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Spreading our wings to enjoy Galilee

Cranes take flight

 Having heard about the 'birds' experience from our friends, we registered for the trip as soon as it was advertised on the ESRA website, six months in advance. On Tuesday, November 12 we boarded the tour bus and travelled north with 52 other Esraniks from Modiin, Rehovot, Tel Aviv, Jerusalem, Netanya and Raanana. Anticipation was sky high. We met Val our tour organizer, Yossi the driver and picked up Adina our tour guide on Route 6. In common with all ESRA trips, our first stop was for restrooms and breakfast, which gave us the chance to meet our fellow travellers.

At last we arrived in bird country. Our first visit was to the Oforia Visitors Center in the Huleh Nature Reserve. After piling up with souvenir printed bird T-shirts for the grandchildren, we all trooped into a mini cinema where we were treated to a fantastic 3D film experience. The special effects were great as birds seemingly landed in our laps. We were literally splashed with water as the birds landed in the lakes and our chairs swayed as the birds negotiated their airborne migration.

Taking a dip ...cranes in the water

Then we wandered around the Nature Reserve, following trails, bridges and causeways surrounded by papyrus and bamboo growing out of the water. We caught sight of our first birds, cranes, resting after their exertions. Catfish and turtles swam lazily in the lake as we snapped them with our cameras. We climbed an observation tower to the view the breathtaking scenery around us.

Next, a lunch of wholesome and plentiful food was dished up at Kibbutz Gadot. We entered the dining room with a cautionary warning from Adina that the food at Kibbutz Hagoshrim would be special and we shouldn't eat too much lunch.

Post-lunch was spent close to the Bnot Yaacov Bridge where we visited an ancient flour mill on the banks of the River Jordan. Adina expertly and patiently explained to us the mechanics of flour production in ancient times.

Then it was off to Kibbutz Hagoshrim. As we drove through the gates, we realized that this was something more than a standard kibbutz guest house. We were met in the lobby by the staff with hot and cold drinks together with fresh dates and dried fruit.

The rooms were extremely comfortable and the bathrooms did not disappoint. After unpacking and a short rest, it was time for dinner. Adina had understated 'special'. We marvelled at the buffet food presentation and then attacked it. Great stuff! If anything, the breakfast buffet the next morning was even more special, one highlight being the transformation of humble tuna into a work of art.

Wednesday morning re-emphasized to us all the struggles and sacrifices by so many to establish and maintain our homeland. Our first stop was the Dado Observation Point which afforded breath-taking views of Southern Lebanon, Mount Hermon, the Naftali Mountain Range, the Huleh Valley and the Golan Heights. Metulla nestles in the midst of the mountains close to and exposed to the Lebanese border, and as we looked down on the picturesque site, a UN convoy rumbled along the border road.

We then drove into Metulla and walked down the main street, lapping up Adina's historical commentary. She recounted the history of the town and its first settlers and described Metulla's connection to the Nili group which attempted to spy on the Turks for the British during the First World War; an episode of intrigue, love, torture and death.

We re-boarded the coach and drove along the border fence, stopping to view the Tachana (Flour Mills) Waterfall. Cameras and camera phones were very active.

We then visited the separate stunning memorials for the defenders of Tel Hai, the Shomrim, the 73 soldiers and aircrew killed in the 1997 helicopter accident and the 12 soldiers killed in Kfar Giladi during the Second Lebanese War. Once again, it was brought home to us that so many, so young have given their lives to enable us to have the privilege of living in this wonderful land. 

Watch the birdie ... trippers pose for the camera.

Wednesday afternoon, we returned to see the birds. We arrived at the Huleh Agamon Lake, advertised as a paradise for birds and people: it lived up to expectations. We clambered aboard a camouflaged safari wagon pulled by a tractor and with cameras and binoculars pressed to our eager faces we set out on a trip to the lake just as dusk fell.

As we moved towards the lake, the noise of the birds gradually intensified, finally climaxing into a cacophony of bird calls at the water's edge. There were an estimated 30,000 birds in the area. Cranes predominated but we also caught glimpses of pelicans and flamingos. The cranes swooped around the lake gliding, wherever possible, on air currents to preserve their energy. . They landed on the lake and bedded down for the night. The darkening sky was full of massed bird formations with an accompanying crescendo of noise. We left the lake enveloped in the night and headed off for our well-deserved Hagoshrim dinner.

On Thursday morning, following a hearty breakfast, we embarked on a walking tour of the kibbutz, a gentle stroll around the gardens. An initial stroll quickly transformed into a fascinating mini hike through the Hidden River Valley route. The route meanders through an undergrowth of canes and ancient figs following the Koren Stream.

It was time to pack and wend our way home, stopping off at the Capernaum Church where we were befriended by a stunning peacock. Then followed a visit to the Lowdermilk Observation Point with its magnificent views and of course there was time for lunch - this time at Kibbutz Ginosar.

As we travelled home, email addresses and phone numbers were exchanged, old friendships had been reinforced and new friendships established. ESRA had brought us together on a memorable trip which encompassed the natural beauty of our land, feathered visitors and our rich and embattled history.

We were all very grateful and appreciative of Val and Bobby Kantor's hard work in organizing and running the trip, of Yossi's driving skills and of Adina's insightful explanations and descriptions.

In a word - we had a great time. 



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