Hiking in the Golan (Israel: Part 3)

ABSTRACT:  We start our first full day in Israel with a challenging hike and some great history and numbers.

The pictures cited here are from Album I, which is right here. NOTE: You must have a Facebook account in order to see them.  I should consider putting them on a different site too, but I don’t know what photo-hosting sites would be best.

Friday, July 22 / Shishi, 20 Tammuz

I woke up to my watch beeping at 655h, and then my Israel Phone singing at 700h.  Today’s equipment was the IDF T-shirt, and green/pink shorts.  I went ahead of Scott & Gleb, and saw Dan & Nitzan outside.  The weather was beautiful, but I know heat will come on hard.  I then walked with them to [40].  Today had pudding, puff-pastry, and peanut-buttered rolls, with some fruit too.  I sat with Dina, Michelle, Dan, and a few others.  I don’t recall the conversations, though.

Filling my CamelBak, we boarded the bus, I bought a 1.5L water bottle, and I sat next to Mike.  I attempted to get a few paragraphs of journaling done, but it was clearly hard to do with all the noise and scenery as we left.  I will likely fall way behind and use pictures.  It’s a new way to journal—use and embrace it!

As we drove, Efrat was interviewed—we’ll hear the Israelis’ stories, one-by-one.  If she were stranded on a desert island, she would bring music and friends.  That was one of many interesting facts.  As we approached the Gilabon Falls trail, we learnt some numerical facts about the Golan Heights.  Some of those: there are 19,000 Jews and 20,000 Druze living in the Golan Heights.  Katzrin is the only city there, and there are 40,000 cows there (ha! They outnumber people.) There are more than a million land mines planted around the heights.  While in motion, I unsuccessfully tried to take pictures of the “Danger Mines” signs [41-44].

After exiting the bus, lots of ancient buildings were evident [46].  We would learn more about them later.  We split into three groups in the shade past some of these buildings [47-49].  Then, we played a quiz show, where we all got some “money” in order to buy the opportunity to answer the question.  The questions and answers are given below, with answers in bold.  The format was multiple-choice.  Our team finished second with five correct answers, but answered two questions wrong.  The prize was the same for everyone: a KKL-JNF Israel map.  We took some team photos afterward [51] and continued.

Here are the questions and answers (perhaps not word-for-word as to what was actually asked):

1) When did Israel become a state? 1948

2) Where was this declaration held? Tel Aviv

3) Who was the first Prime Minister of Israel? David Ben Gurion

4) What is the area of Israel?  About 8000 square miles

5) How many times larger than Israel is the USA (area-wise)?  About 436 times

6) How wide is the narrowest stretch of Israel from border to border? 16 km.

7) How much of the land in the country is in the desert?  62%

8) What percentage of Israel’s population lives there?  9%

9) How many Muslim countries surround Israel?  22

10) How many people live in Israel?  7.5 million

11) How much of Israel’s population is Jewish?  75%

12) What percentage of those Jewish people consider themselves religious?  16%

13) How many official languages does Israel have? Three (English, Hebrew, Arabic)

14) How many kibbutzim are in Israel?  263

15) How far below sea level is the Dead Sea?  422 meters.

16) How high above sea level is the highest point in Israel?  2200 meters.

Down a few rocks we went, following the red-white painted directions [51-52].  The narrow trail was eventually down to a stream, where we stopped for a story [53-58].  This was about the story of Eli Cohen [56], the most famous Israeli spy.  He aided Egyptian Jews to come to Israel through a system like the Underground Railroad.  Stories of the Six-Day War, eucalyptus trees [57], and how the old buildings used to be Syrian were given.  Another thing Nitzan told me as we approached this glen: the IDF uses graffiti as part of training as a territory-marking.  Neat!

The trail continued over rocky waters, branches, and uneven surfaces.  This is where I’ll trade thousands of words for some photo references.  The hike was challenging, but that means it’s great cross-training!  Cacti, the Devora Falls, slippery rocks, canyons, and shady brooks were the scenic highlights here. [59-70].

At a meeting spot in the shade a little further on the trail, my part of the group caught up with the head of the group, but then the head of the group moved forward much faster.  The sub-group that I was with loved my calls and alacrity.  On a hike or other activity like this, leadership is fun when you make it fun!  The head of the group stopped at a junction overlooking a valley, and while we waited, climbing further upward was a cave!  It wasn’t big, but still something for the intrepid traveller in me [71-73].  I chatted with Carly on the rocks, and took a long-shot picture of another group [74].  The delay was due to Lisa and Dina, who had been dehydrated and frequently falling, respectively.

We wanted to proceed to the pool below the Gilabon Falls, but they had no clearance for us—a fire had recently broken out down there.  Yet, when we took a closer view at a lookout [76-78], some people were swimming down there.  Sounds suspicious to me!  We returned toward the parking lot on a steep set of steps of rocks, which was a tad taxing, even for me.  I was sufficiently hydrated though, and easily finished [80-81].

Leaving, we moved slowly enough so that I could capture the “mines” signs [82-84].  On the left-hand side of the bus again, I had little chance to take good pictures, but it was a short ride (i.e. “20 minutes”) to Katzrin.  I sat next to Eric this time, and we didn’t have too deep of a conversation.  I don’t have to talk consistently, of course!

We ate at a mall [86] there, where the food court had Burger Ranch, a Mexican stand, a schawarma place, and a falafel place.  The register person at the lattermost [90] was a fun lunatic and had even more hyper-energy than I had while working at Runza!  Sitting down at a table with Mike, Carly, and (?), I found the restaurant’s claim [88-89] to be true.  Granted, my falafel world is quite small right now!

Our next stop was Har Bental, very close to the Syrian border.  I sat next to Heedye, but there wasn’t much conversation this time.  I got some road sign and bus stop pictures, but since I’m a novice shutterbug, there were a lot of pictures that missed what I wanted to capture. [91-114].  En route, we learnt more numbers about the Golan Heights.  There are 54 volcanoes in Israel, and some of the Gilabon trail was made of basalt rocks, which are volcanic, of course.  There are 11 windmills in the Heights.  These windmills are atop a hill [110], and there are plenty of military outposts throughout [99,103,104].  (These pictures have been requested to be not posted, however.)  The military doesn’t have a complete cessation of operations on Shabbat, and different military people will do (or not do) different things on Shabbat.

This, besides Colorado, is the most mountainous place I have ever been!  There’s a great vantage point from high up on Bental [115-128] which historically was an excellent military tactical.  Atop Har Bental, a short hike led us to vantage points to see Syria, Lebanon, and Jordan.  A directional sign [120] was cool, and the 2π (i.e. 360 degrees) at the top was magnificent.  Up there, we learnt about the development of the State of Israel, from 1947 with Britain’s partition to the acquisition of more land in 1967.  Israel gave up the Sinai Peninsula for cold peace with Egypt, and a hot issue resonates today: would ceding the Golan Heights bring peace?  It’s an interesting topic for discussion.

We left, but had to wait as Dina requested a stop at the foot of the mountain.  She and Lisa seem to be badly suffering from heat problems.  We were already way behind schedule, and after passing the Jordan River [133], had to stop at Sieff (the hospital in Z’fat) [141-143] because Lina required a tetanus shot after stepping on something sharp on the Gilabon trail.  It turns out we’ll be returning to Z’fat on Sunday.  So we get a good sneak preview, but not for a good reason!

The road back was just more road signs, and an air of exhaustion was evident on the bus.  Back at Kibbutz Parod, I snapped some extra pictures that I didn’t take yesterday, but are better late than never [152-160].  Then, I took a shower in Cabin 12, humming “Invicta” (by James Swearingen) while doing that.  Afterward, I re-equipped with the light-blue flower Hawai’i shirt, khaki long-pants, and my rainbow kippah.  I predict that the kippah will fall off at least six times this Shabbat, since I don’t have a clip for it.  Ha!

During relaxation time, I caught up fully on journaling, arriving at this sentence at 1845h.  This new strategy of photo-journaling is going to help with the brevity, I think.  Besides, every new adventure should bring a new way of thinking.  All caught up now, I am ready to enjoy a restful Shabbat!  Since I won’t be writing until tomorrow late (or even Sunday), the details will be fuzzier for the rest of today and tomorrow. I want to attempt Shomer Shabbat as best as possible this time, and also enjoy (i.e. Zachor Shabbat).  So, Part 4 will be from this point until I go to sleep on Saturday night.

>> TO BE CONTINUED…

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