Golan Heights –
Last Friday afternoon, we piled into Avnar’s car to drive up North to the Sea of Galilee. He had planned out a hiking trip in the Golan Heights. We were going to follow a trail along the Judiya stream, which empties into the Sea of Galilee.

We picked up Avnar’s friend Dani in a northern suburb of Tel Aviv. The two-door Peugeot was quite full with the four of us in there. We were in for a long ride, the kind of journey that would be impossible to do in Lichtenstein or Monaco. Three hours on the highway.

It was as far North as I have ever been in Israel. The Golan Heights actually used to belong to Syria and where we hiked was not more than 50 km away from the border. Along the way we dove past the fertile Valley of Yisrael, which is akin to California’s Central Valey. There is a lot of agriculture and not much reason to stop there. We passed by the turn-off for Andrew’s kibbutz in that area. We might go visit it for a Shabbat dinner soon.

The place we stayed at was a “Field School”. I’m not sure how to describe these places, they’re something like a nature reserve combined with a hostel and a robust educational component. They have groups come and learn about the local flora and fauna, or history, for example. There was a bus from a birthright tour in the parking lot, but we didn’t see the kids. We did hear people singing into the night. Apparently this was a tradition for Shabbat in the kibbutzim; the community gathers to sing patriotic or folk songs together.

DSC_0007We had an awesome view out over the Sea of Galilee, which is called the Kinerret in Hebrew. I’ll use that word from now on because it’s shorter. The field school is located halfway up a hill that leads down into the lake. Across the Kinerret sat the hills and cliffs of the Golan Heights. We could see the town of Tiberias off to the left. It’s a Holy City in Judaism and supposedly where Jesus walked on water. As such, it draws a lot of tourists who are into that sort of thing, Jews and Christians.

We drove down to a “town” for dinner. We ate in this oddly-placed institute that a very rich woman created for her son, who had died. Presumably it was a tragic death, but he was in his forties according to the plaque outside. The place is an art gallery cum movie theatre cum restaurant. We overlooked the strangeness of the place to eat outside on the patio.

After a night of very fitful sleep for everyone, we left early to get to the trailhead. It was about a half-hour drive. The Field School had packed up the breakfast that was included with the room. Their dining arrangements leaned towards the institutional, a mindset that apparently spilled over into their preparations for us. We had an insane amount of food in tin foil trays. Eight hard-boiled eggs, a whole tray full of cottage cheese, another full of hummus, another with different kinds of cheese and that wasn’t the half of it. We gored ourselves on the food, but didn’t have any coffee because Avnar’s dragonfly stove refused to cooperate.


Guess who took this photo. Hint: he's in focus


not one of us jumping at the first pool

We paid our admission fee to the park and headed off down the trail. There are some ruins of houses from Hebrew times right at the beginning. The trail follows the edge of a steep valley for a while going North. Then it descends into the valley where the Judiya stream flows. We had been told that there would be many stream crossings and that they would require swimming. I took my camera against their advice, but kept it in a sealable plastic bag.

The first pool that we saw was easily forded by stepping on dry rocks. I actually got my feet wet on purpose because it had been hot in the upper parts of the valley wall. People were swimming there and jumping off of the rocks, but we pushed on in order to have more privacy.

The bottom of the valley was lush and temperate. There were fig trees, berries and grapevines growing wild. They also have a lot of the bushes with pink flowers that one sees lining freeways in California. Later on, we would be weaving our way through the slender trunks of a thicket of them.

The trail quickly came upon another pool and this is where the magic began. I thought the Israelis had a different notion of what “swimming” is. I mean, there’s not a lot of water here. Maybe they just man we’ll have to wade across some places, or even just get our feet wet. Well, no. It turns out that they know what swimming is. The first real pool that we came to was about 10 or 15 meters below a waterfall. They have fastened a metal ladder to the face of the cliff beside the waterfall. At the bottom of the ladder there’s just the pool to jump in to.


Andrew swims after the first big ladder


looking down the canyon after the ladder pool

I made sure that my camera was secured in the ziploc bag, and wrapped in another plastic bag, and sitting on top of my backpack. I made the smallest jump possible into the water to keep the bag as dry as possible. From there you have to swim about 50 feet to the other side of the pool. I was amazed that a well-known, well-maintained trail would have a section like this. From what Avnar says, they only installed the ladder recently; you used to have to jump! My backpack remained buoyant and the camera was fine. We were all in good spirits after that. The water was very refreshing and the novelty of the experience was exciting.



Further down the trail we came to other pools. There were more areas to jump in the water. Then there was a large pool where one could jump from the rocky side and climb out to do it again. We did that a number of times. The walls of the canyon there were so lush. They were literally dripping from some spring seeping high above. There were ferns and all sorts of tropical looking plants – it felt like we were in Costa Rica instead of the desert of the Middle East. I really haven’t had that much fun on a hike in a long time; maybe since my birthday in January.

We splashed around a bit and crossed the stream a few more times as we made our way down.Eventually we started hiking up the side of the valley. This part was interesting too, because there were large piles of boulders (talus) that one has to scramble over with hands and feet. You look up to see the next blaze marking the way over a random series of boulders and you just head for that.DSC_0051

It quickly got hot as we were exposed to the sun and climbing. We stopped for lunch under a tree almost at the top of the canyon’s side. Lunch was hummus and pita with some other munchies and sweets. We had carried in way too much water, so we knocked it back like it was going out of style.

The last of the hike was through the yellow scrub. We passed a herd of cattle lounging in the dirt, trying to beat the heat. By the time we got back to the car we were sweaty again, despite having been soaking wet a half hour ago.

The trip home was uneventful. We stopped for some bad coffee at a little gas station that was right before a huge shopping area with numerous cafes. Dani was the first to be dropped off back at his place near Mikhmoret. It was a neat setup, a trailer home in the midst of fields and greenhouses where they were growing flowers and passionfruit.

We arrived back in Tel Aviv early with the whole evening before us. It was a strange transition from hiking in this tropical canyon to being back in our normal environs.

That night we got to meet and have dinner with Zohar’s sister Rachel, newly arrived from Texas. She was still fighting jetlag. Zohar had been so excited about her coming and so we were happy to see her there and the two of them together again. It was a nice capper to a broad-ranging day.