Israel's Good Name

Shiloh

In Israel, Samaria on October 22, 2017 at 2:57 PM

In the middle of September I took part in a nice day trip as part of my job at the high school where I work. The class I was accompanying was headed for Shiloh, a site I had yet to visit, the longtime resting place of the Jewish Mishkan (Tabernacle), the temporary Temple, in biblical times. Ready for adventure, we boarded our armoured bus to be driven to Shiloh, located in the Shomron, south of Tapuah Junction on Road 60.

Tel Shiloh

As I was passing my old army-time stomping grounds, I enjoyed driving through the Shomron and seeing the daily life just as I had left it years ago. We reached Shiloh and pulled into the small parking lot, disembarking beside a seemingly religiously-oriented Byzantine structure named the Dome of the Divine Presence. Its sloping walls made it quite curious looking, but there was little time for examination as I had school lads to tend to.

Dome of the Divine Presence structure

We gathered within the park, gazing down at a Byzantine reservoir and well, which was once outside a Crusader church, of which there are no remnants. Inside, past the gift shop, we broke into class groups with our own tour guides – ours was Eli Riskin, who exuberantly led us onto the first of the sites that we’d be seeing during our Shiloh trip.

Reconstructed Byzantine basilica

The first site was the reconstructed Byzantine basilica, a rough concrete structure built by a Danish archaeological team sometime between 1926 and 1932. What they were sheltering was an expansive mosaic floor with various designs and motifs, the two most interesting being a Star of David and an inscription in Greek by the doorstep which helped positively identify this site with biblical Shiloh.

Byzantine mosaic

Dillydallying a bit with my camera trying to get nice shots of the mosaics and ruins, I became separated from my group and continued on past a Mamluk mosque, also decorated with mosaic floors from the Byzantine era. A piece of a horned altar from the Second Temple period was found here, fueling the fervor surrounding the site’s religious importance.

Ancient olive oil production

From there I began the climb up the hill, Tel Shiloh, with the ruins of the ancient city exposed all around me. I kept walking uphill heading for HaRoeh Tower, the visitors centre where the lads had congregated. Along the way, at the lookout, I admired modern-day Shiloh and the glimpse of the Tabernacle Memorial synagogue, built to replicate the ancient Tabernacle at least from an architectural standpoint.

HaRoeh Tower

The school lads were watching a short film about Shiloh from a biblical perspective so I took the opportunity to visit the tiny museum by my lonesome. Exhibiting artefacts in a circular fashion in accordance with their timeframe, the museum houses some nice ancient vessels, weapons and coins.

Ruins of Tel Shiloh

At last we went down to the area that is believed to be the site of the Mishkan, based on geographic and topographic calculations. We passed the wall of the original Canaanite city and reached a flat area where the bedrock was hewn in sections. Sitting beneath a shade booth we listened to the tour guides as they explained the site to us, followed by praying Mincha.

Heading down to the supposed site of the Mishkan

Having reached the end of the park we made our way back, taking the scenic route around the western edge of the original city. Back at the entrance I checked out the Roman winepress installation and the hewn-rock graves, dated to the Second Temple period. After lunch of deli sandwiches we made our way to the buses, which afforded me a quick peek at the aforementioned Dome of the Divine Presence structure, and we were driven just across the road.

Dusty grapes

Disembarking, we took a nice hike along Nachal Shiloh, just about four kilometres of classic wadi hiking. At first we passed the Shapiro Family Vineyards of lush, albeit dusty, grapes just waiting to be made into boutique wine. When we dipped down to the trail along the dry streambed, we followed our nimble guides as we traversed the rocks. Along the way I stopped here and there to see if I could find any cool wildlife. At one point, fast movement along the top of the ridge gave away two mountain gazelles which I barely caught with my camera. Later, I found some nice birds, namely a few blue rock thrushes and my very first red-backed shrike.

Hiking Nachal Shiloh

Unfortunately, the spring we were headed to turned out to be quite choked by algae so we kept onwards, re-emerging at the end of the trail where the buses were waiting for us. Upon returning to Givat Shmuel, I met up with my frequent travelmate Adam for a evening out to the Dancing Camel brewery for the annual release party of the acclaimed Doc’s Green Leaf Party IPA, the highest rated Israeli beer according to voters on RateBeer. So ended another successful adventure.

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Park HaMaayanot

In Galilee, Israel on October 15, 2017 at 6:06 AM

Having left Sachne in the previous post, our merry band of explorers – Ben, Miriam, Eve and myself – entered Park HaMaayanot to find the campsite that had been decided upon after consulting a satellite image map. We were looking for a scenic site, hopefully devoid of other campers and close to water. I had plans for some early morning birding, and the fish pools just 400 metres away seemed like the perfect place to accomplish this.

View of Park HaMaayanot from the east

We followed the road through the park and arrived at the Ein Shokek, a picturesque little spring pool but, because we saw other visitors, we kept moving. We walked along the tiny stream that flows from Ein Shokek, overgrown with reeds, and found the place at which we had intended to camp – and it was as beautiful as we had hoped. A shallow pool lined with rocks and shaded by eucalyptus trees, with ruins of an old flour mill and aqueduct on the side.

Campsite pool

To maintain privacy and seclusion we decided to camp on the other side of the flour mill and found a perfect place to pitch our tents. Sunset was imminent, the sun sinking behind Mount Gilboa to the west, so we finished up the preparations that required light. With the failing light came the jackals, and we watched as they came over in small groups of two or three, spying on us from a safe distance. As interesting as jackals are, we were getting peckish and had to figure out dinner from our dwindling stock of food supplies.

Camping beside the aqueduct

We had dinner at the picnic benches near the calm pool, the full moon wowing us with its splendor. Not one for canned tuna, I decided that I would go ahead and try the classic Israeli scorched tuna method (see HERE). We sat in relative darkness, watching the cans of tuna burn brightly before us, occasionally spraying us with boiling hot oil and burning ash.

Ben preparing the flaming tuna

In jolly good moods, we joked about the jackals coming for our food in the night, and that even if we’d tie the food up in a tree, the jackal pack would come and chew the tree down. This silly thought spawned the clever term “lumberjackal” which I must accredit to Ben. Next, Eve entertained us with a brief shadow puppet show on the trunk of a nearby eucalyptus, and when the tuna was properly scorched, we had dinner and a cup of lemon ginger tea.

Full moon over the campsite

Going to sleep nice and early, the jackals didn’t interfere too much with our human encampment, nor did they turn into lumberjackals. I woke up at 5:30am to see my birding wish come true, and walked over to the fish ponds. I didn’t find anything too noteworthy at the fish ponds except for my first common sandpiper, which bobbed up and down among the waterside rocks. In addition, there was the standard stock of waterfowl such as egrets, herons and ducks as well as a nice amount of white-breasted kingfishers and barn swallows.

Grey heron silhouette

However, the views with the early morning sun were stunning, and the area just begged to be photographed. One angle that I found particularly eye-pleasing is the view of Mount Gilboa with the fish ponds in the foreground. I spent about an hour and a half at the ponds before heading back to my fellow campers, who were in the process of packing up their tents.

Fish pools and Mount Gilboa

With everything packed away nicely, we prayed alongside the eucalyptus trees and then I dipped into the shallow pond, enjoying a little foot grooming from the doctor fish and the suspicious glances of a lone catfish skulking about underfoot. At last we moved on over to Ein Shokek and were thrilled at the simple beauty of the place.

Ein Shokek’s beauty

Perfectly clear water, with different shades of rock colours decorating the floor, and the presence of so many peaceful-looking fish made us want to stay forever. We entered the water in our swimwear, giggling at the gentle persistence of the hungry doctor fish, and splashed around in the warming waters. We were alone, but not for long, as small groups of visitors came by for mere minutes at a time.

Doctor fish nibbling away

We had breakfast and tea and then made a plan for the rest of the day, eventually changing back into regular clothing. Getting golf cart rides back to the entrance of the park we set off on our short hike.

Park HaMaayanot

Crossing the park from west to east, we walked the trail along Nahal HaKibbutzim, passing some wildflowers and a few birds, including my first marsh harrier. It was a nice gentle walk, the golden hill of Tel Socha serving as a beacon up ahead. Climbing the steep hill, which has yet to be excavated despite signs of human settlements thousands of years prior, we reached the ruined watchtower.

Climbing Tel Socha

A few years after neighbouring Nir David was constructed, several kibbutz members were killed by local Arabs at the foot of this hill. So, to protect against further attacks, a watchtower was erected, named after the three who had fallen the year before. This story is where the alternate name of Sachne, Gan HaShlosha, comes from.

Nachal HaKibbutzim

Hiking back down the hill, we spent a few minutes at the water of Nahal HaKibbutzim before heading for the bus stop a few minutes away. We were taken to the Bet Shean train station, and from there back to Tel Aviv, bringing an end to a lovely little camping trip with my adventurous friends.

Sachne

In Galilee, Israel on October 8, 2017 at 4:41 AM

After two weeks of not doing anything fun save studying and taking finals, I participated in a trip that was mostly planned by my friends. Ben and Miriam, friends of mine, came back from a trip up north with convincing words that we all need to go visit Sachne. Also known as Gan HaShlosha, Sachne is a national park between Beit Alpha and Bet Shean in the valley below Mount Gilboa which largely focuses on a large series of freshwater pools stemming from underground springs. It has been described as “heaven on earth” and we were excited to explore it.

The beauty of Sachne

To make our trip as rewarding as possible, it was decided that we’d have a barbecue lunch at Sachne, spending as long as we could before the park rangers kick us out. Once banished, we’d go camp somewhere nice where we’d see water and the migratory birds that had just started to make their way to Africa from Europe and Northern Asia and then return sometime in the afternoon. I borrowed a tent from a friend and brought along the necessary equipment and supplies to ensure a glorious trip. Setting out for the 6am train, we were a snazzy party of five: Ben, Miriam, Adam (who is frequently featured), Eve and myself.

Sunlit explorers

When we passed the salt pools of Atlit I was surprised to see two flocks of flamingos standing in the shallow waters. I called out and gestured for my trip-mates to share in the joy of seeing some eighty flamingos relatively close by. For the amateur birder that I am, the trip was off to a great start and I was eager to see more. I was treated to a nice sighting of a short-toed eagle flying past the train near Mount Carmel. It was my first time riding the new train line from Haifa to Bet Shean, a reconstruction of the old Ottoman line that connected to the Hedjaz Railway.

Eastern end of Sachne

We arrived at Bet Shean and, after a very long wait for a bus, eventually made it to the entrance of Sachne. We paid the entry fee and entered the park, excited to see what the fuss was all about. Because the park is long and narrow, along the lush banks of the Amal stream, Ben and Miriam took us to the southern side and together we searched for the perfect spot to claim. We found it just after the first waterfall, a picnic table beside a grill under the shade of some fig trees. Dumping all of our heavy bags at the base of one of the trees, we unpacked the necessary tools to get our barbecue going. I volunteered to stay behind and watch over our belongings whilst tending to the fire while the others went for a dip in the cerulean waters.

Lunch is served

I grilled up an eggplant and a pan of onions for the burgers we were to make next. The others came back from swimming and we continued cooking up a little feast for ourselves. We sat at the picnic table and dined, eating until we could no more. When the meal was over, and after our brief interactions with a large group of Bahais that were feasting nearby, we returned our focus to the beautiful water.

Cerulean waters of Nachal Amal

It was my turn to explore and I did just that. Walking along the paved banks, we came upon something very interesting, something I had never even heard of. Hewn in the stone are the remnants of a Roman naumachia, stepped rows of seating for spectators to watch watersports (at least that’s what the running theory is). It must have been quite entertaining to sit on the stone steps whilst munching on some dulciaria procured from the passing usher. Those who find interest in dulciaria and other Roman foods should peruse the translated version of Apicius, a delightful Roman cookbook which can be found HERE.

Roman naumachia seating

Continuing further along, we reached the old flour mill and the complex of pools, channels and structures which charmed us. We worked our way down to a particularly interesting spot where water rushes from two arched holes in a dam, spilling over a small waterfall at the end. Doctor fish greeted us, sucking and nibbling on our feet as we traversed the rocky streambed. Donning goggles we were able to get a nice view of the underwater world, as shallow and fast moving as it was. I found great joy in sitting beneath the gushing water in the dam and then being swept along at the mini-waterfall. We went down to the pool below and found that the stream continued thenceforth rather peacefully, with some lazy fish swimming about in the greenish water.

Sachne’s flour mill installation

Returning to dry land, I went off on a quick scouting expedition to see what and where the purported archaeology museum and tower and stockade site. More about the tower and stockade building approach that was popular by necessity in the 1930s can be found on my post about the Old Northern Road, but what’s extra interesting is that the one at Sachne was the second of its kind to be built, preceded only by Kfar Hittim three days prior. I found the museum to be closed for the day and didn’t venture over to the tower and stockade, returning to my friends cavorting in the picturesque waters.

Nir David’s Tower and Stockade

Taking up the goggles once again I too enjoyed the water, noticing a common kingfisher perched on a root protruding from the steep banks just below our barbecue encampment. Swimming here and there, we were eventually called from the water as the park was closing. With great sorrow we dried off and changed back to our normal clothing. Adam was leaving us to get back to the Tel Aviv area while the rest of us were just relocating. We left Sachne and headed to Park HaMaayanot (or, Park of the Springs) to camp beside a lovely pool amongst some eucalyptus trees – a site we found using the satellite map of Amud Anan, my favourite site/app for maps. The continuation of the day’s adventure will continue in the next post.