Day 14: Fort Belvoir, Beit She'an, Qumram

Trip Start May 14, 2008
Trip End Jun 17, 2008

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Flag of Israel  , Dead Sea Region,
Thursday, May 29, 2008

Our five days in the Galilee and Golan are at an end; today we're off to the Dead Sea!  It's easy to pack when you know you can just stuff everything into the trunk of your car.  We do a check-check-double-check of the cabin and take some last minute photos.  We've enjoyed our stay here at Vered Hagalil.  It's conveniently located for what we wanted to see in the Galilee and Golan, so for day trips nothing was really very far.  The breakfasts were yummy with the traditional buffet, as well as delicious local jams and cheeses, freshly baked bread, expresso, cappuccino, your choice of french toast or eggs as you like them.  We frequented the on-site restaurant for dinner as they served up fresh salads and meat dishes.  There are other restaurants, but it involves driving.

Anyway, the restaurant at Vered Hagalil was a relaxing spot with good friendly service, much appreciated after a day of touring!   On the patio outside the restaurant there was high speed free internet access for our laptop.  If you plan on staying here, look at the location of the cabins on the Vered Hagalil website and decide on the type of view you prefer.  Our cabin was across the street from the main entrance and stables, and faced onto the Galilee! I liked waking up in the morning, opening the back door to the terrace and looking at the view of the lake and the colors of the mountains in the distance.  From here, we sat and updated our daily journal into the laptop.   Our cabin was built of stone, wood and concrete; it felt solid and somehow it seems so appropriate for this area.  As you can see in the photos, our cabin #14 is classically decorated and in a quiet location, both of which we liked. We would very much recommend Vered Hagalil!  

As we are checking out, Harvey starts complaining that the bill is too high, that there must be errors and so on. This is before he looked at the bill.  When the clerk looks at him, Harvey says that since we are in Israel he wants to act like an Israeli.  This starts a whole conversation about how they are used to these issues - but usually clients start questioning after seeing the bill.  The funny thing is that there actually turned out to be a small error.  They had charged wine from another cabin to our bill for the previous night's dinner.  They cheerfully corrected this.  Before departing the area, we find a spot where you can park and walk to the Lake.  We had touched the Mediterranean Sea, and it was now time to touch the Sea of Galilee!  With some ceremony, we kneel and scoop the water in our hands. Yes, it feels refreshingly cool!

Now, in earnest, we start on our journey to the next sea, the Dead Sea.  As we drive southeast, the colors of the landscape change from brown and green, with occasional bright purple, white, and red bougainvillea, to a palette of beige and brown, with a spot of green from a bush or tree that somehow manages to live here. Our first stop along the way is  Fort Belvoir or Kochav Hayarden National Park, a very impressive Crusader fortress.  We get to use our National Parks pass again! The views from here are expansive and you can easily understand why this location was chosen for strategic importance.  We walk around the dry moat and into one of the rooms within the fortress and meet up with a group of men all with cameras who had asked two friends to pose in a spot with dramatic lighting.  Harvey & I join them in the photo shoot!  It turns out they are part of a group of about 20 men from Moshav Faran in the Arava Valley south of here who are doing some touring and hiking.  We strike up a conversation with Danny Hadas, who offers photography workshops. He gives me an annual calendar with his photos for each month and they are beautiful images of the area around their Moshav.   If anyone is interested in a photo workshop or shooting with Danny, he can be reached at  Until I saw the calendar, I had not realized that an annual calendar in Israel starts with September as the first month of the year.  It seems to make sense as I think about it now that the calendar would be based on the Jewish calendar, but at the time it just strikes me as odd; but that's because it's different from our January to December annual calendar.  These men seem the perfect people to ask about when is the best time to come to Israel to see and learn about agriculture in the desert.  They indicate that the best times for farming are from October to March.  If we want to see planting, then August is the best time.  I am intrigued by how the beige colors of the desert can be transformed into greenhouses filled with cultivated produce. How is the water and fertilizer managed?  What are the annual cycles?  What has worked and what hasn't?  There is a research station that is only open during the farming period that offers tours and I'd very much like to go to there.   June is too late in the year, so we'll have to save that for another trip!

We were not prepared for the sheer drama of Bet She'an National Park!  The 8,000 seat Roman amphitheater is supposed to be the best preserved in Israel and the baths, and other excavations are truly impressive.  We feel transported back in time, only brought back to current time by the occasional roar of military jets overhead. We get a light lunch at the concession snack bar and spend several hours walking through the site.  Just incredible.

Time is moving along, so we think we should as well.  We had checked with the reception desk at Vered Hagalil and they confirmed that driving on route 90 through the West Bank was a safe and direct route to the Dead Sea. We drive up to the checkpoint with some anxiety, but there is no other car ahead of us and we quickly pass through.  We are surprised at how unpopulated the area is; I was under the mistaken impression that the West Bank was crowded.  Perhaps in another section, but the area on route 90 is barren with few signs of habitation. The ones that are there, are small poor groupings of homes, or as we drive further south, large greenhouses.  Take a look at the photos that were taken from the car as we drove, without stopping to Qumran.

We meet the tour buses at Qumran National Park, where the Dead Sea scrolls were discovered. The parking lot is full of buses and the tourists are swarming around the visitor's center.  We have arrived!  Using our national park pass (I love saying that), we enter the facility and go to the movie.  You know by now that if one exists for a site, we're going to (try to) find it!  Then we pass through the gates and walk up away from the center, with the hope of being able to walk to one of the caves where the scrolls were discovered.   I chicken out as the terrain gets rough and there are warning signs; Harvey continues for awhile longer and you can see the photos of him departing and thank goodness, coming back!  The people who lived in this area, the Essenes, were an ascetic sect and had a rough life.  We found their ritual baths. What is it about humans that no matter what date range or civilization, there is some form of group bathing and cleansing?  It's always interesting to see how it is done.  Personally, I like a fresh mountain lake or stream, or a swimming pool!

It's late afternoon and we continue on route 90 to Ein Gedi.  We pass through the final checkpoint and exit the West Bank. We both admit we were a bit anxious.  We continue on, and see our first view of the Dead Sea! Along the road, Harvey notices these large boulders that are standing like sentinels over the Dead Sea and exclaims that this is where we had stopped to take some photos thirty seven years ago!  At first, I don't recognize them because they are covered with graffiti, but yes, that is them!  Seeing those boulders is like a touchstone for us, triggering memories. We have this snapshot that we took with Jacque and Nicole, where we are peeking out from behind these boulders! We met Jacque and Nicole on a four hour jeep tour out of Eilat thirty seven years ago.  After the tour, they knocked on our hotel door and invited us to drive with them to Jerusalem.  We spent a whirlwind day driving from Eilat to Jerusalem, exploring a dirt back road and driving up to a military base, hiking into Ein Gedi, taking the cable car up to Masada, and then they were really nice and stayed with us until we found a hotel in Jerusalem.  That started a relationship that has lasted to this day.  At the time, we thought they had the absolute perfect marriage and they became our role model.  They were both dentists and were in practice together.  In France, the tax structure was such that it didn't make sense for them to work 12 months a year, so they took vacations and traveled extensively.  Jacque enjoyed photography.  Nicole had the energy of the Eveready energizer bunny.  They both loved and enjoyed life.  After their divorce, we learned that many of our impressions of their relationship were not real.  We still thank them for creating in our minds the inspiration for a positive long term sharing relationship!  

It is about dinner time when we arrive at Kibbutz Ein Gedi where we will be spending the next three nights.   I call Zabu, our guide for our sunrise hike up Masada and agree upon meeting at the lobby at 4:40 AM!  He asks if we drink coffee and I say yes, thinking that the caffeine might be good early in the morning.  After we get off the phone, I remember that coffee usually makes we want to go to the bathroom and there couldn't possibly be any facilities along the way, so I decide that I will forgo any drinking or eating of anything in the morning until I know that I will have access to a bathroom.  I sometimes fret about these things.  We arrange for a wake up call, put our heads on the pillow and promptly fall asleep!

Click here for today's photos!
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