We Came, We Saw, We Ate Chocolate
I figured as long as I was going to name this post after a Mongolian conquerer who has nothing to do with the Golan, I might as well throw in a reference to a Roman conquerer who also has nothing to do with the Golan.Except, well, the area does have a history of being conquered. With it's natural resources -- soil made fertile by ancient volcanic eruptions, a large freshwater lake, naturally occurring wind tunnels, and mountain ranges great for military look-outs -- it's an enviable piece of land.As far as I can tell, the history is similar to that of the rest of Israel. (By the way, this will be an amateur and probably incorrect brief history.) There were people living in the Syrian Golan in relative peace from many different ethnoreligions: in this case, Muslims, Jews, and Druze. With the influx of Jewish settlers in the mid 20th century, Syria got warlike and brutal. Israel conquered the area in 1968, and Syria tried to get it back during the Yom Kippur war of 1977, but Israel was able to beat them back. Since then, it has been Israel's most peaceful border, thanks in part to a UN peacekeeping group. Now the area is known for wine, chocolate, waterfalls, and being green.
The Packing Story
Despite the name of this blog, I do not like to pack. In fact, one of my goals with this blog is to make packing easier on myself and others. I like to spend minimal time packing, and still have everything I need, while traveling as light as possible. Oh, and looking as chic and non-touristy as possible. (you'll rarely find me wearing tracksuits or socks with sandals, although I have stooped to the occasional usage of a fanny pack).So to prove to myself that I am learning something about packing, I gave myself a 15 minute limit to pack for this four day trip.And I failed. 15 minutes turned into 45 minutes, and with the contents of my wardrobe exploded all over my room, my resolve was weak and I was vulnerable to temptation, which came in the form of friends downstairs in the cafe inviting me to have drinks with them. So I went downstairs and celebrated life, and a couple hours later, finally finished packing. And packed it all in a tiny day backpack and a little computer brief case-type thing. I don't have photo proof, so you'll just have to take my word for it, okay?
Hitting the Road
We started our road trip just north of Jerusalem in our home of Ramallah, Palestine, and went up to the top of Israel where the Sea of Galilee is -- the freshwater lake that marks the entrance to the Golan. (You can just make out that Sea on the map inside all the blue placemarkers). From there we traveled higher to the Golan Heights, a large plateau ridged with a few mountains. A bit further north, and we would've been in Syria, where no sane person wants to be right now.A few days before our trip, I was doodling on a white board, and drew a figure that Prince Charming said reminded him of a Young Genghis Khan. So I turned it into an inspirational poster:
The funny thing is, we spent the first night of our Golan trip in a Mongolian Yurt, at a camp called Genghis Khan in the Golan.
Truly, as the brochure read, our yurt was "The Hilton of Tents."
From there, we hiked to a view of the Sea of Galilee, where, according to the New Testament, most of Jesus' sermons and miracles took place. Jesus would not be happy to note that many hillsides around the Sea of Galilee are now off limits due to mines left over from the previously described warfare.
Saint Peter, however, would be happy to note that tourists in the area are enjoying the local delicacy -- fried "Saint Peter Fish".
The Golan Heights area is known for its lush wet seasons, but in October anywhere in Israel or Palestine, one is mostly going to see parched land, and that was certainly the case for this road trip.
After about all the brown we could handle, we saw this signrising out of the aridity, promising something that seemed improbable.
Despite TLC's advice to the contrary, we went chasing waterfalls. And we were rewarded when, just off the highway, there was a gorge split by a respectable-for-dry-season waterfall accessorized by layers of greenery.
Later, it was time to explore wine country. We went to the visitor's center in Qatzrin ("the Heart of the Golan") where we watched a 30-minute recruitment video that had us both momentarily wishing we were Jewish so we could move to the Golan, meet a handsome cowboy, fondle the rich loam, get drunk on pure mountain spring water, and have incredibly gorgeous, healthy children. Perhaps in another universe. In this one, we would go on to get incredibly lost and frustrated driving in circles, and eventually find one of the boutique wineries we'd been hearing about.
This family-owned place was run by a married couple, their two adult children, and the spouses of those children. This arrangement would be a dream come true for some people, but I must say I smelled something awry within the rich emotional bouquet that made up the atmosphere of the place. Mrs. Assaf was kind and hospitable to us, bringing us perhaps a dozen (or more! I lost count!) wines to taste, but she seemed sad or distracted. Perhaps she was tired, perhaps she had been arguing with someone, perhaps the winery was too busy, or something else was worrying her. The deeper into our cups we sank, the more outrageous were the scenarios that I dreamed up about what could possibly be leading to the slightly dour atmosphere. At any rate, the wine and snacks were delicious.
Even the loftiest of cocoa highs couldn't keep us from feeling deflated after a failed attempt to fill up our gas tank. There aren't a lot of gas stations in the Golan, and the one on the kibbutz where the chocolate factory was located seemed to be out of order. It took our card, but then only gave us one shekel's worth of gas. On our next try, imagine our surprise when we unintentionally purchased air for our tires from the next machine over. The attendant couldn't help us, which we assumed was because of the language barrier. But apparently not, because an American couple who spoke Hebrew rolled up next, and had similar problems. Despite bonding over us all being from Los Angeles, our Hebrew connection didn't help. No one left that gas station with a full tank.
We bumped into these folks later on Mount Bental, home of a former Syrian military bunker that is now a geographic wonder and popular vista for tourists. We chatted about how it turns out that Visa isn't a good credit card to bring on a trip to Israel.On Mount Bental, we could see into Syria and get our bearings.
The peak and the path to it were decorated with wooden cutouts of soldiers with guns and sculptures made by artist Yoop de Yons from old weapon parts.
Finally it was back down to the Sea of Galilee, where I walked on water. That is to say, I walked along the shoreline for a photo op.