I S R A E L
Here’s a new page. Israel. How did I found myself here? I don’t know, I never do, I guess now and then wandering in the forest I chance upon a path, and follow it, wherever it takes me.
A transit point, like a purgatory. Hundreds of people fidgeting on their chairs, floating past, consuming hundreds of sandwiches, gulping down beers, eating away the time of waiting. How long does one spend in various purgatories during their life time. I look up the dictionary to find an interesting fact: “purgatory” is synonymous to “limbo”.
“You shall write a book”, he said...My journey, the Book started a long time ago, the first time I felt the urge, the disturbing itching for new air. This thirst has ever remained unquenched, the more I drink at it the more I’m thirsty.
“Where are you going? If I could tell you that I could tell you everything – everything about me. There are two questions: where have you come from, and where are you going? But the brain doesn’t have separate regions for past and future; only the present is differentiated by the brain. We split time into three parts. The brain, it seems, splits it twice only: now, and not now. So in the not-now, I can say that I was set adrift in an open boat, and after a while learned how to make a rudder and oars, though I never mastered a sail and its wind. The wind blows where it will, and I have many times arrived at the unexpected. But I never found a place to land.”
Kiev airport. Transit point. “Could you please watch my bag? says a young sporty black-eyed man. I noticed him a while ago, as well as the fact that he noticed me. Who chooses who –that’s a question of chicken and egg, or not so much, is it us, women, who are always the ones to provoke? And the approach and introduction of oneself is a mere formality, once the signal is sent. We strike the conversation as he shortly comes back. He’s Israeli, has been traveling around the Ukraine, the choice is rather surprising, but Israeli are remarkably inquisitive. As a friend of mine, Ramon, said once, Israeli don’t go on holidays to enjoy and relax, they go to travel, they move non-stop, from one place to another, it’s all about exploration. They work hard otherwise. Living in Israel is a trophy to be deserved and toiled away for. Indeed, I admire their passion for living. He’s seen more of the Ukraine than any Ukrainian I know. The conversation goes easy, he asks if I’d like to sit next to him, as we approach the check-in point, I nod, “Provided you let me have a nap”, I add. I haven’t slept for 24 hours. There’s a nice softness and caring about him that attracts me straight away. We walk in the duty free shops – tasting perfumes, he takes my arm to feel the scent s as I put them on now and then. It ‘s a very subtle, yet deeply erotic touch. The plane is a disaster, or a dream of someone with an Oedipus complex- the only way to sit is to assume the position of an embryo. As soon as all are seated, my travel companion spots two sits next to the emergency exit with a bigger leg space, so we move, after a certain hesitation on my side- incorrigible. I can feel all the perfume I put on myself filling up the space, embarrassed. As the plane takes off the lights go out, and the darkness sets in bringing about the fascination it always entails doubled by the proximity of this unknown person. It’s a very enjoyable flight, forget the neighbour two seats away snoring all along.
I’m traveling to Israel. I’d say that the key word in this sentence is traveling. Why Israel? Because Aylon invited me. We met in Montenegro - Ramon, my Israeli friend in Croatia introduced us, and we (me, Aylon and his friend Nimi) spent wonderful holidays together, walking, swimming, kayaking, cooking, talking. Some very simple things acquired meaning and fascination, a routine cooking process turned into a festive ceremony by Aylon and Nimi. Aylon was going to come back to the Balkans at some point –he loved the area, but it never happened, so he invited me. I accepted. Look up the path... The plane lands and I almost feel sorry it does as the flight has been enticing. I enjoy the subtlety and fascination of a transient encounter, a momentarily lives overlapping. It gives a sparkle to both.
Aylon meets me at the airport. It’s three in the morning, yet the air is strikingly warm. The streets are deserted, hardly a car passes by, we reach the destination in no time. Aylon’s place is located right in the centre of Tel Aviv, it’s simple and very artistic – he is a light designer, it is a beautiful occupation, his business card says: to understand the light it is essential to know the dark...I’m sure he is good at it, he’s seen enough of the dark, the Israeli people generally have. He’s got his own installations in his home, and the lamps designed by him, the main attraction is the mannequin wearing a wetsuit dotted with lights – to illuminate the water around, a self-contained source of light. It’s his know-how, it’s imaginary and beautiful. The apartment includes his studio - packed with papers and sketches –a studio of a person who works hard; a lounge with a sofa and a quaint big wooden table with a light work on the side – random willow-oh-the-wisps; and a little terrace, you can recognize his apartment from outside by this terrace –there’s a mannequin leg protruding and attracting one’s attention in a rather disturbing way. Aylon deserts his bedroom -for the time of my stay it's going to be my room. There’s a low-set king-size bed, TV in the middle and the music equipment, a lamp designed by Aylon, another one -a light flower artwork changing colours on the wall. Like everything else in this place, it’s peaceful, cozy and artistic. It’s four am, Aylon shows me around –he cooked some shnizel for me, suggests to have a glass of wine –to my arrival – shnizel is not my cup of tea, but I’m not the one to refuse wine, regardless of the time of the day, so we enjoy a glass and a little conversation and go to sleep.
Aylon, he’s close and distant to me, in a peculiar way, I felt close to him straight away, as there are lots of things we found out we share, sports, music, travelling – he’s just as passionate about those as I am. Furthermore, he has a better, more pronounced ability to enjoy, in general. I could learn from him. I hope I did. He’s very caring too. Upon my arrival he handed me a Russian-Hebrew phrase book, which I was using energetically during my stay, more often in a rather misplaced manner. He’s hard-working, remarkably creative, capable of enjoying the little details, which are the beauty of life; single and wishing to settle down with a family. He keeps on meeting the same woman though–under different names. As probably, we all do.
Israel. The vibrant sun-cherished nature-favoured Israel. You are so beautiful, basking in sunshine and diversity one can only find crossing thousands of miles…
It is most beautiful to have one’s expectations exceeded. That’s what happened to me, between me and Israel, the country went far beyond any most daring expectations of mine. I saw diversity prior to this trip, sceneries exchanging one another in exuberant ways. Yet, Israel seems unsurpassable in its extremes; given the small territory of this quaint state. It’s very youthful, not for the fact that it was only formed as a state some 70 years ago, but by the spirit of it. Each place has an age as well as a degree of maturity, which do not always coincide, likewise in people. It’s fresh and welcoming, pungent and inviting, vast and cosy. It’s got all the nature can offer: from mountain ranges, mineral water springs and ski s lopes of Hermon in the north, the infamous Golan Heights; to an endless and mesmerizing desert and sand dunes, the miracle of the Dead Sea and the oasis in the South, in its utmost splendour.
It’s so beautiful that no wonder everybody around wants it. That’s the curse of beauty in general, isn’t it. It’s rather fascinating to stand on top of the mountain in one country and see another, Lebanon, or Syria opening up in front of you in the North, or the mountain ranges of Jordan – in the South. It’s quite disturbing to realize that the ever fighting Gaza is some 20 kilometers away, and to see armed soldiers all around ; to pass the green line on the way to Jerusalem, the demarcation mark between Israel and Palestine. The mark, which obnoxiousness was so prominently demonstrate d by a controversial Belgian artist Francis Alÿs in his art act of green line simulation ( walking for hours with gallons of paint , spilling it in the area, making a new green line of his own). This is the land of war, when you see all the beauty around you can not believe how much suffering it holds, yet, the regular family in Israel has 3 to 4 children, people think of the future, and are not scared of it. That’s the wisdom of youthful Israel.
The Sea, the Sky and the Desert
Today we are heading for the South. Beautiful South. It is going to be a two-day journey.We prepare a fruit lunch, take a tent with us, in case we decide to spend a night in the desert under the sky unmercifully dotted with stars. We start our journey in the direction of Jerusalem, taking a turn to Beer-Sheva, the capital of the South. Gaza is just a few kilometers away. The scenery changes like scenes in a movie, the greenery is gradually replaced by sand dunes and semi-desert scarce vegetation.
We pass by the settlements of Bedouins and the signs depicting camels, just like those of a deer in certain parts of Russia. Bedouins are citizens of Israel, explains Aylon. They live in carton homes, similarly to the black and coloured population I saw in South Africa, there are quarters of those card homes, spreading out into the desert, along with military camps. We stop at a petrol station for a coffee, in the middle of nowhere. A military car arrives shortly and two formidable creatures come out –female, with a thin male disappearing behind their magnanimous backs – he’s Russian, says Aylon. There are alot of Russian soldiers in the Israeli army, Russian –by origin. It’s a stinky and desolate place, yet I enjoy the feel of freedom, savageness and adventure. The coffee is surprisingly good too. Shortly we carry on our journey, going deeper into the desert. We are traveling by an old yet very robust jeep – the only way to go into the desert is by a four-wheel drive vehicle. The scenery is constantly changing, so does the temperature –it feels like summer time now, the sun is hot and the sky is bright blue, although soon white puffy clouds appear at the horizon. The yellow of the sand, the blue of the sky and the white of the clouds –that’s what my eyes are feasting upon. Soon the plane gives place to dunes, sand mountains, breathtakingly beautiful, lit by the sun, dark in patches of cloud shades.
We drive into a small oasis – with a shabby Dalmatian and a no less scruffy owner. They live here, away from the world. The man built the entire place himself. He produces wine in the desert. Grapes grown in the desert-the entire concept makes the taste of it unique and saturated with wind and sand, sun and longing. The Israeli government encourages people to migrate to the desert, giving away land for free, providing support to small businesses.
It all started with the first prime-minister of Israel –Ben Gurion, the person who struggled for the establishment of the state of Israel, the person who believed that his people can make the desert blossom with gardens – he moved to the desert and lived there for years with his wife Paula, and was buried here. The place of his burial is our next stop. It hosts a winery, the owner is welcoming, he pours us two different types of wine to try – Merlot and Cabernet Sauvingon, he produces 2000 litres a year, impressive, isn’t it. There’s a cheese farm nearby he directs us to. The sense of cooperation is very developed here, yet, how would one survive otherwise. That’s what I always thought was a source of kind-heartedness and warmth of the Russians living or coming from the North and Far East – people tend to stick together in harsh conditions and share warmth against the hostility of the environment. The level of innate warmth is perpendicularly proportionate to the degree of harshness of the nature.
Having confirmed the route with the owner of the farm we continue our way. It’s a business day, which means our solitude in the desert will be intact. Tourists rarely happen to come to this part of Israel. The road is shortly replaced by dirt road, and our old fellow keeps jumping up and down. Never before have I traveled on such roads and the angles at which the jeep labours its way make me clutch the door handle, the feeling which leaves me shortly as my breath is virtually taken away by the view unrolling in front of us, the view of the sand dunes as if carved by a sculptor, molded into quaint forms, monumental and magnanimous, varying in colours which only nature may offer. I get out of t he car every now and then to take a picture, to gaze at it, I want to imprint the view into my memory, to saturate its beauty.
The road goes up and down, at times at 90 degrees, and I’m happy to behere with Aylon, there’s something about him, some feeling of security he gives me. I trust he knows theway unconditionally. As we pass over the next dune, we chance upon a miracle of nature – an oasis, it’s not a mirage, the palm trees are gargantuan, the dense grass is tall, heading for the sky. „That’s our coffee break point, says Aylon, and we take our araphernalia and head over the little hill, into a small lane, formed by the greenery around. The sand sinks under our feet like a magic soft carpet. The entire desert used to be a sea, hundreds of years ago. Shells I chance upon now remind of its watery past.
We sit down on stones for a few minutes with our eyes closed. Peace at its utmost, that’s what you find here. Aylon starts making a fire – he seems to know it all, about surviving. All Israeli men undergo a very harsh life school –the Israeli army, going through it one can not but develop strength and resilience, both physically and mentally. The beauty lies in the fact that this strength is balanced with the softness. A magical combination. He walks around looking for dry branches, my part of assistance is mostly in watching, I’m fascinated by the process. It takes a while to make a fire, as the branches are wet and as the fire is extracted, we hear the crackling sound of the moist evaporating. We’ve got the Turkish coffee pot and coffee with hail with us, it’s my part now – i make a coffee and place it on fire, Aylon is a fire keeper, he leans down and blows at it–that’s the way to keep it going. The water boils fast, and we raise the coffee pot over the fire seven times – following the Bedouin tradition. This is the most delicious coffee I ever had in my life, it’s got the pungent taste of fire, sands, the sun, palm trees and quietness engulfing all around. Aylon puts down the fire, he also methodically packs everything while I am wandering around, and as we go to our jeep, we see another vehicle at the horizon approaching. It’s a patrolling jeep securing the safety in the area. The way Israeli take care of safety issues is unprecedented, at times it’s annoying, yet I never felt as secure in this epicenter of inexhaustible conflicts anywhere prior to this trip. Wherever you go, be it a supermarket or a train station, you go through a check point, the airport inspection is multi-level, and the security it provides is worth the trouble and annoyance entailed by it...I suppose. It is forbidden to make a fire in the oasis, but Aylon knowingly has covered all the traces by the sand. The patrolling officer tells us we shall not go further if we don’t want to be caught in the desert in the dark, in that case we’ll have to stay overnight (there are places designated for tents – little plane patches we have encountered on our way at certain intervals).
We decide to head back and stay a night in the Ein Gedi Kibutz, which is another big and fascinating chapter of our journey. We take a different route back. The sun is slowly sliding down, the colours are changing every second, and I can not utter a word nor can I embrace t he beauty, it’s beyond any comparison, the sun, the brilliant artist colours the sand dunes in endless shades of pink and rosy, from light to dark, from subtle to dense. A vast plane of black and brown stones opens up before us, like a Mars surface –the way i imagine it. We stop to admire, and i take a little walk among the stones now and then I chance upon a shell, the reminder of the oceanic past of the desert. I lean down and put one in my pocket.
The darkness slowly sets in as we travel further. Crossing under the railway bridge high up, at the distance I see the isle of lights. Like will-oh-the-wisps rising up at the horizon, like a ghost, science fiction city floating in the desert air. It’s a cement manufacturing factory, says Aylon, but I’m inclined to think it’s a factory set by aliens –they manufacture the desert and the sky here, and carve the sand dunes, resuscitate those in darkness. Those sand creatures are alive indeed, you can hear them breathing. It’s surreal: the gathering dense darkness, the silhouettes of sand dunes, the stillness of the air, and the floating light isle. We carry on our way on a narrow passage, squeezed between the railway on one side and the sand dune on the other, the path brings us to a sign: entrance prohibited. We are facing the “light factory”, passing the sign we continue our science-fiction journey, I wouldn’t be surprised to see green one-eyed creatures with antennas swaying on their heads. The music in the car echoes the vibe of the place – it’s Enigma.
We drive to the passage point to find a homo sapiens telling us we can not pass that way, yet he yields to Aylon’s persuasions and we continue onto the main road facing upon another sign: photographing is prohibited. There’s a nuclear arm factory on the left. Aylon says that if you stop to take a picture of it during the day, in no time a military car will arrive to question you... there’s a zeppelin swaying over the area I not iced during day time, mistakenly taking it for a cloud at first. We pass by the strategic place and drive onto the lit road, our desert trip is over. The magic of the sands is behind...but there’s a lot to follow.
We stop at a shop by the Dead Sea to buy some groceries, but I can hardly make it out in the darkness, as we head on to the kibbutz of Ein Gedi. We arrive there rather late and tired, overflown with the impressions of the day. Kibutz are the camps which the state of Israel started with – people came to this land and set up communities of communist nature, in which they brought up children –together, had common households, they might have as well shared their spouses –to complete the anti-utopia described by Orwell and Zamyatin. It’s obsolete now, present day kibutz are holiday camps, yet you find people living there who came to build those originally. Thus, Aylon sister husband‟s parents, having come to this land in the 70s from Scotland, spent all their life in Ein Gedi and Aylon sister’s husband was born there too. Ein Gedi is a big oasis, nestled in between the desert high sand dunes and the Dead Sea. it is a vast nature reserve, the only place in Israel to host a bamboo tree brought here in the1966 from Africa and apparently feeling very comfortable – it’s magnanimous and very beautiful.
We prepare a small Israeli delicatessen dinner: humus, aubergine paste, goat cheese and pita bread. I love Israeli food, it’s healthy and delicious; you don’t find imported fruit or vegetables here; the market place is a feast for the eyes and the stomach; from colourful juicy fruit to a vast variety of halva: peanut, cocoa, chocolate; from home made humus which is the heart and soul of the Israeli cuisine to pita bread baked in your presence by a local Bedouin; and spices, the spices you can only find in the middle east; from domestically grown olives to various olive pastes, and cheeses… the goat cheese in Israel is divine We have a glass of local red wine, and despite the tiredness go for a stroll. The dark quaint figures of the trees are like theatrical performers, masquerading and playing charades with you to guess what figure they present. Here we pass a dancer – the folders of a trunk are like those of a ballroom dress, with big beautiful folds. There’s another tree stretching its arms to you, and a couple intertwined in a love- making spasm... mesmerized we walk onto an open space and glance up – one could be dazzled by the amount of stars facing you there. I’m very glad we do, as night disguises and gives a different life and meaning to every being, and walking in the garden the next morning we find it completely different, in the daylight the trees assume a static posture.
Ein Gedi nature reserve, one of the most important reserves in Israel, is our next destination. It includes two spring-fed streams with flowing water year-round: Nahal David and Nahal Arugot. Two other springs, the Shulamit and Ein Gedi springs, also flow in the reserve. Much of the water is used for agriculture or is bottled for consumption. The nerdy-looking girl at the ticket box warns us: no food, no smoking. No wonder, in the summer of 2005, nearly two-thirds of the oasis burned to the ground after a visitor dropped a lit cigarette. The reserve is a sanctuary for many types o f plant, bird and animal species. Ibex and hyrax feel at home here, wandering all around, not scared by the proximity of people, likewise, I jump from stone to stone, from one water fall, one view to another- ever refreshing. Aylon swims in one of those waterfalls, and i can feel the reviving power of the water washing away the dust of thoughts, purifying soul and mind, as he stands under this natural shower. The day is hot and the proximity to water is most revitalizing, a cool breeze is generated by the strengths of the water flow running down vigorously.
The lowest elevation on the Earth’s surface on dry land located 422 metres below sea level, one of the world’s saltiest bodies of water, with only McMurdo Dry Valleys in Antarctica surpassing it in salinity- the Dead Sea is our next destination. This salinity makes for a harsh environment where animals cannot flourish, hence its name. The mellow-coloured bright yellow sand and the snow-white of the salt washed by the azure blue waters of the dead sea –that’s the view opening in front of us as we approach it by a little train departing from the mineral water spa where we have enjoyed a hot mineral bath reminding me of soviet times spa resorts where people crowded in little water basins like fish in the aquarium.
It’s winter time, yet the water of the sea is reasonably warm and I can not withstand the temptation and go for a “swim”. It’s a very strange feeling, the water is oily and it’s holding you on the surface, for a fleeting moment I feel like a dead fish floating on the surface of the dead sea.. then scatter my legs around, up and down in an attempt to swim. Usually they warn you against lying on your stomach in the Dead sea as contact with the eyes shall be avoided, I overlook the warning and end up with my eyes all stinging, as the Dead sea is not so dead this day and is covered with swells. There are sweet water showers on the beach, so I hurry to wash the salt off as I walk out of the water making a ski-track in the salt of the sea bottom. We head back, to the mud spot. People are strange, people are strangers… I wonder if some time anybody would discover the healing properties of shit, let’s say goat shit...I wouldn’t be surprised to see people covered in little squeezed balls. Is all that obnoxiousness meant to prolong one’s life? Or rather youth... I’m just as gregarious, covered in mud from head to toes I feel and look like a black Avatar, forget the health and youth, it’s pure fun. There’s even more to it, disguising oneself sets the spirit free, and lets the gins out of the bottle... the mud dries fast though and it’s time to wash it off so there’s no chance for it to bring about the drama disclosed in the Lord of the Flies. We wash away the mud under the waterfall-like strong shower stream. The sun is shining tenderly already anticipating the upcoming sunset...It’s time to go home. Our way is going along the Dead sea coast, plantations of palm trees standing erect and proud, lavish with ripe full dates; past the settlements of Bedouins with camels looking peaceful and dignified, indifferent to the world around them, when nature, generous as it is, bestows yet another gift on us, a true performance... the brush of an invisible artist paints the sky in tender pink strokes. The colour grows increasingly dense with every second, Aylon brings the car to a halt, silences the engine, and we sit so for a while, mesmerized by the phantasmagoria. Tender colours give way to strong red and golden yellow. The sky is on fire, it’s glowing, in tune with the sands. As we continue our way the vividness is giving way to purple and grey taints, the sky is a painting of mountain caps covered with snow now. Nature at its utmost, the God’s art gallery.
I whisper Thank you. The journey’s been miraculous.
Yet, coming home is wonderful, cozy and comforting. Like coming back to a long-term lover, after wandering around and realizing that the tenderness and warmth of a deeply known surpasses the evanescence of the excitement of the unknown.
The Golan Heights. Ramat Hagolan. Beautiful and controversial, this strategic plateau straddles the borders of Syria and Israel. After the Six-Day War broke out in June 1967, the Israeli army captured the Golan Heights. The area which came under Israeli control as a result of the war is two geologically distinct areas: the Golan Heights proper 1,070 square kilometers and the slopes of the Mt. Hermon range 100 square kilometers . The new border between the two forces was named the Purple Line. The Golan territory issue, however, remains a source of controversy. The North of Israel is radically different from the south, climate-, scenery- and culture-wise. All people coming to Israel for religious reasons as it’s a sacred land, head north. So do we, partially –to quench my spiritual thirst, and for the mere sake of exploration. We go past Nazareth and Haifa take a turn to the Mountain of Tavor.
It’s pouring down, but we can see the blue skies at the horizon. Shortly the clouds above us disperse and the sun shines brightly, as we approach the Greek monastery on top of the Mountain. It appears to be locked, but we knock on the door –following the advice of a person we chance upon in this deserted place; a nun opens and having learnt that I’m Russian and orthodox, welcomes us in…that sounds chauvinistic, doesn’t it. A few days ago I was on the steps of the old town of Jerusalem with Nimi. A religiously dressed man approached me asking for a money. He said all donations go to poor families in Israel. I gave him a few shekels. He followed me saying that he will pray for me, asking my name – he held a pen and a piece of paper ready to write a religious message for me… As he realized I wasn’t Israeli, he asked if I’m Jew, still holding a hope, he asked if my mother or grandmother is… A negative reply apparently put him off the idea of praying for me. It feels sad and discordant to me, discordant –with the very idea of any religion. Forget the people, more often than never they are there to spoil things in any case; it’s peaceful and beautiful and I feel at home here, wandering around, far more than Aylon’s long-lasting patience can endure, he leaves to wait for me in the car. He is very understanding. I appreciate it, as I prefer to stay alone and absorb the peacefulness of this place. It’s natural to aspire to moments of solitude and peace, isn’t it. We drive down – there’s not a trace of rain any longer, the day is bright and clear, as we head for the Lake Kinneret (also known as Sea of Galilee, Lake Tiberias), and the Jordan river. Our next destination is Kasharil Yahud or Yardenit, where Jesus Christ was baptized. Although, this is a disputable question, and Jordan claims a different place to have hosted the ceremony.
Apparently, the place is very popular, and shrewd authorities, like anywhere else, have quickly realized the commercial benefit of the biblical story is not to be overlooked. Your way to the sacred place lies through a shop full of religious paraphernalia, including the swimming gowns, 25 Eur each to buy and 15 Eur to rent. As we walk out onto the shore of the river, I feel ambiguous; the picturesque scenery and the renowned history of the places is tainted with the shade of consumerism. I see people diving down into the cold waters of Jordan river. I didn’t have an intention to do so, nor am I deeply religious. But I‟m in search for myself and the clarity of mind, in search of stopping the never ending clamour and noise of futile thoughts, willing "to liberate myself from mental slavery", and in my weakness more often than I’d conscientiously wish to exert to an external source of “salvation”.
Aylon, being as wonderful as he is, notices my agenda, and says: “if you want to do it – go head, don’t think of anything, don’t look at these people, do it for yourself. I rent a gown, and as I undress and put it on for a strange reason I feel a surge of fear rising up as I walk down to the water. No thoughts, as if under hypnosis I push myself down, under the water. It’s freezing. As I rise up I’m lost for breath, and I push myself down again – the “legend” has it, one’s got to do it three times. So I follow the ritual through. I feel as I’m going to die. My face is concocted, all my body is. As I’m turning back, I am almost unconscious, but it feels good. I always feel good when I do something which I fear doing, or which is hard to do. And if I yield to fear, I regret it for years ever after. The cave I surrendered to climb into in South Africa is still at the back of my mind, as an unfinished action- it finds a profound representation in one’s memory, lingers. It was years ago. I was traveling with Heinrich across South Africa, on our way back, along the Garden route, in Knysna. We met with Ron and continued our journey together; deciding to go on an adventure tour - including visiting Cango Caves. Prior to entering, you sign a disclaimer, as it’s not devoid of danger. It’s a genuine thousand-of-years old cave, at certain points it gets so low –you have to crawl, at others- so narrow, you have to squeeze yourself in between the stone walls, finally bringing you to a point when you have to choose –whether to take an easy way and go around, or to squeeze yourself up into a pipe-like passage going out into a narrow space, where you have to work your way through on your back or stomach before you reach the open space... I refused to go, so did Ron. Heinrich followed the adventure, he always did. He nearly got stuck at the last point, his chest wouldn’t go through. I felt damn scared and helpless. Yet, I still regret not having joined him. Me -clean and cold, we continue our way. So much for religion for today, we need to find a place to stay overnight, and head for the mineral water spa right on the border with Syria. Israel has a ceasefire agreement with Syria, so it’s a relatively safe border, although I notice some strange warning signs now and then on the side of the road, and Aylon explains to me that those signify a minefield. Mines were originally deployed by the Syrian army, but remain active. Since 1973, there have been at least 216 landmine casualties in the Syrian-controlled Golan, of which 108 were fatalities... Hamat Gader, our destination, is a site of natural hot mineral springs. It was already used for recreation and healing purposes during Roman times. The site includes a Roman theatre, which was built in the 3rd century CE. Notwithstanding its historic past, the places got a soviet feel to it, and I dislike it straight away, it looks dull and unwelcoming. We ask for a guide to show us around (as it’s a big confined territory) prior t o making a decision. The tour around only enhances my initial impression; all around is saturated with the strange concoction of soviet rigidity and adulterous orgy vibes. We hurry to leave the place.
It’s getting dark. The green of the endless grass fields collides with the crispy coldness of the air. Aylon calls a few kibutz in the area looking for accommodation, and books one –not far from our location, on the way there we come around a view point Kfar Haruv, it’s almost night by now, we can see a young moon in the sky, and the entire lake – laying in front of us, as a saucer, I read that from air, the form of the lake reminds that of a fish.
On the way to kibbutz the owner guides us on the telephone, he sounds very welcoming, and he proves so –by far, we find a bottle of delicious local red wine and a welcoming note upon arrival. In the morning as we depart I take a couple of fragrant lemons off the tree growing on the side of our chalet, and some rosemary which you find in abundance in Israel. Normally it is used as a meat spice, you can also add it when cooking potatoes – it gives a beautiful touch to the taste. Take some potatoes, pill them, place them into a plastic bag, add some garlic, olive oil, fresh rosemary, salt and pepper –leave it as is for half an hour –bake it... you’d be surprised (thank you, Nimi :).
There are two spots we decide to visit in the next town- the winery and the olive factory. The olive factory excursion is great. It offers a vast range or products, all olive-based: from cosmetics to olive pastes. It’s also possible to taste the oil. There are three types: a subtle one, an average strength and a strong taste –preferred mainly for cooking. There’s a certain procedure of tasting oil. You should dip your finger into it and lick it off, and roll it around in your mouth... similar to that of the wine, although I’m not a sommelier and wouldn’t know the details, yet I love wine, and look forward to our next destination anticipating the testing. Years ago, I got happily pissed in one of the beautiful castle wineries in France, the wines were beautiful, so was the company and the rain outside. We leave the place with olive oil and a couple of bottles of wine –Golan wine, the taste is pungent, yet subtle, it’s delicious.
Our way lies further north, to the foothill of the mount Hermon, the ski-resort of Israel, where we take a turn to go to the watch point on top of another big hill. It’s freezing –not so much the temperature, as is the view, it’s freezing you down to admire it, to ponder over how much pain and suffering this land has endured. Syria is in front of you. It used to be Israel before. We have a coffee here, enjoying the view through the tall French windows of the café with a funny name Coffee Anan (“anan” is a cloud in Hebrew). We are going down to the village where we plan to buy home-made olive oil and cheese and herbs. The home-made olive oil is incomparable in its health and taste properties. It’s a little authentic place, we pop into a sweets shop and buy a goat cheese sweet to share, some humus, phalaphel and pita bread to have on the way back as the darkness is setting in already. We are on the way back home, watching the snow-covered slopes of the mountains high up in the sky, as the darkness is gathering dense we approach Tel Aviv.
|Home, Sweet Home! It's been a fascinating trip. Thank you.
P.S. I never know where a path takes me, I just follow it. It’s trust-based. All the mistakes I encounter on the way are worth it. Iri.