The Shores of the Kinneret
Launch off for the roadtrip...
This current adventure on which I have embarked is remarkably different from any of the travel I have endeavored upon in the past in one key way; it's scope. In some ways I think more of this as the journey of an ex-pat than a vacation or trip. This (for the sake of my family, and Israeli Immigration control) is not to state any intention to remain here permanently, never to return, but even the year I have committed myself to is double that of any travels I have experienced in the past. I have not been overwhelmed by this thus far, in fact quite the contrary. I have found myself in a state of relaxation much more befitting to a vacation than the 'real life' I have consumed to date, but with all of the hallmarks of typical daily life (ie. laundry, dishes, dog-walking etc.) I suppose that this means I am settling in nicely, feeling 'at home', as it were.
This being said, I have been afforded some lovely tourist opportunities, even though it has been bloody bad weather (if I may be so bold). Knowing me to be 'Canadit'
people here are shocked (and quite possibly appalled)
A national project in agricultural irrigation.
when I complain of the cold, no doubt with visions of the polar bears and igloos amongst which I typically reside dancing in their heads. But is five degrees centigrade not as cold in one climate as in another? I would argue that it is in fact colder
here in Ha'aretz on account of the lack of home insulation and central heating. But perhaps my cold feet have created a bias. I have been told that I will be begging for this weather in a few weeks time. To this I say: bring it on.
But I digress...
While my primary intention thus far has been to take it easy and settle organically into my new surroundings, I have been on a few lovely roadtrips which have allowed me to see some other areas around us and the roadways that connect them. Coming from a national mindset which includes conceptions of New Worldhood, limitless expanse and untamed wilds, the travel consciousness in Israel provides a great contrast. With a total area of 20,770 sq km (compared to the 9,984,670 sq km that Canada boasts - I'm sorry, I couldn't help it!) Israel can be traveled from northern reach
Water & Sky
The water flows as the cranes fly.
to southern tip in about 8 hours... by car. Thus, the phenomenon of the roadtrip is somewhat more accessible than in my homeland (a longitudinal exercise which took Yotam and I 6 days by car this summer, just for the record.)
So, one day we woke up, saw that the skies were clear, blue and beautiful and decide to set out for the northern border with Lebanon in the Upper Galilee. Making our way from our home in Poriyya, we circled the western shores of the Kinneret, ascending towards the highest point in Israel, Mt. Hermon. Anyone who knows me well is aware of my obsession with mountains (although none my mountain adventures, I now realize, have made their way into my travel blog
) and so to see the giant of the promised land, with snow and all, was deeply satisfying for me.
On a friend's suggestion, we stopped at a lovely place named Agamon Hula, a national irrigation project and wintering grounds for the Eurasian Crane. Strolling in the beaming sun, with a breath of breeze running through my hair and a mountainous backdrop, it was easy to liken this place with paradise. And then a big
bird flew through the sky, throwing a shadow on my little idealistic moment. If this were a nature documentary, David Attenborough would have been commenting on the "la-gest siege of cranes in the world"... But alas, the "big bird" was not a swooping crane, but a military helicopter, making its patrol rounds along the Lebanese border. It's partner followed shortly thereafter, reminding me that this picturesque pastoral outing would have been significantly less blissful if it were not for the intense military presence resulting from a long series of wars, attacks, counter-attacks, military operations, counter-terror initiatives and so forth that have been played out between Lebanon, the guerrilla group Hezbollah and the Israeli Defense Force (IDF). And so it continues, most recently on Feb. 20/09, when two rockets were fired from Lebanon into Israel... In an admittedly strenuous decision, and despite it being End Israeli Apartheid Week
, I have decided not
to engage with the political and ideological landscape of Israel and it's neighbors for the time being... not a position easily reached given my academic, artistic and conceptual background, but one I fear I must take lest I be immediately ground to emotional dust. And yet, I feel myself slipping into it
The largest herd of cranes I've ever seen... what about you?
in this moment... and so I must retreat.
Making our way further north from Agamon Hula, we drove right to the border with Lebanon, to Kibbutz Misgav Am. All kibbutziem are gated communities, surrounded by barbed wire fences, and equipped with an automated front gate, that may or may not be attended by a guard of some description. In Kibbutz Ashdot Ya'akov Ichud, where I dine daily and where Yotam's mother lives, the gate remains open during daylight, and is opened by calling a phone number at night. Not exactly rigorous security measures, because they are no longer required. Peace was made with Jordan years ago, and the people here feel no threat (except for, perhaps, the odd vandalizing teenager). In Misgav Am however, we were greeted at the closed gate by a friendly soldier who asked us what the purpose of our visit was. After some back and forth, we made our way in, to a lookout point that Yotam knew of. This lookout afforded views of Mt. Hermon, the valley before it, and to the north, views of Lebanese villages. So close, yet so removed. For me, the folly of international borders was evident in this moment,
Of things to come, and those which have passed... Such as, where did all these birds come from?!
for from this vantage point, there was little difference between the kibbutz where we stood and the village lying below. Religion and nationality aside, humans are humans, right?
Descending from the lookout and making our way back out of the gate, the soldier laughed and commented to Yotam "Achi"
("Brother") "you tricked me!" We had said we were just turning around, because the soldier had directed us to a tourist lookout, below on the next ridge, and Yotam had said we were going to turn around inside, but he had then recognized where he wanted to go, despite the guard's direction. No hard feelings though, we made out way as suggested to the other lookout, where we met a unit of Druze soldiers, equipped with three military hummers, one of which was mounted with a big freakin' gun. Here, about a dozen young men (probably ranging from 18 to about 21) approached us, and spoke with Yotam amicably in Hebrew (they had been speaking Arabic previously) about inconsequential things, whilst toting M16s with various fixtures; some had sniper lenses, others had spear-like things on the ends of them, one had a grenade launcher (or so Yotam tells me. Like
The majestic giant lying still between strife.
Mt. Hermon's highest point is 2,814 m (9,230 feet) above sea level. This summit is on the border between Syria and Lebanon, and is under Syrian control. The southern slopes of Mount Hermon have been in Israeli control since the Six-Day War in 1967. This part of the mountain, as well as the Golan Heights, was annexed by Israel in 1981.
could identify a grenade launcher...) I stood back, feeling uncomfortable in the presence of so much armament, especially when one of the guys got into the back of the vehicle with the mounted gun and started pivoting it around mechanically. I suppose some people are used to these sort of occurrences. I, for one, am not. The short conversation concluded, we made our way up to the lookout point to gaze out again over the panorama. This lookout was equipped with a gazebo and audio description, in English, Hebrew and Arabic. Not surprisingly, it had been built in the memory of a fallen soldier, sacrificed in the 2006 war with Lebanon. Essentially every site, small or large, tourist, commercial private or otherwise, is somehow related to a soldier killed in one of the many wars. Lest we forget... When we had had enough of the view (and the accompanying audio) we made our way back down the hill, and descended back into the familiarity of the Jordan Valley as the sun was slipping into the hills.
A few days later, we awoke to a rainy Shabbat
(Saturday). Yet unlike in Canada, where a rainy weekend is a frustration
Lookout at Misgav Am
The ritzy kibbutz overlooking beauty, but which has paid the price of it's privileged perch over the years, due to its proximity to the border.
and call to stay indoors, in Israel it is a blessing from the heavens and people (ourselves included) flocked to the Golan Heights, to see the forming water courses, in their exceptional flowing paths. Now, coming from a place where the mighty Niagara Falls is basically in my backyard, a little rain and it's moist effects are not exactly cause for celebratory sightseeing. However, what I found to be tremendously interesting, was observing the people
observing the water. What a fascinating cultural experience to see the joy of a population at receiving rain which is so greatly needed. As we drove, we stopped at the roadside here and there, along with other rain revelers, to see the swollen streams, flooded plains, and baby waterfalls, which were not there days before, and will not continue to be there even as I write. Despite the day being cold, gray and wet, people were smiling and laughing, excitedly making their way from one water spectacle to the next, exclaiming with gratitude at receiving the answer to so many prayers. Water, the life force, had been delivered, and even though it was not enough to make up for the height of a 5-year drought
What's the difference...
An international border, apparently.
A Lebanese village.
that has plagued this land, people were giddy with happiness nonetheless. Tamar, Yotam's fathers partner and the managing scientific researcher for the Kinneret, accompanied us on this roadtrip and it was a special treat to see her enthusiasm and delight over the newly formed waterways. She of all people know how badly it is needed, and as a foreigner, to see her joyously observing the rain on her day off, was a true pleasure.
Yotam and I plan to go to Tel Aviv this weekend, as it is supposed to go up to 25 degrees C on Friday (woo-hoo!) and I look forward to traveling more in this little patch of Earth where I now live.
For those of you who are visually oriented (or are just super geeky like me and like this sort of thing), I have created a Google Map of all of the destinations I have traveled to thus far. I look forward to adding more markers as I go! The Great Israeli Adventure Map
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