Aug 17, 2009

Touring in Eretz Yisrael: Summer Vacation: LaTzafon

When summer vacation comes along, there is only one place to go touring. Everyone heads "La-Tzafon" - to the north. The Israeli ritual ha everyone spending their summer hiking and vacationing in the northern part of the country, around the Kinneret generally. Everywhere else is too hot, and even though the north is hot as well, at least there is a little bit of water in the lakes and rivers there to cool off in. And nights up there are slightly more pleasant than many other parts of the country.

So, LaTzafon it was for us too. We packed everything up, tents, sleeping bags, gear, food, ice chest, and even some clothes and headed up north for a few days of camping, hiking, bbq'ing spoiling meat as the ice chest doesn't do much after the first day (yeah, we added bags of ice, but it isn't the same), and running out of underwear and t-shirts.

We took this trip fairly easy. We planned nothing in advance. Absolutely nothing. Not a schedule, not an itinerary, not any specific hikes. Nothing. We just figured we would go and play the whole thing by ear. We had not even planned where we were going to sleep. I had asked a couple of friends who had been up north the week before what they did, and noted down their suggestions. I lost the paper, but remembered a couple of the ideas.

On our way up, we thought we would just camp out in the same site we camped last year. Sure enough, the radio tells us the site is closed because of suspicion of some poison in the water as they found some dead fish washed up ashore. So we decided to go further north and stay the night in Churshat Tal.

Churshat Tal is a place I have only heard good things about, and I have lots of friends who have stayed there many times. It is also known as the "Hilton of Campsites". We got there at night, and we were tired and had to get settled and still eat dinner. I did not even realize that beside being a great campsite, it is a national park with its own great attractions to spend the day. I only realized that as we were leaving the next day on our way to hike. So if you go out to Churshat Tal, you can feel comfortable going there and planing to spend at least part of a day there hiking and swimming in the Park itself.

The place was pretty crowded. We drove through until we found a quieter stretch of grass with not too many tents crowded on it, and not too far from the bathrooms. As we unloaded our tents we realized our good fortune that we were also pretty close to the rivers that run through the Chursha.

According to the map, there are two rivers - Maayanot Dan and Maayanot HaBanyas that run through the Chursha. They both originate from Tel Dan and the Banyas waterfall. The water in these rivers, even as far away as Churshat Tal, is freezing cold, and great for the kids to cool off in, even at night as I was getting dinner ready.

After dinner and after getting the kids dried off, and after roasting disgusting marshmallows that had some yellow banana-ish streak running through them, we finally settled down in our tents for the night.

In the morning I woke up early. It is tough to sleep late when camping. You get the sun and heat. You start hearing everyone else's noise. etc. So we had a minyan for shacharis. Churshat Tal is a very generally popular site. You get every type of Israeli staying there, so there were more than enough religious people to make plenty of minyanim at different times of the morning.

After that the kids got moving, we had breakfast and packed up to go. I had not planned on spending so much money on just camping - Churshat Tal is a national park so the cost is fairly high - much higher than camping on beaches (and I did not know about the attractions there until later, so I did not take advantage of that), and my 5 year old kept insisting that we go to the Kinneret, so we decided we would go that night to spend camping somewhere on the Kinneret. That meant packing up all our gear - tents, air mattresses, sleeping bags, etc.

We headed out and tried to go to Nahal Iyyun. After some technical difficulties, the kids decided we should go to the Hatzbani which is right across from Churshat Tal. The Hatzbani, a.k.a Nachal Senir, is a great river with a rocky bottom and a strong current. Unfortunately, because of the drought, the amount of water is nothing like what it used to be. We went there last about 7 years ago I think and I remember the water at points up to my chest. Now the highest it got was just over my knees. The current is still strong, so it is still a good hike.

With the Hatzbani, you can choose to hike through the water, or along the path next to the river and only go ni to cool off at different points along the hike. We all decided to go through the river. Even my five-year old did fine, holding my hand during the ,ore difficult parts. We did about half of it through the river, and then they wanted to hike along the side. It is difficult to walk on the rocky bottom, especially in crocs and sandals, so after a good first half, they wanted an easier second half.

When we got back to the parking area, we decided to eat lunch there in the picnic area. We got out our food and settled in. They have a little stream (part of the river I guess) running through the main area, and my kids were playing in the water there keeping cool on a very hot day, while we rested a bit after lunch.

Then we drove around a bit, heading southward towards the Kinneret. There are a bunch of spots along the Jordan River where you can pull over and jump into the river to cool down and relax. We saw a sign and decided to go in. It turned out the spot we picked happened to be the ending point for a "whitewater" rafting company, so it was a bit of a busy spot. But we still had a good relaxing time in the cool waters of the Jordan.

Then we continued down to the Kinneret. Somehow we decided we would try out the Kinar. They have a hotel but they also have a beach with campgrounds. We got there and it was pretty cheap so we decided to stay the night. It was only mid-afternoon, but my kids did not want to head out to any other tiyulim. So we settled down there and went down to the Kinneret.

It was a windy evening, and the waves were reasonably strong. The kids had a good time jumping and crashing the waves. After an hour or so we went back to our tents to make dinner. After encountering a scorpion near our tent, we decided to move over. I think we actually scared him more than he scared us. We decided not to kill him, so as not to invite all his friends to his funeral, but he scurried away as we moved a couple of rocks he was trying to hide under. Despite his departure, we still moved our tent to a different area.

After dinner we went back to the Kinneret. Then it was early to bed. Kinar is a religious beach, and I think 100% of the people there were religious, so getting minyanim was not a problem.

At night we were woken up a few times by Israeli Air Force planes flying overhead heading north. I checked the news and it did not seem to mention any war going on, though for some reason Netanyahu was threatening Lebanon, and supposedly amassing troops near the border. I still don't know why or if that was even true. The planes definitely disturbed our sleep though.

In the morning I woke up early again and caught a vasikin shacharis. We had breakfast and packed everything up. The kids didn't want to stay there the next night, though we left it open as a possibility, so we packed up all our stuff just in case.

That day we headed out to a water hike in a stream called the Majrasa. It is a just a few minutes form Kinar, a bit north of Kinar, along the Kinneret. This was a great hike, especially for little kids. The floor of the river was flat and not rocky, making it an easy walk. The river is calm and refreshing. The waters of the Majrasa stream originate in a number of others streams - they dump in from the Meshushim, Yehudiya, Daliyot and some others.

After the Majrasa, we went to another water hike on the north-eastern tip of the Kinneret called Nahal Zaki. Zaki is from the same range of rivers and waters as the Majrasa, but has a completely different style to it. It is a very rocky hike through a river that has a decent current in some parts of it. It was tough to walk because of the rocks, and was pretty slippery.We all made it through ok and sat in the pooled water at the end just relaxing after what really was a hike we had to work hard on.

The kids by then had enough of hiking for the day. They had no energy left. We decided we would go into the Golan. They wanted to see the Bereishit fruit packing plant I had told them about after I had seen it with my wife in December. It is a really cool operation they have going there, and we decided to make the drive up to see it.
Bereishit factory is just outside of the Moshav Merom HaGolan (they also have fruit picking activities, I think, in the moshav), which is fairly far north in the Golan, but we had nothing planned and the kids didnt want to do the [easy] hikes I offered them, so off we headed to drive through the Golan.

On the way we found a beautiful park to stop in and have lunch. The kids played in the park, and we ate and relaxed a bit. Then we were back on our way. We finally arrive and are told that the visitors center is closed. They are in between seasons right now and have no fruit to pack. They expect to reopen in about two weeks, we were told.

So, we drove back down towards the Kinneret. We ended up sending much of the afternoon driving through the Kinneret. The kids enjoyed seeing all the army bases, jeeps, tanks, and cows, so it wasn't so bad. We eventually got back down to the southern Golan. They still didnt want to do any of the hikes, so we drove into Avnei Eitan to look around. Avnei Eitan is a religious moshav in the southern golan. I went into the supermarket to buy a couple of things, and my kids went into the nearby cattle barn to feed and taunt some cows.

Then it was back to the Kinneret. We stopped at the "Ayn Sheva" waterfall that dumps into the kinneret. This is a waterfall of the side of the road - you park and walk down. Go into the waterfall, and it trickles into the kinneret. If I am not mistaken, it used t not be a waterfall - it used to dump right into the kinneret beneath the surface, as the kinneret went right up to it. Over the years, the shoreline of the kinneret has receded and now it is pretty far away from the water coming into it, and a waterfall was formed a number of years ago...

When we had enough of that, we headed back to look for a place to stay, and sure enough we saw Chof Amnon was open. It turns out, they told us, they were never even closed. The Health Ministry thought of closing them, but found nothing in the water so left them open. We stayed the night, planning to extend the trip another night. I planned a couple hikes for the next day and we went to sleep after dinner.

Overnight, some Bedouins stole a bunch of backpacks - from us and from a large group of teens touring. The fence does not surround the whole area, as the regional council is developing some "shvil sovev kinneret" - a path that completely encircles the kinneret, making it easier for bikers and hikers to make the trip around the kinneret fully, and also making it easier for the local Bedouins to sneak in during the night. The kids no longer having any change of clothes (thankfully nothing valuable was stolen), along with my waking up not feeling well, decided it for us to call the trip complete. After searching high and low for the bags, having the police come down, and all that, we packed it up and went home.

Oh yeah - how could I forget. We brought along a can of "canned cholent" to try for dinner one night. Here it is. I must say, it was fairly decent, and we had expected it to be horrible.


  1. Sounds a great vacation. Think I'll print it out as ideas for next year, though don't know about the camping bit! Did you ever do nachal hakibbutzim? my kids love the pipes there - and they still have some water!

  2. Some great pics, thanks for sharing all the details. we're heading 'up north' next week for the 1st time in 13 years!!!! (shame on us!) but not quite brave enough to go camping, we're doing the air conditioned zimmer thing. Not tough enough Israelis yet!

  3. B"H

    Thanks for sharing your trip with your readers. I appreciate it.

  4. "driving through the Kinneret"? you must mean the Golan.

  5. Great descriptions of your tiyulim and camping up north. Where did you get those cool Lema'an Achai tee-shirts - (me and) my kids also want some?!

  6. maybe if you give a Kupa donation and wish for some shirts....

  7. Thanks for the detailed descriptions. Sounds like a good idea to bookmark this for next year.

  8. Awsome vacation :)

    And great pics, thanks for sharing with us

  9. great post/pics.
    you can't stand on the ground when you duchen?

  10. Sounds great. Your pictures are excellent and really show the beauty of the land (sort of makes we want to go back).

  11. I love this post ... a lot!!!!


  12. I really like the nature pictures, but the most meaningful picture (to me) is the picture of davening.

    First of all, it's davening outside in the presence of nature, my favorite kind of davening partly because I often find it difficult to concentrate (i.e. kavana) in a typical shul, and I find it much easier to maintain proper kavana outdoors.

    Second of all because of the three different types of folks davening together, one man dressed in near-Charedi garb (looks like black pants, black shoes, and a bekishe), a guy in long pants, socks, sandals, and a button down short sleeve shirt, and a few guys in shorts, T shirts (presumably), and sandals with no socks. I would be in the latter group had I been there :-).



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