I was a participant in the GoEco Ecotourism in Central Jerusalem program, fall of 2012. I chose the program because I had attended a study trip and decided to extend it, so I needed something rewarding to do with my time in Israel. Although the placement is in a fairly new hostel, it is very well run and has 24 hour staff, common rooms, and a tour to just about every attraction in Israel. As a volunteer, you can go on all of them free! (A fantastic perk, as I ended up attending all of them.)
I highly recommend the Best of the West Bank tour, as it is the only dual-narrative tour you can get of the West Bank. The tours provide you with transportation, a guide, and sometimes a meal. For the adventurers out there, I would also suggest the Off-Road Adventure. It wasn’t just touring around though; I did have some work to do at the hostel. There were five of us volunteers, two from Germany, one from South Africa, one from Italy, and myself from the USA. We lived in bunk beds in a room in the back of the hostel. We had a list of chores to do each day, and we each got to choose our schedule and which shift we wanted.
Morning shift began at 6:30 AM, in which we set out dishes and food, and helped hostel guests clean their dishes. The afternoon shift was split between a few maintenance chores. We take out the laundry and put it outside, we change the shower curtains in the rooms, we take out all the recycling and sort it, and we do the laundry from the kitchen. There is a neat free tour in the afternoon that begins at Jaffa gate, so we would walk the guests to the start of the tour so they wouldn’t get lost. The evening shift consisted of running the nightly activities.
Each day the hostel had an exciting event for staff and guests to participate in. The activities were: pub quiz night, (my favorite) open mic night, game night, movie night, Shabbat dinner night, pub crawl night, and then Saturday nights we had off to go out if we wanted to. Exploring on my own, I met Israelis and expats from all countries. You can find something new every day in a city like Jerusalem! It is easy to get around on public transit, and the Egged Bus lines are very understanding of tourists.
During time off from the hostel, I planned a trip with a newly made friend down to the southernmost tip of Israel, Eilat. Eilat is a can’t-miss destination, with some of the best coral reefs in the world, and a great place for my first scuba dive!
A few more pieces of advice:
1. when you go to the markets to buy food, try to go later in the evening, as prices get cheaper.
2. Israeli ice coffee is NOT the same as American coffee. Try it, but be warned, it is extremely addictive.
3. Travel around on your off-days, the time will go fast and you will wish you had seen the land. You can stay for free at most hostels around Israel because you volunteer for the GoEco program, so might as well take advantage of it!
4. If you want to meet younger people, try to go in the summer, as pretty much all of our guests during the holidays were over the age of 40. With that, remember to keep an open mind and you’ll have a life-changing experience!