Part X: Say farewell to the Galilee

Hiking the Israel Trail: A challenging hike slices through varied scenery and cultures.

This is a walk for connoisseurs of scenery and landscape. It is bounded by the diamond-shaped circuit of main roads linking the Eshkol Reservoir, Ramat Yishai, Rechasim, and Shfaram. The walk itself traverses the remote landscapes of the seldom-visited center of that diamond. It takes you up hills, down valleys, along stream beds and past water sources well known to both the rabbis of the Talmud and the Beduin. Apart from a little roadwork at Ka'abiya, the route is quiet and off the beaten track, yet at the same time it is never far away from civilization. The route is generally well marked with the blue, white and orange Israel Trail logo. It follows fairly well-maintained footpaths for much of its course, but there are frequent abrupt departures over ankle-trying limestone plateaus, and up rolling chalk-based valleys. In addition, the Israel Trail authorities seemed to have run out of striped paint at a few crucial points, expecting you to rely on common sense to avoid going too far wrong - though in fairness, I did the walk in pouring rain, and I might have just missed a few... Start your walk at Hamovil junction (Routes No. 77/79). Follow Route 79 northwards for about 300 meters, and the Israel Trail logo should appear on your left, by Yiftahel junction. The way follows a dirt path that is presently graced with oak forest, as it climbs up the northern flanks of Mount Yiftahel (225 meters). Take this push-up easily; there are a lot more ahead. There are plenty of festive-looking diversions at the top, including Ofir's honey, Yiftahel's wine, and Kassel's candles. These are all set among a piece of transplanted Central Europe, in the form of a Hungarian wooden cottage. Lovingly transported beam by beam to the Holy Land, it is now rather weathered due to the very different climate. Make a point of getting there quickly while it is still in one piece, and perhaps bring some creosote for Alan, the owner. He thought that I was crazy to make for Yagur in the remaining four hours of daylight. (He was right.) The path leads upwards into the Zippori Forest, which is very pleasantly darkened with oak, cedar and cypress. You will feel at peace with nature and with the world in general as you get further into that reserve, but don't daydream. Suddenly the trail leaves the well-maintained forest route and turns right, plunging downhill over exposed limestone towards Um Hamid Spring, with an even steeper clamber up the other side. Go slowly in wet weather - limestone can be treacherous. The wide path will be a relief after that cross-country section. Follow it westwards, and it will bring you to the Beduin town of Ka'abiya (north) in a little over a kilometer. It is separated from Ka'abiya (south) by the deep ravine carrying the Zippori River. Local people seemed much friendlier than those on the way out of Masha'ad, in the last section. I received nothing but kindly smiles and offers of tractor rides. Perhaps that was their response to my liberal distribution of brightly colored candies. It might have had something do with my not holding a Hebrew guidebook to the area - a detail that appeared to have been noticed on the previous walk. In the newly built town of Ka'abiya, Beduin residents have traded in their nomadic lifestyles for the comfort of modern residences. Be respectful of the local residents: I wouldn't recommend bare legs in Ka'abiya - or for that matter, among the religious inhabitants of Kfar Hassidim and Rechasim. THE TRAIL climbs upwards on the main road, and leads down a side street to the valley of the Zippori River and Ka'abiya (south) on the other side. Keep going on the same side of the river, and you will soon get to Yivka Spring. You might just fancy a swim in it. Don't. And keep out of the Zippori River. Both contain excrement with bugs itching to get into your system. The trail follows the Zippori River downstream and reaches the Nezirim (monks') Water Mill after another three-quarters of an hour's walk. With its two graceful arches bridging the Zippori River, its late 19th-century mills used the all-year running water as energy for grinding corn into flour. Built by Carmelite monastic order, they were going strong until the 1940s, when mechanized works at nearby Shfaram and Iblin put them out of business. The trail continues to pass further disused flour mills before turning south to leave the river valley, skirting the high-above attractive Jewish settlement of Nofit. Again beware: it soon leaves that track to take a cross-country route, eventually leading up a much-shaded tributary of the Zippori River. This valley crosses the fields of the local Beduin. They are separated from each other by single strands of wire, which the cattle respect. Duck under those fences as you progress. I very much doubt that they are electrified, but I lacked the courage to put it to the test. You are now well inside the Gush Alonim Nature Reserve with its oaks, Atlantic pistachios and pines. If not quite a green carpet rolled out to honor your presence, it's a pleasant, grassy, rock-strewn chalk ascent, and its few cattle mind their own business. Respect the grass: it's their food. Respect the boulders: your ankles will thereby continue to serve you. Just opposite the lone oak tree near the top of the valley, the trail turns right up a sharper bank to Route No. 762. It forms the watershed between the Zippori and Rechasim streams. Stop and rest before the last, fairly strenuous leg of this section of the trail. You turn left, with a few hundred meters of roadwork, and then right, down into the hills leading to Rechasim and Kfar Hassidim. You are in the Shaar Ha'amakim Nature Reserve. It follows the contours for much of the time before becoming a descending green carpet, with its purple anemones and Nazareth irises. It soon crosses over to a path level enough to carry a railway line. However, you only follow it for a few hundred meters before turning off, climbing a steep, but - thankfully - not too high white outcrop of a chalk hill. That is the last pull-up of the walk, and it amply rewards you with the sudden, welcoming shade of a pine forest. The path turns left to reach the crest of the hill, with its view over Haifa and the eastern face of the Carmel. It announces your goodbye to the Galilee. From here, follow the Israel Trail markings over the rocky surface all the way down to Kfar Hassidim. Kfar Hassidim is a moshav. It was founded in 1924 by two groups of hassidim from Poland, together with their leaders, the rabbis of Kozienice and Yablonov. In 1927, they established it as a permanent village, and with great dedication, drained the malarial swamps and converted them into farmland. I knew that I was in very Orthodox territory when I paid for some liquid refreshment at the local supermarket and the cashier performed some wonderful circus acrobatics in making change so that her hand would not touch mine! Turn left and follow the main ruler-straight road out of the settlement, under the main road carrying the numbers No. 70 and No. 75 (with bus stops) into Kibbutz Yagur, right under the shadow of the Carmel ridge, which is the focus of the next section's walk.