Borders: Adventures in Israel (Part Five)
Our Abraham Tours minibus crunches over branches and lurches slightly as we come to a stop. We jump out, surveying our surroundings. The air has turned crisp since we last made a stop on our four-day tour of the north of Israel. No longer an arid desert; the landscape has transformed into lush rolling hills and sharp, snow dusted mountains.
We enter the small building and are met with the sweet, sticky smell of fermented fruit. Odem Mountain Winery is a modest operation, proudly producing about 45,000 bottles of delicious Israeli wine every year.
One of the owners is already putting out wine glasses. He greets us with a smile and begins pouring.
This is life in the Golan, Israel's northeastern region.
A few minutes into our tasting, the door swings open and friends of the owner step in, bringing with them a flurry of Hebrew and hugs. We are waved over and introduced. Liad and Yaron are the owners of nearby Golan Heights Hostel, where we will be staying that evening.
A few glasses later and we are all friends. We say goodbye to our tour group from Jerusalem and jump in Liad's tiny Fiat hatchback and we head off towards adventure.
First stop is Mount Bental, with impressive views of Golan and the surrounding area. From the top we can see all the way to Lebanon and Syria. Yaron points out over the border towards Damascus, only a few kilometers away but a world apart. "Someday, when the war is over, I will go there and eat in the famous cafes," he announces.
Our group settles into Coffee Anan, the highest restaurant in Israel. We sip tiny Turkish coffees and talk about life in Israel. There is no hurry here. No need to rush. The sun is starting to set. We brave the brisk temperatures and take a selfie on the mountain. The background captures views of U.N. workers, borders and a conflict that we cannot understand.
We drive to Golan Heights Hostel and settle into our final home in Israel. Friends, family, babies and dogs trickle into what has now become a dinner party. Someone hands me an old miltary jacket and I curl up next to the fire pit in the backyard. Poyke is being cooked in a big pot in the ground. Wine is produced from somewhere, and we are talking about life, love, culture, adventure, the world.
In the distance I imagine that I hear a rumble, and I wonder what is happening across the border in Syria, only seven kilometers away. I ask if anyone has ever been to Syria. There is a pause, and even the oldest members of the group cannot remember a time when the border was open.
"I've never been, but I read about the country on Wikipedia," a young Israeli offers.
I am struck by the absurdity of the statement.
"I want to go to the famous cafes of Damascus someday," Yaron muses again, breaking the silence. "And I want Syrian tourists to come stay with us here in Israel. We will welcome them. And we can compare hummus."
Everyone chuckles quietly, thankful for a moment of laughter in the midst of heartbreaking tension.
Something so simple, yet so complex. We return to our wine and our stories. The sky clears for a moment, and the moon is full. It is Tu BiShvat, the festival of the trees. It is the seventh year, a time for peace and renewal.
If only the world would follow the trees.
The night winds down and we settle into our comfortable beds. The moonlight is bright and seeps in, tickling my cheek. I know that it is safe here. The Golan is a beautiful land full of peace and love, and Golan Heights Hostel has already become a home for me. I just want to stay here forever.
The next morning we make breakfast together as a family. Outside, we jump on ATVs and explore the mountain, with Yaron's dog happily chasing goats and cows alongside us. A shepherd, wearing a hoodie and listening to music on his iPhone, waves a friendly hello to us. This is life in the Golan, a mixture of old and new; ancient traditions and modern thought. The air is bright and clean and I inhale deeply, hoping to take this place back home with me.
Leaving is harder than I thought it would be. Liad and Yaron drive us to the bus stop in Katzrin and there are no words for how grateful we are. We load ourselves onto the bus bound for Jerusalem and settle in. The landscape changes back to banana trees, and then palm trees, and then desert, and finally the big buildings of Jerusalem come into view. I can't believe that my trip has come to an end.
As I climb into the sherut taxi to make my way to Tel Aviv's Ben Gurion airport, something tells me that this adventure is just beginning.
Check out more of Kara and Celessa's adventures on TheFlightAttendantLife.com. For ideas on planning your own adventure in Israel, visit AbrahamHostels.com and check out TouristIsrael.com.