Friday, June 05, 2009

Scrappy's Israel Adventures / Kibbutz Ridge Soaring

Greetings from the Holy Land. It was quite a journey getting here. For those of you not aware, my roommate Mike Ernst and I have come to Tel Aviv for the wedding of our old roommate from years ago, Mike's ex that kidnapped him to Israel for a year. It's complicated, as life usually is. What's not complicated is that we are both very happy for her, and stoked we could be here for her big day. And get some flying in...

I'm going for the full experience. If you want to skip to the flying part, look for: FLYING a few paragraphs down.

Mike and I tried to get out on standby tickets on United, courtesy of my mother's retired employee benefits. Our route was from Hawaii to San Francisco to Frankfurt and then a paid ticket to Tel Aviv. After missing 3 suddenly overbooked flights, we had to split up with only one seat open on the plane. Mike ended up going from Honolulu to Denver to Chicago to Warsaw to Frankfurt to Tel Aviv. I lost a day and a half, and stuck with our original route, but forfeited my Frankfurt tickets and had to buy new ones at a higher rate... :P

Mike, myself, and our bags all went separate ways on separate planes. There was some trickery to do to ensure we all arrived at our destination. I reacquired both of our bags in San Francisco using a facebook pic of Mike's claim check. People were still commenting on the picture, trying to figure out if he was bragging or what it was doing there. It was an ingenious plan of mine to get a pic on my iPhone, since his direct email was not working. I then rechecked both our bags in my name. Though if I missed my flight to Frankfurt, who knows where our bags would end up.

Mike was completely sure he was going to have no clothes for our two week trip if I even made it to Israel. However, I arrived in Tel Aviv just fine. He had no need to worry, because lo and behold, there was his bag...and mine was gone...including my glider. And by my glider, I mean Joey's Freeforce 22 glider, Reaper's Nervures Airtrek harness, reserve, radio, etc, etc, and all my clothes. Oh well!

I spent my first day cruising Tel Aviv by bike after I picked up some new board shorts for a ridiculous price. Pics are on my facebook page and Flickr account. We rode all over and a good portion of the city. I received a message from El Al Airlines via Mike's iPhone that my bag was still lost, and they were sorry, around 7:00pm.

Starting to worry...

Upon returning to the apartment of the bride to be, I called El Al, and after much confusion they said that there was another mistake and that my bag HAD been found. It would be delivered the following morning between 9:00 and 11:00am. Sweet! I reconfirmed on the lost luggage section of their website and it was listed as found and to be the wrong more call fixed that...

I have had running posts on the Israel PG forum about the plight of my bag and hoped to get some flying in when I could, since the wedding was Thursday and it was going to be well into Wednesday before I got my glider.

Wednesday arrives and I sleep in. We get a late Israeli breakfast of fresh bread, eggs, olives, hummus, roasted bell peppers, cheese, etc., and I await the arrival of my bag.

9:00 no bag
10:00 no bag
11:00 no bag
11:30 still no bag
12:00 hey, a delivery van...with my bag! And my (Joey's) glider!

I jump on a phone and give Amir (the forum admin for Holywinds) a call, to tell him the good news. He hooks me up with phone numbers for Ilan and Moshe Grad. Ilan lives just north of Tel Aviv and is the local weekday afternoon ridge-soaring addict. Moshe lives in the northern part of Israel near Mt. Tabor, the main thermic site for the area.

I give Ilan a call and ask him when it would be a good time to get some flying in. He replies that he will be hitting a nearby ridge soaring site around 2:30. I got nothing else going on so I say, "Great! Where do I get off the bus?..." "OK... Kibbutz Shfayim...Netanya, great...Cya soon!"

I consult Eyal, the fiance/groom about bus schedules and he tells me I need to walk a few blocks and get on the 601 or 605 to Netanya, the city 25 minutes north of Tel Aviv. I book it out of the apartment and after 20 minutes of walking, I find one of the express stops for the 601/605. I ask a local if this is the bus to Netanya and he says, yes, the 605 is my best option. It shows up 5 minutes later and I'm gone. I ask the bus driver if he can tell me where to get off for Kibbutz Shfayim. He doesn't speak English...oh well! I take a seat next to a man on the bus.

After looking at my map and being confused I ask the guy next to me where I should get off. He looks at me and tells me that this bus does not stop there at all and I need to be on the 601. Oops...

I hop off at the next stop and acquire a ride on the 601 about 5 minutes later. A girl on the bus tells me which stop I need to exit at. I get off the bus about 10 minutes later and...there is nothing around...

The gentleman who told me to get on the 605 bus gets off as well and asks what I was doing there, and I explain I am looking for the kibbutz, and he points me down this small driveway, which I follow for about 300 yards. I feel completely lost, as there is no obvious place to meet Ilan, no one here seems to know what a paraglider is, and I have no phone. There are no gas stations, stores, traffic lights...I wander into an office and a nice receptionist lets me use her phone to call Ilan. She explains to him where I am, gets me some water and makes me feel completely at home.

I have a conversation in halting English with her as she explains to me what a kibbutz is and I finally realize what I walked into. (Look up kibbutz on the interweb).

20 minutes later, Eilan shows up in his truck and off we went. Takes me to a small dirt road into the farming fields right near the bus stop I got off at.


100 feet from the bus stop is a dirt road that leads off into the kibbutz fields and into a sand/dirt road area. We drive right up to the longest cliff that heads north and south as far as i can see from where I am. It looks a lot like pictures I have seen of Torrey Pines. The cliffs are sheer and about 150ft high with a large decent beach for a bomb out the whole length.

There are a 2 pilots at the launch already, with one flying, and another shows up as Ilan gives me a basic flight briefing. The airspace all over Israel is supposed to be closed due to a massive mixed military training exercise. But we fly so low that Ilan is not worried. You could take off just about anywhere you want to. There are huge areas but there is a nice sandy spot that is designated for the launch with the tellvtale streamers.

I shake a few hands and lay out after Eilan to let him go first. He inflates and takes off and I follow a few moments later into the sea breeze. Its pretty light and I am only able to get about 100ft max above the ridge on my best pop-ups. I head off and soar for about 10 minutes and go in for a quick top land for fun, and to get my phone out because I left my big Canon XSI at home. 2 of the other pilots have already landed a little behind launch, and Eilan follows shortly after. It gets even lighter and we were already barely maintaining ridge height. The only footpath for a really long ways up the cliff is about 100 yards from where we were, and it looks like it's not a fun climb, so bombing out, while an easy landing, means some hiking and climbing.

If it's too light to fly in Hawaii, we fly the cooler. Apparently, in Israel they fly the coffee pot. Eilan makes coffee for the 4 of us as we wait for it to get better, using a portable camping stove on the back of his truck. Keeping in mind it is HOT out, I will still have a cup and do as the locals do, for the full experience.

The other pilots leave, and it is just Eilan and myself. Eilan is looking down the beach anxiously and talking on the radio. In taking in the sites and hanging out, I didn't realize one of the pilots hadn't landed and was nowhere in sight in either direction. It seemed like such a nice bomb out, I was a little less concerned until Eilan explained to me that the missing pilot Carlos only has one leg...

His launch was great and I never noticed that one of his legs was a bit skinny. I suppose landing on a sandy beach and having to hike with a glider on a prosthetic leg and climbing up that nasty path would be rough. However, 15 minutes later a 4WD vehicle showed up and he hopped out just fine, but his radio and phone were packed up, which is why he didn't answer.

After awhile the wind picked up again, a little, and the three of us went for another flight. I followed Carlos south about as far as we could go to some ruins and a small bay. There was a fox startled by our flying that I got to chase down the cliff for about 15 seconds. I wanted to go north as far as I could, but with the wind as light as it was, I was barely able to get above ridge height, and it would be a long walk and climb back to launch.

Ilan was packed up and I landed to follow suit. Carlos was doing doing some cliff edge kiting which was making Ilan a little concerned. The cliffs are all sandy, and crumble easily on some of the ledges. After getting some kiting pictures of Carlos, Ilan and I loaded up and headed off back to the bus stop for my trip back to Tel Aviv. Just as we left, we saw Carlos launch into the waning wind and disappear. He called 5 minutes later to tell us that he beached again but was OK, and we didn't need to wait for him...

Eilan dropped me at a bus stop a 5 minutes later and I had an easy ride back to the appartment. It was a nice first flying day for me and I hoped for more to come.


JeffMc said...

Cool story Scrappy! Looking forward to your other adventures.

...And don't skip the details - I like your travel commentary - not just the flying stuff!


Anonymous said...

Whats a Kibbutz? hehe Naked Community farming...