Hula Lake and Nimrod’s Fortress

Two highlights of the Fulbright trip, which I blogged about previously:

The first was Hula Lake, which is located near the tributaries of the Jordan River. The Hula Valley is a large flat plain on the Syrian-African rift, in between the Golan Heights and the Naftali Mountains (the border of Lebanan). It was originally swampland but was drained for agricultural use, oh and by the way to get rid of the deadly malaria. It turned out, however, that doing so had unexpected ecological ramifications (doesn’t everything) for the region and the Jordan River. Our tour guide explained it, but I’ll use Wikipedia’s words because they’re easier to quote accurately: “Draining the Hula turned out to be a mixed blessing. Water polluted with chemical fertilizers began flowing into Lake Kinneret, lowering the quality of its water. The soil, stripped of natural foliage, was blown away by strong winds in the valley, and the peat of the drained swamp ignited spontaneously, causing underground fires that were difficult to extinguish.” Oops.

In the 90’s, areas of the valley were re-flooded (I think by natural rains, then they left it that way) and have served as a migration stopover point for several kinds of birds, including the crane. The birds, of course, are a nuisance to the farmers and try to eat their crops…so the farmers feed them instead. They use tractors to haul loads of feed into the lake areas and keep the birds away from their crops.

A side effect of this program is that the birds are used to the noise of tractors, which means that the tractors can also haul loads of tourists without scaring the birds away! I’ve never been so close to so many thousands of cranes. Here are some pictures. As I mentioned in the previous post, my friend Mark took all of the photos.

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We stayed that night at the hotel of a kibbutz on the Jordan River. Around 7:00, in the frosty dawn–it was legitimately cold–a few of us walked along the river.

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A second highlight of the trip was Nimrod’s Fortress in the Golan Heights. It was a Mameluk (Turkish) fortress built to protect Damascus from Crusader threats. It was partially destroyed by an earthquake a few hundred years ago, but most parts of it remain intact. It has a marvelous view overlooking the entire Hula Valley, and it had so many nooks and crannies to explore that we couldn’t get to all of them.

Rafi, of course, did not want to wander around randomly but instead wanted to follow the route on the map, guided by arrows along the path, and track our progress with the names of the locations (North Tower, e.g.). Of course I wanted to explore all the nooks and crannies; if there was a staircase I wanted to see where it went and what the room was used for. We managed to do almost the whole thing although Rafi was disappointed that we didn’t have time to enter the special Secret Passage; we only got to look at it.

Speaking of maps, Rafi’s BFF Shalev, the other 4-year-old on the trip, similarly liked to sit with a map and listen to me tell him about it. The two boys have a lot in common and were practically connected at the hip throughout the whole trip.


Rafi and Shalev with Mark’s indestructible camera

There were also two other young boys on the trip who were maybe 6 and 8 years of age, as well as a couple of older kids (Shalev’s older siblings). It was so fun having all the kids around! Not just because they played with each other and let the grown-ups talk, although that was a perk. It was also fun listening to their questions and explaining things to them. They are all professors’ kids so they’re super smart and used to interacting with grown-ups who will listen to them and give them thoughtful answers.


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