So I've been quite busy this last week (but in a good way) as you might have deduced from my lack of posts. Well, I'm hoping you thought to yourselves he's probably been busy having a good time rather than the equally very real alternative of me being assimilated by a plethora of evangelical preachers!
The fun started in the not-so-fun village of Nazareth. For those unfamiliar with Nazareth, it's said to be where Jesus spent his childhood and youth. Also, according to Christian teachings, is where the angel Gabriel told Mary that she would undergo an immaculate conception.
I like to think that the angel Gabriel looked sympathetically at Joseph and said 'Don't worry if you don't have athletic swimmers, leave everything to me' :--)
Nazareth provides possible viewing for many churches and an old town with many market stalls providing sounds, sights and various aromas. Despite the obvious Holy attraction of the city, surprisingly tourism is not good here and a lot of old shops remaining firmly closed with no signs of rejuvenation.
For me, sadly Nazareth under-delivered. If you were new to the country or indeed new to travelling you would likely find it more interesting but three weeks later in Israel and one year later of travelling means I'm inclined to bypass all photos of the place and pick up the story upon departing Nazareth.
It so happened that Gabrielle (Italian), Rixt (Dutch) and Marie-Lyn (French Canadian) were individually checking out of the same hostel on the same day as me although I had
met two of them here the day before. Having mutually agreed we'd seen enough here in Nazareth, we planned to head further north together into the Golan Heights.
Instead of catching the familiar form of public transportation, my new Italian friend had previously booked a hire a car and so me and the two girls provided a monetary contribution to the fuel and off we went...........for five days and we really covered a lot of ground. By the way you very rarely find solo Italian travellers. I can count a handful in one year and to contrast that, well, you'll find more Germans in a random public toilet than you will solo Italians on the road! As such, it's always a privilege to meet them but then again I'm slightly biased here.
The Golan Heights
The Golan Heights is the exact opposite of the Negev desert adding further diversity to this already heavily diverse country. Up here in the very north of Israel it's beautifully green, generally very peaceful and excessive in varied floral scents and especially so now because we've arrived at the perfect time for the perfect season; spring!
We arrived in a town called Katzrin and stayed here for a couple of nights. During the day we would enjoy several hikes, the glorious sunshine and go in search for some fresh water lakes and water falls. What a hard day's work lol.
Seriously though, we walked a stupid amount of kilometers that day and I was thankful I had so much walking behind me as the others were flagging quite a bit by the end. Well, the girls were, the Italian Gabrielle was only partially phased. God, I envy the fit existence and lifestyle of the Mediterraneans. That said, here he is driving on route to our hostel before we checked in to begin our day's hike:
Eventually we found the water fall and fresh water lake which was being enjoyed by plenty of others including fast-swimming dogs! We hung around for a while before making the trek back as the light began to fade.
Before our time in Katzrin was over, we first had to satisfy our curious selves with a visit to a more northerly point. Thinking back, there was a curiously strange allure
prevalent in all of us in wanting to reach a certain border territory. I honestly think most of you would be the same too if you were over here too, you undiscovered
adventure seekers you...
On route to our more northerly destination we stumbled on what looked like an abandoned Minaret. This impromptu pull-over allowed for some photo opportunities and also it allowed us to climb up the Minaret which is not an opportunity that presents itself very often. (A Minaret resembles a tower like structure and is often close by to a mosque. They also provide a visual focal point and are often used for the Muslim call to prayer).
Reaching Mount Bental proved to not be as hair-raising as we first thought. Research would later confirm that this is one of north Israel’s most favourite mountain peaks to
visit. We didn't know that at the time so we like to think this made us feel a little braver than everyone else that appeared to have arrived on a big tour bus.
Anyhow, from up here there were fantastic panoramic views of the Golan and Syria but this location is very much historic as Mount Bental was the site of battle during
Israel’s war for the Golan over Syria. This once very serious location really hits home when you take the time to appreciate the 'furniture' up here (including the
bunkers) once served a very real purpose. A start contrast to what this vantage point is used for these day providing light tourism opportunities for those ready and
willing to make the journey.
The area you see directly below is under UNDOF occupation and this is their camp positioned somewhere between and around the two borders. UNDOF (the United Nations
Disengagement Observer Force) was established in 1974 to maintain the ceasefire with the area of this separation and to supervise the implementation of the Agreement
on Disengagement which is where their camp is situated.
I had not heard of UNDOF until I had some enlightened 'chats' with these two UNDOF soldiers:
Internationally I should point out that this area is recognized as Syrian territory although it has been occupied and administered by Israel since it was captured
during the 1967 six-day War. Here I am pointing in the direction of Syria in the not-so-distant, distance.
The Dead Sea
For many years this has been somewhere I've wanted to visit but never thought I actually would. I mean Israel wouldn't necessarily be on the top of the obvious places list to visit, right? How wrong that was. So to have ticked this off felt really rewarding and thankfully the experience itself was really good largely because I was with the same bunch of travel friends I spoke of earlier.
Highway 90 is the world’s lowest road and it was this we travelled on to reach the world's lowest point - the Dead Sea. I recall seeing a sign indicating we had surpassed 400 meters below sea level. The Dead Sea is also approximately nine times saltier than the ocean and so I can admit to having no desire to taste it. That said, my tiny open wounds had a taste and these were tiny wounds that I didn't know even existed until they started to sting! Granted these were mainly around my finger nails proving that much to my Mother's disappointment, I'm still biting my nails.
Here are some pleasing views from highway 90 down to the lowest point on earth. I believe the mountainous region on the other side of the sea is actually Jordan.
My friends and I reckon people visiting the Dead Sea fall into one of three categories. The first is what we call the obvious tourists who are typically financially better off that the average backpacker who invariably like everything done for them and for ease and convienience, will likely stay in a hotel close as close to the Dead Sea as possible. Then there's the people who visit let's say Jerusalem and use it as a base to then then take expensive tours to visit places out of their natural comfort zone. Finally there's the rest who seek their own means of getting to places and I of course, fall into this category.
Being prudent, this ensured we were able to put a little research in to mitigate the cost of a potentially expensive tourist attraction and enjoy it on the cheap. We discovered public beaches meaning we only needed to pay a negligible amount for parking. The rest, as they way, was a completely free unpurchased experience.
The Dead Sea is a popular tourist attraction due to the natural buoyancy provided by the high concentration of sodium chloride. In a nutshell this means that you float on water! Oh, then there's the mud which many say is good for the skin for all you vain lot. For me, I simply embraced getting dirty for once and I promise it was nothing to do with wanting Marie-Lyn to rub mud over me lol. Her boyfriend back home would be OK with a bit of mud-tan lotion rubbing, right? :--)
That's the writing done, now enjoy a laugh or two at me frolicking around with the involvement of some mud and of course, the obligatory floating around to cleaning to wash this mud off of me!