Re-kindling my Love for Israel…in South America
“Why do we have to listen to our hearts?” the boy asked.
“Because, wherever your heart is, that is where you will find your treasure.”
― Paulo Coelho, The Alchemist
I don’t identify as someone who cries often, because tears carve memories into my brain. It’s kind of strange, but I can tell you every time I’ve cried. Whether it was from the time I was 8 years-old and got in-trouble for eating pancakes in the basement, or the time I was in my second-year of university and really stressed-out over having seven midterms in five days. Leaving Israel when completing my year abroad was very challenging for me. I cried myself to sleep in the taxi to the airport, cried in the airport when waiting for my delayed flight, and sobbed on my 12-hour flight home. I didn’t want to leave. Being in Israel felt like finding true love and I felt like my best-self. Why did I have to leave? Coming home was amazing, but I was ready to plan my next adventure.
Sonia and I always wanted to take a sister solo-trip to Peru and we felt that December was the perfect time. The only issue was December is Peru’s rainy season, so we opted for Brazil, Chile, and Argentina.
I met Sonia in Toronto and we flew Toronto → New York → Sao Paolo → Rio de Janeiro (the airline never informed us that we were flying through NYC). The airline lost our luggage, so we landed in 35 degree Rio de Janeiro in our winter leggings, and warmest winter clothing — and that’s it. Rio was the most beautiful place I have ever seen, from the beaches, the water, the greenery, the mountains, to the people.
We took it easy, celebrating the end of semester one and soaking up the sunshine (yes, we did eventually get our suitcases). The question that everyone asked us before and after going to Brazil was: “is it safe??” While in Brazil we never felt like we were in danger, but we also tried our best to lay low — removing our jewellery, not going out late at night, and avoiding high-risk neighbourhoods.
Though, we never felt fully comfortable (but who feels 100% comfortable when travelling?). The local people from Rio (called “Carioca”) were the kindest people in the world. Many of them helped us when we looked lost, taught us how to “properly carry our purses”, and giving us local tips. The only Portuguese word we learned was “obrigado” thank you (which we mispronounced the entire time haha). Leaving Rio de Janeiro we were already brainstorming ways to come back.
We were only in Santiago, Chile for a quick day, but we loved it. Meeting our Chilean cousins was an amazing experience. They never met us before that day but greeted us with such warmth and love — we truly felt like family. I asked if I could move-in with our “primos nuevos”, they said “yes” — time to earn money to purchase my ticket to go back!
Patagonia was magnificent — from the colours, the animals, the hiking, and the people we met. We experienced summer one minute and winter the next. We laughed so hard our stomachs hurt and we also got into a few arguments. We ate only pasta, cookies, and chicken-noodle soup for 5-days straight, and I think I only showered once (thankful for dry shampoo). Sonia fell in-love with guannacos (Patagonian llamas) and we even saw a guemul (a very rare South-American deer…which we thought was just a deer — whoops)! One thing that I really appreciated was the hiking community, where everyone hiking the trail was so incredibly helpful and warm. Out of 8 groups in a hiking shelter (place where people cooked and ate their food), 6 groups were Israeli. It was very nice to speak a bit of Hebrew and hear all of the Israelis’ adventures. After the army, Israelis typically travel and relax for about 6 months exploring places like South America and Southeast Asia. Often, they travel the world and meet other Israelis where groups merge and break-up and share their tips and tricks. We played cards with some of our new Israeli friends, exchanged stories, and they shared their coffee with me (!!!!!! — caffeine-free Anna was struggling). It was interesting to hear some of their army stories and to hear the rest of their plans for their travels. I think they appreciated meeting us as well. Who leaves Israel to just meet other Israelis? They liked hearing our opinions and our connection to Israel, our fun stories, and perspective on studying at Hebrew University (as they only start school after their post-army trip).
It is very interesting to compare life in Israel to life in Canada. I am 21 years-old and finishing my first degree. Many of the Israelis that we met are 21–24 and haven’t started their degrees. I’ve lived in my own house with friends and I was responsible for paying the utilities bill, whereas they have only lived at home or in their army unit. Typically in North American high schools, grade 12 students are told to ask their teacher to use the washroom and then when they return, are told to apply to university which will (hopefully) lead to a career. Why does that make sense? They mature through army training, by not seeing their families for periods at a time, and through defending their country. We mature through failing assignments, partying too hard and regretting that early morning class, and through making and losing friends. I am not undermining the different societal expectations and realities, it’s just different. I see taking extra time to reach a destination (in terms of hiking and post-secondary education) as the smarter thing, as you are more mature when making choices. As previously stated, one upbringing is not better than the other, just different. Travelling is remarkable because you meet people from all over the world who share their perspectives on politics, travel, love, and humor. Hiking is special because you don’t have time for small-talk. You ask real questions in-search of real answers. You play fun games with substance and you meet interesting people on the way.
We met people from Italy, South Korea, England, and Canadaaaa!! A group of three 50ish-year-old Israeli men asked me to take a photo of them. I responded with “are you on your post-army trip?” They loved it and responded: “yes, 30 years later” haha.
The quote of the trip happened on our first night, when Sonia and I were shivering and snuggling in our tent and she woke me up and said “did you hear that horse neigh in the distance?”. I did ❤ .
Next stop was Buenos Aires! We met two awesome Israeli guys in our hostel. We went on a free walking-tour of the city to learn about the history and to navigate around the city. As New Years Eve was approaching, we started noticing locals throwing their calendars out the window. We discovered that this is a New Years tradition in Argentina signifying the end of the year 2015.
We walked 3kms to get to the famous book store which resembles the opera house. We decided to play a game where we had 5 minutes to find 2 CDs in the store which represents us in any way. We then went to a local grocery store to pick up ingredients to make shakshuka. Shakshuka is my love, and making it with Israelis warmed my heart (or was it the heartburn?). We diced the tomatoes, chopped the onions, added the spices, eggs and bought fresh bread. We even popped a bottle of champagne!
South America is an unbelievable continent — where the people were as warm as the weather, food delicious, and conversations unforgettable. Our flight home was December 31st at 11:55pm. We were able to see fireworks all over Sao Paolo. On the flight I felt at peace. I felt so refreshed and energized. I felt happy to re-connect to Israel — from the language, to the “Israeli attitude”, to the conversation.
One of my favourite thing about travelling is coming back and appreciating Canada so much more. Canada is so safe, so polite, and so pareve. Coming back was nice, I felt relaxed. Two weeks in South America was definitely not enough, but it left a mark and a nice summer glow. It was a nice taste-test of the continent, and I am looking forward to returning. I downloaded the app “Dualingo” and am on the path to learn Spanish. Listo para volver!