Today is the last day of my group trip. The languid nostalgia for the past week is surfacing. Everyone is late waking up, and fond of the friends they’ve made. It’s so emotional because for most, this is a formative experience in their lifetimes and their Judaism. Everyone, from our tall tour guide Stav, to that acne-riddled girl who kept falling, played a part.
We’ve learned how to deal with the idiosyncrasies of the people who haven’t gotten laid on this trip. We ignore the loud ones, the ones who cry out for attention, and we leave the loners to themselves. We watch as the lonelies pair off and the pretty ones cuddle. It’s all set now, on the last day, there are no surprises left, no more complaining. We’re resigned to sad smiles.
I imagine I’m Jesus two thousand years ago, living in this quiet, distant land. It is peaceful, the weather is mild during the winter and warm during the summer. The landscape is dramatic, and implies a centrality and distance, that there is more happening elsewhere in the world while here the palms grow high and the Jordan river flows through brown grasses.
The sea of Galilee, where Jesus supposedly walked on water, is a medium-sized lake, which redly reflects the sun. The lush valley with rocky outcroppings in the distance is a backdrop for a Biblical scene. Faint morning sun streams through clouds. The shoreline undulates on the quiet sea. Plastic brown and tan cows stand motionless, the occasional blink reminding me that they’re alive. The town of Tiberias looks over the Kinneret, which is what they call Galilee. Shoals stripe the deeper areas.
In the Golan Heights we were supposed to see Syria but the mist was too thick. If we could see it, it would probably be a deep green valley with scattered rocks. There would probably be a deep curvy line of a road at the bottom of the valley, the demilitarized zone owned by the U.N. And in the distance would be Syria, more green hills and mountains.
But this afternoon the sun was strong and the breeze was slight. We went to Gamla, an ancient Jewish town conquered by the Romans in 67 BCE. The valley opens into the Kinneret. It is bordered by high plateaus all around. Wild vultures circle for food. The rocky outcroppings provide the perfect nesting environment for the birds, and the high winds life them high into the air. Eucalyptus, strong with sun and water, and olive trees provide the foliage. Wild mustard and anise scatter color through the brown fields. Ancient basalt blocks crush the dry grasses. Mountains in the distance stand above a field of mist.
In the evening we went to a sulfurous hot spring, filtered into a large pool. The temperature is 98 degrees. I stood under showers spewing hot sulfur-water onto my back, into the pool. There was another pool, separate and covered to keep the water 108 degrees, where the old bald men with thick Turkish mustaches soaked. The springs are situated in the middle of a paradisaical forest with palms and trees with little spikes on their bark. It was the perfect way to end our group trip.
Now my trip begins.