Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Graeme Stone Trek Adventure May 2010

To contact Graeme to have him guide you on such a trek email to Graeme Stone grums@bezeqint.net

Trek May 2010–05–12

The journey began with the arrival of the trekking members on Sunday evening, May 2nd, Ben Gurion Airport. There was an atmosphere of anticipation and excitement, and certainly an element of competition. Who would succeed that most coveted award as Trekker of the Year? The participants were Michael Fox, holder of the previous year's prized event and certainly a favored prospect; Richard Harris, an experienced and formidable contender, and a Machiavellian tactician with a "no holds-barred approach"; Ian Braidman, who was given a 2 hour time limit during question time for dissertation and questions, and clearly the intellectual giant; Armand, who looked very dashing with his Van Gogh beard, and was prepared for any challenge; Keith Moss, another strong contender but prone to lapses of nostalgia – taking out his telephone to reflect upon the photo of his baby daughter and descending into moments of melancholia or ascending and polarizing to fits of euphoria.; Jeffrey Gould, exhibiting a sparkling sense of wit and expressing a rugged determination – the quiet achiever. The group leader was his usual swashbuckling self, performing acrobatic feats of balancing diplomacy with good humor, and determined to make the experience challenging, educational and illuminating.

Departing from the airport, we drove towards Jerusalem and along the way we entered Abhu Ghosh, a friendly Arab village, where we enjoyed a sumptuous meal of Arab-style salads including hoummous, tabouleh (parsley salad), falafel and meat cooked over a charcoal grill.

Around 11pm, we entered the Old City of Jerusalem, just inside Jaffa Gate, to our lodgings in the New Imperial Hotel – a charming historic building built in the 1890's, - an old-world hotel run by the Dajani family, Christian Arabs. The entrance area of the hotel had sweeping circular staircases, and there were photos, memorabilia and caricatures covering the walls. However, there were a few voices of dissension regarding the accommodation – some comments claimed there was no room 52, and in fact the room appeared to be a glorified broom closet! Others thought the breakfast did not meet the standards of the Ritz.

A little disgruntled from the breakfast, we began Monday morning, 3rd May, with a planned tour of the Old City. We entered the Arab market area and made our way to the Temple Mount – a holy place for Jews and Muslims, the cornerstone of monotheism and a source of major contention in the continual political conflict. In the centre of the Mount is Mt Moriah, where Abraham had gone to sacrifice Isaac, and where Solomon had built the First Temple and that was later destroyed by the Babylonians; subsequently it was the site where Herod rebuilt the Second Temple and which was later destroyed by the Romans during the Great Revolt in 70AD. As an aftermath, the Muslims built there the Golden Dome of the Rock and the Al Aksa Mosque in the 7th century, and these buildings dominate the architectural skyline to this day.

From the Temple Mount, we walked to the excavations of the ancient City of David. There was an interesting historical 3D movie;, a wonderful observation point with a 360 degree view of East Jerusalem/ Mt of Olives/ Mt Zion/ Village of Silwan and the southern walls of the Old City. We then entered Hezekiah's tunnel and waded through water for 560 metres in complete darkness aided by complimentary flashlights. Emerging from the tunnel, we took an informal taxi drive to Damascus Gate in East Jerusalem and re-entered the Old City. We lunched at Abhu Shukri, enjoying Arab-style salads.

We returned to the Western Wall, and placed messages between the ancient stones, and I am sure there were probably a few who requested to succeed in their quest as Trekker of the Year, and I am sure that God answered the prayer of one. We toured again through the markets/bizarre and visited the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in the Christian Quarter, with some members of the group looking for the Holy Grail. It is a magnificent church, originally built in the 4th century, having endured numerous acts of destruction through war, fire and earthquake, and mostly rebuilt from the Crusader period, and representing the final moments of Jesus on earth.

Later in the afternoon, we drove south to Herodion, the desert fortress/palace built by King Herod and enjoyed the sunset views of the Judean desert, and discussed the modern politic situation of the West Bank settlements and the separation fence/wall, separating the Palestinians.

In the evening, we dined at the Dolphin Sea restaurant in West Jerusalem – a pleasant and amicable fish restaurant.

Tuesday, 4th May – a relatively early start (8.30 am, driving in our van northwards out of Jerusalem, passing through the tunnel under the Mt of Olives down towards the Dead Sea. Along the way we were joined by Sender, who was armed and would be our accompaniment for the day's hike – was there a divine message in his name – no-one questioned the scheme of things.

Our hike would take us through a canyon in the Judean Desert, following a perennial stream, surrounded by the dramatic desert landscape – characterized by rounded stark hills with deep gorges and valleys; twisting, winding roads that made one shudder should the driver – myself, release his hands from the steering wheel to even scratch his ear let alone a more stronger distraction. The roads switch-backed in their radical convulsions – descending and ascending, the driver hugged the side of the hill, as the alternative would be to plunge into the eternal abyss.

We drove through the Jewish settlements of Kfar Adumim and Alon, and left Sender's vehicle at our endpoint and returned back up the winding roads to Anatot to begin the hike of Nahal Prat.

Anatot, was the birthplace of Jeremiah the prophet and our hike began at the spring of Ein Prat. Initially, there was a steep des cent, and we came to the cave/Greek Orthodox monastery of Haritoun, where a monk invited us to visit him and share his company – but we were not to be distracted from our mission. Immediately we were confronted with the vision of numerous pools and a small-flowing stream, surrounded by lush vegetation and birdlife – it was easy to forget that we were in Judean desert. The hike left the shaded eucalypts of the nature reserve and descended into canyons surrounded by steep cliffs of layered dolomite/limestone rock formations. Sections of the stream were choked were with bamboo and papyrus. The colors of the desert hills were bleached and contrasted with the deep green vegetation and the refreshing pools of water. It was difficult to acknowledge the realization that one was in the desert in the middle of this verdant paradise. Yet here is a stream that flows all year round, that begins in the Hills of Jerusalem, traverses 28 kilometres – the breadth of the Judean Desert and empties into the Dead Sea. There were reminders of the toil of mankind with ruins of aqueducts ran parallel to the stream and which were in use over 2000 years ago until modern times.

The days was hot, and the walk was moderately challenging- 6 hours; and there was a sumptuous lunch by a natural pool with a small waterfall. We observed some hyraces (coneys, or mountain guinea pigs), and ibex, a type of deer with extended curved horns. Eventually the stream disappeared underground, and we walked on the dry riverbed until arriving at the spring of Ein Fawwar – our destination. The spring is a desert pool that fills up and empties itself every couple of hours, to refill again in a cyclical manner. The trekkers bathed in the refreshingly cool water while I recovered the van.

We celebrated with a drink at "the Last Chance Cafe", near Jericho, and parted from Sender, like a vision, and then drove south along the shores of the Dead Sea road of highway 90 to Ein Gedi.

We enjoyed a delicious buffet dinner at Kibbutz Ein Gedi Guesthouse and wine was poured by a most gracious and attractive young waitress.The accommodation was the Ein Gedi Field School – rooms and sleeping partners were re-appointed according to decibel levels of snoring. The evening was warm and balmy with a pleasant breeze.

Wednesday 5th May – an apprehensive start to the day – the group had been forewarned that the day would involve a considerable challenge, and an assistant would be required for help in negotiating some of the dry waterfall descents. After breakfast we met Arik, my assistant, a member of the local search and rescue squad, and a fireman.

We drove to Nahal (Heh. – canyon) Mishmar – located between Ein Gedi and Massada, and then drove on a track off the road until we reached an informal car-park, guarded by an old Bedouin. We divided the weight of food supplies among the group, and began the hike along the dry riverbed.

We had set off at 8.30am, and already it was warm at the beginning of the hike. It was going to be a hot day. Steadily we began our climb along the side of the riverbed. Views were magnificent. We photographed a group portrait next to an attractive acacia tree – and continued our ascent. The surrounding mountains in desert colors were magnificent. It appeared as though ancient palaces had been carved into the massive cliff faces. Our ascent crossed a dry stream bed and we entered a huge enclosed valley surrounded by steep cliffs. I indicated the Cave of Treasures – where a large ancient treasure horde had been discovered in the early 1960's, and papyrus letters had been found from the period of the Bar Kochba Revolt, 132-5 AD.
Finally we stopped for a break under a rock ledge, and those who still had energy ascended a little higher to the spring, Ein Mishmar. However, at this time of the year only a small trickle emerges from the rock face with some stagnant pools below.
We postponed lunch, and began the descent. We diverged from our original trail and descended through the canyon of the stream bed. Initially our descent involved serious scrambling over rocks and sliding down smooth waterfall faces of several metres. Our first serious descent required Arik to prepare a rope and harness to parasail/climb down the waterfall face. Our group learned the technique quickly – something which would be useful later on.

The smooth stone surfaces and narrow channels of the canyon were challenging and attractive. The general landscape was magnificent. Finally, we found a shady place amongst the narrow passageways and rocky surface for lunch – which was ravished with gusto.

After lunch we had our first serious descent, again this was accomplished with ropes. When I informed the group of what lay ahead, there was a commotion and ominous foreboding – which would later express itself in dissension and would require firm leadership and resolute decision-making.

The descent was challenging and involved a great deal of team co-operation to assist one another in placement and location of hands and footings. Steel rungs had been embedded in the more difficult sections to assist in the climbing. The afternoon progressed. At one stage the gorge opened and became wider and more level, but then the passage narrowed and there was another moderate descent that required ropes. We approached the final challenge.

The last waterfall dropped 20 metres over 2 sections which were going to be negotiated as one descent with ropes and harness. Some members of the group were discernibly not happy about this prospect, especially as it landed in a pool of water and would require water shoes for the descent.

Arik prepared the rope and harness, and as group leader I descended first. The first part was a little precarious but the rope certainly aided one's confidence climbing down the steel rungs. The intermediate landing required one to relocate the steel footings and then began the descent into the pool below. However, the rungs disappeared and there were only steps and hand grips carved out of a vertical stone channel, and then one landed into the pool of water, which was fortunately only waist deep, but very refreshing.

The expressions on the members of the group as they descended were priceless – as each one was asked to turn and face the camera. The sense of achievement after completing this assault was great and well worth the anxiety and initial trepidation.
The next part of the hike traversed through a narrow valley of extremely large boulders – which presented a lengthy process of negotiating and finding passageways as we walked towards the vehicle.
Sunset was rapidly approaching. The views were magnificent. The surface of the Dead Sea was like a glass mirror and reflected the crimson colored images of the Mountains of Edom in Jordan.

We had experienced a great day as we drove along the Jordan River Valley towards Beth Shean in the darkness. We had a lusty meal of good food, a little alcohol and rested in comfortable accommodation at the Beth Shean Guesthouse.

Thursday, 6th May – We had a good breakfast at the Beth Shean Guesthouse, followed by a tour of the magnificent Archaeological Park of Beth Shean. The ancient city has been well exposed, complete with theatre, temples, colonnaded streets. A climb to the top of the tel (ancient mound) revealed an ancient Egyptian temple and excellent views of the surrounding countryside.

After visiting the park we drove across the Jezreel Valley to Kibbutz Ein Harod and left our luggage there, and then drove across the valley ascending Mt Gilboa to Mt Barkan, where we began our hike after a pleasant picnic lunch.
It was already after midday, the weather was warm. We started off with good views to the south towards Jenin in Samaria, and then began crossing the mountain range.
Most of the trail was forested and shaded with a comfortable breeze blowing. The views down to the Jezreel Valley were magnificent – observing the geometric patterns of the fields and settlements that had been established in the 1920's. We recounted the stories of early Zionism and agricultural settlement and the land purchase of Yosef Hankin, reclaiming the swampland and turning it into a very productive landscape.

When we had breaks, we heard stories of King Saul and the final tragic end of him and his sons on Mt Gilboa, whilst fighting against the Phillistines. We told stories of Devorah and Barak and the battle against King Jabin of the Canaanites and how their chariots were caught below in a freak storm and bogged in the mud along the Kishon riverbed, and Sisera, his captain meeting his end with a tent peg transfixed through his forehead under the forceful hand of Yael, the Kenite. There were stories of Gideon at the pool of Ein Harrod; King ahab and his wicked Queen Jezebel. We read an excerpt from Stefan Heym's "The King David Report" describing King Saul's visit to the witch of Ein Dor and her calling up the ghosts of David and the prophet Samuel – which was well received.

The hike was an attractive one, with great views and colorful stories. Towards the end we reached a monument commemorating the fateful death of 7 settlers in the 1940's whilst trying to defend the land.
In the evening we drove to the Ruttenberg Restaurant –named after Pinchas Ruttenberg, the founder of the Palestinian Electrical Corporation and the developer of the hydro-electric scheme on the JordanRriver from 1927-48. I delivered a talk on the subject, and then we consumed a delicious meal and were later joined by Joe Sofair, our former aide-de-camp. The deserts were as lascivious as the waitress was attractive, and Richard helped himself to 2 desserts.

Friday, 7th June - After enjoying an excellent Kibbutz breakfast in the dining room of Kibbutz Ein Harod, we crossed the Jezreel Valley in a northerly direction, stopping at an Arab village, called Tamra to make our grocery shopping. We were well received by the local inhabitants. We then drove to Kibbutz Kfar Gazit to begin our hike of Nahal Tabor, with magnificent views of Mt Tabor in the background.
In this area there are a number of small Arab towns – Daburiyah, Shibli, and Kfar Misr; and there are several kibbutzim – Kfar Kish ahd Kfar Gazit – with large rolling wheat fields, and olive orchards.

Our hike began with a long gradual descent down to Nahal Tabor, and then progressed along the stream bed, rich in lush-green vegetation, and bright pink oleander blossoms, and we frequently crossed the stream using pebble bridges. The hike itself is not difficult technically. The highlight of the hike is entering the basalt canyon – attractive black basalt rock formations contrasting with the brilliant pink oleander blossoms. We lunched by a small natural pool with a waterfall. Unfortunately the litter left behind by previous groups detracted from the tranquil beauty of the site. The diverse vegetation along the banks of the Tabor stream and the black rocks contrasted well, and made it a pleasant walk as the day heated up. We circled Tel Reshef, formerly a large town during the biblical period and a centre for the tribe of Issachar. Then the long ascent began. It was exposed without shade, and the track followed through the kibbutz wheat fields. The climbed extended for 1.5 hours, and reached an observation point – overlooking the surrounding cultivated plains and valleys, and with a great view of Mt Tabor. The team welcomed the respite, and we enjoyed a fresh melon. Below us was a harvested wheat field, and carved into the stubble with a plough , a romantic farmer had proposed in enormous letters inscribed in the field, " Ayellet, will you marry me?"

Completing the hike, we drove north-west through the Carmel Ranges, through Dalyat haCarmel, where we stopped in the town centre for coffee, and enjoyed the convivial atmosphere created by the Druze people there. We talked about the Druze as a breakaway heretic Shiite sect, their basic emancipation of women, the Druze as brave soldiers in the Israeli army, transfiguration of souls and reincarnation.
We stayed in a charming Druze Guesthouse, El Manzul (meaning wayside inn), in Issafiya. And that evening we celebrated Shabbat in a local Druze restaurant, with our traditional Shabbat blessings for Kiddush, the wine and the bread – everyone participated in the recitation, with no feeling of discomfort amongst our Druze cousins. The meal was great, the table over-laden with dishes of food and it was a very enjoyable evening.

Saturday 8th May – our hosts prepared us a wonderful breakfast, before setting out to Ein el Balaad, the local spring in Issafiya, and where our hike began, above the canyon, Nahal Yagur. After an initial steep descent, the trail became submerged in a heavy forest canopy. The path was well- shaded, and the descent was steep.
I recounted the story of the holocaust survivors who had been interned in nearby Atlit camp by the British, and how the Haganna had orchestrated an escape and all the refugees had found freedom and passed this way on their escape through Nahal Yagur.
The scenery became very beautiful in the narrow canyon, with lush vegetation, a multitude of contorted trees, a few mysterious car chassies, sounds of birdlife, and unusual rock formations, with challenging climbs down the waterfalls – requiring skill and concentration – though not overly hazardous. We took breaks along the way, and we finally discovered it was more healthy to eat dried fruits and energy bars, instead of a heavy lunch meal.

The walk proceeded exceedingly well – a wonderful way to spend the Sabbath in spiritual and healthy bliss, occasionally meeting fellow hikers coming from the opposite direction, who would stop briefly for a chat. However, the descent is more difficult than the ascent – requiring greater concentration. Some of the more difficult waterfalls had steel rungs for the descent – and though a few were precarious, we managed to assist each other and negotiate them successfully.
Having passed the final difficult challenge, I released a sigh of relief and went on ahead. Then it happened. My name reverberated through the narrow gorge – a desperate scream calling my name – the dread I had feared sounded imminent. I dropped my pack and ran back with Keith, as the others gathered around Jeffrey who stood over Ian.
Ian lay motionless on the ground, surrounded by a pool of blood around his head, and had blood covering his mouth and nose. However, it was a relief to know that he was conscious, and could move his limbs, and we could communicate with him. Ian had tripped and fallen head first onto a sharp rock – it appeared he had broken his nose and blood was still flowing from his nostrils. His glasses had fallen and a lens was missing lost in the undergrowth. The situation could have been a lot worse. Progressively, Ian was able to sit up and overcome his shock. After we recovered his missing lens, he unsteadily managed to get to his feet, and gingerly we continued on our way. Fortunately we were not too far from Kibbutz Yagur, where we faced the dilemma of continuing or sending Ian back in a taxi. My opinion was that he was sufficiently capable of completing the next 2 hours of walking, however the decision was up to him, as I believed he was in a rational state. To Ian's credit he completed the hike, with his nose still bleeding because of the exertion, and the achievement was highly noteworthy and impressive, and surely a recognizable personal achievement.
The hike was a great hike and it had been a good day, save for the accident. We passed by a teahouse on our return journey, and Ian was examined by a Druze doctor who serves in the army.

We drove on to Ein Hod, to the house of Sue and Bob, and where Joe had prepared our celebratory barbecue, and where our accommodation had been arranged for the evening. It was a great night- a resounding success. The food was delicious, the wine superb, and the company magnificent, and our hosts were wonderful. The toasts and speeches were hilarious, and recounting our exploits brought a great sense of achievement and satisfaction – superlative experience. It was a truly memorable evening. Richard managed to take the award, Trekker of the Year. It was a difficult decision, and could have been controversial but the judged handled the decision with tact and diplomacy – awarding all the runners-up and the victor with the traditional "hamsa" – a sign of good omens, and to be hung in the house in a prominent position with pride.
Sunday, 9th May – an excellent breakfast on Bob and Sue's porch. Eventually, we managed a short hike through Nahal Oren, returning to Ein Hod. The hike was good, walking through the vegetation of the Carmel forrest, and good views to the Mediterranean Sea near Atlit. Ein Hod, is a former abandoned Arab village that has become a well-known artist's colony – with galleried, restaurants, and bed/breakfasts. Bob has a very good stained-glass window studio, and Sue runs the bed and breakfast.

Eventually we extracted ourselves from Ein Hod and drove to our next destination – Nahsholim Beach. We had a late afternoon walk along the beautiful, historical coastline – this was a famous port during the time of King David and King Solomon, and many ancient vessels sank along its shores.
That evening we dined at Ben Ezra's fish restaurant in Atlit, sadly parted from Richard, and attended an Andalusian concert in the outdoor theatre of nearby Ein Hod.

Monday,10th May – a visit to the local marine archaeology museum ,in Nahsholim – it is an excellent local museum displaying the local finds from nearby off-shore shipwrecks and the archaeological dig on the ridge above the ancient port. It covers 3500 years of history, and is located on a beautiful section of Israel's coastline. We enjoyed a good walk along the beach before we began our return journey to Herziliya and Tel Aviv and Jerusalem. It was sad to have ended another great trek in Israel, a tremendous experience, and a personally very satisfying adventure.
I wish you all good health and good fortune, and look forward to meeting you all again.

Best wishes, Graeme Stone 16/5/10

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