Sunday, 5 August 2012

Israel: Mesmerising Mikhmoret Beach

Accommodation: As I said before, The Resort Hostel is next to the beach, where you can meet amazing people and chill out in the dorms. Off peak it's about 12/13 euros per night and there are even hammocks to laze around in. Rooms are basic, but the whole area is made up of filling 'basic needs'. Not the place if you're looking for an actual beach resort. The nearest transport is a bus stop 50 metres away, but hitchhiking is widely acceptable in this area, as it is a small village.

If you're thinking of becoming a long-term hippy here, this is the place to be. Apparently The Resort has volunteering roles in exchange for accommodation, working 4 hours a day and organising barbeques galore. You need a driving licence and be between 20-30 years old.

Places to see and do: Horse-back riding on the beach at sunset, biking and hiking in the park, kite surfing courses, scuba diving, visiting the marina, or just getting a tan on the beach. There are plenty of beach bars and restaurants, which is just something you have to do when you're on holiday.

Getting to and from Mikhmoret: From Ben Gurion Airport, take the train to Tel Aviv Sevidor Station (Arlozerov terminal), 10 minutes. Then switch to bus number 872/852 on the northbound, 30 minutes. Get off at (Beit Yanai) Yanai Interchange. Or from Tel Aviv's central bus station, same buses to the same junction via Egged bus company. It's only about £3!

Transport: It's pretty walkable, but you can hitchhike in some cases - always take caution!

I arrived at Tel Aviv in some godforsaken hour in the morning, which is what happens when you try scrimp on flights. It was pitch black outside the airport, after being ushered out by angry security men. I was greeted by my lovely friend and her partner, so I automatically felt reassured.

Now Mikhmoret is outside of Tel Aviv, almost 24 miles away and closer to Netanya. It is an absolutely tiny fishing village with apparently just over 1,100 people living in the beach town.

The moshav (Israeli settlement) was founded in 1945 by demobilised soldiers from the British Army, and was named Mikhmoret due to the profession of many of the founders being fishing. And now a lot of young ex-Israeli army members live there as hippies and teachers of the local school.

So after a tiring flight and restless night, I awoke to the sounds of the sea hitting the sandy shores, and the smell of hummus!!

Cliche as it sounds, the first sensory experience had to consist of the Levantine (Middle Eastern) cuisine in all of its glory. My friend's partner happened to be a master Hummus creator, and was taking part in an annual competition to see who could make the best one.

So why is Hummus such a major fad in the Middle East? Well, it isn't just a trend, a significant reason for the popularity of hummus in Israel is the fact that it is made from ingredients that, following Kashrut (Jewish dietary laws), can be combined with both meat and dairy meals. For Palestinians, hummus has long been a staple food, all of the ingredients in hummus are easily found in Palestinian gardens, farms and markets, thus adding to the availability and popularity of the dish.

As one of my friend's partner's groupies, I aided by tasting the concoctions as well as drawing a makeshift banner with 'Make Hummus not Hamas' as the main motto.

We set up at a small school adjacent to the beach, and paced about with the poster, urging fellow Hummus eaters to try some of his mix.

Now it was the first time I had ever judged a competition. And it certainly was the first time walking around with a pitta bread, dipping it surreptitiously from bowl to bowl around the school courtyard.

And it's true. I had never seen so many varieties of the chickpea-based dip, with chilies, olive oil, lemon garlic, aubergine...the list goes on. After the winner was announced (sadly, my friend's partner lost his championship title) a boogie ensued under the canopy.

It wasn't a bad first morning, and probably a little unusual for a tourist to encounter. But I guess that's the gift having friends living locally.

After this, my friend and I decided to climb along the rocky coast that lines the shores alongside the sandy plains. On the way, we saw groups of young children from the nearby school making their way on boats. The College of Marine Sciences bring a very young, and lively crowd to the village. The older university students (some formerly army recruits) now take on some of the teaching at the school aka  fishing, cycling, kite-surfing, trail hiking - not a bad life is it?

A quick swim in the warm waters was enough for the first day, especially as I wasn't appropriately attired. In the evening, we celebrated with burgers at a local restaurant. No doubt, it is one of those towns where you do need a car, or some sort of transport to get by, as I found out. It was like an island of local eats surrounded by a car park off the motorway.

On the way back, we were greeted by friends. It seems like the best place to catch a chat with someone you will never usually meet. Especially when it comes to religion and politics and the controversial time I had arrived. Several days before, Israeli armed forces fired on flotilla heading towards the Gaza strip. Everyone was under scrutiny, the country was under scrutiny. And as a journalist, my ears and hands were itching to ask questions.

I heard a variation of facts from several sides in the few days that I was there. But I avidly listened, and was sympathetic to what I heard. I was painted a very different picture from what the mainstream news had portrayed.

Other days when I wasn't politicking, I would dip my feet in the waters, or read a book while swinging in a hammock. It was the nomadic life that I always dreamed of.

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