Untethered in Lake Atitlan, Guatemala

© hannah kozak
Lake Atitlan, Guatemala

 

© hannah kozak
Self Portrait – Lake Atitlan, Guatemala @ Hotel Posada del Angel

Feeling the need to recharge myself and go within, I decided to head to Guatemala.  It’s a place that connects me to my family of origin as my mother is from Guatemala, to the indigenous Mayan people and to the Spanish language that I love. I choose Lake Atitlan and made my decision to try Yoga Forest for the first time.  After a quick stop in Guatemala City’s La Aurora airport, I made my way to the colonial city of Antigua.
 

Antigua’s churches remind me of wonderfully decorated wedding cakes, with white details on a pastel yellow background. Wandering on the cobblestone streets I passed colorful, colonial churches, crumbling ruins, and terra cotta roofs with red and orange bougainvillea trailing down the sides of walls. My first day and night were spent at the luxurious, intimate boutique Hotel Posada del Angel in Antigua on a quiet cobblestone street, where every detail has been curated by local connoisseurs who want to share Antigua’s Maya and Spanish heritages.  Even the little soaps are designed by a local alchemist who created a signature scent called “Semana Santa” from frankincense, orange, myrrh, clove and cinnamon.  Raw honey comes from San Cristobal el Alto, coconut oil from Belize, palm oil and cocoa butter from Guatemala.

© hannah kozak
Hotel Posada del Angel

 

 

© hannah kozak
Hotel Posada del Angel
© hannah kozak
Hotel Posada del Angel –
© hannah kozak
This woman was selling the typical Guatemalan dolls that look like the ones my mother had as a little girl so I bought one from her. Her face is wonderful.
© hannah kozak
Three brothers – Antigua, Guatemala.
© hannah kozak
Man in Antigua, Guatemala speaking of his beliefs in a higher power.

 

I headed out on the Carretera Panamericana also known as Centroamérica 1 – the Panamerican Highwayto Lake Atitlan.  A three hour drive on a collective brought me to Lake Panachajel, where I hopped on a boat (lancha) to San Marcos La Laguna, my peaceful, spiritual spot to escape the world.

 

© hannah kozak
Local Mayan woman – San Marcos La Laguna – Lake Atitlan, Guatemala.

 

© hannah kozak
Two sisters – San Marcos La Laguna – Lake Atitlan, Guatemala.

 

 

 

© hannah kozak
Local Mayan woman heading down the route from The Yoga Forest

 

Lago de Atitlan is one of the most inspiring places I have ever visited.  Nestled between three volcanos that loom over the entire landscape, (Volcán Yolimán, Volcán Atitlean and Volcán San Pedro) at an altitude of 5,125 feet, it’s the deepest lake in Central America.  As far as I can see are the deep blue waters that inspired Aldous Huxley to write. Viewing the lake in silence is a true recharge while being surrounded by jogate and mango trees.

 

A young boy came running up to me, asking if he could carry my bags and I let him because I wanted to give him work. As he lugged my bags to Circles Café, I began to see the familiar signs in San Marcos that I love. Mayan women selling basketfuls of avocados, children running up and down the main path, the smell of tortillas cooking as I passed shady coffee plants near the lakeshore.

 

It’s a twenty-minute hike up a steep hill to get to Yoga Forest and it’s worth it.   If you are looking to disconnect, here is the place. No wi-fi without a twenty-minute hike back to the pueblo, no electricity in your room and a compost toilet. After living on a kibbutz on Israel, I learned that I needed very little stuff everyday to be content.

 

Henry Ward Beecher once said, “The first hour is the rudder of the day.”  By committing not to turn on technology first thing in the morning, I received so many benefits including going inside for all my answers.  It required discipline to power off all electronics but the benefits are a much fuller life. At night I lay in bed listening to the sound of the crickets, birds and animals singing to their heart’s content.  Solitude helps us ground to the world around us. Stillness and quiet is required to evaluate our lives and reflect on the messages our intuition sends us.

 

Off the grid, three local woman lovingly prepared meals with fresh fruits and vegetables, fresh blue tortillas, oatmeal, and pancakes. Even the coconut to sprinkle on our food was freshly grated.  These women embody my belief of “in a world where you can be anything, be kind.”  Even when it’s not the easiest response, it’s always the answer.

© hannah kozak
Maria at The Yoga Forest – San Marcos La Laguna
 © hannah kozak
Magda at The Yoga Forest – San Marcos La Laguna, Guatemala.
© hannah kozak
Magda cooking vegetables – The Yoga Forest – San Marcos La Laguna, Guatemala.
© hannah kozak
Magda cooking tortillas at The Yoga Forest – San Marcos La Laguna, Guatemala.

 

The view from the top of the mountain of the volcanoes is the best scenery in all of Central America. Jungle foliage and trees were medicine to my heart.  The highland Indians’ colorful clothes that they make themselves, their traditional way of life of farming, their local markets, and the art they create, are all like stepping back in time before all our modern ways.  Add in the Mayan culture and it’s a place that comforts and speaks to my soul.

© hannah kozak
Shooting nearly my entire visit in film made the photos even more magical for me.

One terribly upsetting factor in San Marcos — and all of Central America for that matter —  is all the stray dogs running around.  One morning I saw a dog with a bloodied ear that had flies covering the wound.  I found the only pet food store in San Marcos and waited an hour and a half for a mobile vet that was due to arrive. He never came but I exchanged contact with the girl who worked at the pet store.  When I returned home I contacted her and a great big smile was on my face when she told me that not only had she found the owner of the dog but also that treatment to heal its ear had started.

© hannah kozak
Micaela Pichilla – the girl who helped me find the owner of the dog in San Marcos.
© hannah kozak
Micaela Pichilla at the pet food store she works at in San Marcos La Laguna.

There is so much to do once you’ve settled in at the lake. Exploring other villages by boat, studying Spanish,seeing the weaving and arts created by locals and of course, yoga and meditation.  Not to be missed is Las Pirámides meditation center on the path heading inland from Posada Schumann, where you can have a massage, practice yoga in the morning and early evening, and come to study metaphysical and meditation courses. Lake Atitlan is not a place just to travel to, it’s a place to come and live for an extended period.  After moving to Israel when I was twenty years old, I developed a serious case of wanderlust and I have never stopped exploring. Part of why I travel is to have no regrets at the end of my days, because I will have explored places out of my comfort zone, traveled alone at times and had serious adventures. Not to mention getting out of my comfort zone taps into parts of my brain that create new synapses that stir creative thought. Not everyone has traveled to a place like Lake Atitlan as it requires work and an adventurous spirit to arrive there. It’s a promise that you will never forget the beauty and sounds at the lake, the smell of fresh tortillas being cooked, and will return home with peacefulness from being surrounded by the beauty of not only the lake’s water but also the indigenous people with the warmth and kindness in their hearts.

© hannah kozak
Girl playing near Lake Atitlan.
© hannah kozak
One of the yoga teachers adopted Mala and brought him back home to Berlin.
© hannah kozak
Self Portrait – Lush in San Marcos La Laguna

The Magic of Oaxaca, Mexico

The Magic of Oaxaca, Mexico

From the moment my plane landed in the tiny airport of Oaxaca, I knew I was in for an adventure. Oaxaca is a magical concoction of sights, smells, and sounds. With a combination of ancient and modern sites, the small city is full of fantastic restaurants and can easily be covered by foot.

Its official name, Oaxaca de Juárez, embodies the bundle of contrasts that is modern Mexico. Oaxaca has it all: a lovely colonial city, the ruins of Mitla, craft and food markets, churches, forest covered mountains, and my favorite place of all—Monte Albán, which makes sense as I run towards any world heritage site.

© hannah kozak
Monte Albán, Mexico

Built by the Zapotecs, the temples of Monte Albán are perched atop a large mesa. Seeing the massive ancient metropolis is a mystical and spiritual experience. Monte Albán is one of the most important ruins in Mexico. To get a sense of its importance, it is said that 30,000 Zapotecs lived in Monte Albán at one time.

© hannah kozak
Monte Albán, Oaxaca, Mexico

The Zapotec capital of Monte Albán overlooks Oaxaca. Here’s my POV:

© hannah kozak
View of Oaxaca, Mexico from Monte Albán.

I find myself with many questions about Monte Albán because only 10 percent of the site has been uncovered. Did the Zapotecs abandon the city gradually or suddenly? It was founded toward the end of the Middle Formative period around 500 BC and by 1000 AD it was empty. What was it like living in Monte Alban?

For this trip I used my Rolleiflex 2.8F and my Fujifilm X-T2 along with the Fujifilm 16-55mm 2.8 lens. In other words, a combo of film and digital photography.

When I travel, I use my camera to get to know people. I’ll approach strangers and ask if I may make a photo of them. With that one question, we establish a sort of trust. If I am shooting digitally, I will show them the photo on playback and I usually get big smiles in response.

© hannah kozak
Woman in Teotitlan Market in Oaxaca, Mexico
© hannah kozak
Woman in Teotitlan Market in Oaxaca, Mexico
© hannah kozak
Woman in Teotitlan Market in Oaxaca, Mexico
 © hannah kozak
Couple in their vegetable and fruit stand in Teotitlan Market – Oaxaca, Mexico
© hannah kozak
Woman in Teotitlan Market in Oaxaca, Mexico
 © hannah kozak
Children in Tlacolula Market – Oaxaca, Mexico

I like to write down their address and sometimes surprise them with the photo in the mail a month or two later. Sharing my photography is important to me, and I love being able to give the gift of a portrait.

© hannah kozak
Frutas y Verduras – Teotitlan Market Oaxaca, Mexico
© hannah kozak
Eugenia Zoila Hernande at La Olla Restaurant making corn tortillas – Oaxaca, Mexico
©hannah kozak
Man selling on street in Oaxaca, Mexico

Whether I’m taking pictures or not, traveling through Mexico is always a unique experience. From the Spanish language (la lengua), to the food (la comida), people (la gente), and culture (la cultura). There is a lot of fear-based advice about traveling to various states of Mexico coming from the U.S. that I have never paid attention to. I find all the fear propaganda unwarranted.

I have met beautiful people around the world in my travels, warm kind hearted strangers especially in Mexico. Their warmth and kindness shines through where I meet them in every market, street corner, restaurant, and ancient site.

 © hannah kozak
Woman in Teotitlan Market – Oaxaca, Mexico
© hannah kozak
Woman in Teotitlan Market – Oaxaca, Mexico
© hannah kozak
Woman – Teotitlan Market
© hannah kozak
Woman – Teotitlan Market in Oaxaca, Mexico
© hannah kozak
Woman – Teotitlan Market – Oaxaca, Mexico

Mexico gifted me with enriching, heart breaking, beautiful sights and though it left me tired, I felt new life running through my veins.

© hannah kozak
Skeletons – Oaxaca, Mexico
© hannah kozak
Self Portrait – Oaxaca Cemetery
Self Portrait plus one
Self Portrait plus one: No trip is complete without a visit to the local cemetery.
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The Magic of Oaxaca, Mexico

Grand Canary Islands:Mogan, Spain

Grand Canary Islands: Mogan, Spain

Off the coast of Africa and southwest of Spain are the Canary Islands. Grand Canary Islands is a miniature continent due to the different climates and variety of landscapes found, with long beaches and dunes of white sand, contrasting with green ravines and picturesque villages. I especially love that a third of the island is under protection as a Biosphere Reserve by UNESCO.

@ hannah kozak
Grand Canary Island, España

Part of the reason I wanted to visit Grand Canary is its tropical, steady climate all year round. In the winter it’s normally 72 degrees F, and usually 85 degrees F in the summer. It’s sunny in the coast nearly all the time. I loved the feeling of the sea breeze and the trade winds helped when it became too warm. I visited the southern part of the island which is warm and sunny. The north tends to be cooler. The east coast of the island is flat, dotted with beaches while the western coast is rockier and mountainous.

Mogán is a town and a municipality in the southwestern part of the island of Gran Canaria, which is one of the three main islands making up the Province of Las Palmas in the Canary Islands, Spain. A network of canals gives the town the nickname of “Little Venice”.

Mogán, Spain
Mogán, Spain
Mogán, Spain
Mogán, Spain
Mogán, Spain
Mogán, Spain
Mogán, Spain
Mogán, Spain
Self portrait - Mogán, Spain
Self portrait – Mogán, Spain
Mogán, Spain
Mogán, Spain
Mogån, Spain
Mogån, Spain
Who's your mom?
Who’s your mom?
And, who's your mom?
And, who’s your mom?
@ hannah kozak
Grand Canary Island

And, Olivia the Artist joined me on this trip.

@ hannah kozak
Olivia in Grand Canary Islands

Grand Canary Islands: Mogan, Spain

Hay magia a la vuelta de cada esquina – There is Magic Around Every Corner -Nirja and Frigliana, Spain

There is Magic Around Every Corner

One of the many good things about Málaga, the capital of the Costa del Sol, Spain is that there are lots of towns nearby, full of interesting things. The day after arrival into Málaga, I headed out by bus to Nirja, en route to Frigliana. I heard from a photographer friend that it’s a good place for photographers to wander. Frigliana has received awards for its beauty and conservation.

The ceramic mosaics are dotted around the old part of town. These mosaics were designed by Pilar Garcia Miilan and help to narrate the story of the Moorish uprising in the area.

Shot with Rolleiflex 2.8F and Kodak Portra 400 film
Shot with Rolleiflex 2.8F and Kodak Portra 400 film

Frigliana is not in my Spain guidebook so I’m convinced it must be special. I lucked out with an overcast day, a perfect umbrella for this all white, quaint town that has the old part of town of Moorish origin and the newer part which is built more in the traditional style of a white Andalucian village. I wandered and enjoyed the contrast from busy Málaga and found magic around every corner.

© hannah kozak
Frigliana, Spain
Self Portrait - Hannah Kozak
Self Portrait – Hannah Kozak
© hannah kozak
Boys in Frigliana, Spain
© hannah kozak
Frigliana, Spain
Frigliana, Spain
Frigliana, Spain
© hannah kozak
Woman in Frigliana, Spain
Frigliana, Spain
Loved this wine cellar built into the wall.
© hannah kozak
Man in Frigliana, Spain
© hannah kozak
Frigliana, Spain
Mailboxes outside the road en route to Frigliana, Spain
Mailboxes outside the road en route to Frigliana, Spain
Men in Nirja, Spain
Men in Nirja, Spain
Self portrait - Frigliana, Spain
Self portrait – Frigliana, Spain
Cemetery in Nirja, Spain
Cemetery in Nirja, Spain
Nirja, Spain
Nirja, Spain
Children - Nirja, Spain
Children – Nirja, Spain
Men in Nirja, Spain
Men in Nirja, Spain
Bread shop - Nirja, Spain
Bread shop – Nirja, Spain
© hannah kozak
Man in Nirja, Spain
Self portrait with Rolleiflex 2.8F - Nirja, Spain
Self portrait with Rolleiflex 2.8F – Nirja, Spain

If we are always arriving and departing, it is also true that we are eternally anchored. One’s destination is never a place but rather a new way of looking at things.
Henry Miller

There is Magic Around Every Corner

Jerusalem – The most venerated site on earth

Jerusalem –  The Most Venerated Site on Earth

From the Arthur Hotel in Jerusalem located on the famous Dorot Rishonim Street, I overlook the walking area of Ben-Yehuda Street, named after the founder of modern Hebrew, Eliezer Ben-Yehuda. Yehuda believed Hebrew and Zionism shared a symbiotic relationship.  This location is a perfect ten-minute walk from the Old City. As I feel the warm evening breeze, I hear the buzz of this midrachov, pedestrian mall. I hear the sounds of this historic city as I watch people eating at sidewalk cafes. Street musicians play their guitars as the smell of falafel cooking is in the air, while cats wander about looking up to me to say hello in the land of milk and honey. On the Sabbath morning, I hear the sound of silence. No cars, buses, or people’s voices, only the quiet that comes from respecting the day of rest.

© hannah kozak
Child in Jerusalem

Between Egypt and Mesopotamia a land bridge known as Canaan connected Africa to Asia. This land passage of Canaan which became Israel was a geopolitical death trap then and today. It was predestined to be a battlefield of the ages and is one of the most volatile locations on our planet. Scholars and holy men find her to be the navel of the world. I like to visit elevated places that are instructional and educational so Jerusalem is a perfect fit. The Four Quarters of the Old City are made up of The Jewish, Muslim, Armenian and the Christian quarters. Jerusalem causes one to look more closely at everything, not just observe and definitely stop judging.

© hannah kozak
Mother and children on the Sabbath in The Jewish Quarter, Jerusalem

Abraham’s wanderings were around 1800 BC. The first written mention of Jerusalem appeared on Egyptian clay pottery known as execration texts around 1850 BC. Jerusalem has been called the most venerated site on earth, a halfway house between heaven and earth. The Jews have always loved Jerusalem the most, almost like a best friend where the love is constant, Jerusalem never fails to give me hope and strength.

© hannah kozak
Child in Jerusalem
© hannah kozak
Boys at school in Jerusalem

I wandered into this shop called Sinjilawi while I was in the Muslim Quarter of Jerusalem. The colors, fabrics, smells of incense, lights and pottery grabbed my attention as I spoke to Omar Hamad, who explained to me that nine generations of his family have owned this business in the Arabic section of the Old City. I loved peeking down the fifty nine foot (eighteen meter) well that is inside their store.

© hannah kozak
Sinjlawi – Old City, Jerusalem
© hannah kozak
Sinjlawi – Old City, Jerusalem
@ hannah kozak
Sinjlawi – Old City, Jerusalem
© hannah kozak
Children – Jerusalem
@ hannah kozak
Jerusalem
© hannah kozak
Jerusalem
© hannah kozak
Jerusalem
© hannah kozak
Israeli soldiers – Jerusalem
© hannah kozak
Jerusalem
Israeli soldiers - Jerusalem
Israeli soldiers – Jerusalem
© hannah kozak
A favorite falafel shop in the Old City, Jerusalem
© hannah kozak
Children in Jewish Section- Jerusalem
© hannah kozak
Children in Jewish Quarter -Jerusalem
© hannah kozak
Jerusalem
© hannah kozak
The Old City – Jerusalem
© hannah kozak
Children playing – Old City, Jerusalem
© hannah kozak
Near the Jaffa Gate – Old City, Jerusalem
© hannah kozak
Israeli Soldiers – Old City, Jerusalem
 hannah kozak
Old City, Jerusalem
© hannah kozak
Jerusalem cat- I bring fish in my pocket to share with the wandering cats
© hannah kozak
Shop in Jerusalem
© hannah kozak
Another delicious breakfast in Israel – @ Arthur Hotel
© hannah kozak
Where do the children play? Old City, Jerusalem

The Hill of Crosses in Lithuania – A Symbol of Hope

The Hill of Crosses in Lithuania

I made a side trip from Warsaw to visit The Hill of Crosses in Lithuania. From Warsaw, it’s an eight hour drive on tree lined roads. Since the times of the Crusaders, people have been making pilgrimages to this unusual site. It is neither easy to get to nor to find but it is well worth the journey into Northern Lithuania.

Entering Lithuania
Entering Lithuania

As we drive on the road, I see broken lamps; metaphors from the days of communism. The further east you go, the more symbols like the broken lamp one sees. My friend Hanna says “I have cake from my mother, special for you.” Her mother had baked a coffee cake for our road trip, another act of kindness. We listened to Michael Jackson, we listened to silence.

En route to Lithuania
En route to Lithuania

Poland was and is full of trees along the roads. The trees served a purpose during WWII; the main strategy was to hide the tanks from the planes. Even if a plane noticed the tanks, it’s hard to hit a tank so close to many trees.

The Road from Poland to Lithuania
The Road from Poland to Lithuania

On a hill, in the town of Siauliai, are thousands of crosses in every size and shape. Not only crosses but crucifixes, Virgin Mary statues, Lithuanian patriot carvings, tiny rosaries and effigies.The crosses combine elements of architecture, sculpture, blacksmith art, and painting. I left a wooden cross from Mexico and another from my dearest friend in a corner of the hill that seemed perfect. My friend from Poland, along with her gentle, kind son who drove us, left four crosses.

Entrance to The HIll of Crosses
Entrance to The HIll of Crosses
The Hill of Crosses
The Hill of Crosses

The first crosses were placed there 182 years ago by relatives killed during an anti-Russian uprising in 1831. This site is a symbol of hope, of father and freedom for the Lithuanian people.

As I climbed up and down the narrow paths, I felt stillness and in the quiet, I could sometimes hear the wind chimes blowing in the breeze, creating a special musical sound. The Hill of Crosses, like Jerusalem, is experiential. My photos cannot do justice to seeing this sight in person.

After the outbreak of the Second World War, Lithuania was occupied three times: first by the USSR in 1940, then by Nazi Germany in 1941, and finally by the USSR again in 1944. Mass deportations continued until the death of Stalin.

The site has been destroyed multiple times. The Soviet government could not tolerate such spiritual expression and in 1961 completely destroyed the hill. Every cross was bulldozed, burned and recycled. The crosses returned. The Soviets destroyed it again in 1973 and 1975. The exact number of crosses there now is unknown but there are estimates of put it at about 100,000 in 2006.

The Hill of Crosses took my breath away as I could feel the undefeated faith of the Lithuanian people along with hope and devotion, even amidst the suffering. The country suffered a 33% population loss due to the Holocaust, executions, incarcerations and forced emigration.

Leaving my friend's cross
Leaving my friend’s cross
The Hill of Crosses
The Hill of Crosses
The Hill of Crosses
The Hill of Crosses
The Hill of Crosses
The Hill of Crosses
The Hill of Crosses
The Hill of Crosses
Two crosses I placed; one from Mexico and one from my closest friend.
Two crosses I placed; one from Mexico and one from my closest friend.
The Hill of Crosses
The Hill of Crosses
The Hill of Crosses
The Hill of Crosses
Hannah & her son, Bartek
Hannah & her son, Bartek
Self portrait in Lithuania
Self portrait in Lithuania
En route to Warsaw, Poland
En route to Warsaw, Poland

Lithuanian proverb: Visur gerai, namie greasier. “Everywhere is good to live, but home is best.”

The Hill of Crosses in Lithuania

Wadi Rum, Petra and the silence of the soul

Wadi Rum, Jordan is also known as The Valley of the Moon. The desert is desolate, filled with silence, and the mind quiets if you allow the chatter to drop. I marvel at the wandering camels just as the Bedouins do. They call the camels “The Gift of G-d” because they are fast running creatures which can go sixty-two miles (one hundred kilometers) in twenty-four hours. These camels have strength and endurance and many of them attach themselves to one owner. There are many breeds of camels besides racing and burden carrying however in Wadi Rum there is a special breed developing that loves people and being caressed. Look at this cute face, almost as if she’s saying “let’s be friends.”

© hannah kozak
Camel at Wadi Rum, Jordan

In the middle of the desert we stop for tea and cookies at a Bedouin camp with tents made from goat hair followed by a breathtaking view of The Seven Pillars of Wisdom; a famous landmark, named after the book by T.E. Lawrence (Lawrence of Arabia). Discovering an unknown land brings freedom to my soul.

 © hannah kozak
Tea at Boudoin camp – Wadi Rum, Jordan
© hannah kozak
Bodouin camp – Wadi Rum, Jordan
@ hannah kozak
Seven Pillars of Wisdom – Wadi Rum, Jordan

The tour guide stops us in what seems to be the middle of nowhere and begins to pick an herb off a tree and build a fire from sticks he gathers nearby. I am charmed by our guide’s substantial gifts; a warrior who climbs the steep mountain as if it were flat ground, he is sure of himself.  He navigates through the vast desert with no GPS, creating a fresh salad in the middle of the vast space. I watch him cook onions, peppers, hot peppers on his makeshift grill and he serves my favorite,  hummus.

© hannah kozak
Lunch in Wadi Rum
© hannah kozak
Lunch in Wadi Rum desert

As I climb the summit of a naked mountain, I meet a family traveling from Madrid, Spain. The child turns to me and asks “este es un buen movimiento? o un mal movimiento?”  “Is this a good move or a bad move?” and together, while continuing to communicate to each other in Spanish, we navigate the rocks with the reach of a hand and the placement of a foot, until we reach the peak. I think of my father’s family, who were in bondage and here I am in Jordan.  I celebrate my freedom with a deep inhale and exhale at the top.

© hannah kozak
Wadi Rum view from a summit

Wadi Rum is a journey to another world where Petroglyphs are carved into the sandstone and granite, camels wander in a quiet, silent desert, the rocks seem placed here by something not of this world, and solitude is made of sand and G-d.

 © hannah kozak
Petroglyphs at Wadi Rum
© hannah kozak
Wadi Rum camel
© hannah kozak
Wadi Rum camel buddies
© hannah kozak
Wadi Rum camel friend
© hannah kozak
Random goat foot in Wadi Rum
© hannah kozak
Mama and baby camel in Wadi Rum- The baby will remain close to her mother until she reaches maturity at five years. Who’s your mom?

“I have always loved the desert. One sits down on a desert sand dune, sees nothing, hears nothing. Yet through the silence something throbs, and gleams…”

Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, The Little Prince

The Lost City of Petra, Jordan

Aqaba, Wadi Rum and Petra, Jordan are referred to as “The Golden Triangle.” Crossing into Jordan from Eilat, Israel only required showing my passport eight times. We pass through Aqaba, the only coastal city in Jordan situated at the northeastern tip of the Red Sea. Aqaba has been inhabited since 4000 BC because of the strategic location of trading routes between Asia, Africa and Europe.  For a moment, I still feel as if I’m in Israel except the giveaway is all the signs are in Arabic only while in Israel the signs are in Arabic, Hebrew and English. The long stretch of highway to begin our trek to Petra awaits us. I have a big smile on my face as I see groups of black, white and tan sheep roaming on the side of the road, thirty or more and sometimes only five to six. Random goats on the side of the paved road while a sun bronzed man rides a white donkey, slapping his hand on the donkey’s neck.  At eight thirty in the morning, I already have to strip off my thick sweatshirt, which I needed earlier. I’m hard wired for new experiences, for getting out of my comfort zone and this awakens me.

@ hannah kozak
Border crossing from Eilat, Israel to Jordan
@ hannah kozak
Donkeys en route to Petra, Jordan

I’ve been dreaming of visiting and photographing Petra for many years. I came to Israel two years ago and had the one day trip set to visit but a flu struck most of the tiny country including myself. I see tumbleweed, sage-like bushes, a lone tree now and then. In the near distance, I see a group of brown and black goats with mountains. I haven’t slept in six nights and I’m hoping the ride will lull me to sleep but I don’t want to miss a goat-herd sighting. The two hour drive in the desert is quieting and then the arrival at Petra. Petra is much more than what you see in the Indiana Jones movie. It was originally meant to be a cemetery, where the rich had a place carved into the stones. The Nabateans, clever and practical people, turned it into a trading city and until the Romans invaded, it was thriving for hundreds of years. Paved roads, agricultural terraces, water harvesting systems, artwork, temples, even theatres. They were open to all cultural influences and if you look at any carved monument, you see the influence of Egyptian, Mesopotamian and Graeco-Roman, all fused into a grand unified network.  I love the camels and find their faces fascinating.

@ hannah kozak
Petra
@ hannah kozak
Camels at Petra
@ hannah kozak
Donkey in Petra, Jordan
@ hannah kozak
The Treasury in Petra, Jordan

Lunch midday in Petra was a delicious mix of vegetables, rice, potatoes. I found the food in Petra yummy everywhere I ate.

@ hannah kozak
Lunch at Petra

UNESCO has named this a World Heritage Site since 1985. This rose-red city is a must see before you die. Here are some additional shots from my day in this 8th wonder of the world.

@ hannah kozak
The Treasury in Petra, Jordan
@ hannah kozak
Camel in front of The Treasury at Petra, Jordan
@ hannah kozak
Camel – Petra, Jordan
@ hannah kozak
Camel at The Treasury – Petra, Jordan
@ hannah kozak
Girl in Petra, Jordan
@ hannah kozak
Petra, Jordan
@ hannah kozak
Petra cat

The Amra Palace hotel was full of surprises at every turn. For a mere 13 JD- Jordanian Dollar, which is US $18, there was a Turkish bath, steam room, body scrub, complete massage followed by a cup of tea in the Turkish bath and a giant pool that I had all to myself.  After walking through Petra all day with camera gear, I was aching and the treatment helped me to finally sleep after seemingly endless jet lag.

@ hannah kozak
The pool at The Amra Palace-Petra, Jordan

I woke up to an incredible breakfast selection. Four types of homemade yogurt; strawberry, blueberry, plain and vanilla with dates and figs from the desert, which I view from outside the window in my hotel.  A cook is making perfectly round mini pancakes. Apple, oranges, apricots, grapefruits, cheeses, tomato, cucumber, hummus in a dining room of marble pillars overlooking a garden of hibiscus flowers. Trip Advisor has given the Amra Palace Hotel a certificate of excellence and so do I.

@ hannah kozak
Breakfast at The Amra Palace- Petra, Jordan
@ hannah kozak
Jordanian newspaper

Old Jaffa and Eilat, Israel

Jaffa, the old city in Tel Aviv was as magical as when I visited thirty-three years ago. The small, narrow streets lead you to unique boutiques, restaurants and cafes but what I love most of all is walking along the ancient cobblestones as I spot cats wandering. Neve Tzedek and Tel Aviv have their own unique flavors but the history of Jaffa as the main entry point to the land of Israel until the late 19th century when Jews were returning to Israel, makes it astonishing for me.

©hannah kozak
Jaffa
©hannah kozak
Old Jaffa

The ability to meet people from around the world is at my fingertips with the power of social media, which although can have a loaded connotation, is actually meant to be friendly, useful and genuine. A photographer followed me on Twitter, and I followed him. I checked out his site and saw his sensitivity, ability to understand light and use shadows to evoke feeling and emotion. Check out his site on RedBubble; an incredibly diverse, creative community on the internet.

http://www.redbubble.com/people/stran9e

I wrote to him that I would be visiting Israel and asked if we could meet. Having only one evening in Tel Aviv before I left for Eilat, Israel’s southernmost city, Vicktor not only met me but helped make my experience filled with memories of Jaffa and a new, kind friend.

©hannah kozak
Old Jaffa

Vicktor drove us to Jaffa, where we walked around the ancient city, looking at the ocean and settling into a local restaurant where we enjoyed a glass of Syrah, ate appetizers of hummus and eggplant with olive oil, while discussing photography and life. I eschew groups even more so when I travel and adore one on ones so it was a perfect evening.

©hannah kozak
Old Jaffa

For my stay in Tel Aviv, I choose the ArtPlus; a brand new, sixty-two room hotel which supports the arts. The overall design mimics the ambience of art galleries and exhibition spaces.  Five famous local artists were commissioned to create the murals that distinguish the décor on each floor and my favorite; a mezuzah, reminding us of our connection to G-d, and protection, on each door.  In the morning, I left early for Eilat before having the delicious breakfast that is found all over Israel; fresh salads and hummus yumminess.

© hannah kozak
Artplus Hotel, Tel Aviv
© hannah kozak
Goikey breakfast at Artplus

I’ve read that the truest beauty can be found in the harshest land, that G-d can be found by keeping your eyes open. As I pulled my luggage along the cobblestone streets in Eilat, feeling the sun and shedding a layer of clothing, a taxi driver slowed down, called out to me in Hebrew, and stopped his cab, to hand me the lock that had fallen off my luggage in the bus station when I arrived. I offered my hand, a smile and todah rabah, thank you very much. I was so tired from schlepping, that I hadn’t noticed the lock missing.

©hannah kozak
Old Jaffa
© hannah kozak
Old Jaffa
© hannah kozak
Entrance to Synagogue
© hannah kozak
Street names in tile
© hannah kozak
Street art in Jaffa
© hannah kozak
Jaffa cat -Who’s your mom?

The warm, balmy air feels good and I hear seagulls calling out to their friends. The breeze of this oasis reminds me I am on the coast of the Red Sea and I am grateful for my breath. I spent the late part of the day on the beach, reading “The Dovekeepers” by Alice Hoffman, a novel a friend had given me two years ago that is set during and after the fall of Jerusalem.  I promised myself I would read this book when I was in Israel and that is precisely what I am doing. The Dovekeepers takes on an added layer when traveling through this holy land. I am free and not in bondage as my father was in Nazi labor camps.  As I look out to the sea, where the calming, transparent waters remind me the animals live by the rhythm of the sun and sea, of the desert, of G-d, of life itself. The earth, and sea and desert will live on forever. I will not. I am blissful from this quiet time in the desert.

Jrr Tolkien_Not All Those

Yom Hashoah honored by Israel with silence, sirens and contemplation

As the sirens begin to wail and continue for two full minutes, I witness people getting off their bikes, stopping in their tracks while cars and buses also halt wherever they are.  People bow their heads and I find the space to feel the loss of my father, a Holocaust survivor of eight Nazi forced labor camps, who recently died. I am in Israel. So while some may view Israel, a country bordered by Lebanon, Syria, Jordan and Egypt as a place of violence and terror, I see nothing but beauty in a land that was created for displaced Jews.  I murmur a prayer for the dead, for my father who made survival his art.

© hannah kozak
Yom Hashoah observance in Ramat Hasharon, Israel

Nine days after my father left his physical body, I booked a trip to Israel to rejuvenate and Poland to seek out my heritage, to visit my ancestral shtetl. I want to see where my father lived with his seven siblings, mother and father in a one-bedroom apartment in Bedzin, Poland in my quest as a redemption narrative, going beyond what I know.

My sojourn began in a suburb called Ramat Hasharon to be with my mother’s brothers’ family.  I spent the morning swimming with my cousin in a outdoor sea water swimming pool in the Sharon Hotel in Herzliya overlooking the Mediterranean Sea, which revitalized me from the jet lag I was in.

© hannah kozak
Mediterranean Sea from Sharon Hotel – Herzliya

Now I am part of a day to memorialize the tragedies of the Holocaust.  We stand in remembrance for our families and for those we never knew. The Knesset in Israel made Yom Hashoah a national public holiday in nineteen fifty nine and a law was passed in nineteen sixty one that closed all public entertainment on this day.

As Neo-Nazis have once again been legalized in Europe, openly sitting in parliaments, I, along with the people next to me, bow my head in silence as the tears run down my face. I needed this experience to help me feel and clear out the sadness from losing my father.

And now the best part of returning to Israel, a mission to find the best hummus. My uncle brought us to a local favorite restaurant that is on the border of Ramat Hasharon and Tel Aviv called Dagim 206. Their hummus gets a ten. Goiked!

© hannah kozak
Hummus in Ramat Hasharon

“I will not say, do not weep, for not all tears are an evil.”
― J.R.R. Tolkien