Thursday, March 15, 2018

My Road to Damascus

We are at the Nimrod Fortress, my first time and as a lover of all things medieval, I'm excited to be here. From the entrance, we can see the Road to Damascus, where Paul met Christ. 

Can you spy the Road to Damascus?

The entrance to Nimrod Fortress

An earthquake damaged this doorway and we were expected to walk through it!

Inside the castle

The castle is a wonderfully preserved crusader castle, high on a hill that could only be accessible by bus if the driver is as skilled as ours is. We climb through earthquake-shattered and Druze demolished doorways into the banquet hall, where we sit and listen to Yossi play a tune on his flute, testing the acoustics. We know they are going to be good.  
Like a young boy exploring an abandoned castle, Yossi leads us through winding tunnels and down rickety stairs to a cistern, now thick with algae.

climbing down into the cistern
Part of the cistern
Would you drink this cistern's water?

From the highest vantage point we see Mt Hermon, a Druze village, and even Syria. Apple orchards dot the hillsides, and we learn that Druze have green and light coloured eyes, although they are a sect of Muslims and are Arabic. 
In that village that we saw, we stop for lunch and I choose something safe. Labne. It’s a flatbread smeared with goat cheese and za’atar (a paste of herbs, olive oil and sesame seeds) served with a salad and soda pop. It’s big enough for my husband and me to share.

My lunch being prepared.
And the final cooking of my lunch.

What my lunch was.

The rustic restaurant sits at the edge of a caldera and this far north and high the air is cool outside, while inside the air is scented with herbs and cinnamon tea. 

It’s time to move away from the ancient history and toward the more modern history. There is nothing religious about where we go next. We climb another mountain, Mount Bental, look off to reach the United Nations Disengagement Observer Force in the Golan Heights. It’s so strange to be here, as it was when we visited last. I know so many from my time in the military who were stationed here. There we meet an Australian soldier who was born in Corner Brook, NL, and one of our group knows the street on which he lived. He was diplomatic in his answers to our questions, as he needs to be neutral, all the while pointing out the Syrian landmarks below.

Signposts at Mount Bental

view of Syria

UN Observers

Our trip back passes minefields, those abandoned areas fenced off with the international sign of land mines. I wonder why Israel has not removed them. Perhaps they have and the signs remain, thanks to the lawyers and the interest of the tourists.
Mined field

Yossi admits something personal then. There was to be a referendum back in the 70s as to whether or not Israel should give away the Golan Heights. Our guide admits he would have liked to have seen it gone, but for some reason, the referendum never occurred, and in hindsight now, our guide realizes should it have happened, with the advent of ISIS in Syria, where would Israel be today? Had some high-ranking official suspected that ISIS would have taken control of the Golan Heights and put Israel’s national security at risk? Food for thought.

Our next stop is also non-biblical. We stop at an olive oil factory and the Olea Essense cosmetic factory. Of course we hear how olive oil is better than Dead Sea minerals, and I do think the olive oil mixed with lemon grass is more appealing, scent-wise. I buy olive oil for my family here. I tasted it and chose not to buy some for myself. (remember what I said about olives and cucumbers? I don't care for strong tasting olive oil.)

By the olive oil factory

We continue to break from the routine of history, stopping at a kibbutz that makes Naot shoes. One of our group has worn them before and liked them. I browse the shop, then leave, telling my husband that I have saved him $200.

Back on the bus, we receive more homework. I haven’t even started the first bit, yet. Yossi asks us to name the seven cities Jesus visited in his ministry. I begin to jot them down, but am suspicious of our guide. What if it’s some kind of trick question? Even the first question he assigned us has me suspicious. Yossi has hinted that meaning of Israel’s flag has nothing to Indian mysticism. 

Yet, as if to redeem himself for giving us tough questions, Yossi, while leading us through a nature trail behind the hotel, gives us one of the names of the cities Jesus visited. He has stopped by a stand of bamboo, and says the city of Cana is named for canes such as this bamboo, which is also one of the cities Jesus visited. I quickly scribble it down. It may be the only one I get right.

Tomorrow, we're back into the Bible, and I begin to wonder more at our guide's deeper motives.

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