Thursday, April 06, 2006

The Heights (Golan, not Morningside)

I sit here, sipping my San Benedetto Sparkling Water and Royal Crown Caffeine Free Diet Lemon Cola and eating popcorn I made myself (with healthy olive oil!) wearing a polo shirt and watching old Simpsons episodes I missed, and I also am recovering from my scars.

As you may know I was in the Golan Heights and environs for three days this past week with Pardes to kick off my "Spring Break". I had an excellent time. I probably did a grand total of 20+ hours of hiking on our three days there, some of which was in the rain (which led to an aborted hike on the third day when the rocks got way too slippery).

I realized that Pardes Tiyyulim tend to focus a lot on the military victories of Israel. Then again, most of Israel's history is military victories. Every site we went to, whether it was Metullah (site of the former "Good Fence", which ceased to exist when we stupidly pulled out of the buffer zone in Lebanon in 2000... Thanks, Ehud...), Koach-38, 77 (both of these names have to do with the number of people killed during the operations that took place there) and Quneitra, all of these places had abandoned Syrian tanks which remain on display to this day. I heard very interesting stories, the most intriguing of which was about counterintelligence spy Eli Cohen z"l who actually became the Defence Minister of Syria and among other things convinced Syria to plant eucalyptus trees at each of their bunkers so that the soldiers would have shade in the hot summer, but in doing so Israel easily found each and every Syrian bunker on the Golan (Eli told them just to look for the eucalyptus trees)!

As for the hikes, we took many, and my favorite part was the deep conversations I had during the hikes. There is something about being on a ledge hundreds of meters up from the bottom of a mountain that is conducive to great talks. I just love the one-on-one moments that you can get when there is no escape. You have a goal and you need to get to that goal. You can either walk solitary and in silence (and we had a Solo-Hike that lasted maybe 20 seconds until me and this girl caught up to each other and started flirting again ;p... It was lucky too, because I saved her life from falling off the cliff when I caught her when she fell) or you can socialize. I, most of the time, chose the latter, and even talked to people I have not previously talked to.

Now to the scars. Most of the major scars I got on this tiyul were from the Water Hike we took on Tuesday morning in one of the tributaries to the Jordan river. I wore my only pair of sneakers, the New Balance I bought before Rosh Hashannah into the water and up to the waterfall. When descending the waterfall, I fell into a thorn bush and now have long scars on the back of my right hand (we tried to get Shimshon, the dog that someone brought with them on the tiyul to clean the wound but he wasn't biting), and various other scars on my fingers. I also have splinters in my right hand from the previous day. Ouch. I also ran knee-first into a rock. Actually what saved my life a number of times was this stick of bamboo I found on the second day which allowed me to get a better grip on the ground. This stick led to yet another comical conversation with the aforementioned girl.

As for the accomidations, we were at a hotel on some kibbutz. It was a great hotel but the second night there were kids from high schools around Israel on their yearly tiyul. I had run into these kids earlier that day when they were going the opposite way on a narrow ledge (never a good thing, especially since they chose to walk on the side furthest from the cliff-edge. I was showing the movie The Syrian Bride (which takes place in the nearby Druze community of Majdal Shams) for the second night in a row, which was often interrupted by the children. At 2:30 in the morning, these kids opened our door and started yelling. At least they didn't come into our room and yell like they did to another room. Oops, I forgot to lock our room...

I went again to the Golan Winery which I had gone to on Birthright last year. They now have a hilarious video. Also having a hilarious video is the new Olive Oil Factory next door. A bit disturbing, but hilarious.

We also went to see a Talmudic-era synagogue and its village (not the one in Qatzrin but one currently being rebuilt (with the same stones, of course) so we can see how it looked) . I pointed out the pit in the middle of the synagogue where the leader used to descend into (as opposed to ascending a bimah), to fulfill the verse in Psalms 130:1-"Mimaamakim Kiraticha Hashem", "from the depths I called out to you, LORD!"

It was an amazing tiyul... not to mention the usual insane closing dinner. There was a backpacking option, but I decided not to take it... I needed access to recharge my iPod and stuff. I'm so connected, it's sad.

I realise that I am starting to write English words with British spellings and I don't know why...

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