Searching for Israel’s Extremes

August 3, 2006
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So, I talked one of my favorite tour agencies into sponsoring a day to explore fun stuff in Israel. Gary came along to check out the cool ideas, so he could convince other young adults that Israel is a fun place to visit.

Snorkeling in Caesarea

Well, what would you do if you could get a tour agency in Israel to sponsor a day just to have fun? My first thought was water. I grew up near lakes, and I miss them. About the time I thought of water, I remembered an article in The Jerusalem Post about a new underwater museum (see page 5). You put on a snorkel, mask, and fins and paddle around the harbor at Caesarea, looking at artifacts that are still sunk in the ancient harbor.

They gave us a small plastic map, which we attached to our wrist that gave underwater directions and a brief description about each site. Snorkeling is always fun, but what we saw here wasn’t very impressive. I’m sure you could see more if you were a licensed scuba diver and could go deeper, and they do have areas specified for that. However, to take a group snorkeling, I prefer Eilat.

First-Century Living in Nazareth

From Caesarea, we traveled to Nazareth. The Nazareth Village is a park full of recreated elements from Nazareth as it was in the first century. Live actors, animals, and handmade crafts help take you back in time. Two “women at the well” chatted with us as our guide showed us how to dip water from the well. A shepherd demonstrated how to herd sheep. One girl showed us how to spin wool, and a carpenter demonstrated how to use first-century tools. Nazareth Village is high on my list to add to tours. It’s not extreme though, and we were looking for the extreme!

Rafting on the Jordan

Back to water…I like water, and Israel has a river. Maybe kayaking down the Jordan would be extreme. The Jordan is definitely extreme. It starts as a trickle from the base of Mount Hermon—well, actually three trickles. One is the Dan, near Kibbutz Dan just south of the Lebanon border. It has a 6% gradient from its spring to the Galilee. That sounded good to me.

We found our launching point, and sure enough, they had rafts, but kayaks are a little hard to find here. Where we were on the river, a ride can last over an hour, but only one spot had a bit of rapids for a minute’s thrill. No, this wasn’t the extreme we were looking for. However, we were told there are places on the river in the spring that are much more challenging.

But wait, it’s time for lunch! Would you believe that they have one of the nicest Thai restaurants in Israel where the rafts land? Now that’s good planning.

Tractoronim on the Naftali Ridge

Now for some real adventure! I told Gary we were going to go ride tractoronim. He heard tractors. For some reason, he didn’t seem enthusiastic. It took me a while, but I finally figured out that he had misunderstood. Tractoronim is Hebrew, and it doesn’t translate quite right. They definitely are not your father’s lawn tractor. Think Artic Cat ATV. Think quad bikes. Think of four-wheeling across the Naftali ridge.

The Naftali ridge is high above the Hula Valley in northern Israel, touching the Lebanon border. The views are breathtaking in nearly every direction. But, who is going to look at the view when you pull up to a garage filled with wall-to-wall fun? Most of the quads were two seaters. We quickly picked out helmets and then bikes.

A short lesson was required before we got far. I climbed on the bike, and the instructor checked all the gear, started the engine, and climbed on behind me. He said, “Drive straight.” Did you hear anything about speed in that command? I didn’t, so I twisted the throttle wide open. Straight as you please. He said, “Make a left turn.” Did you hear anything about throttle in that? I didn’t, so I turned. He said, “Make a circle and head for that wood pile.” Throttle? Nope! YeeHaw! Then he told me to stop and our lesson was over. This was shaping up to look like fun!

Gary was second in the line, and I was third. It didn’t take long before Gary figured out that he could throw stones at me if he hit full throttle on a curve. We made a couple of loops through an orchard to get settled into the way the quads feel. I have no idea what fruit was in that orchard. I had other things on my mind. The guide must have decided we were doing well enough on the quads, because he took us out on a paved road and opened his machine all the way up. Mine topped out at about 65 kilometers per hour (40+ mph). Now we knew how fast they would go, so it was time to hit the trails.

We climbed a hill or two, stopped to look over the border into Lebanon, and wound around on top of the ridge. At one point, the guide had us stop, drop into low gear and lock into four-wheel drive. That was a clue! The next hill was steep and had about a hundred rocks pointing in all directions. We came to another hill and our guide stopped again, but this time, he unpacked a tackle box from the front quad. He invited us to follow him on foot to the edge of the hill facing the Hula Valley. He sat down and proceeded to start making herbal tea as we stood awestruck by the incredible vista. Gary had the right idea. He stretched out his arms to give God a hug.

Next time you think of Israel, don’t limit yourself to thinking of a pilgrimage to all of the biblical sites. We can do that, but we can do more if you are interested. Israel is a modern nation with a vibrant, young society. I’d like it if we saw thousands of Christian young adults coming every year. I wonder if more would come if they knew how much fun you can have on a tour.

Source: By Tom Brimmer, Licenced Israel Tour Guide

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