Thursday 4 April 2013

Israel Take 2 - Day 5

I can't believe our trip is nearly halfway done already! One the one hand, it feels like we've had a very leisurely time of it, on the other that we've done a ton! It's hard to say which is more true, but our plans for the day would make up for some of our perceived (at least) previously easy pace.

After a much earlier breakfast, served right outside our cabin at the kibbutz, we headed off around 09:30 for the Nahal Yahudiah nature preserve for our first Galilee hike. Spoiled for choice, we decided on a route that would take us past both swimming spots & some waterfalls, for which the area is well known.

The weather was stunning: warm, but not too hot and with the sand storm out of the way, much much clearer.

Below is an overview of our route for those of you who want to see the details.

The best bit was definitely back through the ravines or nahals where the waterfalls and clear pools that form from the snow melt from Mount Ermon. It was short (just shy of 6 miles), but was a nice combination of different  types of terrain.
We had previously planned to do a hike into the other nahal, but given that by the time we finished it was already past 1pm and there were other things we still wanted to see so we nixed the second hike and made our way deeper into the Golan.
Our next stop was Mount Bental just inside the Syrian border. An extinct volcano, the drive through the caldera where the Kibbutz Golan has their cherry trees (just finishing blooming) and their vines (not quite out of dormancy) was spectacular. Fortunately, the road up to the summit had been recently repaved and was (just) wide enough for two cars to pass.
Once up to the summit, the views were incredible. . and haunting. While I know intellectually that this area is very close to both Syria and Lebanon, being able to look directly into a war zone literally sent chills down my spine. Travelling to contested places isn't part of my usual M.O. but it was a little disturbing to see the dismantled, bombed out former village and only a few kilometres away (on the opposite side of the new border) the new village. On top, then, to know the civil war waging in Syria is but a mere 10 miles away was a real shock. Of course, I was also standing on a decommissioned army bunker, the whole experience was sobering to say the least.
So we went into the coffee shop (Coffee Annan, couldn't decide if it was a horrible pun or funny) for a rest and a bite to eat (realising that none of us had eaten lunch yet). Then after some fun dinosaur pictures (pending), we were off again, this time for Nimrod Fortress.
Another stunning drive, saw us arriving at the lower gates about 75 minutes to closing time. 75 minutes to explore a ruined castle. Anyone who has done castles with Stephen and I know that we can easily kill 4 hours at a decently sized castle, so 75 minutes, while better than nothing, was going to be a challenge, But we were up for a challenge and with Branson to keep us on track, the race was on. 
And it is a spectacular castle. It was interesting to compare it with the crusader fortress in Akko that we saw last year. Even in a ruined state it was impressive. . . and enormous. We did get through most of it, despite the quickened pace, including the highest tower with magnificent views and secret tunnel back to the moat/car park. Pictures to be posted as soon as we get back to London.
We came back down the mountain with about 10 minutes to spare, and no doubt the park ranger was very grateful. From there we didn't really have enough daylight to do another hike and all the other sights were closed, so we didn't have many other options than to drive back to the Kibbutz, though we did take the scenic route near the Lebanese hills (another not too friendly border for us to skirt). From there all that was left was to grill up another tasty meal (thank you, Branson!)
Despite a great day, we were starting to get a bit worried as to what was left on our "to do" list, so the next day was shaping up to be rather epic. Stay tuned. . .

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