Lazing around in the heat

Kinneret

On the 1st September, having booked what is locally known as a “zimmer”, or guest house, up in the Galilee, we jumped in the car and headed north at a staggering 7 am. The date picked was of course the day when families with kids would be packing their offspring thankfully off to school. As a retired teacher, I am now free to go off on a jaunt, to places which up till today have been heaving with large, noisy families. We hoped to find a quiet retreat and some respite from the heat. We were not disappointed.

This trip was supposed to be centred around water spots, since daytime temperatures are hovering around the mid 30s Centigrade, so it is really too hot to do any hiking. I therefore decided to go to the Magrase Nature reserve (otherwise known as Daliot, where one can walk through waist high water to cool down. However the morning we were due to arrive there, the Parks Authority website informed me that it, and a number of other hikes involving water, were all polluted. When I phoned them (on our way up North) they told me that the site was not closed to the public but that walking in the water would be at our own risk. We of course decided not to brave any bugs that might be lurking there, and proceeded to Lavnun Beach on the Kinneret. The Kinneret, for those not in the know, is the local name for the Sea of Galilee, which is not a sea at all but a large lake, and the focal point for most summer recreation in this tiny country. Once we arrived and parked, we quickly found a shady spot underneath the eucalyptus trees, and were happy to see that there were no more than about a dozen people spaced out along the beach. The water was lovely and warm, and we spent a good few hours relaxing in the water, eating our sandwiches and reading.

Kinneret, with early morning mist

Check in time at the zimmer is 15.00 so around 14.30 we packed up our chairs and headed up to Moshav Shefer (no relation) to settle in. I picked the place because it is up above the Sea of Galilee, which is rather warm and humid. Up in the hills the temperature is much more refreshing, and has the added attraction of wonderful views down the valley. Our zimmer consisted of four chalets set in a beautifully maintained garden, and a shared pool. Since we were the only guests on the site it was also quiet and private. The owner, Penina arrived when I called her and showed us how to use the a/c and ostensibly the television, which refused to comply. She therefore called her son who was on his way home from Hadera and whom she said would arrive and fix the problem. Meanwhile we relaxed in the capacious chalet, which had two floors, a jacuzzi and a small kitchenette.

After resting we headed out to look for dinner. WE drove around the Druze village of Rame and failed to locate the restaurant recommended to me by Google maps. We tried to ask locals some of whom did not speak Hebrew, and others who just did not know of any restaurant. Driving around Druze villages by the way requires quite a lot of competence, as the roads were mostly constructed for donkeys and not for two directional traffic. Anyway we eventually found a wonderful little place called Snobar (meaning Pine cone) which served us a huge green salad and tortillas filled with spicy chicken breast and vegetables, all for the princely sum of 90 shekels for both of us. We tipped the charming waitress generously. On the way back to our room we picked some pomegranates from the tree outside our chalet. There were also tons of lemons.

Next day we decided to head for Achziv National Park but first I wanted to check out a place I have heard of but never visited before. It is called Keshet (Arch) cave and is not really a cave at all. It is located in the Galilee, and has a wonderful view of the area, once you have braved the hairpin bends to the top of the hill. It is also a popular spot for daredevil rappellers, not of course for yours truly and her fear of heights. The drive up to the top was breathtaking and also gave glimpses of a number of caves. It was impossible to take any pictures on the way up so you will have to take my word for it. On the path leading to the Arch there are memorial stones commemorating Eldad Regev, Ehud Goldwasser, and other soldiers killed in the Lebanon War.

Brave lads waiting to descend

The walk up from the parking lot to the arch is really short and wheelchair accessible so it’s a fun activity for everyone. From there we continued along the Northern Road (which is the most northerly road in Israel hugging the Lebanese border. It’s odd to look over to your right and see Lebanese towns and villages up close and personal. The view is stunning, and I really think it’s one of my favourite places in the country. After about 20 minutes we got to Achziv park, having first gone by mistake to Achviz public beach, which is only a couple of kilometres further on, but requires a U turn to correct one’s error. The entrance to the Achziv Park costs a bit extra despite my brandishing my “Matmon” Parks card because, as the nice lady explained, there’s the beach. And what a magnificent beach it is too. The site has a few archeological curiosities, and a campsite, for those so inclined, who can go to sleep and then wake up to this glorious vision:

Achziv National Park

After the customary ice cream in the cafeteria ( a family tradition on visiting National Parks, due to us getting a card holder’s discount) we headed down to the beach, which has rock pools where you can wade under the watchful eye of the lifeguard. The water was gorgeous except for the horrid little fish which kept trying to bite me (but then I am also inclined to bite fish when I can too, so I suppose it’s only fair). There is a huge sunshade set up on the beach and it was not difficult to while away several hours there. The site closes at 5pm so from there we headed into Nahariya to get something to eat and watch the sunset before heading home.

Haifa on the Hill

View of the city from upper balcony of the Bahai Shrine

I have always had a soft spot for this city, which seems to me to combine the best of Jerusalem and Tel Aviv. It has plenty of history, with a downtown German colony built by the Templars to rival the Jerusalem one; it has a reputation for being a city of cultural harmony, where Jews and Arabs live peacefully side by side, and where lots of intercultural events are put on (The Haifa Film Festival, the Festival of Festivals), it’s the only Israeli city with a subway, the Carmelit, ( actually more a funicular than a proper subway) and it has wonderful views of the sea from the top of the Carmel. Haifa is a city with very distinct parts- the downtown port area, the middle level of the Carmel and the very top – Yefe Nof (literally beautiful view) , where the houses perched on the summit of the Carmel mountain look down over the bay. Bear in mind that walking around the city would involve a lot of going up and down the mountain, hence the subway, which is built on the slope. Now there are also two cable cars to make going up and down less arduous.

We had visited Haifa some years ago right after the terrible fires that raged on the Carmel, when our travel organisation Servas.org hosted a walking tour during the Christmas/Hanuka period. At this time Jews, Christians and Muslims in Haifa celebrate together and there are usually lots of activities going on all over town. It was great fun, ( especially the Santa Claus parade through Wadi Nisnas and the ensuing hummus in the local restaurants) and it left me with a feeling that we would return to the city again. As the summer heat, mostly over 35C during the day, means no hiking for the moment, a quick look at the blissfully air- conditioned Haifa Art Museum seemed in order.

We arrived before the museum opened so we went for a quick look around the Wadi Nisnas neighbourhood right behind the museum. I had remembered that it was an area where there were various art projects encouraging coexistence, and we saw something called Poetry Lane, and found various art projects on the walls.

The Art museum now open, we returned to take a look. Although rather unimpressive from the outside, the three storey building originally the site of an Anglican Girls’ school, was packed with interesting stuff, and you could use an audio guide (in several languages) from your phone by scanning a QR code. In any case the exhibits were very clearly labelled in Hebrew and English. Some rooms had works by famous artists, such as Yehiel Shemi and Yair Garbuz, and there was even one by Diego Rivera. The current exhibition commemorates 70 years of the museum’s existence, and all artists are in some way connected to Haifa and the North.

Work by Yair Garbuz
Another work I liked, although I forgot the artist’s name

After we had finished at the museum we went up to the top of the Carmel to look at the famous Bahai Shrine and its gardens. Unfortunately the gardens were closed, as it appears it is necessary to register for an organized tour, but the view from the top was as always, spectacular and there was a lovely breeze.

Interesting gate on the way to the Shrine
View of the gardens and the bay

So from the Shrine we zipped up to the top of Stella Maris, another place we love in Haifa. Stella Maris has a 19th century church and Carmelite monastery. The church can be visited ( and even boasts a cave said to be that of Elijah underneath its altar) but we skipped it this time and just strolled around outside looking at the view of the bay and Haifa port. The Madonna statue outside the monastery ,erected by the people of Chile, is rather fine. From here there is a cable car going down the mountainside to Bat Galim seaside promenade.

Madonna statue
The wild boar wandering around are no joke

We finished our fun day by driving to Hof Dor Habonim beach, which is the most amazing beach inside a Nature Reserve, which we had visited before. We were not looking for a walk this time, due to the heat, but just wanted to chill out and have a quick dip in the sea, which was extremely rough. The beach is extremely beautiful and highly recommended. In the winter we will return to walk along the shore and revisit the beauty of the coastline here.

Habonim beach

A bit of culture in Old Jaffa

view from the Promenade

After a couple of months of not going anywhere or doing any hiking, due to the extreme heat (over 30C most days) and it being school holidays in July and August, and overcrowded everywhere, I finally decided it would be a good idea to check out a nice air conditioned museum. Many museums are popular with families making them not ideal when trying to avoid people,( found this out while visiting the new Steinhardt Natural History museum in Tel Aviv a couple of years ago), but I eventually hit on the perfect solution.

We went off to Jaffa, parking in our favourite place right opposite the Etzel Museum and Neve Zedek. From there it’s only a 15 minute walk down to Old Jaffa. Walking along the Charles Clore Promenade there is a wonderful breeze from the sea, and I was only sorry I had not thought of doing this weeks ago. Anyway Jaffa turned out to be just as charming as I remembered, surely a place one can visit again and again.

After walking around a bit in the beautiful winding alleys of Old Jaffa we arrived at the Ilana Goor Museum, right next to the Uri Geller Museum (which I had never heard of before). The main entrance appeared to be closed, but a nice man let us in through the back door, which led us through the almost overwhelmingly packed gift shop. For the princely sum of 25 shekel each we were then treated to a leisurely wander through a magnificent collection of sculptures and paintings, some by Ilana Goor herself and some from her very eclectic collection of artworks, including portraits of her by other artists, and even one Henry Moore.

Suddenly the lady herself appeared from behind a private door, and we had a short chat with her. She was an elegant 85 year old, very gracious and interesting.

Young Ilana Goor Portrait

Many of the exhibits were examples of the way the artist incorporates unusual elements such as animal hides and skulls into her work. The furniture was particularly unusual. I am not sure it was all to my taste but it was certainly interesting. There are several floors and the open balconies and the roof sculpture garden with the view to the sea were especially lovely. You can sit in the roof garden and eat your sandwiches to admire the view. The artist has lovingly restored the old house (one of the oldest houses in Jaffa, which originally served as a hostel to Jewish pilgrims ) and now lives there herself. The kitchen is particularly striking, with its blend of old samovars and modern fridge and sink. I must admit to having taken far too many pictures, which makes it hard to select the ones I will post here.

The views from the window and the roof garden

After enjoying the gallery we went for a little mosey around Jaffa and rounded off the morning with a quick delicious hummus and falafel at Yfrach restaurant.

Highly recommend this area, and I am sure we will be coming back again soon.

An exciting Passover jaunt

I had been wanting to visit the Park Hamaayanot for some time, ever since I saw some photos of it online. Despite it being Passover week after a year of lockdown, and knowing the roads would be packed, we nevertheless decided to brave it and hop up to take a look, seeing how glorious the weather is right now.

Pleaes note that the same entrance is for Gan Guru, a sort of Australian style animal theme park, and for Gan Hashlosha. IF you only want to visit Park haMaaayanot you take the right parking lot.

As we are early risers we made it to the park by 9.30, and saw that there were already quite a lot of people but it was not dire. Also, after grabbing a map and heading off to the first spring, we found that many people just descend on the park to picnic right near the entrance; the further in we got, the less crowded it became. The springs are quite spaced out, and you can hire a golf cart or bicycle to get around (if you don’t mind standing in line for an hour or so) but the walk between the springs for us was actually the highlight of the whole experience. The sun was shining not too strongly, the air was fresh, and the colours really stunning. At each spring we saw groups of families picnicking, but in between we largely had the place to ourselves. At some points you walk along the river bank, and at others along fields. There are also parts of the trail designated “wet trails” where if you want you can walk in the water. The water is at a constant 24C so you can bathe here all year round. It all looked clean and lovely.

There are designated swimming areas, and others where you are not supposed to swim, but we saw people swimming all over. Again there are several different sites to choose from- we saw Ein Shokek and some other points on the river, but we didn’t go as far as Ein Muda, which also has a swimming place.

We also observed families of ducks, lots of birds and fish in the water. We decided not to visit all the springs, as it was getting warm, and the park was getting crowded, and we wanted to include the Bet Shean National Park ( which I had already made reservations for). So after a couple of hours we skipped the furthest spring Ein Muda and headed back to our car. This was just as well, as the parking lot was swiftly turning into a jungle. Getting out took a whole lot longer than getting in, and included a few fairly hairy almost- collisions. Fortunately we made it out and proceeded on to Bet Shean, only a 10 minute drive away.

Having the National Parks Matmon pass has been such a blessing. Not only do we get free entrance into all the parks, we also get a reduction on Magnum ice cream in the shop!

The cafe shop of the Bet Shean park has a lovely shady terrace with a fantastic view of the whole site.

This magnificent archeological site, historically known as Scythopolis, was the leading city of the Decapolis, a league of pagan cities. It was of course settled a long time before the Romans even from the neolithic period, and was subsequently inhabited by Byzantines, Greeks (there are some Greek inscriptions in some of the flagstones), the Egyptians and the Hasmoneans (and pretty much everybody!) . It has a huge amphitheatre, several bath houses with mosaics and public latrines, the main Palladius street and a vast array of houses, showing us how sophisticated and extensive the Roman city was.The current amphitheatre is being restored and is used for outdoor performances.

Amphitheatre

Since it was now after midday, and getting rather hot (Bet Shean valley is known to be one of the warmer places in the country) , we gave a miss to the ascent the Bet Shean Tel,with its copious steps, and decided to head home to beat the crowds. We did this in spectacular manner. Presumably as the main highways were all thronged with holidaymakers, our Waze navigator sent us through the backroads of the West bank area of Samaria. We wondered at the beautiful rolling green hills which we had never seen before. There were no villages or settlements, only a few Beduin encampments and lots of goats and sheep. The view was wonderful and relaxing. Then hubby said we only had enough gas for another 25 km or so. We started looking for a gas station (to no avail) . Google maps informed me that the nearest one was at the entrance to the West Bank town of Ariel (11 km away according to the map). We missed the turning (of course) .After another 2km we made a U turn and arrived at said station. All’s well that ends well.

An explosion of colour

This week’s walk was very different from our previous hikes in nature. We finally made it into the city- Tel Aviv, which we have not frequented for over a year. It is now opening up and as we are double vaxxed we decided to head off to do a self-guided graffiti tour of the Florentin neighbourhood, squeezed between hip, gentrified Neve Zedek and multicultural picturesque Yaffo. Florentin is famous for grunge, garages and carpentry. It is inhabited by many young people, and is well known as the graffiti hub of Tel Aviv. So we signed up for a tour which one can follow on a mobile phone, and comes with maps, audio and video explanations, and walking directions. You can do it at your own pace and you only need one for your group. It was great, as it took us to places that we had never heard of, and would have had difficulty finding alone.

We started off at a park called the Tractor Park,which I had never heard of before. Here we sat on a bench and heard an introductory video about what graffiti is, and what is the difference between graffiti and street art. We were also reminded that as graffiti is dynamic and changing, it was possible that we would find different paintings in some locations. I was amazed not just by the sheer quantity of the paintings, but also the quality and variety of them. As a friend remarked, it’s like being in a free outdoor gallery. It is hard to choose which paintings to show with you ,as there were so many wonderful ones.

Some places had recurring names of artists, which we started to identify. One artist incorporates braille in her paintings, stating that the blind cannot see the paintings, and the seeing cannot mostly read the braille…

Braille above the graffiti

Some areas had more poems and words incorporated into the painting, and some were more visual . At one square, we came to a huge wall painting reminiscent of San Francisco in the 1960s, complete with flower painted cars, and people lounging around listening to music next to a fountain. There were other places where the synagogue had wall paintings with stars of David blended into the works.

We finished off our tour with a meal in a Vietnamese restaurant called Kanu, right next to the wall of the largest wall painting by an artist called Dede and his partner. This work is made of recycled bits of lumber from furniture and is dedicated to women murdered during 2020. From there it was a short walk back our beloved beach promenade, for a quick look at the sea before we headed home. I would happily do another of these self guided tours. WE saw people in groups doing a regular guided tour, and of course the advantage of our tour was that we could stop wherever we wanted and take our time to look at the paintings. You can also do the tour several times during the 14 days it is available, if you like. The company has similar tours in other locations, which I would like to check out. So stay tuned for more walking adventures…

Huge wall art by Dede and Nitzan Mintz, in memory of women murdered during 2020

No crocodiles- only turtles

This trip was to another national park on the coast North of Netanya, known as Nahal Taninim, or Crocodile stream. There is indeed a stream there, and a system of waterways dating from the Roman and Byzantine period, but disappointingly, no sight of any crocodiles. Wikipedia insists that there were indeed crocs there until the beginning of the 20th Century, adding helpfully that “The last crocodile was hunted in 1912, and is part of a German taxidermic collection currently on display at the natural history museum of the Tel Aviv University.. So there we are. The aqueduct was used to ferry water into the ancient city of Caesarea nearby. Anyway it is a very pleasant place for a strolll and a sandwich. You can walk just around the area of the dam. and even walk along the aqueduct, or you can follow the trail along the river itself. WE did this part way, but abandoned it before reaching the beach as it was rather muddy. There are lots of seabirds circling overhead and the place is a very pleasant day trip.

The Aqueduct

It’s very interesting to see the highly developed hydrotechnology they had so many centuries ago, which looks like it would function just fine today. The site is not incredibly large but very peaceful, and easy to walk around. If you have time you can nip down to the nearby beach at Jisr a Zarqr. Stay tuned for more adventures…

Nahal Ayun- four waterfalls for the price of one

After the rains up north, we were anxious to get going and see the northern waterfalls filled up. We picked Nahal Ayun, which is as far north as you can get without going into Lebanon. The site has two entrances, one a bit south of the northenmost town in Israel, Metulla, and a second entrance to the park , right inside the town. We started with the lower entrance, which has a very short climb up to the first waterfall, the Tanur.

Tanur

From there we were going to continue on up The sign said it was 2,000m to the top, but we met people coming down, who confirmed my original plan. The path right up to the top is apparently quite steep and with no waterfalls all the way up. They suggested (as I had originally thought) driving up to the second entrance and then heading down to the other waterfalls from there. So we went back to the car and drove five minutes into Metulla. Metulla is a very nice town, which has the snowy Hermon mountain behind it and lots of lovely flowers and fields around. It would make a fantastic base for exploring the Golan if you felt inclined to stay over. There are plenty pretty guest houses and air bnbs, if you fancy a spot of skiiing.

Snow on the Hermon

From the top entrance to the site we came first to the Ayun waterfall, which was nice but not overly impressive. We then continued down the trail to the next one, which in my view was the most impressive of the falls, the Tachana, or mill. After you pass it you see the disused mill after which it is named. The path is easy and well trodden and the view is outstanding.

As you continue on your way you pass lots of wild flowers and the air is just gorgeous. The final fall is called Eshed and it is very impressive but you have to kind of lean over a bar to see it, and so it’s a bit scary.

Here is the Tachana on the left and the Eshed on the right.

The whole walk is pretty easy and relaxing, if you do it this way, not climbing up to the top and then back down. Apparently there is supposed to be a shuttle that can ferry you between the upper and lower car parks, but in Corona times, it isn’t running. Of course if you were in a party of people with two cars you could easily leave one in each car park. The whole distance is really not that far, so maybe if you are fit you won’t mind starting at the bottom and climbing up and then back down again. In some parts of the trail you just walk along the river bank , which is really relaxing and pleasant. I feel so lucky that we can hike in the middle of winter and enjoy the sunshine. I think we will try and get some more hikes in before it gets too hot. On returning to the car and eating our sandwiches in the parking lot we drove ten minutes to the Dan river fish shop to get our favourite pink trout. We had an insulated box to pop them in, to keep them fresh till we got home. We then drove about 30 minutes through stunning scenery to meet my cousin and his wife, who live in the Golan town of Katzrin, for a most welcome cup of tea in their beautiful garden, and thence homeward. A lovely day indeed.

Fantastic sunset on the way home

Next hike will be posted very soon…. stay tuned, hikers!

It’s red down south!

I had previously heard ( before this strange epidemic) about the wonderful blossoming of the red anemones in the south of the country known locally as Adom Darom ( Red in the South) . Since we have never gone to see it before, and have just come out of lockdown ( 8th February) we thought we would check it out. I came across several possible locations, all around what is locally known as the Gaza envelope, a part of the country which for obvious reasons I have never visited before. We picked a place called Shokeda Forest,which turned out to be wondrously beautiful and green after the rains, and the trip was quite an eye opener. We finished off the day with a gorgeous sunset on the beach at Palmachim, right next to the Kibbutz,followed by home made scones and rhubarb jam at our son’s house. A perfect day indeed.

Obligatory pose with anemones

And so to Shokeda , about 90 minutes drive from home in the Sharon. The sun was shining, the sky was blue, and the road open, it being a Thursday after the rush hour. We were accompanied by our faithful sandwiches and apples. On arriving at the small road leading in to the forest we were greeted by the chimes of two ice cream vans, a fact I stored in my memory for later. The forest was full of people but not so crowded that you could not get away and find serenity. The further we walked the fewer people we saw, just an occasional group of walkers of all ages or a lone runner. There were trails marked out for runners taking part in the Adom Darom activities. The red flowers were scattered everywhere and the trail in the forest was pleasant. We even saw a flock of sheep grazing.

After some time we decided to turn back as we had no clue if it was a circular route or not. So we retraced our steps to the car, got stuck into our sandwiches and finished off with the ice cream from the truck. After relaxing on our folding chairs under a tree for a while we set off for the beach at Palmachim so as to arrive before sunset (it being winter this would be at 17.25) On the way we saw the concrete shelters next to bus stops built to protect people from rocket attacks from Gaza.

Palmachim belongs to the parks authority so we didn’t have to pay to enter, and the car park gave us a generous reduction because of our Pass, so we were happy. The beach, despite this being winter, was quite full of people, some even braving the water, and loads of pro photographers set up to catch the sunset.

So admittedly we did get stuck in a horrendous traffic jam on the way back but all in all it really was a fabulous day. We shall see how the weather holds out, as we still have lots of hiking destinations to check out. Stay tuned!

“To the lonely sea and sky”

My late father used to love that poem “I must go down to the sea again” so I shall dedicate this to him. This trip started out a little weirdly but soon sorted itself out and became wonderful fairly quickly. I shall explain. I had booked slots at the Habonim Dor National Park ,as we had been there before some months ago, but as we only arrived after 2pm that had left us only two hours before sunset and we decided to drive on and catch sunset over the sea and leave this park for another time. So this was the other time, where we would hike the length of the coast and see all kinds of wonders .However when I punched Dor National Park into our Waze, we were directed to Tel Dor National Park , which confusingly is a different park . First we drove around all kinds of bumpy muddy trails which looked all wrong and then came to an unmanned park entrance which had a national parks sign but nobody checking passes or tickets. Odd, we thought. Maybe this is a new entrance that has not been opened yet, we thought. There was a nice new building with a shop and toilets, all locked up. Okay we thought , this is not where we were meant to be, but hey, it’s on the beach, we can walk, who cares.

So we approached the beach and found a red trail marked as per instructions .We walked a little way northwards, and then back southwards, and found lots of really gorgeous views, deserted clean beaches and then came upon a lovely paved way for wheelchairs, that ran parallel with the beach allowing descent to the beach at different points along the way and glimpses of all manner of fantastic rock formations.

The path then led up a hill giving us a breathtaking view of the remains of Tel Dor historical site, the ancient royal city of Dora, apparently inhabited by Canaanites, Sea Peoples, Israelites, Phoenicians, Assyrians, Persians, Greeks, and Romans .The view was quite stunning.

After some time the path swerved down to the beach and led us through the back of a kibbutz and then back to the beach again. We came upon a very sheltered cove with a few surfers, opposite the Nachsholim hotel. This being December there was no lifeguard, but the beach was extremely inviting.

At this point we sat down to eat a sandwich and I got a message that friends who live nearby at Zichron Yaakov were coming to meet us, so we headed back the same way we had come, to the car park which apparently is the car park of Nachsholim cemetery. The beach walk continues on both northwards (the blue cave) and southwards ( Dor beach and Maagan Michael) , and we will definitely be back to explore further in future. But before we headed home, our friends took us to the fishponds nearby where they said they had previously seen flamingos, so we went to see if there were any. There were, but it was hard to get close to photograph them. This is the best I could do.

This really is a stunning part of the country and we are really fortunate that it is an hour’s drive from our home. Today is V (Covid vaccine day) so I am hoping that in the near future we can travel perhaps back to Tel Aviv and museum outings and dare I say it, even farther afield. Wish me luck!

Slip slidin’ away in the Jerusalem Hills

In this hike I nearly killed my husband. Not intentionally you understand. But we did get a bit more of an adventure than we had bargained for. We set out for Nahal Katlav, a hike near Bet Shemesh near the Jerusalem Hills, a circular hike of moderate difficulty, supposedly around 7km in length.No problem, we walked over 21km a day sometimes in Japan, easy peasy we thought. The trail starts next to the Bar Bakfar restaurant just near Bet Shemesh. As we parked we were worried that there were so many people in the car park it would be crowded. But it turns out this is the starting point for a number of trails, including some really easy ones for kids around American Independence Park . As soon as we got on our black marked trail we saw few people. All went well at first, a reasonably easy descent towards the wadi, slightly muddy and slippery in places, but we took it slowly. A red marked trail branched off to our left, but my instructions said to continue following the black path along the side of the valley. The views were spectacular, even though occasionally the path was rather narrow and the drop too close to me for comfort. All around were lots of wooded slopes, pine, oak and olive, and yes also the smooth red arbutus (Katlav) that gives the valley its name.

After about an hour or so we met up with the blue trail, as instructed. Here things got a little complicated. The trail got narrower and narrower, and in some places we had to scramble up and down rocks, which we did with the aid of our bottoms. WE got muddy. No matter. But then… at one point we scrambled up an almost vertical rock face, and … the trail markers disappeared. WE could not see where we were meant to continue! Straight on there seemed to be no path at all. On our right a sheer drop into the wadi. On our left a rock face. WE climbed gingerly up it but could see no path whatsoever. There was nothing for it but to go back. Having gone back a couple of metres, we did find a blue path leading down still further. But at this point we had a feeling that this was all taking longer than it should (our pace not being that of spring chickens) so we decided to go back the way we had come. We had been walking for more than two hours, meaning going back was probably going to take another two hours, and this being winter, it gets dark before 5pm.

So we retraced our steps, by which time my knee was aching. But the view was stunning, we were out in the fresh air, and no people in sight. We made it back to the car totally exhausted and very muddy. An exhilarating experience. We shall go back and do the other end of the trail another time.