Bitten by the travel bug
By Chandrea Serebro
Most often you don’t even feel it when the bug bites. You didn’t know it was coming, you never even knew it was there, and you only realise you’ve been bitten when you’re already somewhere you had never dreamed you would ever be.
Lance Abramson realised how fully he had been bitten on a Shabbos walk one day, after a nice kosher lunch, revelling in G-ds world and enjoying just being. On mount Kilimanjaro, that is, the highest mountain in Africa. How did he get there?
Lance had heard a presentation at his workplace on climbing Mount Kilimanjaro, and he was so taken with it that he felt the germ of an idea growing. The more he listened to the talk, the more he realised that, as a kosher and shomer-Shabbos Jew, it would not be so simple. The idea grew, however, and Lance spent the following months putting together a trip – creating contacts and planning menus, working out climb schedules to fit in with Shabbos, and finding like-minded people to join him.
“Sixteen of us made our way to Kilimanjaro, and the climb was amazing. Shabbos on the mountain was spectacular, we made an eruv around the campsite and another so we could hike on Shabbos, the food and supplies were all brought in for us from South Africa. Summit night was breath-taking. There we were, in temperatures of around -20 degrees, breathing with difficulty, disconnected from the world and alone with the beauty of nature, in a space where we could just be.”
When Lance began the process of organising the Kilimanjaro climb, he had “no idea of where it was going to go” and, on his return, was left “blown away by the experience”. He says, “There was no question that we had to go somewhere else next.” And so, Lance’s unofficial kosher adventure travel group was born. Being kosher doesn’t have to close you off from the world, Lance believes, and travelling the world doesn’t have to impinge on your Shabbos observance. “It takes more effort to arrange a kosher trip, sure, but it can be done, the world can still be your oyster.” Even one of the members of the group who didn’t keep kosher was amazed at how ‘easy’ it was to be able to experience Kilimanjaro in a kosher way.
And it was this that sold Dr Ivan Esra, who found himself bitten by the adventure travel bug when he bumped into Lance at the gym. Lance mentioned that he was organising the second of his trips, a hike in the Himalayan Mountain Range in Nepal to Mount Everest Base Camp. “My initial response was that I was not really interested, even though I would love to see Mount Everest, but I gave him my e-mail details anyway. When I opened his e-mail later that day, I just knew that this was a trip I would enjoy and so I signed up for what would be one of life’s great adventures.”
Having travelled rather extensively before, such an adventurous, extreme trip was beyond anything Dr Esra had previously experienced, and his prior travels involved “extensive organisation” for kosher food. So the idea of being able to participate in a hike to Everest Base Camp and having kosher food arranged was a “huge positive deciding factor”. Even though extreme travel and more offbeat parts of the world are not closed off to kosher travellers, says Brad Shorkend, “it was near impossible to get catered for in terms of the eating requirements… one would have probably needed to do it all for oneself.”
Brad was bitten by the bug after breaking his back riding a motor bike in 2000, and climbing mountains was the motivator to get him up and strong and able again. Like Dr Esra, Brad also participated on the Everest Base Camp trip as well as the next one, which went to Peru, hiking in the Andes Mountains along the Salkanty trail and ending in Machu Picchu. He says that the willingness of select travel and adventure operators to meet the kosher requirements as well as the commitment of kosher travellers has now enabled people to embark on these journeys without the hassle of the catering logistic.
“This makes these trips much more enjoyable as one can now focus on the actual adventure aspect while having the kosher stuff managed by very capable support teams,” says Brad. That said, Lance admits that he invested a “massive amount of time teaching the travel operators what the requirements were for the kosher component of the Everest trip”. The mobile kitchen, the food, lighting of the fire, and the eruv were all part of this education process, but it was a meaningful exercise, he says, because once in Nepal it was “a seamless kosher” experience.
The hike in Peru was a little easier in terms of Shabbos and kosher, says Lance, as there is a Chabad in the city of Cusco that assisted with the kosher food, utensils, equipment, and even a mashgiach accompanied them throughout the trip. In far-flung locations, all the kosher travellers agree that Chabad is instrumental in making these trips happen.
“Trips like these allow people to see the beauty of the earth. There are very few, if any, sights which are more magnificent than seeing the beauty and splendour of Mount Everest, the incredible height of the mountain, along with the opportunity to recite the blessing, giving thanks for the opportunity to see one of the earth’s seven natural wonders,” says Dr Esra. “The group gathering together to recite Kabbalat Shabbat in isolated camps high on the mountain, with no electricity, was a truly spiritual experience.”
And in-between these daring international mountain hikes, the group makes sure to experience the beauty and wonder that is “right on our doorstep”, says Lance – the Otter Trail, Kruger Park walks, and of course, many a Sunday training hike, as well as time spent on the “unforgiving” Westcliff Stairs.
“I think that everyone should put on their bucket lists to visit places that take them out of their comfort zones. This is where real growth happens, and also awesome surprises that one can never begin to imagine,” says Brad. And since Lance started this unofficial kosher travel group, there is no stopping them from making these exciting and offbeat experiences their new comfort zones.
Future trips include hiking the Fish River Canyon in Namibia in August next year, and next on the radar is a trip to hike around Mont Blanc Mountain in the Alps Mountain Range. The world is indeed an oyster for those who join Lance on these adventure trips around the world – but it is a kosher and shomer-Shabbos one, you can be sure.