David Verlinden, a Krav Maga enthusiast from Belgium, says he decided to visit Israel because he wanted to see the place that developed the defense fighting technique he so loves. But unlike the majority of travelers, the 31-year-old Verlinden didn’t fly to Israel, he biked.
It took him three months to get here.
Verlinden and his friend Iris Baijens rode from Belgium, through Germany, Austria, Slovakia, Hungary, Croatia, Serbia, Romania, Bulgaria, Greece, Turkey, Syria, Lebanon and Jordan, before crossing into Israel. They cycled a total of 5778 kilometers.
“People who know me weren’t surprised that I chose to bike here,” Verlinden told Israel21c. “But people in places like Bulgaria and Turkey, who don’t have a cycling culture, thought we were really crazy.”
In Israel, everyone who meets Verlinden wants to know about his time in Syria and Lebanon. Verlinden says the Syrians and Lebanese were very hospitable to them. He said it took some getting used to the omnipresent posters of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and the military presence everywhere, but that he and Baijens always felt safe. He also said that they were careful not to tell their Syrian and Lebanese hosts where they were headed.
When they did finally cross the border into Israel, Verlinden says they took a few weeks to just relax in one place before checking out the tourist hotspots.
And though Baijens had to return to her home in the Netherlands, Verlinden – who quit his job in order to travel – has decided to stay in Israel until his tourist visa expires.
At the moment, he is volunteering with Go Eco in Nazareth, welcoming other travelers to Israel and helping keep clean the country’s hiking trails.
In March, Verlinden will pack up his bike and return home: this time by airplane.