Israel's Good Name

Mount Arbel II

In Galilee, Israel on June 6, 2018 at 7:45 AM

A week and a half after my visit to the Tel Aviv Zoological Research Institute I took another trip, this one to the north of the country with the middle/high school where I work. It was a two-day trip, but the focus of this post shall be on the first day, the more interesting of the two. In fact, I had just gotten back the previous week from another two-day trip to the north with friends, provided by the Student Authority for Immigrants which arranges fancy trips and events for us throughout the academic school year.

Panoramic of the view from Mount Arbel

The morning of this trip began at the school where we boarded tour buses and began the drive up north via Road 6. Along the way I got acquainted with our tour guide, Eric Grosser, and spotted small flocks of white storks here and there alongside us. Our destination that day was the peak of Mount Arbel, with its gorgeous vista over the Kinneret (or, Sea of Galilee). We pulled into the parking lot of the national park and awaited the arrival of the final bus.

Crested lark looking tired

Exploring around a bit, I noticed the presence of some small birds such as crested larks in the field, great tits in the trees and a goldfinch or two on the fence. In addition, I examined the ancient sarcophagi on display, and a replica of a large basket used by King Herod to attack Jewish rebels hiding in the inaccessible cliffside caves. When the final bus arrived, and we were organised in smaller groups with each our own tour guide, we set off on the trail.

Setting off on the trail

We passed by the stony field, made beautiful with patches of flowering splendid bindweed and wild carrot (upon which the crested lark likes to perch and sing). To the left of us was the cliff edge, with its fantastic views, and to the right, a small water reservoir void of any interesting birds. I casted my eyes to the heavens from time to time, hoping to catch a glimpse of some birds of prey.

Hollyhock blossoms

We stopped at the Carob Lookout, where an ancient carob tree is working on restoring itself after a storm in 2017 that snapped it in half. Near the lookout we saw the faded cut marks of an ancient quarry; I just wonder what the stones were used for. From the lookout we gazed down on the ruins of Wadi Hamam, and the modern Arab village beside it, at the base of neighbouring Mount Nitai. A short-toed eagle and a common kestrel passed by overhead, and little swifts zipped by at eye level.

Levantine marbled white butterfly

After passing some blooming hollyhocks and a large amount of Levantine marbled white butterflies feasting on sweet thistle nectar, we reached the trail’s descent from the peak. Here progress was slow, and I scoured the cliffsides for interesting wildlife to no avail as I awaited my turn to make my way down the stepped path. The trail curved back in the way we came, and we headed westward along the slope.

Descending down the cliffside

After a few minutes we reached a tall, shallow cave, occupied by cows seeking respite from the sun and heat. Without intruding to disturb them, we continued on the path, making our way across the rock- and vegetation-strewn mountainside. I looked up from time to time to see if I could make out any caves or other curiosities. At last we reached a small stone structure built up against the cliff wall. I crept my way inside, avoiding fresh cowpats, and found two guilty-looking cows huddled up against one of the walls within the house.

Cows hiding within

More cows were gathered outside, but since we hadn’t come for bovine viewing, we continued onwards. Up ahead we found a sign that read “fortress and caves” straight ahead, but our guide was taking us downhill along the Israel National Trail to “Ein Arbel” and “Wadi Hamam”. I took advantage of the junction rest period to go off and explore on my own.

Sign of temptation

I found the fortress directly ahead, perched in the crags of the cliff wall, the old mason work blending in nicely with the pale, streaked rock. According to the informative sign, the four-story fortress was built in the 1600s by the Ottomans, under the local rule of Emir Fakhr al-Din – a Druze vassal who was eventually executed by the sultan.

Looking up at the fortress

Access to the fortress, known as Qalat abu-Ma’an, is provided by wide, basalt steps, which I climbed enthusiastically. At the top, I entered the stone structure, partially under restoration with external and internal scaffolding. Wooden stairs inside to me from one part of the fortress to the other, and I gazed out towards Mount Nitai and the sprawling view below.

Within the fortress

Inside the fortress ruins I found the ancient Roman-era mikva, which was used by the rebelling Jews hiding from Vespasian, Titus and their soldiers. Narrow passages took me from one side to the next, leading me further into the uncharacteristic labyrinth. At the end I found a room with a vaulted ceiling and arched windows, architectural features that I find particularly pleasing to the eye.

Slope trail

While I was admiring the view I saw my group begin the descent down the slope, so I ended my side adventure and caught up with them within minutes, joining them on the way down. At the bottom we found the flowing water of Nachal Arbel, and sat beneath large jujube trees to take a short break as we waited for all the classes to arrive. The sweet smell of the fallen jujube fruits provided an interesting setting as I scans the nearby slope of Mount Nitai and the blue skies above.

View of Mount Arbel from below

Quite unexpected, I saw a docile cow flush a male mountain gazelle from the tall grass on the slope near me, and then a white stork or two soaring past. Adequately rested, we boarded our tour buses and took a short drive over to Ein Nun, a small spring and pool which was built in the 1920s. There I searched for frogs, and was not disappointed, finding a good amount of them for my photographical wants.

Small river frog

The day ended after a visit to the waterless attractions of Kfar Blum Kayaks, and then camping at the Maayan Baruch campsite, where we slept near the banks of Nachal Snir (or Hatsbani). The following day took us to the national park of Banias, where we enjoyed the ruins and the trails. It’d be a shame not to mention the birds sighted that day, with highlights including steppe buzzards, short-toed eagles, greater spotted eagles, honey buzzards and countless flocks of white storks.

Maayan Baruch campsite

But the highlight was later in the day, at the Disaster of the Helicopters memorial (of all places), where I spotted two golden orioles in flight – a bright yellow bird that I’ve been waiting years to see. Thus, the two day trip with the school lads ended on quite the high.

  1. […] month ago, shortly after my trip to Mount Arbel, I went on yet another two-day trip to the north of the country. Offered by my department at Bar […]

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