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Tuesday, December 4, 2018

Israel: It’s for the birds (and for you)

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When I met my first husband, I told him about our family's annual camping trips to provincial parks where we'd drive in, park on the site, pitch the tent, and head to the beach or river or forest or whatever to enjoy nature.  Sometimes, those campsites would have running water, other times, you had to walk somewhere else to get water.  My father's strategy was sending the kids to wash dishes in the bathroom -- strictly forbidden according to all provincial campground rules, but you know.  Someone has to be an exception to the rules.

So that was camping.

But my first husband quickly declared, "It doesn't count if you can get to it with a car."

He would have had a hard time with Israel.

Here, camping sometimes means that your tent is just a few feet away from the next person's…

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(© Tiberias municipality via Wikimedia)

… and hiking usually means taking one of quite a few well-used routes, like the Israel Trail, a 1025 km. (look it up!) route – nothing to sneeze at, really, given that National Geographic has called one of the world's 20 most "epic trails."  But there certainly isn’t the variety, and from what I’ve heard, you’re very likely, in most stretches and hiking-friendly seasons, to bump into a number of fellow travellers.

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(It’s also perhaps the only one that apparently features a lending library so you can pick up reading material along the way -- People of the Book, indeed.)

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(photo credit © royisoko via Wikimedia)

Finding a nature getaway definitely isn't hard in Israel.  But as with so many things when you make aliyah, you may have to (slightly) redefine what you mean by the term. 

Since almost every spot is within half an hour's drive of a big city, and there are factories and processing plants of all kinds everywhere from north to south, you're probably not going to get total solitude and silence to commune with nature unless you take to the deep south.

But that has its upside, too, like the fact that you can hop in a bus in Nahariya and within not very long, be standing in the middle of one of the world's most extraordinary bird sanctuaries -- the Hula Valley.  A crucial migration spot between Europe and Africa (and back), the Hula Valley hosts about 500 million migrating birds every single year, and an incredible range of birds as well.

And it happens to be crane season RIGHT NOW.  Well, okay, as our guide explained, these days, it's crane season all winter long, at least until March.

That's because of the Strange History of the Hula Valley, which I'll sum up here very briefly.
Maybe in Hebrew school you learned how

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