Harkening back to Chol HaMoed of Sukkot, this blog post retells my trip to the Gilboa and Bet Shean regions. I left the house at a peppy 4:45am and drove down the dark mountain roads, through Druze villages and eventually out into the Harod valley. I drove up Mount Gilboa from the west and reached an outcropping known as Mount Shaul where I found an assortment of parked cars – apparently I wasn’t the only one with this idea.
What I had come to do so early in the morning was to watch the dawn launch of the International Balloon Festival which is held in two very different locations every year – the Gilboa area and the Negev. I walked through the pine tree forest on Mount Shaul, passing small plaques with biblical verses commemorating the fateful battle between King Shaul and the Philistines, which culminated in Shaul’s suicide as well as the death of three of his sons. At the eastern side of the ridge, I watched the beautiful sunrise over the valley and Jordan beyond, as can be seen in the above photo.
Following a path, I then walked westward until I reached the lookout where the crowds were already staking claims for the best view of the balloon launch. Far below, nearly out of sight due to the trees, the international group of aeronauts were filling up their hollow crafts with good hot air.
The first to take flight was a blue balloon of standard shape, but the next made the spectating children glee with adoration – a frog with a golden crown on its head rose into the clear morning sky.
Several others, both traditional and whimsical, soon took flight, including a white human head, an ice cream cone and a baby chick emerging from its shell. Interestingly enough, the rock I chose as my vantage point was right next to a man stretched out on a blanket playing with his children, and this man turned out to be a reservist officer I had worked with in the army – small world! I stayed for a bit longer watching the different balloons rise and fall and then decided it was time to move on to my next location. As I drove back down woodsy Mount Gilboa, I spotted the balloons from a southern angle, but the pictures didn’t come out nearly as scenic. At the bottom of the mountain I turned westward, heading for a site I’ve been meaning to visit ever since my army years – Tel Yizrael.
Located at the eastern end of the Jezreel Valley (the same name Latinised), the tel was once a major Jewish city and over the years saw the standard lineup of Holy Land invaders including the Assyrians, Romans, Byzantines, Crusaders and Ottomans. Due to the tall dry grass and the self-imposed time constraints, I only explored the eastern, northern and western sides of the tel, which is unfortunate because most of the excavations were done on the southern side. But I did see a handful of building remains and ancient water cisterns, as well as this khan from the Ottoman period.
Leaving Tel Yizrael I headed to the next site on my list: Beit Shturman in the nearby Kibbutz Ein Harod.