Thursday, December 02, 2010

Northwest Israel

After busting out of Hula Valley , I was heading for the resort town of Rosh Pina, up to the university town of Tsfat in the mountains, across the northern border with Lebanon, and finally to Rosh Hanikra on the coast. Leaving so early in the morning, I had a pretty quiet ride, which was nice. I was on a major road so it could have been a lot worse. Israelis are very fast drivers. They might follow the rules, but don't slow them down.

A park in Rosh Pina.

I rolled into Rosh Pina just after the town had woken up. Rosh Pina is one of the oldest settlements in Israel. According to Kaballah tradition, it is the site where the Messiah is supposed to reappear at the end of the world. I didn't really see anything that grabbed my attention, so I just kept biking through until I saw something I had not seen in a while. I saw a big grass filled park with a couple shade trees. I had only been biking a couple hours, but I couldn't resist taking a break in the grass. I had wanted to lay in the grass so many times through Turkey, Syria, and Lebanon but there just wasn't grass available when I got the urge. I love how the little things can mean so much.

Harvesting olives. Shake them off the tree and then pick up the tarp.

After a nice break, I set off up the hill to Tsfat/Safad (and a hundred other spellings). It was a quiet 600m climb up a winding road with a number of false summits. There were very few cars and the views over the Sea of Galilee and surrounding mountains were great. However, the ride up might have been the best part about going to Tsfat.

I don't know who this guy is, but there was a ton of pictures of him.

Tsfat was a curious mix of orthodox Jews and university students. In the United States, university towns tend to be more liberal so it was curious to see them beside each other. A friend tried to hook me up with people he knew there, but I couldn't find them. Town was a labyrinth that I never figured out. The main street was a loop around a hill. After that, I have no idea. I just didn't connect with this town, but I did find another great grassy park where a lot of students were to eat lunch and dry out my tent before heading along the northern border towards the coast.

Signs letting you know that you were at the Lebanon-Israel border.

Beautiful mountains and fabulous downhills.

The border ride was probably my best ride in Israel. There were even less cars than when I went up to Tsfat. Other bikers must have agreed because mixed in with the 'Beware of Mines' and 'Do not proceed, border ahead' signs there were 'Watch out for cyclists' signs. It was great. I climbed brilliant hills of coniferous trees. I descended into farmed valleys. In Israel, I don't think they believe in switchbacks. These climbs and subsequent descents were some of the longest and straightest of my trip. I was clearing 60km/hr without trying or tucking. Along the way, I saw military personnel every couple miles. At one point, I was close enough to the border that I could see a Lebanese border guard.

A Lebanese border guard. I was on the Israeli side.

At the day wore on, I was racing the sun to Rosh Hanikra. I wanted to visit before they closed up so I could get an early start in the morning. Rosh Hanikra is a small grotto on the Lebanon-Israeli border. You can't go any farther north. When you look out on the Mediterranean Sea from there, they have a long string of lit buoy markers so that no one accidentally strays across the maritime border. Israel has a Navy ship permanently moored near there to patrol the area.

The Israel Navy boat that is always near the maritime border.

This gate is as far north as you can go in Israel.

The other way to travel across the border here was by a railway built by the ANZAC army during World War II to facilitate getting supplies to Europe from Cairo. However, the bridge between tunnels at the border was destroyed by Israel at the onset of the Arab-Israeli War to make sure Lebanon could not transport troops into the region. It has never reopened. You can still explore the tunnels.

Rosh Hanikra grotto.

Rosh Hanikra grotto.

The grotto is composed of a large limestone cave that emerald colored sea water has eroded over time. There are a number of small openings from the cave into the sea. The area is so steep that it is only accessible via cable car, but it is definitely worth the trip. Go down, take a stroll, and enjoy.

The outside of the Rosh Hanikra grotto.

Limestone caves.

After visiting the grotto, I needed to find a place to stay. My first stop was under another military base. That was a no go. Then, I went down to the beach to find a spot. I set up my tent and got ready to go to sleep. When I got in for the first time, I put my hand on the bottom of the tent directly on top of a pile of goatheads, those wonderful plagues of Colorado bike trails, also known as puncturevine. Ouch. It hurt. I moved the tent and finally settled in for the night.

The beach I camped on.

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