Give me a home among the gumtrees….

Australians know about travelling. We don’t hesitate to drive 100km to get to a friend’s house. It’s just what you do. We get on a plane and fly all day just to go on holidays.

“You came all this way?” people will ask you. We can’t get out of the country unless we do! It’s 4 hours from Sydney to Perth. It’s a 22 hour flight to Israel (plus layovers or waits at the airport).

Compared to Australia, Israel is a very small place. The total length from north to south is 424 kilometres.  My mum’s place is 635 km away and we still live in the same state. At its widest, Israel is 114 km – that’s only 2 km more than from my place in Wollongong to Penrith; one of Sydney’s western suburbs. At its narrowest point its only 15km across – I ran that far a few months ago in a fun run!

The total area of Israel is 20,770 km2 compared to 7,692,000 km2. More than 370 Israels would fit inside Australia. It’s nearly three times smaller than Tasmania.

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It may be small but compared to Australia, it’s crowded. The average population density is 385 people per km2 compared to 3.1 people per km2 in Australia. [2]

On one of my visits, I hired a car and drove with my daughter and her family from Tel Aviv up to Katzrin in the Golan Heights via Tsfat. It’s the very top of Israel; a little bit further and you’d need a passport!

Katzrin (Qatsrin) is 177 km north of Tel Aviv. When you look it up on Google Maps it’s surrounded by a whole bunch of dotted lines that chart the evolution of the border disputes between Israel and Syria. It is very close to both the Syrian and Lebanese borders. I have to admit I was a bit nervous about going there. My phone was definitely nervous with its frequent declaration of changing billing zones: “Welcome to Syria call costs are” … and then a few metres further “Welcome to Lebanon!” “Welcome to Israel…

After you have been in Israel for a while you get used to seeing soldiers. One of the first things I noticed about the soldiers in Katzrin, was how old they were.    They were real soldiers, not conscripts with training guns. They had real guns, they were not just doing their three years national service. The other thing I noticed was a large number of people who looked like they were from the Pacific Islands. They were little out of place, but it didn’t take long to figure out that they were the ones who were driving around in the UN jeeps. The Peace Keeping Observers.

I had a niggling feeling of discomfort. What was I doing less than 15 km from the Syrian border while there was a fair bit of activity going on?

I was sight-seeing and hiking that’s what! We had come “all” this way to take a walk through the Giliboon Nature Reserve, a popular walking destination for locals, just a few kilometres out of the town of Kaztrin.

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We began the trek by walking past mine fields; (ummm… ok… we’ll just stay on this side of the fence shall we) and then carried on to bombed out concrete bunkers that remained after the Six Day War between Syria and Israel. The bullet holes and graffiti competing for my attention with imported gum trees making the whole scene slightly surreal by reminding me of home.

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The grey sky threatened rain and the smell of eucalyptus hung in the cold air. The track spread out to reveal an ancient Talmudic Village –The Dvora Village. The age of the village is disputed, but some estimates put it at 5000 years and although the basalt stones lay around in unorganized piles after many earthquakes, there was enough order to get the sense of a once thriving settlement. A grind stone here, a drying oven there.  Cattle wander about, picking their way carefully through the rocks, timid and curious at the same time.

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The colours were great. A low, dark, foreboding sky with bright yellow lichen clinging to the stones.  We stopped and balanced on the rocks to eat a snack and I remarked that if we were in Australia, all this would be fenced off; either to protect the site or to protect the tourists. Here, the only hint of regulation was a single chain across a doorway and a rusty sign that said something along the lines of “Don’t climb the wall, it will probably fall and you’ll get hurt.”

The loop track is only 4 km but as we slowly slushed our way through mud, our shoes became weighed down by several kilograms of sticky black clay. We made fun of our pancaked boots[1] as they grew to gigantic proportions. We passed waterfalls, land crabs and native cyclamens growing in the crevices.

The metal ladders and carved footholds added a level of difficulty to the walk, especially with a baby in a backpack. The most intriguing sight took my scientific mind a while to work out. At first, I thought I was staring at a strange geological formation until I realised it was a rock covered in thousands of pieces of chewing gum!

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by gum!

In summer, the pools at the base of the Dvora Falls are popular swimming holes. We didn’t swim on this dreary January day but I marvelled at how peaceful it was despite the remnants of past wars all around us.

It was quiet.

Strangely quiet and it registered that there were no birds calling. No raucous cockatoos, no twittering blue wrens. I guess the birds had flown south and I made one more mental note of how different my daughter’s adopted home was to my own.

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[1] but forgot to take photos!

[2] just as a point of interest Israel is the 35th most populated country on a list of 233 and Australia 227th. The most populated is Monaco at 25,718 people per km2!! But that’s getting a bit close too a Pinterest vortex!

2 thoughts on “Give me a home among the gumtrees….

  1. So very interesting Robyn! To be able to cast your imagination back to a time when those stone walls housed living families – Amazing! Love the hues in the photos too.

    Like

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