Israel's Good Name

Archive for the ‘Galilee’ Category

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.

Advertisements

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.

Tel Kabri Archaeological Dig

In Galilee, Israel on August 20, 2017 at 7:12 AM

The Monday following my trip to the City of David I found myself back home in Ma’alot and excited for a day at the Tel Kabri Archaeological Dig. My own month-long dig at Tel es-Safi was to start the following week, classes were ending – the timing couldn’t be more perfect. Being that Tel Kabri is just a few minutes from the Mediterranean Sea along Road 89, it was just a few minutes away by car and, even with getting lost and confused, my brother Nissim and I arrived at the dig site unscathed and ready for adventure.

Tel Kabri Archaeological Dig (photo Griffin Aerial Imaging Ltd Skyview Photography Ltd.)

We were greeted by Prof Eric H Cline of George Washington University and other members of the staff and were then introduced to the site. First settled in prehistoric times, the city’s original name is still unknown and eventually became known as Rechov (perhaps one of two cities in the region with that name) under Canaanite rule. The Tel Kabri palace, which was recently discovered, dates to the Middle Bronze era and is the largest of its kind in Israel. Two things that are particularly interesting are the Minoan-style fresco fragments (which indicate cultural influence at such an early age) as well as the vast wine cellar that was found a few years ago. Fast-forward to the Roman era and the city became known as Kabrita which then became el-Kabira in the Early Arab period, names becoming naturally corrupted over time. El-Kabira morphed into al-Kabri, and, in 1949, an Israeli kibbutz by the name of Kabri was founded nearby.

Excavation underway

Today the Canaanite palace and surrounding ruins that have yet to be excavated are surrounded by an avocado plantation. To the northwest is Achziv and Rosh HaNikra and to the southwest is the magnificent port city of Akko and Haifa, all fascinating sites. Finished with our little tour of the dig area, we were introduced to Jim, our to-be square supervisor. He provided us with the necessary tools to work – pickaxes, hoes and trowels – and we settled in the far northwestern corner of the dig site which is named Area D-west Square 1.

Nissim digging away

Our task was a simple one that day, to deepen the square so that it was as deep as the adjacent one. In archaeology it’s important to work on a level plane, so that everything is potentially uncovered at the same time instead of random pits here and there. Due to the fact that the dig site is located in an avocado plantation, the ground is damp from the irrigation and the digging was more or less pleasant.

Scraping away at the baulk for the potsherd

We found small amounts of pottery which went into the specially-marked pottery bucket, as well as a bone fragment, which was placed in Jim’s “schwarma bag” – a cute name for the small paper bags obtained at Israeli street food joints. The bag was properly labeled and in went the bone. Similar procedures were taken to secure flint and shell fragments found in the dirt.

Bag o’ bones

Apparently, on the very first day of the season, an Ottoman coin was found in an adjacent square but unfortunately we found no coins that day. Our square partners, McKay, MJ and Russell, helped pass the time making the labour fun with interesting discussions and funny jokes. The general atmosphere at the dig was very jovial and humourous despite the humid heat, with trance music playing in the background for our enjoyment. Then, when least expected, the call for the bucket brigade would sound out and diggers would form lines outside the dig area bringing full buckets with them. When the buckets of dirt to be discarded became overwhelmingly numerous it was deemed that having a unified effort to dispose of them would be best for morale and efficiency. Thus, the bucket brigade would form and full buckets of dirt would be thrown down the assembly line of diggers until it reached the large dirt hill where the dirt was dispensed.

Awaiting the bucket brigade

Breakfast came and went, as did the fruit break and a surprising moment when staff members appeared out of the trees armed with waterguns and sprayed the sweaty dig crew to liven them up. I was left unsprayed, but my own sweat kept me lively enough. I made contact with the small group of Israelis, led by Dr. Assaf Yasur-Landau of Haifa University, and spoke to them for a bit about matters of academia and archaeology. Other dig members proved to be interesting as well, and the time flew by. It wasn’t long before the dig day was coming to an end and we cleared away all the tools.

Nissim within the square

While we hadn’t found anything too exciting that day, we succeeded in taking the square’s height down a wee bit which would be of help in the following days. We packed up our bags and bid farewell to Eric, Assaf, Matt (our area supervisor), Jim and the others, driving back out of the avocado plantation.

Avocado

The sun was still high in the sky and I still had energy for more adventure so we turned into a small collection of interesting sites just across Road 70. Parking the car under some eucalyptus trees, we got out into the heat and made our way to the ruins of an old flour mill, powered by water channeled in via a small aqueduct which is still preserved.

Old flour mill

We then walked along the aqueduct until we reached the old local Muslim cemetery where painted vehicle hulls are displayed. In 1948, during the War of Independence, the members of Kibbutz Yehiam were holed up and surrounded by Arab forces, in desperate need of support. Supplies and reinforcements were scheduled to be driven in from the Haifa area – yet disaster loomed. Arab forces were waiting in ambush at this cemetery and opened fire on the incoming convoy, effectively stopping it and killing forty-seven Haganah members. We examined the vehicles, even entering one, and then returned to our car to drive back home. Nissim ended up returning to the dig for the remainder of the season, having the time of his life, but I headed back to Givat Shmuel and then to my own university’s excavation, the Tel es-Safi Archaeological Dig. Additional information about the dig and participation options can be found on the Tel Kabri website, found HERE.

University Trip: “Moshavot” of the Galilee

In Galilee, Israel on August 6, 2017 at 7:40 AM

The week after visiting Tel Aroma & Mount Gerizim in the Shomron I participated in another academic tour offered by Bar Ilan University’s Archaeology department. This time we were traveling to the north of Israel with Dr Einat HaLevi Attia to examine early “Moshavot” of the Galilee, settlements established in the late 1800s and early 1900s by the first waves of immigrants to the Holy Land. We boarded a tour minibus at the university and made our way to the first site of the day, Kibbutz Merchavia, after a short rest stop in neighbouring Afula.

Merchavia

We sat outside the “Great Courtyard” and learned about Merchavia’s founding in 1911 and their distinct organisational style as being a “co-operative”. Interestingly enough, they created the first dairy in modern-day Israel. Our subsequent tour of the courtyard’s buildings included the “Big House”, the “Produce Granary”, the Haganah Radio Station and later Israeli prime minister Golda Meir’s house. Getting back into the minibus, we then took a very short drive to the edge of the moshav version of Merchavia where admired a large manor built during those formative years and nicknamed the “Castle of the Jezreel Valley” due to its size and position overlooking the valley. Returning to our trusty minibus, we then drove over to where the agricultural establishment of Sejara once stood, founded in 1900. Today the remains are within a military base by the name of Chavat HaShomer (which I visited once several years ago but didn’t see the ruins).

Rose-ringed parakeet inspecting me from above

So, we stayed outside under a large tree and learned about the site before walking over to see Ilaniya, the successor of the Sejara settlement. There we were afforded up-close and plentiful views of the still-existent site – a settlement of one main street lined with agriculturally involved houses. I distracted myself trying to photograph singing goldfinches, but with limited success. Walking to a rooftop lookout, we passed farming equipment on display and then admired a large wall that was originally made with white chalk and then added to with blocks of dark grey basalt. From Ilaniya we got back into the minibus and drove to see a handful of ruined basalt buildings in Poriya, established in 1912.

Basalt ruins of Poriya

From there we took a short break at a strip mall where I purchased a bottle of semi-sweet hard cider for Shabbat and then on to the next site on our list: the Kinneret Courtyard just south of the ruins of Bet Yerach. A rectangular collection of well-kept basalt buildings, the courtyard was founded in 1908 as a defensible frontier close to the Sea of Galilee. We were greeted by our local guide, Asaf, who gave us a hurried yet sincere overview on the early history of the settlement and the difficulties that encumbered the settlers in those times. Inside the exhibits room of the courtyard, located within the old khan (roadside inn), we inspected items that belonged to that era, as well as signs depicting the important figures who played roles in the sites formation.

Kinneret Courtyard

Taking leave of the courtyard, with some noisy kestrels passing overhead, we got back into the minibus to be taken to Degania, which I had already visited in 2012. We met up with our next local guide, witty Moshe, who took us on an interesting tour, including the following site which I had not known about beforehand. Driving alongside the agricultural date groves at the edge of the kibbutz, we reached the place where the first building was constructed in 1909 – at a place once known as Umm Juni. This structure was featured in the famous photo of the settlement members in mostly Arab garb posing that can be seen HERE.

Original structure of Degania

Beyond the structure is a wildly windy lookout overlooking fields and the dry wilderness beyond. Directly below the gentle Jordan River flows, nimble swallows (both barn and red-rumped) darting back and forth in the hot air overhead. I stalked a bird along the basalt rocks only to discover that it was a crested lark, nothing to get too excited over.

Picturesque view from Umm Juni

From there we went to the regular part of Degania, where the courtyard (a common theme this trip) beckons, with its basalt stone structures. Overhead we got glimpses of cormorants flying to and from the Kinneret’s banks, and the occasional goldfinch snacking in a pine tree. We entered the small museum just outside the courtyard’s domain and examined the collection of photographs taken over the years, including a particularly interesting aerial shot with the shadow of the German airplane that took it. I signed the guestbook, plugging my blog shamelessly, and we bid farewell to both Degania and our guide Moshe.

Cemetery beside the Kinneret

We had one last place to visit – a cemetery overlooking the peaceful blue Kinneret. Having discussed so much of the early years, it was time, at last, to see what has become of the valiant members of such noble efforts. We were there to pay our respects, and to have one or two last things to reflect upon before we returned to the urban sprawl of the centre of the country. Leaving the cemetery, we ritually washed our hands and boarded the minibus for the long drive back, another interesting trip under our belts.

Nachal Kedesh & Metzudat Koach

In Galilee, Israel on July 2, 2017 at 8:14 AM

Wrapping up a trio of posts stemming from a three-day trip to the Galilee and Golan with 9th graders belonging to the school where I work, we awoke mosquito-bitten and hot at Tzemach Beach at the southern tip of the Kinneret. We went through the morning routine and before long we were ready for the first activity of the day, lunches packed away for later. Due to the heat, the powers that be adapted our schedule to reduce heat stroke among the masses and our hike was to be a shaded one, in the wooded ravine of Nachal Kedesh in the Upper Galilee, not far from Tel Kedesh. But first we stopped at the kever (grave) of Choni HaMa’agal, a Jewish sage from the Roman era, in Hazor next to Rosh Pina. Continuing on to the hike, the buses deposited us at the trailhead near Yesha Junction where our guide gave us a short talk on geography and off we went into the ravine.

Game of light and shadow at Nachal Kedesh

Quite a shaded area, but still hot and surprisingly humid, there wasn’t much to do except for hiking which turned out to involve some scrambling and dropping off rocks to follow the winding trail. We walked along the dry and rocky streambed, our bodies drenched with sweat, but it went by quickly. Before long we emerged from the shade of the trees and we were walking along the tri-colour-marked Israel National Trail with a lovely view of the Naftali mountains.

Israel National Trail

I kept a sharp eye out for wildlife but it was simply too hot and the only thing of interest that I saw were wild carrot flowers, which I’ve been seeing everywhere these past few weeks. We approached a copse of pine trees and our trail turned south, affording a great view of the Hula Valley and the golden plateau of the Golan beyond.

View of the Hula Valley and the Golan

The trail marker turned red and there was a sign marking a grove of trees plants in memory of the soldiers that we were soon to learn about. Up ahead, just beyond the trees, was Metzudat Koach, a British-built police station that was occupied by Arab forces upon the British withdrawal in 1948. Jewish attempts at conquering the strategic fortress were costly and, despite eventual success, twenty-eight soldiers were killed. The name “Koach” means “strength” in Hebrew, as well as having the numerical value of 28 in correspondence to the soldiers who fell. As we approached this fortress we passed over an old bunker than played a part in the battle for the station. Beside the fortress we found a small museum, newly opened, which had both welcoming air-conditioning as well as a plethora of maps, explanations, antiquities and more from the birth of Israel as we know it today. HaReut Museum, which translates to “comradeship”, offers a brief yet illuminating glimpse at the history of the battles that took place.

HaReut Museum

The British, wanting to control the border, built a series of small pillboxes along the Old Northern Road, one of which is still standing today near Tel Kedesh. However, they still needed police stations so they constructed this one at what is/was called Nabi Yusha (a nearby Arab shrine to the prophet Joshua), as well as others further westward. As mentioned above, the fortress changed hands from the British to the Arabs to the Israelis and today it belongs as a Israeli Border Police base, a fitting use.

Museum’s permanent guests

When I had finished perusing the museum I opened the guestbook and inscribed a message of my own, kindly informing potential readers that I was to write a blog post about my impromptu visit. When the docent heard of my note he showed us other visitors’ messages, some laminated, which were interesting in and of themselves. I asked him when I was to expect my note to be laminated and, smiling genially, he was unable to confirm any date for me. With the group of lads outside, we at last returned to our duties and, a half hour or so later, found our way to the buses where we were to be taken to the last attraction of the three-day trip: “kayaking” or rafting on the Jordan River.

Metzudat Koach

Previously I had been rafting a few times but only at the northern end of the Jordan, where the Hermon, Snir and Dan streams combine. The rafting place we were visiting now is located just north of kibbutz Gadot, north of the historically important B’not Ya’akov bridge. Two fellow instructors and I shared a raft and we took turns splashing and fending off the boisterous 9th graders, while snatching brief moments to relax in the river’s gentle current. At one point I spotted a baby turtle that had come up for air and then, a few minutes later, we drifted right up next to a dainty grey warbler that made its way to the water’s edge for a quick drink – if only I had brought my camera along! At last, after some minor rapids, we reached the end of our alloted rafting course at the southern end of Chastellet (Jacob’s Ford), an important Crusader castle that was destroyed by Muslim sultan Saladin. From there we were taken back to the boat launch area and waited about until our buses took us back to Givat Shmuel, bringing an end to an action-packed three-day adventure. But I was not to rest too long, for I had a BIU Archaeology trip the following morning…

Nachal Hermon & Ein Tina

In Galilee, Golan, Israel on June 28, 2017 at 8:37 AM

We woke up the morning after our hike through Nachal El Al in our country lodging room in Moshav Keshet. I was joined by fellow school instructors, and the lads were camping outside. We had a leisurely morning routine, packing sandwiches for lunch later that day. A heat wave had hit the Golan and so our plans were altered to accommodate. It was decided that we’d hike a portion of Nachal Hermon, also known as Banias – but not the famous part with the picturesque falls and the Greek temple complex. It was a bit of a drive from Keshet to our hike and along the way I saw some fine looking white storks perched on rock cairns/walls in the rocky fields.

Hiking at Nachal Hermon

We began at the trail-head outside of Kibbutz Snir, our tour guide explaining how the Jordan River is fed by the waters of three streams: Dan, Snir and Hermon. Descending into the ravine, we had a very short walk before we encountered water – where the youth decided to go swimming. Due to the heat the birding was poor and I found myself perched on a rock with another instructor as we watched the rushing water, when I noticed something peculiar. Nearly fully obscured by a mass of teenage bodies, there was an overturned Syrian tank laying at the water’s edge, remnants of past wars. I waited for everyone to clear the area then took a few photos before bringing up the rear on the continuation of the hike.

Overturned Syrian tank

Having climbed back out of the ravine, we walked exposed to the roasting sun, admiring the likable Golan landscape. We switched between the red and black trails as we alternated between hillside and streambed hiking – the lads pausing to splash about in the cold mountain water at every given moment.

Nachal Hermon

Along the way I spotted a relatively common bird species, but perhaps my first of the year, the collared dove. Shortly thereafter, while taking a brief break under the welcome shade of a tree, I saw a macabre sight of ants dismantling a flesh-pink katydid. Next, after passing a citrus grove we took another long break at the banks of the Hermon. A can of peanuts was produced, reminding me of my time in the army, and then a tour guide came over to offer us some freshly made kolo, a traditional Ethiopian snack made of toasted grain.

Beware of mines

From this final water break it was just a short walk to the end where the buses were to meet us, and we rested at shaded picnic tables until we were ready to leave for the next destination of the day. Located at the foot of the Golan, beside the Hula Valley, is the mountainside spring of Ein Tina with its continual discharge of cold mountain water. From the very start of the short trail there was water to bypass, unless one was walking with water-friendly footwear. To the left, at the base of the mountains, great swathes of dead milk thistle covered the land, a sanctuary for songbirds. To the right, dodder – a parasitic plant that looks like spaghetti – covering both fence and vegetation in its messy tangles.

Greenfinch in a sea of dead milk thistle

We reached the first pool of water and Chanan, a fellow instructor, asked me if I’d like to climb up to the top of the stream. Not one to turn down adventurous opportunities, I said yes and gestured for him to lead the way. We walked uphill, atop a bed of sun-baked grey stones that covered the flow of spring water.

Ein Tina

Shortly we broke through to the tree line and climbed among reeds and trees, stepping gingerly to avoid the flowing water. At last we reached the top, where the water burst from a cement wall via two open pipes (I’m not sure why the water source has been manipulated by man, perhaps it was used for something or perhaps to regulate flow). I sat beneath a fig tree and enjoyed the view, letting the cold droplets splash me from time to time.

View from Ein Tina

A perfect vantage point, nearly invisible to those below, I was prepared to spend hours there. However, all good things must come to an end and we had yet a full evening schedule. And so we hiked back down the hill, passed the pool and down the path – where I found this little crab hiding in a small pool in the stream.

Crab

We boarded the buses and were driven down alongside the Kinneret towards the site of our night accommodations, Tzemach Beach at the southern tip of the sea/lake. Along the way, when I was distracted with text-messaging a friend, our bus hit a medium-sized bird on the long country – the driver claiming it to be a chukar. We reached the beach where we had dinner and found sleeping arrangements under a canopy of stars, fruit bats and mosquitoes. But before we retired, some of us instructors stole away to the beachfront where the schoolchildren were not allowed. There we had a leisurely night swim in the placid lake, only cutting our poor feet once or twice on sharp rocks hidden in the depths. The night passed and we awoke the next morning for yet more adventure!

Pigeon Cave & Betzet Reserve

In Galilee, Israel on May 7, 2017 at 10:42 AM

I spent the holiday Pesach (also known as Passover) with my family in Ma’alot and managed to go on three short trips whilst up north. The first was to the tidal pools just north of Achziv, where I saw my first sea slug (or sea hare, I am not sure which). The next day we stopped off for a short hike to Pigeon Cave, located between Karmiel and Akko, on our way to Ahihud for an annual barbecue. Parking with the aid of GPS in a gravel lot somewhat near the cave, we disembarked and began the short hike.

Above Pigeon Cave

Almost immediately I spotted an interesting bird – my first wheatear, and then a few minutes later my first short-toed eagle made a lengthy appearance, hovering overhead scanning for his favourite prey, snakes. At first the trail was a simple gravel-and-grass path with red painted trail markers, but that was soon to change. In order to reach the cave, and to continue on the trail towards the opposing Mount Gamal, the trail took a perilous turn along the steep cliff side. Thankfully, the shoes I was wearing that day – loafers not meant for hiking in any way – found sure footing on the craggy rock with their “sticky” rubber soles. I nimbly made my way down and around towards the mouth of the cave, passing interesting wildlife and wildflowers.

Broad-leaved stonecrop

We found Pigeon Cave fenced off with visible archaeological-work inside, so we continued to the adjacent cave which was open to visitors, with a handful of rock-climbers scaling the cliff wall with ropes nearby.

Pigeon Cave

Pigeon Cave is the site of important prehistoric findings, as I learned about in two of my Archaeology classes at BIU. In one class we learned about the large amount of limestone with the cave, with remains of prehistoric buildings – some of which covered graves – which leads researchers to think the structures were cultic is purpose. Just outside the open cave I noticed something unusual looking on the ground among the rocks and vegetation – what appears to be the spout of a Byzantine vessel, according to a friend of mine.

Artefact

We entered the empty cave and glanced about, noticing the large hole in the ceiling and the general bell-shape, defining the type of cave it is. Leaving the cave, we watched the climbers for a bit then headed back up the craggy trail and back to the car to drive to Ahihud.

Nissim within the cave

A few days later my father and I took a short hiking trip in Betzet Reserve along the Old Northern Road near the border with Lebanon. Unfortunately, even though the site we had chosen to visit is relatively obscure, there were masses of families with picnics and yelling child which invariably scared off all wildlife for miles. But, there was still a healthy amount of flora and as we walked along the gentle trail to see the Daniela ruins we feasted our eyes on hyacinth squill, lupin, mallow and some sort of wild pea.

Daniela ruins

The Daniela ruins (also spelled De’ne’ilah) is a collection of Roman-Byzantine fortified farmhouses with olivepress installations, as is typical of the Galilee region with its historical olive oil industry.

Olivepress installations

Looping back to the parking lot on the circular trail we then located and began hiking the trail to the next destination: Sarach Cave. We passed very little wildlife, due to the large human presence, but we did see a number of interesting wildflowers including the delicately-petaled pink rock rose and red everlasting, the icon of Yom HaZikaron (Israel’s Memorial Day). Before long we left the sunny flowered area and were hiking under the shade of the trees, walking in and along the dry streambed filled with boulders. Nachal Sarach is a short stream that begins not far from Abirim Fort, feeding winter rain runoffs into Nachal Betzet which drains to the Mediterranean Sea near Rosh HaNikra. Hiking briskly, we heard the clammer of humanity up ahead and a brief check with the GPS told me that we were approaching the cave.

Sarach Cave in Betzet Reserve

To our dismay there was actually a line in order to enter this obscure cave, and so we stood behind an young Arab family with a GoPro awaiting our turn to penetrate the darkness. Despite the presence of so many children, there were no screams of terror when two enormous cave spiders were found on the walls – a species of huntsman by the name of Heteropoda variegata found mostly in caves.

Within Sarach Cave

Slowly but surely we made our way through the interesting cave with its three entrances/exits and its neat cave growths, our journey aided by special cuts in the rock for sure footing and even metal handles like we used in Alma Cave.

My father rising from the depths

Emerging out of the upper entrance/exit of the cave, we made our way back downhill to the streambed and headed back to the car, bringing the Pesach trips to an end.

Tel Kedesh Archaeological Dig

In Galilee, Israel on November 1, 2016 at 12:51 PM

Exactly two weeks ago, during Chol HaMoed of Sukkot, I took my brother Nissim to an archaeological dig at the nearby Tel Kedesh. Located on the Old Northern Road north of Tzfat in the Naftali Mountains of the Upper Galilee, Tel Kedesh is just approximately 700 metres from the Lebanese border. I had visited half of the site two-and-a-half years ago with my sister (blog post linked in the first sentence).

The view to the east

The view to the east

But this time I was to explore the half I hadn’t known about at that time, and to contribute to an excavation under the auspices of Dr Uri Davidovich, Ido Wachtel and Roi Sabar of the Hebrew University. This was to be my second archaeological dig, the previous one also under the behest of the Hebrew University at Khirbet Arai near the city of Kiryat Gat.

RTK surveyor under the bitter almond tree

RTK surveyor under the bitter almond tree

I had emailed the team in advance and so when we arrived on-site in the morning, they already knew that I was a student of Archaeology at Bar Ilan University. Our group of archaeologists, students and volunteers gathered in the Tel Kedesh park parking lot and received our briefing before taking the necessary equipment up to the dig site on the northern mound of the hill. On my second trip up, I stopped to watch Asaf Ben Haim uncover what looks to be a architrave and/or frieze of an important Roman building, located on the path to the dig site.

Asaf uncovering Roman ruins

Asaf uncovering Roman ruins

As I watched him tear up the dry earth I saw what looked to be a tarantula near his hand – but no, this was a camel spider, not a true spider but a true fright! Pelicans soars in unison overhead as the sun climbed, the site slowly being turned into an archaeological excavation. As it was the very first day of the dig, in a place never excavated before, there was a lot of surveying, plotting and photo-taking to be done. At last three “squares” were decided upon – one inside the ruins of a building and two adjacent to the eastern wall of that building. The leaning column and large ashlars (Roman-looking) made this site a good place to start.

Ruins amongst the dead vegetation

Ruins amongst the dead vegetation

To give a brief synopsis of Tel Kedesh’s history: Originally a fortified Canaanite city, the Israelites took it over and eventually made it a “City of Refuge” (alongside Shechem and Hevron on this side of the Jordan River). Later, the Assyrians captured and destroyed Kedesh along with other keys cities in the Galilee, perhaps most notably, Hazor. The Greeks, and subsequently the Romans, took up occupation renaming the city Cades. Excavations of a Hellenistic administrative building on the southern mound were done recently by the University of Michigan’s Kelsey Museum of Archaeology. An Arab village named Kadas was established, built upon the Roman remains, and was abandoned in 1948. Remains of British rule include two pillboxes along the road to the west and a Tegart fort under the name Yusha or Metzudat Koach to the east. The Hebrew University archaeological team has its eyes set on Roman ruins so we had to clear away the dry/dead vegetation and fallen stones.

Clearing away the fallen rocks

Clearing away the fallen rocks

Whilst clearing vegetation I found a bone in the dirt and took it to be examined – it seems to be a scorched sheep knee bone. It was the first find of the day, stashed away in a bucket soon to be filled with more bones, lots of potsherds and even a Roman metal clothespin of sorts.

What appears to be a scorched sheep knee-bone

What appears to be a scorched sheep knee-bone

Even while at an archaeological dig I cannot help but be curious as to the flora and fauna to be seen. I spotted what looked to me like a good ten or so black kites wheeling overhead, the droppings of a porcupine (which I have yet to see in Israel), two clay capsules holding wasps in their late stages of development and my first sighting of a few Sardinian warblers popping in and out of the dry undergrowth.

A potter wasp Inside its development clay capsule

A potter wasp inside its development clay capsule

When lunch break came around I sat under a bitter almond tree and decided to have a taste. I don’t recall ever eating a bitter almond; the taste is just like amaretto albeit much more bitter, hence the name. Bitter almonds have forty-two times the amount of cyanide than the normal sweet variety which means that fifty or so bitter almonds can provide a lethal dose of cyanide poisoning.

Cracking open some bitter almonds

Cracking open some bitter almonds

After the lunch break I left the square of rock clearing and joined my brother under the field shade-tent in his square. He was wielding a small pick, clearing dirt and small rocks from alongside the base of a wall. I grasped a larger pick and we went to town on the earth and rocks of the square, clearing out a nice corner.

Nissim digging in his square

Nissim digging in his square

With the sun slowly slipping off to the western horizon the productive workday came to an end and after making our way back down the hill, we took a quick look at the ruins at the eastern mound.

Ruins of a Roman temple

Ruins of a Roman temple

Getting back into the car we drove back home, tired but happy to have been among the first to break ground on a new excavation site. If anything is ever found in that part of Tel Kedesh, we’ll be able to boast that we were there the very first day.

Alma Cave

In Galilee, Israel on October 9, 2016 at 5:46 AM

A year and a half ago, while home after my several military adventures in the Golan, I went on an “extreme” trip with my old army friend Nechemya. As we share an interest in caves, I had selected a certain cave to be the subject of our adventure – Alma Cave. Located just north of Tzfat (Safed) beside the Jewish community of Alma and opposite the Circassian village of Rehanyia, the cave is a short hike from the main road. Parking the car near some cow-sheds, we gathered up all our necessary gear in two backpacks and struck out for the trail.

Nechemya taking some pictures

Nechemya taking some pictures

With a general lack of trees in the area, it was relatively straightforward where we needed to go, especially with a satellite picture to guide us. Flanked by Hatzor Stream and the mountain ridge above it, we traversed a marshy seasonal stream and climbed to higher ground. What amazed me was the quantity of cow bones, mostly bleached white from sun exposure – however there was one particularly grotesque sheep carcass in early to mid stages of decomposition.

Humble exterior of Alma Cave

Humble exterior of Alma Cave

After the short walk we descended a bit to the large rocky karst patch of land where the cave’s mouth was hidden. Finding the slow descent into the opening cavern, we used the metal handles and fig branches to navigate downwards.

From within the first small cave

From within the first small cave

Passing a small side cave beautifully adorned with dry speleothems, we reached the cave’s impressive entrance cavern.

Sitting in the entrance cavern

Sitting in the entrance cavern

With the cave located on a geological line between the Dalton and Alma plateaus, the gathering water seeps down and erodes the soft rock, creating the labyrinth of cracks, fissures, tunnels and underground chambers.

Alma Cave's vertical survey

Alma Cave’s vertical survey

While we marveled at the size of the entrance hall, we had a quick bite to eat and prepped our gear. In addition to the mandatory headlamps, we brought helmets, an emergency flashlight and extra batteries as well as a whole bunch of climbing rope in case we needed to rappel deeper into the bowels of the cave.

Ready to descend

Ready to descend

But, perhaps most excitingly, Nechemya brought a GoPro camera and affixed it to the top of his helmet to properly document the spelunking. Zipped up warm and ready to go, we used the metal handles planted in the rocks to drop down into the cave’s dark continuation. We turned around in the darkness, illuminating an underground world with our headlamps. Following the white reflective markers, we began the approximate 500 metre journey to the bottom of the cave. The deeper we got, the damper it got and we were dripped on by the cave’s mineral-rich water deposits.

A cave drop

A cave drop

Sticking to the marked route, we passed many side chambers and tunnels which filled us with intrigue. Legends run wild with Alma Cave –  stories of hundreds of thousands of graves, an endless interior and more – in fact, the cave is also known as the Babylonian Cave and the Abyss Cave.

Cave growths

Cave growths

Plunging even deeper into the ground, the rocks we stepped on were found to be slick with mud, hazardous in their own right. After an hour or so of descent we finally reached the blue sign marking the end of the line, but we were not going to let that stop us. We slid down a wet slope, beside a rather large cave growth, and found the little underground spring of crystal-clear water.

Underground spring

Underground spring

At this point we were some 105 metres (345 feet) below the surface but we saw that there was still room to go further. And so we did, sliding down another couple metres before deciding to turn out the lights and sit in the cool darkness for a spell.

Sitting at the near bottom of the cave

Sitting at the near bottom of the cave

Once the chill set in, as we were rather far underground, we decided it was time to leave the cold clammy embrace of the cave’s lowest marked chamber and to strike for the surface. The way up was far faster and easier than the descent, and we spend more time peering into side chambers and tunnels, wondering where they led to.

Looking down a pit - a GoPro screenshot

Looking down a pit – a GoPro screenshot

It was only on the ascent that we successfully got GoPro footage, although unfortunately it came out rather “tunnel-vision-like” with the sole headlamp on Nechemya’s helmet providing light. So I went through the approximate 43 minutes of underground footage, which was a sizable 3.76 GB, and decided that I couldn’t be bothered trying to make a video of it. When we at last reached the surface, we repacked our equipment and belongings, to the sounds of the cooing and flapping of pigeons in the background. Equipment stowed, we climbed out of the entrance cavern and sprawled on the soft green grass to enjoy the warmth of the sun on our cold bodies. I was laying on my back with a jacket sleeve over most of my eyes when I saw a furry beast trot by just metres in front of me. I lurched up with a cry as I watched the unsuspecting jackal run for cover. Leaping up with Nechemya’s camera in my hand I pursued the jackal, seeing the rest of his pack converge to the north. Watching their movements, I raced across the top of the hill to cut them off to the northeast. Just as I suspected, five or six jackals ran by and I was able to get this semi-decent photo of one in my ambush.

Jackal running by

Jackal running by

I soon lost track of the jackals and returned to Nechemya where we had a quick bite to eat in the quickly setting sun. Walking back the way we came, I nabbed the two bleached cow skulls that we had passed earlier and we got back to car at dusk.

Leaving Alma Cave at sunset

Leaving Alma Cave at sunset

Driving the road back to Tzfat I dropped Nechemya off and got his photos and GoPro footage for my blog, so yes, many of the photos are accredited to him. Looking forward to more adventures…

Korazim

In Galilee, Israel on September 11, 2016 at 6:32 AM

About a month ago or so I visited the ancient city of Korazim, located just north of the Kinneret (or Sea of Galilee). It was a scorching day yet we persevered and toured the black basalt ruins, taking shelter under the scattered trees as we passed from site to site. We started on the paved trail passing the ruins of houses and then the ancient mikva (ritual bath) on the right-hand side with more ruined houses on the left. Shortly we reached the central attraction of the park, the ancient synagogue.

Peeking inside the ancient synagogue

Peeking inside the ancient synagogue

Korazim was founded in the 1st or 2nd century CE, around the time that most Galilean synagogues are dated (following the destruction of the Second Temple by Titus and his Roman legions). Jewish sources note Korazim as a place with good wheat while Christian sources mention the city as cursed, destined to be destroyed – which it was by an earthquake.

Multiple arches

Multiple arches

Most of Korazim’s ruins date to the 3rd and 4th centuries CE and the town was slowly restored in the following centuries. Settlement was resumed towards the end of the Crusader period, although on a much smaller scale. Archaeological excavations of Korazim began in 1905 and were taken up again intermittently throughout the century, the last taking place in 1983 before the park was opened to the public.

Classic Galilean-style synagogue

Classic Galilean-style synagogue

I had a university class about the late Roman and Byzantine eras and ancient synagogues were discussed. I learned the identifying characteristics of a Galilean synagogue and was pleased to be able to point them out as I explored Korazim’s ancient house of prayer. Some interesting features were the carved ornamentations in the building’s interior, the large basalt columns and a replica of the “Seat of Moses”, the original being held in the Israel Museum.

Broken conch decorative piece

Broken conch decorative piece

Leaving the ancient synagogue we took a short break under a nearby tree, refreshing ourselves with a water bottle. As we sat on a stone wall, nature resumed around us. Agamas scrambled around on the tree branches and various small songbirds flitted about; warblers and graceful prinias. In the skies beyond the tree’s foliage I identified a little swift for the first time, and then shortly thereafter what looked to be a flycatcher of sorts flying low over the basalt ruins.

Basalt ruins of Korazim

Basalt ruins of Korazim

Excited with my birding finds we continued along the path to the western quarter of the city, to the ancient oil press. Korazim might have been known for its wheat production but all ancient Galilean cities partook in the production of olive oil as well. This particular oil press is built of basalt, as is the rest of the city.

Inside the olive oil press

A relatively small national park, we then headed past the southern quarter of houses and looped around the central quarter of housing with a paved courtyard. From there it was the path back to the parking lot. Driving out, we saw the scant ruins of more Korazim houses on the hillside opposite the road – the northern quarter. Continuing on Road 8277 we then reached the Kinneret and turned onto Road 87 passing Capernaum before turning onto Road 90 – Israel’s longest road. Our next destination was the Yigal Alon Centre in Kibbutz Ginosar.

The Yigal Alon Centre

The Yigal Alon Centre

Inside the Yigal Alon Centre is the house of the Man in the Galilee museum and the Ancient Galilee Boat, also known as the Jesus Boat. We gained entrance and began by looking at the preserved 2,000-year-old fishing boat on display. In 1986 the Kinneret suffered a drought and the waterline receded, allowing the wooden boat to be found buried in the mud. A great restoration process was undertaken and the boat was chemically treated to extend its longevity, then presented to the public years later.

The Ancient Galilee Boat

The Ancient Galilee Boat

One of the things I found most interesting about this fishing boat with unknown origins was the breakdown of woods used in its construction. The bulk of it was made of Tabor oak and cedar with the addition of these following woods, to mention a few: carob, Aleppo pine, sycamore, willow and Atlantic terebinth. From the darkened room that holds the boat we then explored the Man in the Galilee museum. With just a few actual antiques on display I found the museum to be underwhelming but enjoyed riding up the Nechushtan-Schindler elevator and seeing the view of the Kinneret from the centre’s roof.

A view of the Kinneret

A view of the Kinneret

Wrapping up at the museum we ended the day of adventures, ticking these two sites off my to-see list.