Friday, January 13, 2017

Hiking Nahal Katlav in the Judean Hills

Cool and shady in the creek bed

Hubby and I had a free day on Saturday last weekend and we needed some fresh air, some dirt and some hills to climb. It was time to drive our little car out of town for a hike (queue the angels singing)!

Nahal Katlav is listed as a Top 10 Hike near Jerusalem and it sounded perfect. I found a brief description of the Nahal Katlav hike online and was able to decode the Hebrew on Google Maps to feel relatively confident that I could locate the trailhead. Described as a 3.5 hour hike that would go down to a creek bed, then up past an abandoned Arab village, and loop us back around to the parking area, it looked like a good 1/2 day out. Cut to the happy ending, we were right!

Hiker tip: take a photo of the map at the trail head

Nahal Katlav is a beautiful dry stream bed in the hills just outside of Jerusalem. In Hebrew, Nahal means creek (in Arabic they would say wadi). Katlav is the name of a small Mediterranean species of tree called the Strawberry Tree, known for it's striking red bark and little red berries that ripen in November. It belongs to the Arbutus genus which includes Madrone trees and it looks exactly like one, with the tough green leaves and red bark that peels off. Strawberry Tree Creek, has a nice western ring to it...

Hubster on the trail, Jerusalem off in the distance

Following Google map directions to the restaurant named Bar Behar at the trailhead we turned off the main road and into what looked like a crowded festival parking lot with bandanna-wearing motorcyclists, spandex-sporting road cyclists, big families pushing strollers, young bearded hipsters and Columbia-clad hikers. Luckily most people were there for the brunch and the booze at Bar Behar. The internet said it was closed on Saturday for Shabbat, as are most businesses in the Holy Land, but the internet can’t always be right. The view from their patio was amazing so we vowed to return with a plan to brunch there in the future. We found a cute little parking spot in the weeds between some other cars and were glad we decided on buying a cute little French car instead of holding out for a bigger more traditional American style SUV.

Little car! We haven't decided on a name yet...

Google Map showing where Bar Behar is

On to the hike: it was gorgeous! It was very perfectly a 3.5 hour walk including our hour-long lunch break along the trail. The trail consisted of a steep descent on an open hillside, into a dry creek bed, past the railroad tracks and an abandoned train station, back up the hill past an abandoned Mosque and along a dirt road back to the trail head. It was well-marked with painted rocks the whole way. The views over the canyon were really nice, the dry creek bed was cool and shady and had some fun rock scrambles, and the ruins of the Arab village were fun to explore but also a sad reminder of the history of this region. Katlav Creek leads to Sorek Creek, a full-on rushing stream with green bushy vegetation along the shores. Unfortunately the water smells like sewage and has signs posted along it warning people not to swim in it, no problem, I wasn’t really tempted. But the ducks didn’t seem to mind. Poor desert ducks! I guess they don’t have many options for swimming spots.

Exploring inside the old mosque

Along this hike I learned two new and interesting things. The first is that, according to the sign at the trail head, hyenas live in Israel! Holy crap! I’m not scared of wolves or coyotes, but aren’t hyenas huge and vicious? I think they fight with lions, and everything in Africa has evolved to eat people. I hope I get to see one! The second thing is there seems to be a different hiking etiquette here than we have back in The States as demonstrated by the hikers that pee and leave toilet paper right in the middle of the trail, awesome. Also, if you come up behind a group hiking slower than you they will ignore your footsteps and heavy breathing and look shocked when you ask nicely if you can pass. They also don’t initiate a greeting. If I said, “shalom”, they would usually respond but that wasn’t as surprising because people don’t like to say “shalom” in Jerusalem either. Of course as an overly friendly American that picks up trash along the trail, I bet I was really annoying.

The review? I highly recommend Nahal Katlav and I would hike it again in a second. If you aren’t a hiker, just go for the views at Bar Behar.

Hand holds on the rock scrambles

Walking on the roof of the abandoned mosque

Thursday, January 5, 2017

Shalom from Jerusalem

Hi Friends,

Shalom from Jerusalem!!!

The perfect window seat near Lion Gate in the Old City

It’s been a while and I apologize for the long gap in blog posts. Hubby and I spent the last year in Baghdad working in the US Embassy. Yes, we both went, I was the CLO (Community Liaison Officer, aka Events Planner) and he worked as the OMS in ESC (Office Management Specialist in the Engineering Security Center, aka cameras and codes). It was a great year but it was also busy and we barely had enough time to go to work, work out at the free gym (that was Hubby’s favorite perk), eat at the free cafeteria (Hubby’s second favorite perk) and sleep. I also decided that due to the big emphasis on security I wanted to take a break from public blogging so I didn’t have to worry about saying the wrong thing or posting a photo of something that could put us in danger. The infuriatingly slow internet was the final nail in the coffin.

Hubs and I all suited up for our last helo ride out of Baghdad

Baghdad is usually an Unaccompanied Tour meaning no one can bring their family along, but they do have some jobs for spouses there so I got to go along with him since I got the CLO job. My favorite thing about Baghdad was working with my amazing Co-CLO, we’ll call her RoRo. RoRo is now in Tokyo. Hi RoRo, I miss ya! We were charged with keeping morale high on the Embassy Compound. It was one of the most challenging jobs I’ve ever had, but also one of the most rewarding. It was really fun getting to know everyone and coming up with ideas for ways to engage everyone’s diverse tastes. From a Golf Cart Christmas Parade to a Black and White New Year’s Eve Ball to Bingo Night, to 5k Fun Runs, to Tennis, Dodgeball and CrossFit Tournaments, we just about covered it all. RoRo and I were busy 7 days a week running these events, but that was ok by us since we weren’t able to leave the compound there was no where else to go on the weekends!

Would I do the CLO job again? Oh yes, in a heartbeat. Now that we’re here in in Jerusalem and settled in I’m looking forward to getting a job, any job, in the Consulate. But in the meantime, my days, nights and weekends are free because I’m back on the EFM Gravy Train, baby!

Hubster landed a 3-year assignment in Jerusalem for our third tour and we are super excited to be back in the Middle East in a place we can get out and enjoy the local culture, food, nature, people, history, museums, tours, beaches, mountains, wineries, cheese farms, forts, ruins and affordable flights to Europe...I could go on... So, needless to say, I’m gonna have some nice photos and stories to share with you all again, which means I am back on board the Blog Train!

10k Night Run in Tel Aviv

Some wines at Yaffo Winery on our first wine tasting excursion

Left to right: pita bread, fresh pressed pomegranate juice, hummus, pickles, falafel at a hummus joint in the Old City

Hiking at sunset in the Negev desert at Makhtesh Hakatan (Little Crater)

View of the Western Wall, Dome of the Rock, the Old City Wall and Mount of Olives