Being that it’s been almost a month since I returned from Israel, I’d say it’s time I finished telling you about it, isn’t it?
Sunday night (Feb. 6) we arrived back at my daughter’s dorm where we made last minute arrangements to stay after we realized we wouldn’t be able to make it to our destination of Tzfat (Safed) for the night. Before falling asleep I asked the girls to do some online reading about the places I planned to go the next day, and tell me if that interested them. If they wanted to go somewhere else instead, I was open to it; they just had to find something they wanted to do instead.
The next morning, they told me they didn’t remember the names of the places I had told them, so they weren’t able to do any reading. (I suspect that this wasn’t very high on their list of important ways to use their time. :P) My plan for the day was to go to Gan Garu Kangaroo Park, the only park outside of Australia that has an area where there are free-ranging kangaroos that you can interact with. After that, I wanted to do a tour of the Beit Shean National Park, which has an entire city that has been excavated from Roman times, to be topped with a sound and light show there in the evening.
When I called Monday morning to make reservations for the show, they said the sound and light show wouldn’t be shown until March – which the website hadn’t said anything about. This had been a big part of what I thought would give the Beit Shean tour some heightened interest – neither of them are big on purely historical tours – so I asked the girls what they wanted to do. I told them if they preferred, we could skip Beit Shean, stay local for the day, and the following day, could go to Gan Garu and then head to the hot springs of Hamat Gader (which I had planned for all of Tuesday). Hamat Gader has a crocodile farm and a bird show (with trained birds riding little bikes), in addition to the hot springs, so I planned for a day of fun and relaxation there.
The girls were happy to stay local for the day and to visit both Gan Guru and Hamat Gader on Tuesday, and after the driving of the previous day as well as the current uninviting rainy, gray day, I didn’t have a burning desire to do much driving in unfamiliar parts. My only goal for Monday was to get detailed instructions to the two places we’d visit the next day. I was pretty anxious about this when I saw that there were a lot of Arab villages between where I was and where I needed to go.
Well, I’ll leave out details of how I went over all my instructions with an Israeli that night to be sure they were good (though it’s important to share that he reassured me that these villages weren’t dangerous, populated mostly by Bedoins and Druze, which was a big relief since it was Muslim villages I was concerned about), and how in spite of all my planning, the next day in the middle of our drive to Gan Garu, we ended up with directions we couldn’t use. (I told a couple of people in real life what happened, and they said they got stressed out just listening!) This situation forced me to face my anxieties of driving without detailed instructions, which was very important. I feel strongly you need to listen to your intuition, but not doing things because just you’re afraid isn’t a good strategy to facing life. So I was really glad in the end that I had to do this.
We had the basic map from the car rental company that didn’t have the smaller streets marked, but between dd14 using that and me using the highway signs, we got there. At one point when we were very close to Gan Guru, dd told me to turn, so I did. And I went up a mountain, and then down a mountain! – and the park was right on the other side. It would have taken about two minutes instead of a half hour if we hadn’t gone up the mountain, but there were no streets marked on the map other than the mountain, and it was a very pleasant drive – the day was sunny and bright – and the view at the top was stunning.
Doesn’t it remind you of the picture on my blog header?!?
Then we entered the park, where dd14 and dd16 had fun petting and feeding a kangaroo. Because there had been so much rain, it was muddy and so most of the kangaroos weren’t out and about, but you only need one!
Not only were there kangaroos, but all of the other birds and animals there were native to Australia. The koala was sleeping when we got there – that’s what they do most of the day – but we saw other interesting birds and animals. It was particularly fun when we went into the aviary. We were given pieces of apple on a stick to feed the miniature parrots.
After we fed them, we continued walking through the aviary, when a parrot suddenly landed on dd16’s head. I quickly turned on the video feature on the camera, and as I was making joking comments about the bird on her head, I suddenly felt claws on my head and – being caught very off guard – screeched in a very undignified way. Then another one landed on dd14’s head, and I almost got a picture of both girls with birds on their head at the same time, but I pressed the wrong button and one had flown away by the time the screen cleared.
After that we got little cups of nectar to feed them – did you know parrots have tongues? They licked up the nectar just like a cat would lap up a dish of milk. It was really interesting.
From there we drove to Hamat Gader – again, just a stunning drive. I did have a moment of two of concern when I saw a sign announcing my destination, and then showing Jordan was just a very few kilometers away. I reassured myself that I couldn’t accidentally drive into Jordan since there’s a border crossing, which was good since a sign suddenly appeared announcing ‘Jordan’ – you know how there are signs when you enter a city saying you entered? – and dd16 and I both simultaneously said we couldn’t have gone over the border without realizing it, so they were posting it to warn people that Jordan was so close.
Anyway, as we descended the valley leading the Hamat Gader hot spring spa, I had a palpable feeling of entering a place of relaxation and luxury. It was just gorgeous. It was so nice to get to the final part of my planned activities, the highlight of our vacation, and we were all really looking forward to soaking in the hot water filled with over 100 minerals.
When we got to the check-in, I asked about what time the womens’ hours were – they had advertised that they had separate times for men and women, and though I had emailed weeks before asking about it, they didn’t answer, leaving me with the impression that there was at least one area exclusively dedicated for women. So you can imagine my dismay when she told me, “There are no separate hours – the separate hours are only on Sunday.” What can you do? Nothing, really.
I asked what the fee was to enter to see the crocodile farm and bird show, and she said it was the same price. While I didn’t mind paying the pricey entrance fee to experience the hot springs, it didn’t seem worth it just to see the side attractions. So we ate lunch in the car while we decided what to do.
We decided to drive to Tiberias and around the Kinneret (Lake of the Galilee); we’d see if we could find any other hot springs, but if not, at least we’d enjoy the beautiful day. We didn’t end up finding any other hot springs, but we did enjoy the drive. We accidentally turned into a small town called Yavne’el, and I happen to know a couple of women living there. But I had no way to look them up or contact them, which was a shame since it would have been really nice to stop for a short visit.
Even though things didn’t work out as I planned – which can be disappointing and frustrating, since I put so many hours of research and planning into finding and organizing all of these activities – I didn’t feel my efforts were wasted. It just seemed obvious to me that going to the hot springs wasn’t something I was meant to do at that time, and I had a strong feeling that I was meant to drive around and experience the northern part of Israel, not in a touristy way, busy with my activities, but in a more down-to-earth and real way, to just experience being there. The main thing I regretted was that I couldn’t give the girls what I had thought would be a special experience for them at the hot springs, something renewing and relaxing and luxurious, and it didn’t work out.
But in the end, my visit with dd14 and dd16 wasn’t about what we did – it was about spending time together. It was a beautiful trip, filled with lots of time together, and if every day wasn’t perfect, well – that’s just part of life, isn’t it?
PS – the pics are thanks to dd16 – my camera was left in Israel, so even though it takes a very, very long time to download pictures at her dorm – the connection isn’t good – she knew I had planned to post them and spent a good bit of time getting them loaded onto my blog so I’d have them. 😛