Twenty toes are dipped in the Sea of Galilee. In the distance, a party boat is playing music which I can safely assume came from The Greatest Hits of Euro-Pop circa 1999. A lifeguard is looking idly in our direction, but he knows he is not needed. In the tiny portion of this beach reserved for swimming, the water is barely forming a ring around our ankles.
“So, we made it.” Elijah remarks. Israel is a narrow country; one could walk across it in under a week. Having completed such a journey, touching the water seems less ceremonial than either of us had hoped. “Oh look! Sea glass!” On New Year’s Eve 2010, sitting at a beach on a different side of the Mediterranean, Elijah and I were collecting sea glass. The bright green findings still sit on my desk now.
“Look, Elijah! Sea glass! Remember New Year’s?”
I run out of the water towards the sparkling pieces of glass.
“Actually, never mind. It’s just a crushed Heinekken bottle in the sand.”
Last you heard from me, I was worrying and pooping in the wrong place and worrying some more. Since then, we walked 35 kilometers, not because we needed to, not because the map told us to, but because we had to take it upon ourselves on the last day of the hike to get lost. The romantic idealist in me believes it was all just a ploy to keep ourselves out there, on the trail, off the trail, in the Galilee. To never go home.
We started those last 35 kilometers by accidentally walking through a farm for 45 minutes. Forty-five minutes of wondering why we keep stepping on so much poop. That same romantic idealist in me thinks the universe was just making sure we had just one more good “poop story” on the last day. In reality, it took our coming face-to-face with cows to realize this was not the trail. A jump over a barbed wire fence and then another and then an hour of walking and we finally reached the Horns of Hattin.
The Horns derive their name from their shape: two steep rocky hills in the middle of farmland, resembling an animal’s horns. In 1184, at the Horns of Hattin, Saladin’s armies defeated the Crusader Kingdom of Jerusalem. In 2011, the Horns of Hattin taught me something about animal horns too.
While standing at the bottom of the rocky, steep hills, I spotted a bull.
“Elijah! Run!”, I screamed as I took towards the first hill, leaving pebbles rolling behind me.
“Moooooo!,” Elijah said in the direction of the animal.
I kept running up the hill, clumsily, like a madwoman.
“Don’t you understand? Run! There’s a bull… and you have a red backpack.”
This is what Conan O’Brien once called an “and you went to Harvard?” moment.
Elijah’s laughter bounced off the first hill and then back at me and across the valley. “Honey, that’s a cow, not a bull. Cows can have horns too. And don’t even get me started on the red backpack point.”
“Darling, please, follow my step,” Elijah tried to reason with me.”No, I cannot. I will fall and die. I have weak knees; they are not made for this.”
Once again on this trip, Elijah promised I would not die. He took my backpack off my back and essentially ran down the rocky structure, carrying both our luggage. “Here. Let me set all this stuff down and I will come get you.”
Desperate as I may have been, I was not any less stubborn. “No, wait down there for me. I will get there on my own.” I sat down on my hot pink shorts and climbed down the hill, boulder by boulder and rock by rock, almost entirely on my butt. The entire time I mumbled about snakes and scorpions and “they really should not be letting people take paths like these – they are treacherous!” and “I would not have had such weak knees had I not been a gymnast, you know. Gymnastics crushes those knees.”
When I got to the bottom, Elijah greeted me with this: “You know, right around where you said you would not keep descending, when I was walking a couple of steps ahead of you, I saw the largest snake I have seen in recent years.”
I was indignant.
“How could you let me climb down a mountain on my butt when you saw a snake!”
“If I had told you, we would still be up there, negotiating.”
He was right. If he had told me about the snake, the guidebooks for this trail could add a new permanent attraction to that spot: The girl who would not come off the mountain.
The girl came off the mountain — eventually. I am sitting in my brother’s living room in Athens, with Moira the dog alternating between licking my feet and taking naps with her butt on my keyboard. My suitcase is in the hallway. The seafoam camping pads went to Be’er Sheva with Elijah. I could tell you about the last few kilometers of our hike, or the beer we shared when it was all over, or what getting lost is like in the last two kilometers. But here’s the thing: In my mind, I am still there, on the mountain, with my love.I left Israel two weeks ago and am embarking on a new journey. After touching the sea of Galilee, I wanted to drink in every sea. The road makes you greedy like that.
For now, though, I will need to return to a life that requires my heart to beat in two places at once. I am getting ready to return to Latin America, and alternating between listening to Colombian salsa and the online radio broadcast of Galgalatz FM in Israel. My life is an eternal declination of the verb “volver”: to return. I am speaking Spanish and still hearing Elijah greet people in the villages we passed with “Mahraba.” My heart is trained to do that; successive goodbyes condition one to live a present, if split, life even if it kills her. Moira is licking my feet as I type. Her name, appropriately, means Destiny. My mind is still up there in Hattin, surrounded by prickly plants, walking with Elijah by my side, looking for the next trail marker.