Last weekend, I exchanged Mount Carmel for its wilder cousins in the Golan Heights, thickly clad in green. There were two destinations on this trip, which was organized by some coworkers: Nimrod’s Fortress and Banias Springs.
After some initial picnic-packing panic due to my forgetting cutlery (“We’ll have to scoop up the rice with Pringles!”), spoons were procured, and the day was off to a good start. After a picturesque drive through verdant northern Israel, we arrived at Nimrod’s Fortress, looking very medieval indeed with its stone battlements crowning the mountaintop.
The fortress was built in the 13th century by the Mameluke Muslims. According to legend, this is the place where Nimrod, great-grandson of Noah, was punished by God with a mosquito inside his head, which drove him mad. Alternatively, and less interestingly, this might have been where Nimrod built a castle. Anyway, suffice it to say that the fortress is really big and old, with various chambers and passages to explore–“a playground for adults,” as a friend put it.
The first thing I noticed was the tranquility. Quietness is fairly impossible to find in the Haifa/Akka area–there is always the hum of traffic, barking dogs, distant voices, the occasional soccer match or lusty caterwaul. But on this mountain, the predominant sound was birdsong. I could almost feel my eardrums relax in the peace.
After a stroll along the length of the fortress, Sergey and I reached the keep. The keep–the most defensible tower of the fortress–is also called the donjon, which is a much more entertaining name. So, in a corner of the donjon, we found a steep staircase on the edge of the mountain. (Don’t worry, there was a railing.)
“Do you want to go down there?” I asked. “It looks pretty steep.”
“Sure, but will you be ok?”
I took this as a challenge.
“Let’s be adventurous!”
After mincing my way down the crumbled steps, using Sergey as my banister, we reached a chamber. After stooping inside, we saw the only way forward was to crawl through two low archways, which we did. I was pretty proud of myself. Let’s pretend “crawl through medieval fortress” was on my bucket list–accomplished!
My bucket list also includes not dying by tumbling off the side of a mountain in northern Israel, so when we saw that the stairs on the other side were even steeper and more deteriorated, we retreated.
But our adventures were not over. The next stop was Banias. Sergey and I, hardy outdoorsmen that we are, were already exhausted by this leg of our journey. While some in the group proposed a 1.5-hour hike, we sleepily wandered off toward the ruins of Paneas, an ancient Greek site of worship for the God Pan. A wide grotto yawned in the reddish rock face; this was where sacrifices were tossed, apparently. Niches in the rock indicated where statues had been.
Now, to our credit, Sergey and I did attempt to do some hiking around the park. We walked along a pretty stream adorned with foliage. According to the pamphlet, we must have encountered the bur-reed, loosestrife, and common hemp agrimony. To me, it sounds like some botanist was feeling buried in strife and acrimony.
About 15 minutes in, I threw in the towel. To our delight, upon our surrender, we walked into a clearing where a Druze couple in traditional garb sold Arabic coffee and thin, crepe-like pita with zatar and lebaneh cheese. It was a snack worthy of Pan.
Ok. So I have endeavored to control myself for the duration of this post, making it somewhat edifying with historical tidbits gleaned from the brochures and Wikipedia, but what I really want to write about is hyraxes, which have since that fateful day entered my pantheon of adorable small creatures. In fact, I think I need to devote a separate post to them–I’m just that enamored.