Journal Entry # 53 - Road Entry#43 (Maadi – Cairo, Egypt - 9:35am (Local) - January 24, 2011)

The High Plateau

5 Days away from running my first marathon.
But that is not the topic at hand.

The Taglit group starts every morning with breakfast at 7:30am before a 8:30am program activity or depature on the charter bus. My first morning on the Kibbutz began with a brisk run throughout the grounds due to the fact Ran (our tour guide and trip leader) told me I could not cross any fences and run on any major streets. Even though I wanted to run more, I still didn’t wake up early enough to get much running in before breakfast at 7:30am. I ran around once side of the Kibbutz and through the pathways that make up the community. It was before school and work started for everyone on the Kibbutz, so I saw a bunch of children and adults commuting to their respective destinations. I was running in a tank top and shorts at 7:00am with the temperature around 10-12 Celsius / 52-58 Fahrenheit. I assume that from their perspective, I looked like a crazy white man running around in the dead cold of winter – and technically I was. The children pedaled faster if I got close to them and the adults gazed with dumbfounded stares; but I didn’t care.

I showered in the European style bathroom (which I love by the way) – and made my way to the first breakfast of the trip. There was a variety of foods available for everyone – but the diary products were the cream of the crop (pun). This kibbutz had it’s own cow farm / cow house, so the milk, cheese, cream, and yogurt foods were great. I made a breakfast salad with some Lahane cheese dressing and hard-boiled eggs. I had this salad three mornings in a row at the kibbutz.

Once everyone got on the bus, Ran told us our first stop was a lookout point in the Golan Heights instead of the morning hike that was written on our itinerary. Ran said that the terrain was muddy and wet, and they altered the itinerary for comforts-sake. We drove for 30-45 minutes up the hillside to peaceful lookout point over Lake Kinneret (Sea of Galilee) on the north east portion of Israel. Lake Kinneret is the only fresh water source in the entire land of Israel. It was formed through a geological rift in the tectonic plates of the area. These plates have shifted over time to create what we see today (Lake Kinneret, the Dead Sea, and the Red Sea). The lake is the main provider of fresh water for things like tap-water, cooking water, and agriculture. Israelis are conscientious about their water use and meticulously monitor how they use/abuse it. I found out later in the trip that Ron, and Israeli IDF special forces member showers himself in 3 steps (1. Water-on to get wet, 2. Water off to soap up, 3. Water-on to wash off). He also told me that he makes an effort to correct other Israelis water habits when he sees that they are abusing water consumption.

The visibility was decent and many people took pictures together before getting back on the bus to our next location – Gamal Nature Preserve. At the Gamal Nature Preserve, we learned about the acient village of Gamal and the suicide that took place there during a Roman conquest period (I want to say the 12th century?). Gamal was a community of Jews that lived on the east side of hill that sat in between two rivers. This community had survived for hundreds of years – operating between the great heights of Golan and the valley of Lake Kinneret. Over 6,000 people died in the tragedy of Gamal once the Romans gained control. Even though the story of Masada is more popular in Israel and the world – Gamal is where the largest Jewish mass suicide in Israel occurred.

From the town of Gamal, we walked over to the Egyptian Vulture lookout center – 200 meters away. Here we learned about the vultures that are native to the Middle East and how the Israelis track the vultures between Israel and Egypt. I found this portion of the nature preserve to be just as interesting as the historical information of Gamal.

The bus then took us 40 minutes further north to the Syrian border at an old bunker at the top of Mt. Bental. Here we learned about the Syrian/Lebanon conflict with Israel and how they currently have to peace agreement. Politically, Syria and Lebanon don’t recognize Israel as a sovereign state for the Jews and the borders between the countries are closed. We all walked through the bunker and Ran said that it would be used as an Israel base if tensions escalated.

We finished here and then went to Qazrin to have lunch at a shwarma/falafel stand. Lunch lasted an hour and then we went to the Golan Heights Winery in Qazrin. There we walked around and learned about Israeli wine, how it’s produced, the differences in soils and grapes, and tasted 3 different bottles of wine. We had an option to buy some bottles and gifts for family and then hit the road to the Gator Hot Springs near the Jordan border.

The developer of this spa harnessed the hot spring sulfuric water from the land and brought it up to make a giant spa/zoo area. I guess some people didn’t get in the water and walked around and looked at the Alligators and other animals of the complex. I got in the water with the majority of the group and went straight for the jets. I used the jets on my back for 10-15 minutes before heading to the hot-room pool for 10-20 minutes. The Israelis were spread out throughout the grounds and our group clumped together in pockets in the pools – it was so easy to identify the difference between the people in the water. The hot springs smelt like sulfur throughout the area, stinging the nostrils with a funky mineral smell. It was a luxurious experience in my mind.

I showered off and got back on the bus for the sunset ride back to the Kibbutz with the group. We had a group evening program to learn about the kibbutz by having a mock auction in biddings for different components of a kibbutz (ala Cow House, Factory, Tomato Orchard, etc..). This lasted for 30-45 minutes and then we were free for the night. I first went to check if I could watch the Duck game on repeat (ESPN3 or by using the internet. It was a miserable failure as I found out the 22-19 score and then an ‘Associated Press’ recap of the game. I was depressed for about 30 minutes but then realized what an amazing season the Ducks had. I used the internet to send a quick message back to my parents to let them know I was having a good time in Israel. Then Victor, Ed, Gary, Audrey, Bobbi, Eli, and I played card games and an game called “My Penis, My Vagina”. It lasted for a little while before I kicked everyone out and then wrote some cliff notes from my travels before going to bed.