Israel Isreally Sababa (part 2)

The Sea of Galilee (Ha Kinneret), is not a sea at all, but rather the largest body of fresh water in Israel (it supplies almost all of Israel’s drinking water, and some of Jordan’s as well). It is also the place where legend has it that this guy called Jesus may have once walked on water. Seeing as I have recently entered my “Jesus year” (apparently I am now the same age as good old Jesus was when he performed this miraculous act), I was all ready to attempt to replicate his amazing feat until I saw that they wanted to charge us to go to the beach! Both the Jew and the Australian in me said “No way am I paying to swim at a beach!” So instead my sister and I contented ourselves with eating (a continual source of contentment for me you will soon notice). We treated ourselves to a delicious dinner of Sea of Galilee fish right on the banks of the lake while the setting sun did its best impersonation of a full moon, casting an eerie glow behind the intense desert haze.

The next morning we left the lakeside and headed to Rosh Pinna, an historic artsy hill town for breakfast and a wander round the galleries. With full bellies we then grabbed the binoculars and headed to Ha Hula nature reserve, a national park specially created to maintain an area of fresh water lakes that provide a stopover route for migrating birds.

Approximately 5 000 000 birds migrate from northern Europe to Africa every autumn, and then do the journey in reverse in spring. Almost all of them fly over Israel. And almost all of them stop to wet their beaks and rest their feathers in these beautiful wetlands. You can imagine how amazing it must be to visit this place when there are literally millions of birds inhabiting an area that is smaller than the Isle of Wight. Although May is neither autumn nor spring I still managed to tick off quite a number of different species of birds (yes I admit there lurks a little of the crazy twitcher in me). Also spotted and ticked off the species list were some of the other residents of the park including hundreds of giant catfish, loads of turtles, a family of nutria (or Coypu, introduced from South America), water buffalo and even a water snake. The park is great for wildlife watching and truly a must if you’re ever in the area.

Next up on my sister’s great tour was a walk to see the Banias National Park which houses a really impressive waterfall right in the middle of the desert. It never ceases to amaze me how in Israel you can be wandering around in what looks and feels to be a total desert (picture that scene in the move “The Ten Commandments” when Moses and the Jew crew head out of Egypt), but then you suddenly descend into a valley and find a torrent of water absolutely hurtling by! 

We spent a pleasant few hours cooling off from the heat of the day in this miraculous oasis. Then we were treated to another great wildlife encounter when a whole family of rock hyraxes crossed our path and scampered into the trees on the side of the trail. Hyraxes are terribly cute rodent-like mammals that are actually more closely related to elephants and aardvarks than they are to any other mammal! 

After this we had planned to go for a drive along the Israel-Lebanon border, which is supposed to be quite scenic. We began the lengthy, scary (crazy drivers!) drive up the winding roads to Mt Hermon (which in winter becomes Israel’s only ski field), but were again led astray by SatNav man, this time in an Arab village. Eventually as approached the scenic route, we were confronted by an army roadblock. We were promptly turned around by the soldiers who informed us that there was live military training ahead which was strictly off limits. Quite nice of them really!

So it was back down the mountains and to our B&B we headed – a lovely farm stay cottage with beautiful views to the ancient Golan Heights, framed by the twinkling lights of the townships on top. It was all quite picture-perfect until the owner came by and told us how many katyusha rockets had landed there during the last uprising. In Israel, you are never far from a reminder of how closely the wonderful and the dreadful are intertwined in this most vital of countries.

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