Are We There Yet, Maier?
Somehow, our first empty- nester travels, once again, became a “family vacation”. Boarding our mini tour bus in Tel Aviv Israel, we met our traveling companions for the week, a small group, mostly from the US, ranging between the ages from 10 to 76, consisting of a bar-mitzvah family of six, a friendly couple from New York originally from Persia, and a mid-life Australian on “walkabout”, who was eager to learn about all kinds of cultures. As was typical of late, my husband and I were sandwiched in age somewhere in the middle. While we had been eager to take our first prolonged “grown up” vacation in more than two decades, it turned out that traveling with a mixed age group immensely enriched our trip, enabling us to see each site as if we’re 10, 50, or 70 plus years. By the end of the week, we had “adopted” this traveling family as our own.
While we bonded with all ages, it soon became clear that the stars of our trip were the “super seniors” we encountered, beginning with our 70 year -old tour guide, Maier. This unstoppable fifth generation Israeli led our merry group thru hills, valleys and mountain tops, sharing historical and personal anecdotes connecting us to each experience for 7 days straight, from morning ‘til dusk. Unsurprisingly longevity runs in his family, with his father passing at 114.
Our jeep trip through the hills surrounding the Jordan Valley was steeped in history by yet another spectacular senior. The 76 year- old host and driver, was an energetic pioneer of the Jewish state, lifetime kibbutznik, and Six Day War veteran. As he handed us plums and pomegranates fresh from the tree, each one of us savored our first bite of freshly picked Israeli agriculture. When we zig and zagged through the valley’s steep ridges, the adults clenched our teeth and grabbed tightly to the handrails through the impossibly tight curves, as the kids screamed for “more” (and faster). Our mature “speed racer” was unnerved by his daily drive, and had several more trips planned for that week.
The bar mitzvah of our new friend and “bus buddy”, Ethan, who would begin 8th grade the following week in Queens, New York was an unexpected highlight. We had not anticipated attending a simcha in the land of Israel, and were honored to take part in this rite of passage at the Western Wall. The intimate ceremony stole our breath, as father, son, brother, mother, grandmother (and cousin) became one with a tradition steeped in the history on the very ground on which they stood. Just today, I received a call from Ethan’s grandmother, thanking us for enriching his service. In reality, his service added untold meaning to our trip.
The action packed tour with 5 to 6 daily adventures wore out the lot of us, even our school aged friends flagged at times. I credit our more mature adventurers with holding their own, especially on the days that exceeded 100 degrees. Working with seniors through the Jewish Pavilion, I couldn’t help noting the exceptional elders in my presence, including our group members in their 70s who kept pace with our action packed itinerary.
After hearing about our travels with the multi-generations, Emily Newman, Senior Resource Specialist with the Orlando Senior Help Desk, shared a few tips for traveling with older adults, many of which apply to travelers of all ages. We were already familiar with one of Emily’s most important tips, which was crucial to those traveling in desert conditions in late August. Tip #1 was to “hydrate, hydrate, hydrate”, especially important for older adults who are at greater risk for dehydration. After following Emily’s tip # 1, you will definitely need tip #2. “Allow for frequent stops.” With 6 or so stops per day, our itinerary allowed for plenty of “rest stops”, whether for just sitting or finding the “restroom”.
Tip #3 is to calibrate your energy, and make sure older adults in the group are physically up to the task. If are with a group, make sure there is a safe place like a lobby or a cafeteria where a traveler could choose to “sit one out”. She also recommends checking in with older travelers on a frequent basis to make sure they are doing “okay”, as they may be hesitant to hold back the group. (For a more complete list of tips for traveling with seniors, visit the Facebook page for the Orlando Senior Help Desk at www.facebook.com/seniorhelpdesk).
Before flying back home, we visited one last “Super Senior”, my husband’s Aunt Juli (Yu-lee), a talented artist and teacher, who lives in suburban Haifa. Somehow, 18 years had sped by since our last visit, when she came to our former home in the Midwest to visit us and our toddler-aged kids (who are now both old enough to vote in the upcoming election). Juli’s passion for art was present in every nook and cranny of her charming apartment, where each corner and piece of wall contained a creative expression.
Though Juli’s current paintings of dancers were quite “moving”, she was most proud of the works of her older adult students, who live in a senior living community in the next town. For the past twelve years, she has taught art to even more “super seniors”, many overcoming strokes and other physical ailments, and are mostly first time painters. We marveled (and took photos) at their meticulous paintings of flowers, birds, soldiers, and more. Though some of the paintings had been done by artists as old as 94, the works appeared timeless, as well as ageless. Another thumbs up for Juli, who speaks 4 languages, plus enough workable English to pass the day with us monolinguists. As we said “Shalom”, we promised not to let another 18 years pass before another visit.