the Temple stood, the world was filled with awe of God and appreciation for the genius of the Torah.
Jewish tradition teaches that all of creation began in Jerusalem. The epicenter is Mount Moriah, known by mystics as “the watering stone.” The name “Moriah” is actually a play on words: “Moriah is the place from which Torah instruction (horah) goes forth; from where fear of heaven (yirah) goes forth; from where light (orah) goes forth.”
It is here, on Mount Moriah, that Isaac was bound for sacrifice. And it is here that his son Jacob dreamed of the ladder ascending to heaven.
The Sages prophesied that even after the Temple’s destruction, the Divine Presence would never leave the Western Wall, and that the Wall will never be destroyed. The Wall is endowed with everlasting sanctity, as the Talmud says: “And I will make your sanctuaries desolate” (Leviticus 26:31) – this means that the sanctuaries retain their sanctity even when they are desolate.
Jerusalem was destroyed and rebuilt nine times. And through it all, one symbol remained intact: The Western Wall.
In establishing the eternal covenant with Abraham, God promised that the Jewish people will never be destroyed (Genesis 17:7). In this way, the Wall is a symbol of the Jewish people: Just as there have been many efforts to destroy the Wall and yet it remains eternal, so too the Jewish people have outlived its enemies and remain eternal. The Wall thus became the symbol of both devastation and of hope.
It was very divine and sacred visiting the Western Wall. The plaza was filled with people praying. I wrote a small note and placed it into the cracks of the Western Wall. Twice a year, the notes are removed and are buried in a Jewish cemetery on the Mount of Olives.
The Dome of the Rock is an Islamic shrine located on the Temple Mount in the Old City of Jerusalem.
It was initially completed in 691 CE at the order of Umayyad Caliph Abd al-Malik during the Second Fitna, built on the site of the Roman temple of Jupiter Capitolinus, which had in turn been built on the site of the Second Jewish Temple, destroyed during the Roman Siege of Jerusalem in 70 CE.
The site’s great significance for Muslims derives from traditions connecting it to the creation of the world and to the belief that the Prophet Muhammad’s Night Journey to heaven started from the rock at the center of the structure.
In Jewish tradition the rock bears great significance as the Foundation Stone, the place from which the world expanded into its present form and where God gathered the dust used to create the first human, Adam; as the site on Mount Moriah where Abraham attempted to sacrifice his son; and as the place where God’s divine presence is manifested more than in any other place, towards which Jews turn during prayer.
Wednesday 20th Jerusalem then back to Jaffa
This was going to be a lazy day. Just me wandering around the Old City and seeing a couple of places that were not on yesterday’s tour.
My hotel was near the Jaffa Gate to the old City. Directly across from the Jaffa Gate is the Tower of David. It is an ancient citadel that dates to the Mamluk and Ottoman periods. It was built on the site of an earlier ancient fortification of the Hasmonean, Herodian-era, Byzantine and Early Muslim periods, after being destroyed repeatedly during the last decades of Crusader presence in the Holy Land by Ayyubid and Mamluk rulers. It contains important archaeological finds dating back over 2,000 years including a quarry dated to the First Temple period.
Despite being called the Tower of David, the citadel has no connection to King David. The roots of this mistake date back to the Byzantine period, when early Church fathers misinterpreted Josephus Flavius’ writings and attributed a tower from the time of Herod (the Tower of Phasael) to King David. The Muslims also associated the Herodian tower with King David and called it mihrab Nabi Daud (the prayer niche of the prophet David). In the 19th century, when Westerners arrived in the city looking for physical evidence of the scriptures, the Turkish minaret added to the Mamluk mosque was mistakenly identified as the Tower of David. It was then that the misnomer for the Herodian Phasael Tower was transferred to the Turkish minaret and it received the name the Tower of David.
I revisited the Church of the Holy Sepulchre and spent a lot of time basking in the history of the Church. I explored some areas that I missed during yesterday’s tour.
I then walked to the Tomb of King David and visited the Room of the Last Supper. I made my way to Gethsemane an urban garden at the foot of the Mount of Olives in Jerusalem, most famous as the place where Jesus prayed and his disciples slept the night before his crucifixion. I walked up the top of Mount Olive for a spectacular view of Jerusalem. Then I walked over to The Chapel of the Ascension. This is a shrine the faithful believe to be the earthly spot where Jesus ascended into Heaven forty days after his resurrection. It houses a slab of stone believed to contain one of his footprints.
I took a taxi to the main bus station in Jerusalem and bought a ticket to take me back to Tel-Aviv.
Thursday 21st Galilee and Northern Israel
Tour started by driving to see St George’s Monastery. The sixth-century cliff-hanging complex, with its ancient chapel and gardens, is active and inhabited by Eastern Orthodox monks. It is reached by a pedestrian bridge across Wadi Qelt, which many believe to be Psalm 23’s Valley of the Shadow. The valley parallels the old Roman road to Jericho, the backdrop for the parable of the Good Samaritan. The monastery is open to pilgrims and visitors.
When then visited Jordan River Baptism site at Yardenit. I got to place my hand in Jordan River. Then we made our way to the the Church of Multiplication. The church is modern but stands on the site of 4th and 5th-century churches. It preserves a splendid early Christian mosaic as well as the traditional stone on which the miraculous meal that was made by multiplying five loaves of bread and two fishes.
We stopped at the Sea of Galilee and again I was able to put my hand into the water. It is the lowest freshwater lake on Earth and the second-lowest lake in the world (after the Dead Sea, a saltwater lake) The lake is fed partly by underground springs although its main source is the Jordan River which flows through it from north to south.
In the New Testament the term “sea of Galilee” is used in the gospel of Matthew 4:18; 15:29, the gospel of Mark 1:16; 7:31, and in the gospel of John 6:1 as “the sea of Galilee, which is the sea of Tiberias” the late 1st century CE name. Sea of Tiberias is also the name mentioned in Roman.
We then went to Nazareth and visited, the Church of the Annunciation. This church in Nazareth stands over the cave that tradition holds to be the home of the Virgin Mary. Here, it is believed, the archangel Gabriel told the young Mary that she would become the mother of the Son of God.
Even if I did not get to go dirtbike riding this would have been an incrediable vacation. The history of Israel is unique. So many civilizations have ruled and conquered the land and left their historical footprint on the area. Then you have the Biblical significance of the area.
There was NEVER one second I did not feel completely safe.
Israel is such a small country that you can see a lot of the famous tourist attractions very easily. I ended up taking lots of paid day tours. Tour guides in Israel are licensed with the Israeli Ministry of Tourism and must pass through a rigorous course before they can qualify and be licensed. I had a different tour guide each day but they were all extremely knowledgeable and enhanced my visit.