Part XVII: Around the aqueduct

Hiking the Israel Trail: Follow in the footsteps of the Romans from Caesarea to Hadera Brook.

It makes sense to allot a full day to this section of the Israel Trail. If you rush through it, you're bound to miss its many attractions. These include the charming and little-known Arab coastal village of Jisr e-Zarka, Caesarea's Roman, Byzantine and Crusader remains, Kibbutz Sdot Yam, with its Palmah and Hannah Senesh associations, the waters of the Hadera Brook shimmering in the setting sun and the intensifying reflection of Rabin's Lights. The trail is well marked throughout. The three chimneys of "Rabin's Lights" power station are never out of sight for long. You may prefer the parallel, firmer inland paths to the powder-soft sand. Keep right of the aqueduct and you shouldn't go far wrong. Lots of good food and drink can be found on this walk, but carry a liter of water just in case. And keep shoes tightly laced, or you will be stopping every five minutes to shake out the sand. Join the trail at the west side of Route 4 at Moshav Beit Hanania, between Pardess Hanna and Fureidis. It is served by bus No. 921, from Haifa to Tel Aviv, and by train to Binyamina, plus a short taxi ride. Do not enter the settlement, but make your way for five minutes alongside the Roman aqueduct, which the trail follows to Caesarea. Sit down, and tune into the ancient history behind the walk. Herod the Great (37-04 BCE) was determined to strengthen Judea as a key region serving the greatest empire the world had ever known. He developed the port and the city site of Caesarea as the sea entry point to his kingdom, whose characteristic grandeur, style and religious pluralism would create an unforgettable first impression on foreign visitors and dignitaries. The sheltered, silt-free, deep-water harbor, complete with huge breakwaters and a sluice flushing system compared favorably with Piraeus, near Athens. Herod employed the finest architects of his time to put up the theater, stadium, and other sumptuous public and private buildings. There were no wells. Fresh water came on tap, by means of his expertly constructed arch-supported aqueducts. As Caesarea continued to grow over the next few centuries, the longer higher conduit you are following supplemented Herod's system. It conveyed water from the Shuni Springs near Zichron Ya'acov over an extremely gentle gradient. Look carefully for the keystones supporting the arches, and the inscriptions bearing witness to their construction by the engineers of Hadrian's 10th Legion, serving in Palestine from 132 to 135 CE, around the period of the Second Jewish Revolt. Half an hour into the walk brings you into a tunnel under Route 2, with its cacophony of juggernauts churning their ways between Haifa and Tel Aviv. It emerges into a world nearly all the coastal road's travelers never see ? the Arab village of Jisr e-Zarka. Its narrow, windy streets are a world away from the area's affluent coastal dormitory towns. The trail makes its way down to the coast, to the mouth of the Taninim (Crocodile) River. The crocodiles that gave the stream its name ceased to exist when the swamps were drained a century ago. Local youngsters deep-dive off the aqueduct into its depths. You will sense the powerful odor of seaweed and other things nautical. Watch out for quicksands as you round the coast. Look back and admire grandstand views of Jisr, and the dignified, sandstone-colored hues of its buildings. As you progress along the seashore, you will appreciate how natural wave forces molded it into a very straight line with no natural harbor that can take international shipping. Herod rectified that by carving out an artificial deep-water harbor at Caesarea. The modern Zionists followed suit two millennia later, further south at Ashdod. And the Israel Electric Company at Rabin's Lights Power Station right in front of you laid out the two-kilometer pier into deep enough water for the coal-importing ships to dock and unload. A not-too-strenuous hour out of Jisr brings you to the Caesar Beach Bar and Restaurant ? a good place to explore the aqueducts in cross section, which at a little distance would pass for railway viaducts. The trail leaves the beach, running along Louis IX's Crusader city wall and 9-m. deep moat, to the eastern entrance of the Caesarea National Archeological Park. Allow a good two hours to explore it. Make a special effort to take in the Roman theater, the U-shaped Herodian Amphitheater that seats more than 10,000, the fortified Crusader city and the remains of the harbor. The well-manicured lawns give an ideal setting to the ancient historical remains, with small but tastefully eclectic stores purveying wine and cheese, olive oil and fancy bronze and glassware. My favorite is Dreydel House ? a cute coupling of Jewish tradition with the sea. Ceramist Eran Grebler's spinning tops don't just reflect the familiar Hanukka theme, but tell your fortune through putting ceramic sea-birds to flight. Rejoin the trail as it hugs the eastern side of the reserve, and proceeds to Kibbutz Sdot Yam. Enter the kibbutz: Its museum displays archeological findings from the region ? especially neighboring Caesarea. Its glass-bottomed boat trips over the ancient port of Caesarea and Club Med-style fun days belie the somber atmosphere associated with its most famous resident, Hannah Senesh (1921-1944). As a young Zionist optimist, she records in her diary that she was "attracted by the future of Sdot Yam, the tasks ahead of it, and to be there at its beginnings." Details emerging in 1942 of the Jews' situation in Europe pushed her to volunteer for a specialist Palmah unit. It parachuted its recruits into Nazi Europe in rescue missions and espionage for the British Intelligence. Tortured and executed by the Nazis in a Budapest prison yard, she was survived by her diary, which had been in safe keeping at this kibbutz. Listen to the waves which inspired her to write the famous lines, "I pray that these things never end ? the sand and the sea, the rush of the water, the crash of the heavens, the prayer of man." And at the Hannah Senesh House, you can watch a moving audiovisual presentation about her life. The trail continues from Sdot Yam to circumvent the Rabin's Lights Power Station. With its ruler-straight jetty and three tall chimneys, it is fired with imported Australian coal, which, released in combustion, powers the electricity-producing turbines. Inside viewing, however, is confined to tour buses, with guiding in Hebrew only. The next 20 minutes is roadwork, including a short stretch on the west side of the roaring Route 2. Its redeeming feature is a stark and dark metal carved mural with the disintegrating Ten Commandments ? under the Hebrew superscription of "Thou shalt not murder." The trail then leaves the expressway and plunges into silence, down into the wooded area of the Hadera Brook. As I approached the brook, dusk began to fall. I heard the rush of the water, and the gathering hum of a car engine. Two haredi men got out ? with their fishing gear. The glare from their headlights mingled with the illuminations from Rabin's Lights themselves, lighting up their stretch of river as they settled down for an evening's leisure. The last leg of the walk follows the beach a couple of kilometers to Givat Olga, home to Russian-speaking immigrants, Chabad outposts and children offering directions. Your walk finishes as you cross Route 2 for the last time over a footbridge, make your way through a eucalyptus forest into Hadera, cross the railway and follow the road to the right for the last 400 m. to Hadera railway station, with its connections to Haifa, Tel Aviv, Jerusalem, Ashkelon and Beersheba.