The morning of May 3rd started at 4:45 AM for me. I was to embark on a trip to the far side of the Kinneret (also known as Sea of Galilee) for some fun in Hamat Gader and Degania, covering them for Tourist Israel. Hamat Gader, the subject of this post, is a remarkable place encompassing thermo-mineral springs, a crocodile farm, parrot shows and other interesting attractions. After travelling to and through Tzfat and Teverya (Tiberias), using three separate bus companies, I finally made it to Hamat Gader. It was just about 10:00 AM and I headed straight for the crocodile farm.
But before the crocodiles, alligators and the endangered Indian gharial were in view, a small petting zoo and mini wildlife preserve were to be seen. I browsed through the selection, giving each species a minute of my time. From the olive baboons to the meerkats, from the small herd of Indian axis deer (chital) to the 8-metre/26-foot long reticulated python named Monica, I saw them all. There were even some hideous Madagascar hissing cockroaches, which hiss by forcing gas through breathing pores in their bodies, for those that find them to be interesting (not me). I made a mental note to be in the vicinity for the parrot performances which were called for 11:00. Then I found the alligators and crocodiles. They were tons of them, about 200 in all if the listed numbers are correct. Hamat Gader has the largest crocodile farm in all of the Middle East (I guess that Egypt is either considered Africa or they don’t keep farms).
After exploring the whole crocodile farm, from the segregated areas for the young Nile crocodiles to the wide open areas for the grown-up alligators (above), I made my way through the small aviary and to the parrot show. The music was too loud but the show was entertaining. The trainer introduced the parrots, macaws and whatever else they were to us and they performed various tricks. It was hard getting good pictures of the parrots at work but here is one of a macaw riding a tricycle:
The tricks were more interesting than the parrots speaking which, to be honest, sounded pretty bad through the mic, but the show was a fun 15 minutes of parrot antics. After the show I meandered around, taking a few pictures of the partially collapsed Roman amphitheatre and the picnic grounds with the lovely blooming flora. From there I headed to the highlight of the attraction, the hot thermal springs. The Hamat Gader resort is situated in a little valley between the Golan mountains and Jordan’s mountains over the Syrian-African rift where a volcanic history has developed into a whole bunch of hot mineral springs which gush an outstanding 600 cubic metres of water every hour. These springs have been exploited since Roman times when they too created a resort of such as can be seen today on the way to the springs:
The springs itself are divided up into a bunch of separate pools, some in the sun, some shaded and some indoors. When I got a locker and put on my bathing shorts I headed first for the indoor one. It was so hot I couldn’t believe people actually liked going in. I’m not sure, the water is either 42 or 52 degrees Celsius (108 or 125 degrees Farenheit) – either way, there was a warning on the wall not to exceed ten minutes in the water at once. I stayed about seven and then fled (is that what lobsters feel like?). The outdoor sunny pool was a cooler temperature but still a hot thermal spring. I eventually made my way to the shaded section and sat comfortably with one of the jets attacking my back. For those who have never been around thermal springs, they smell really strange (borderline bad) but eventually I got used to the odor. I didn’t really get a good photo of the pools so I had to find this one on Flickr, I know its a nighttime shot but it still gives an accurate description of the area.
After enough soaking in the hot thermal waters I walked on over to the “Splash” pool, taking an interestingly placed elevator. The most noticeable part of the “Splash” pool in the huge blue waterslide. I read the sign, removed my glasses and began to ascend. The lifeguard asked me if I swim and I assured him that I do. When I got to the top of the 30-foot (or more) slide I braced myself and plunged into the dark tunnel, the water rapidly propelling me downward. At first it was fun but then I went sailing into the air. I couldn’t imagine why I’d be sailing in a tunnel but when I landed I was in a circular watery funnel, trying my best to first breathe and then position myself for the inevitable drop, or “Splash.” But I didn’t have enough time to position myself and I was unceremoniously dumped into the deep water pit. The whole latter part of the ride took me off-guard so I must have looked like an idiot as I surfaced and tried to make my way out. I asked the lifeguard if I looked like an idiot and he said “Yes.” Jeez.
I could have gone on again, now knowing what was to be, but once was enough and I languished in the shallows as other people plummeted down the slide. Once I had seen all and done all in the Hamat Gader resort I was ready to move onwards, to my next location, Kibbutz Degania. But no, I was stranded until the bus was to leave so I loitered about, fully dressed and drying. When the bus finally did leave Hamat Gader I sat across from some soldiers. With help from one of the soldiers I learned that what we were looking at out our windows was, in fact, Jordan. When I then saw a Jordanian van driving along their border road an odd feeling struck me. Here we are, two wildly different nations and yet we drive side-by-side with just a barbed wire fence between us… and even after so many wars between Israel and Jordan, here we are now, at peace and just living our lives, each and every one of us. It was a slightly profound moment, but I was awoken from my reverie as the bus stopped at Kibbutz Degania.
To be continued…