After breakfasting with the kids, we set off in our Kermit the frog green Mazda 2, heading north towards the Sea of Galilee (known as Kinneret here). We passed through Nazareth but didn’t stop to see the tourist attractions, which are always full of buses filled with school kids, or foreigners, old and young. Early afternoon found us outside Tiberius. We stopped and ate some oranges, then carried on a bit further looking for a camping spot. A couple of signs piqued our interest. One was for a first century Jewish village and fishing boat. We found the parking lot (empty except for a devout Arab saying his prayers), but no signs to any historic site. Following a dirt track, we came to a small generating station, then another track that headed down to a ramshackle sea resort: cabins on the verge of collapse, lodges in various states of disrepair, a concession stand, a main lodge also in desperate need of repair. Turns out people store their boats there and the resort itself opens later in the season. For our purposes, it was perfect! Running water, steps to the lake, shade, power to charge our devices plus the bonus of two lovely golden retrievers, one that just gave birth to nine puppies. When the night security guard showed up we asked if we could pitch our tents, he agreed, and so we stayed, secure, behind closed gates, while the foxes howled on the track to the lake.
Tuesday March 8
After a breakfast of powdered eggs ( have I mentioned how delicious they are?) we headed north again towards the Golan Heights. Everyone has told us how beautiful that region of Israel is and we figured since we’d never walk there, we could drive. We passed the Mount of the Beatitudes and stopped for a look. A regal looking Franciscan monastery graced the hill and manicured gardens with stones portraying all of the beatitudes stretched out over the hilltop. The church was also lovely but what made it seem other worldly was that a couple of priests were singing Santa Lucia in the most awesome tenors, which resonated throughout the round sanctuary. Arlene captured it on video.
From there we drove north, choosing the narrow, winding roads. We stopped at a gas station in the middle of nowhere ( well, that’s an exaggeration because there were numerous Israeli military camps with bunkers, barracks, and tanks around. ) There, someone filled one of my tires with air while we ate ice cream. He told us we should go to Merlon Golan. We thought it was a small mountain we could climb and peek into Syria, but discovered, after we hiked up the hill, that there was a parking lot at the top. Merlon Golan turned out to be an actual battle station complete with tanks, and trenches dug around the top, though now was a commemorative site, paying tribute to those that fought in the 1974 war. We chatted with a couple of UN peacekeepers who were stationed in the area, overseeing the ceasefire dating back to 1974 when the Syrians occupied this part of Golan. The peacekeepers, one from eastern Europe and one from Ireland, pointed out the decimated Syrian villages to the east and the boundaries of the UN demilitarized zone between Syria and Israel. Apparently both governments currently maintain friendly relations. We sensed the area evoked strong sentiments for both sides in the conflict. This sentiment was confirmed while we ate some lunch in the gift shop/ café, for we noticed many people praying, reading from their holy books ( either Koran or Torah) and crying and bowing twice towards the walls. The grief associated with the conflict was palpable, and both Arlene and I actually cried while witnessing the mourners.
From the windy roads we had seen a huge ancient fortress atop one of the prominent hills, but by the time we got there at 3:00 pm, it had just closed. So Nimrod Fortress was put on the next day’s agenda. Back down we drove, through the green, rocky hills which looked so stunning in late afternoon light. We picked up a young German hitch hiker who tagged along on the rest of our adventures that day – an unplanned visit to the Lebanese border ( not sure how we ended up there) and to Kibbutz Dan, where we would have arrived victorious in April had we walked the entirety of the trail. We ended up camping in the kibbutz near the first/ final rock of the Shvil. Arlene cooked up one of her specialties seeing as we had a dinner guest, namely young Constantine, the German. In the morning he took off down the trail and we loaded our stuff into Kermit and headed out to Nimrod.
Nimrod fortress was superb! It took a solid two hours to tour. Views were magnificent. Arlene posted some of the history of this fortification, which dated from 1270 AD. Afterwards we tried to find food in a nearby Druz village since we heard the food was excellent, but we never stumbled on any roadside stand, so we carried on, past the minefields, the Arab hill towns, the eye-popping countryside with its bombed-out shells of houses, past the Valley of Tears. For part of the ride south, we were only a few kilometres from the Syrian border. Golan was quite the experience and we were glad we had come to this part of Israel.
On the way back to Galilee, we again took the roads less travelled, down through a lush valley filled with agriculture, to the gates of Jordan River Park. I originally thought this was the baptismal site of Jesus, but have since found out it is actually on the south end of the lake where the Jordan River exits and flows towards the Dead Sea. Our previous campsite had been on the west side of Kinneret, so we drove along the east, past a series of beautiful beaches. At Zelan, we found another great campsite. Here, the lake has a sandy bottom. The campsite is extensive, with running water, washrooms, showers (closed for the winter) and surprise! Garbage pails every 20 feet. There is definitely a dearth of garbage pails in Israel and as a result there is a lot of trash lying around. In the south, hikers pack out their garbage, but in the more populated regions people tend to just throw it out the window of their cars or leave it behind. For example last night a couple of Arab men arrived with a picnic basket and stayed for a few hours. This morning we saw all the remnants of their dinner still on the picnic table despite the fact there was a pail five feet away!
THURSDAY March 10 : This morning, besides being bitten by something that has left a large red patch surrounded by a hard white circle on my leg, I heard the insurance has approved my early return. This evokes a very mixed response. True, my knee is not 100% and with the pack it will probably suffer a relapse. Arlene’s feet are improving, though who’s to say what will happen if she tries hiking again. Her plan is to either get back on the trail just north of Tel Aviv and try hiking, even if it’s only 5 km a day, or walk from the Mediterranean back to the Sea of Galilee. If her feet hurt she’ll just stay off them a few days. Unfortunately, I am a more restless soul and feel that now that the hard desert hiking is done and that I’ve had my grand adventure, I could be more productive at home. I’ll camp out with Fraser, get some physio on my knee, go back to work and carry on with some of the writing projects I left behind. But if I indeed fly home in a few days, I will leave part of my heart in Israel, and with Arlene, who has become such a friend and soulmate. I don’t worry about her because she has so much common sense and can connect so easily to everyone she meets. And she is resourceful- I can attest to that!! So we will see what the next few days bring.
So now as I look out on the sun setting on the Sea of Galilee and watch the wind whip the leaves of the eucalyptus trees, I feel very blessed to be here in this moment and for the past 6 weeks. Shalom