Once I was cleared by Israeli immigration on Wednesday, I left the port and headed towards the nearest hostel that showed up on my GPS. The Port Inn Hostel was less than a hundred metres away, so that worked out nicely. It's a very popular place, and not just because of its proximity to the port. This is a proper hostel, with all the things a budget traveller (or pilgrim) needs. There were quite a few Germans staying there, as well as a group of Israeli teens (complete with acoustic guitar), an Australian who had served in the Six Days War, and an elderly Jew from the Netherlands who gave me several helpful tips on what to see and where to stay while in Israel.
Before I turned in for the night, I spent some time at one of the three computer terminals, using Google Maps and a booking site to plan the next day's walk. I found another highly rated hostel in Jisr ez-Zarqa, the only Israeli Arab village on the coast. It's 40 kms from Haifa, so I didn't linger over breakfast Thursday morning. Before leaving Haifa, however, I decided to ascend Mount Carmel and visit the grotto that's identified as Elijah's cave. As with my climb to the Balamand in Lebanon, it wasn't particularly high, but it was a long and steep walk. Along the way I passed the Shrine of Bab, the centre of the Bahai faith. I also passed the primary monastery of the Carmelite order. I amused myself with the idea of going in to learn whether they wear shoes or not. (Church history geeks may chuckle at that, but the rest of you can ignore it and simply keep moving.) According to the tourist map I picked up at the hostel, Elijah's cave is located along the footpath leading from the crest of Mount Carmel down to the coast. I was looking for it, but passed on by without spotting it.
Once down on the coast road, I started to walk in earnest for the first time since arriving in Taşucu over two weeks ago. The weather was beautiful, with a light breeze and a few clouds. Once the main coastal highway split away from Route 4, the traffic was quite light. The bus stops are spaced about 500 m apart, and they all have benches and plenty of shade. It was an ideal day for walking, yet by 3:00 in the afternoon I was ready to pack it in. I'd been careful to stay hydrated, but I still had a headache which was steadily worsening. Just ahead there was a turn for a village. Consulting my GPS app showed nothing but a short lane leading to a road running parallel to my current route, with two roads at either end of it. Looking down the lane when I drew up to it, I could see a small supermarket. If nothing else, I'd buy a cold drink and ask about a place to stay.
Part of my planning last night at the hostel involved comparing the distances logged between Haifa and Jerusalem on two different pilgrimages. Mony and Alberto had walked from Rome to Jerusalem beginning in November 2001. (They did it all on foot - no ferries!) They covered 158 kms along the road in Israel, while Brandon Wilson's 2006 pilgrimage saw him covering 213 kms along the Israel National Trail. Since I'm so close to the end of my journey and the beginning of Holy Week, I've opted for the shorter road route. Since the INT was still a possible route for me up until last night, I had downloaded a list of people along the Trail who are willing to act as hosts to hikers for a minimal fee, or for free. These folks have come to be known as "trail angels."
Megadim is actually quite a pleasant little town, with more to it than I'd expected. One of the unexpected elements was the very sturdy bright yellow gate near the entrance to the village, with a guard post and surveillance cameras. Once I'd bought some refreshments and sat down at a picnic table, I met my own trail angel. He was disguised as an elderly gentlemen who addressed me in Hebrew. When he switched to English, I was delighted to accept his offer of hospitality for the night. I'm not sure how to decline the invitation to join him for the Passover meal tomorrow evening, other than to explain that I'm very honoured but that I am eager to get to Jerusalem for my own feast. We'll have that discussion tomorrow, I suppose.
I only covered 16 kms today in spite of the favourable walking conditions. My goal of Jisr es-Zarqa may have been a bit optimistic after a fortnight of inactivity, but that means tomorrow I'll only have to cover 24 kms. I'm planning to be on the road as soon as I can decently excuse myself in the morning. Coffee would be nice, but perhaps for these last few days I should return to the rhythm of the Camino which saw me walking for an hour or two before stopping for my first meal of the day.