There are different ways to get to Israel. Most people living in Greater Boston will simply go to Logan and board a direct El Al flight to Ben-Gurion.
Not Josh Buchsbaum.
For starters, he began not at Logan Airport, but in Cape Town, South Africa, and instead of a plane ticket and a few suitcases, he had only his backpack and his bike. In June, the Journal covered Bushbaum’s extraordinary 11,000-mile cycling journey from San Diego to Buenos Aires, during which he spent under $25 a day and found shelter wherever he could, from caves to farmer’s huts to police stations. Since then, the Marblehead native and Epstein Hillel School graduate has logged another 9,500 more miles or so to his multiyear, multicontinent world bike tour.
It’s been quite a ride.
He began the latest leg in April in South Africa, where he enjoyed penguins on the beach by day and punk rock shows by night. He zoomed north to Namibia, where he endured 18 days in one of the driest, emptiest, windiest deserts in the world and camped on top of a radio tower to avoid elephants and lions.
Accompanied by podcasts and the occasional fellow cyclist who joined him for sections of the trip, he made his way east into Botswana, where he occasionally needed to stare down herds of buffalo, elephants, and giraffes blocking the road. After replacing a broken drivetrain set him back several days and required hitchhiking with 14 different vehicles, Buchsbaum cycled northeast to the Zambia/Zimbabwe border, where he soaked himself in Victoria Falls, which at twice the height and width of Niagara Falls is the world’s largest sheet of falling water.
He continued nearly 1,500 miles to Malawi, where he hiked 9,849-foot Mount Mulanje, and traveled deep into caves looking for ancient paintings. In Tanzania, his bike’s crank arm fell off, and he was forced to pedal with one leg before he walked the 12 miles to the nearest town. In Rwanda, he almost got arrested for sneaking into lava caves, but managed to get the armed guard to look the other way by paying him $5.
In Uganda, he entered the Northern Hemisphere for the first time in a year, and completed the minyan at the Yom Kippur service at a Chabad in Kampala, the capital city of one of the few African countries with a Jewish population. In Kenya, he met more Jews. On the way to Nairobi, a man in a truck shouted that he was on his way to lunch at his treehouse, and that Buchsbaum was invited. Amid the branches, while enjoying steak and wine alongside a dozen chickens, a pig, guinea fowl, two cats, and five dogs, Buchsbaum learned that this man, who had built the treehouse himself, also was Jewish.
In fact, Buchsbaum met a number of Jews on his trip well before he arrived in Israel on Dec. 21. He met Israeli backpackers throughout his journey, stayed with a Jewish couple from Vermont in Tanzania, and rafted with a fellow Jewish Bostonian in Uganda.
Considering that Buchsbaum was a Jew making his way toward the Promised Land, it is fitting that Egypt was one of the more difficult parts of his journey. Egypt does not allow tourists to travel the country unless they’re accompanied by a guide, so when officials heard about a lone American on a bike, they required Buchsbaum to follow a punishing, preapproved route through the desert, and trailed behind him.
“They’d have me pushing 100-mile days, which isn’t really sustainable, so I was starting to get sick, and I was chewing up my knee, and I finally got them to leave me alone,” he said. “I think what happened was they sent the whole region’s police force looking for me – it got up to the rank of general that there’s an American missing out in the desert … they found me the next day, and either arrested me or saved me, depending on who you ask.”
Police drove Buchsbaum to Cairo, where they put him up in an upscale resort that he wasn’t allowed to leave without an armed escort. Buchsbaum finally got a bus to the Israeli border.
After thorough interrogations on both sides of the border, Buchsbaum finally arrived in Israel, where he is now staying with his mother’s cousin in Jerusalem. As this is his fourth time in Israel (he previously went to celebrate his sister Lauren’s bat mitzvah, then on Y2I, then on Birthright), he plans to use his time there to recharge, gear up for future journeys, and enjoy his first solo trip there.
“Part of the reason I’m choosing to be here for two months is it’s a lot more relaxed – it’s certainly easier for me to blend in,” said Buchsbaum. “There’s a sense of familiarity and comfort.”
After spending months in the developing world, Buchsbaum also is enjoying the conveniences of a wealthy country. “Just the little things of getting back to the developed world, like chlorinated water, decent Internet connection, crosswalks, washing machines, things that I forgot about,” he said. For the past few weeks, Buchsbaum has met with his sister, who recently returned from a Birthright trip, and is getting ready to spend six weeks working at a kibbutz in the Golan Heights for free accommodation.
After he enjoys family, friends, and washing machines in Israel, Buchsbaum will be back at it again. He still has enough money saved to cycle around Europe, and perhaps travel east toward Central Asia.
And after that, he wants to stay put for a little while. “First things first I want to get a dog, I probably want to move back out west, make the whole wife and a car and a job and a mortgage and 2.4 kids and all that,” he said. “I definitely want stability. But I’ve made a promise to myself that this won’t be the greatest thing I’ve done.”