Riding Israel: Lost in the Holy Land
Trials star David Cachon goes on an adventure through one of the world’s most incredible places.
Israel is a country which completely tore up any preconceptions I had about it before I visited. It showed me that the people there have a real love and feel for mountain biking. From the north of the country to the south, we found vibrant local bike shops stocked full of the latest kit. The government had recently closed a lot of mountain trails, making them mountain bike only with the country’s best riders behind the project from the outset.It’s an incredibly historic place and Jerusalem is one of the most captivating places I’ve ever visited. There was an incredible mix of religions, cultures, flavours and smells, the like of which I’d never experienced before.
The alarm clock has interrupted a dream that I doubt will recur again easily, opening my eyes with all my soul, I begin to stumble around the room trying to fit my legs in my pants. Fortunately last night I left everything ready so even a “Walking Dead” could get dressed easily. I take part of my luggage, the rest is already waiting in the car and I leave at full speed to Madrid where I will meet up with Ismael, my closest friend and photographer. I try to put some hardcore on the radio as the clock strikes 5:45 am, this is going to be a hard trip.
I reach the capital, and I hit a super jam, I have to pick up Ismael, I park the car and we get on a taxi… the driver freaks out when he sees the huge box that says Rose and is full of stickers like Ion, Poc, SrSuntour, El Gallo, FiveTen, Wallride and La Casa de la Bicicleta … also comes with us.
Once at the airport the guys from the Ministry of Tourism of Israel welcome us and the airline starts its security protocol with a long list of questions focusing basically on who you are and why do you want to travel to Israel. Once on the plane, I took a five hours nap, and I only opened my eye once to check on my colleague, who was reading a photography book, and another time to snack some food that the friendly airhostesses offered to passengers.
Upon landing we go through a new control. We collect our luggage, bicycle included. A friendly representative of the Ministry of Tourism is waiting for us and we walk to the transfer company that would take us from Tel Aviv to Nahariya.
Two hours in a comfortable Mercedes with leather seats, blue neons, wifi and, as expected, the AC on, very high. Once at the hotel we learn that the dinner is over, it is 9: 30 pm, apparently in Israel dinner is early… Did they forget that we are Spaniards? The fruits of a gift basket become my dinner while Ismael works on getting ready the photo equipment. Meanwhile I start to assemble my new Uncle Jimbo that came with some exotic improvements like new products from El Gallo Components and a new SR Suntour fork and shox. After a shower I realize that we have a jacuzzi on the terrace, I think our trip to Israel is beginning to get some color.
The day starts early again. At 6:00 am the alarm on my phone rings…it is time to get up. Our guide, Ran Ganor of Ganor Bikes, is already down and ready to go, so we rush our breakfast buffet at our hotel. By the way, I forgot to mention that in Nahariya we stayed at the Carlton Hotel at one of the main streets in the city. At the hotel buffet we found everything we needed, but most things contained a high dose of spice.
After breakfast we decide to leave for Birya, a semi mountainous area located within an hour’s drive from Nahariya. We find one of the most fun single-track in the country, some technical descent but most of the tour was nice and fun. The ground is a bit dry and dusty, but nevertheless the grip is quite good and the trail is in perfect condition. Later we decide to visit a nearby area called Birya fortress, a fortress in the past that now serves as school for infants. Some picnic tables and an old war bunker make our imagination awake for a while.
In the afternoon we travel to Akko, a coastal city located on the Mediterranean Sea and near Haifa Bay. It is one of the oldest cities in the world, located at the northern end of the Bay of Acre or Akko, name by which they city was known biblically. It is believed to have been founded around 1500 a. C.
The truth is that riding through the streets, up and down the narrow streets with its winding stairs, briefly transported us to those old years when the city shined in the world. After mingling with its people and learning about their traditions, we decide to have coffee at the Turkish Bazaar, a narrow tunnel full of shops and small places where a you can have tea or coffee, and taste of the local specialties. It reminded us of the souks of Morocco. One tip, before buying anything ask for the price first… otherwise it could be quite expensive.
At night, it gets dark at 5: 00 PM, we go to Uri Buri, a restaurant that was recommended to us. This place is run by a charismatic chef, that in this area must represent what Berasategui represents in our country. His books are all over the counters at the entrance and while we taste his seafood specialties he comes and greets us. No doubt he is a person who could tell a lot about the history of Akko.
With a full stomach it is time to return to Nahariya, this is the last night we will spend at the Carlton hotel, it is time to move our camp to another area of Israel.
Today it’s time to leave the hotel and the area where we are, but before doing so we must to visit the Zippori area, which is named after the river that irrigate their land. To start the day we go to Zippori Forest. Right from the door of a curious bike shop, located in the middle of a forest, start some of the best bike trails in the area. Twisty single-track that snakes between rocks and trees. The fun is tremendous… speed, curves and some improvised jumps into the rocks of the circuits we pumping enough adrenaline to spend the morning. Or maybe not ?
Before lunch we decide to visit the ruins of Zippori, the old Zipporah. It is an archaeological complex located west of the Sea of Galilee, near the city of Nazareth, on top of a hill surrounded by fertile farmland. I feel very fortunate as they allowed me to delve with my Uncle Jimbo within the ruins themselves. I am able to ride up and down the terraces of the Roman theater, and roll down some of the old houses, or what ever is left of them after all this time. They have incredible mosaics that still exist over time. I am also able get in to the fortress and the remains of a synagogue from the Byzantine era in the seventh century BC.
A huge city with a fairly high traffic welcomes us with open arms, the same way that welcomes all religions that cohabit in it. After taking a shower and resting for a while, it is time to bike again, but this time it is not to explore new paths but to discover a magical and historical city filled with History, History of mankind. We could not find anyone better than the guys of Bike Jerusalem. They took us through the winding streets of the old town, entering by endless passages. We get the willies just thinking about what happened thousands of years ago in those streets.
It is time to eat so we decide to have a drink at one of the restaurants in the old town, a few salads, kebabs, lemonade and artisan cupcakes are enough to recover from such an intense route under the city lights. I must admit that it is a very special feeling to walk the streets at night.
Today has been one of the most amazing days I have ever spent on a bike. I was able to ride in places that are part of History of humanity. To touch and feel these spaces, the smells and such deep and authentic feelings have raise me up to a new level of riding. After last night’s adventure, we decided that we should spend more time getting lost in the depths of Jerusalem. Today we spent the whole day in the city. I mounted on the roofs of the city, I visited their markets and, when the rain was too strong, we decided to taste the local food: Kebab accompanied by onion and tomato (warning: these mutton meet balls were incredibly delicious, and had
nothing to do with the Kebab I have had before). Keep in mind that this is no ordinary place.
Jerusalem is a city built thousands of years ago. Its History resonates in the whisper of the wind through the walls, where every stone tells a prodigious fact of a place that has attracted millions of pilgrims for thousands of years. This is Jerusalem the capital of Israel, the only city in the world that has 70 names of love and longing, which in old maps appears at the center of the world and still produces as much admiration as a young bride.
Jerusalem is a city that arouses overwhelming emotions that promises spiritual and religious experiences,intensity and pleasure, interesting tours and entertaining adventures. The heart of Jerusalem’s Old City is surrounded by a wall and divided into four quarters: Jewish, Armenian, Christian and Muslim. These walls surround the important holy sites of the three major religions: the Western Wall (revered by Jews), the Church of the Holy Sepulcher and the Dome of the Rock on the Temple Mount. Millions of believers visit every year the square where the Western Wall is located. Here, in the cracks of the foundation of this great wall, the last remnant of the Holy Temple, prayers and notes with prayers of the faithful are left by the Jews. Surrounding the Western Wall are other places of importance also for the Jews: the Western Wall tunnels, the unique Davidson Center, the Jewish Quarter, with its magnificent Cardo and David’s Citadel, which stands proud of her beauty. South of the Old City we find the City of David, where the ancient Canaanite and Israelite Jerusalem grew.
Today it is time to leave behind our home for the last two days, the Mount Zion Hotel, a luxurious villa that it had everything a biker might need: spa, gym, pool, bar … And don’t forget the incredible city views of Jerusalem and the location, just 5 minutes from downtown. But it’s time to stop talking about the past and focus on what we will face today. A couple of hours of travel have taken us to the Negev region. Different landscape and a little heat have been the first thing we have noticed when we stepped down on the field. This time we are near the city of Kibbutz and therefore of the Gaza Strip, internationally known, unfortunately, due to the armed conflict between Palestinians and Israelis.
The adventure begins in the bike shop “The mdavesh”, a warehouse that hides inside hundreds of bikes to be rented, a complete repair shop and an extensive exhibition of bikes on sale. Besides all that has a pumptrack circuit and from its your doorsteps begin all the trails in the area, which are known as Beeri Singletrails. We decide to ride for a while on circuits marked, very smooth trails and firm where you can reach high speeds, many curves and cubbies areas. After a while riding we decide to venture and take an alternative path that takes us to the border of Gaza. Our compass is a cement track, used by the British in the Second World War to transport weapons.
Bunkers, water tanks, army tanks and cars are our companions in this adventure we are not convinced at first, but gradually we realize it is a pretty controlled and safe area. I am able to explore a fun dune area of land with tanks. After this personal adventure we decide to return to the starting point, regain strength with some ice cream at “The mdavesh Bikeshop” and head to the desert. About three-hour drive take us to our new location, the Ramon Inn Hotel in Mitzpe Ramon. It is time for some dinner and rest, we need to recharge to be ready for what is coming.
The alarm goes off really early: 5:00 a.m. Today we want to enjoy a sunrise at the Mitzpe Ramon Crater. We use some rocks to improvise a trial area. I am not a morning person so I usually don’t perform well so early, but the effort is worth it. After a hearty breakfast we head to Tzin Valley, an amazing desert area that for a second reminds us to The Bardenas Reales, but in a more beast way. The guys from GeoFun, experts in the locations of this special area of Israel, are there to welcome us. We are told that some good money has been invested to create a few good trails in the area, and the truth is that they have succeeded.
Hundreds of miles of singletrack are waiting for us snaking playfully through the mountains. After eating something we head to another known area located very close to the previous one. The landscape changes slightly but the trails are still just as fun. After visiting some of the local bicycle rental facilities we set our way to which would be our home for the night, the Hai Bar Nature Reserve, in the wilderness of Samar.
The place is a kind of camp with bungalows, waiting for us with beer and soup, a reception that we deeply appreciate from the bottom of our heart. After checking out the area we discover that the camp has a cement pump track that looks incredible. Shame it is already dark, now the only I thing can think of is that spot and how much time is left until the sun would rise again. Meanwhile, I enjoy watching a movie screen at the chill out area of Samar Bike Hotel.
Tonight is probably the best of all, we have abandoned the luxuries of hotels to stay at what could be a military camp full of bungalows, where we do not miss anything, quite the opposite. The company of a charming and crazy passionate about two wheels as Yaron Deri, head of Samar Bike, who transmits us all that passion for two wheels that we like to find where we go was the high of our stay.
Yaron decided one day to see the world, he saw almost the entire planet before dropping in our Canary Islands, where he lived for several years and where he learned our language. Later he decided to fulfill his dream: return to Israel and set up a biker camp where he created the best trails in the country. If I was to advise someone a place in Israel for cycling, I definitely recommend this place without a doubt and, please, stay at Samar Bike, it is 100% authentic. Of all the days we had spent in Israel this could for sure be the most genuine, without forgetting Jerusalem. If before arriving to Israel I had some sort of preconceived idea about the weather and landscape of the area, it closely resembled this place. The heat, the desert areas plagued with rocks and mountains.
The trails in the area are fantastic. Trails for all levels and styles; from relaxed walks to hiking, from cross country declines to high technical level ones. After performing one of the best free rides of my life, we receive permission to access a very special area that we had waited for a few days. We have permission to film with the bicycle at the Timna Park. It is a protected area north of Eilat in the Negev desert, located quite close to the Jordan border.
This place is amazing and has some of the best natural wonders of the area: King Solomon’s Pillars, Mines of Time, Timna Lake, or the amazing Stone Mushrooms. Within the park is possible to roll a bicycle, in fact there is a circuit of 19 km through out all the wonders of the place. After this adventure, the end of our trip is coming. We go back to Samar Bike Hotel to take a shower, to pack, eat something and say goodbye to our new friends, whom have already touched our hearts: Ran Yaron Ganor and Deri. A transfer takes us to Tel Aviv, where that night we take a flight back home. Just when we thought our adventures had come to an end, we realize we are wrong.
Our transfer driver was driving at 160 miles an hour and passing through the right on a minibus…is this Free ride? Bye, bye friends, see you at the next adventure.
P.D We should not pass up the opportunity to thank the government and tourism delegation of Israel and the airline Tel Al for all their help with our trip and for facilitating us the paperwork to carry photographic equipment and sports equipment. Shalom.
Text & riding: David Cachon
Pics: Ismael Ibánez