Sunday, September 28, 2008

Such a tiny strip of land...

ORIGINAL POST: 25 Mar 2008

It took a while to sink in. Even the few days of tests and busy-ness that led up to last Friday didn't really seem all that exciting as we prepared and packed (at the last minute) for Israel.

Even as we waited for a while before the plane arrived at the gate, it seemed everyone was mighty calm - almost bored - to be there.

And maybe it was because I've sat in this airport 3 times already in the past month, but it was just another thing to me. Granted, we had been individually interrogated at the far abandoned end of the airport by EL-AL airline personnel to get this far, but it was still yet another airport.

I've gotten rather good at packing my backpack well and being efficient for space and weight and still able to get at all of my equipment - which is the idea behind the CompuRover AW in the first place.

I just play to get the first few pictures of the week started.

This was the first image of 4958 digital images taken in the course of 11 days (not counting the many rolls of film through the Leica). The most fascinating part of taking this many photographs (close to 650 per day) is to see the timestamps go by and seeing that I documented almost every part of our journey through Israel...

...a land whose history is marked with glorious triumphs and crushing defeats that have changed the course of the history of the world time and time again. This strip of earth in the Middle East is impossible to convey in words and images rarely do it justice.

Said our guide as we began our journey:

"Here in Israel, a few drops of water... is a lake.
A small stream... is a river.
A little lake... is a sea - the Sea of Galilee, so small!
And the Dead Sea... lies there dead... no life at all!
But Israel is not dead. just have to come to think of things in a new way."

So... ya la kadema!

Hebrew for "let's go!"

Just like every other of our journeys abroad, this one, too, begin at the Athens airport. Taking pictures through smudged up windows that looks like one too many person has pressed their face against it to fly for their first time.

Everyone has to have their first time, but I'd LOVE to find an airplane window that is NOT smudgy.

But this time, our plane looks a little different from the usual KLM, Aegean Air, or Olympic Air aircraft that we usually see. This time, we are on an EL-AL airlines blue and white Star of David covered airplane.

In fact, our in-flight meal comes complete with its Rabbi-endorsed certificate of kosher authenticity.

Some of my friends did not like a cheese baguette, but I really didn't mind it. I was determined to absorb as much culture and random Israeli food as I could handle short of dysentery. A large portion of my friends also brought a large amount of food with them to Israel so they would not have to spend the (slightly more) money on food - but I would rather spend more money and time finding food than look back on my trip and wish I would have eaten more of the "real" local food instead of a can of cat-food-esque raw tuna.

So, if ever you fly into Ben Gurion Airport outside Tel Aviv, you'll soon realize that you just might be the only one there. It is a HUGE airport for such a tiny amount of traffic. Considering they only have EL-AL flights coming to and from there (and just a few Delta per day otherwise) it doesn't help much.

But, except for the people on your flight and flight attendants changing shifts, you're the only ones there.

But, after being introduced to our leader and on-site instructor for the stay, we headed north outside Tel Aviv to ancient Cesarea Maritima for our first stop...

...where there was a mighty cool Roman theater and a hippodrome for chariot races. Not exactly the first time we'd seen things like this, but it was a good thing to start with. I had a new circular polarizer filter to use on my 18-135mm kit lens and it was a GREAT time to try it out with this much blue sky and water.

The thick layer of salt spray tends to make the edges get pretty dark pretty fast.

Huge waves crashed on the point dwarfing those buildings.

Is it horrible to wish one of those big waves to come over this wall?

Maybe so... pretty mean, I guess...

...or pretty sad...

Speaking of sad, Nic's camera took a bounce on a stair while lining up with the rest of us guys for a quick photo in front of a great scenic background.

"Why don't you pick it up?" said someone seeing the camera lying there.

"Will it be any less broken if I pick it up any faster?" Nic said and just went on lining up for the photo.

Hmm... smart man.

And no dogs thus far...

A big pretty cat, though. Kinda looks like a puma. And they speak Hebrew, so you can't call them the same way you do in Greece.

No, really!

And the city gates are pretty, too.

Looks like a church, but its not! Its the inner wall in the city gates of Cesarea Maritima.

And Gadil, our driver for the week, knows how to make a good first impression with some local-grown fruit.

But we weren't leaving yet...

There is an incredible aqueduct in the area from the Roman engineers. It was placed too close to the ocean, though, and fell a few hundred years ago as the ocean encroached on the land.

Hardly a few hours into our stay in Israel, we saw our first birds migrating along the coast. Of course its not really my thing, but Israel is one of the greatest places in the world for birdwatching because all of the North African bird species pass through here on the way to southern Europe because they cannot cross directly over the Mediterranean for lack of food and places to land. So, naturally, they follow the coast... Israel is along that coast.

And since we're on the topic of birds, here are two lovebirds I don't think you've met yet: Nic and Carol. They've been dating quite a while now - long before this semester ever came along.

I love that photo. Complete luck. I don't think they've seen this photo yet...


So, we headed northeast to the Galilee region to stay the night and spend the next few days in northern Israel.

While driving on one of the main highways in Israel, we passed a hill off to the right that our instructor mentioned was Mount Carmel. Around the road from my house in North Alabama is a small country church named Mt. Carmel. That church is named for this small, inconspicuous hill, barely a couple hundred feet tall... in Israel... and there it is.

I began to realize what a profound influence this area has on the rest of the world - even tiny churches in the middle of nowhere Alabama.

Deep thought for day one? This land influences EVERYTHING.

And I noticed a stark contrast... the occupants on the bus are completely silent. Much of our last trip in northern Greece had been by bus and everyone was always restless and loud, and unable to sleep. Here, was we drove along the well-kept black-top highway, everyone was asleep except for a small number - like myself - who cannot help but watch the world go by outside.

I do admit, though: I, too, have had my moments of silence.

The afternoon grew dim and the Sea of Galilee (or the King Herod - as locals call it) came into view over the next hilltop. It was now too dark for my f/3.5-5.6 aperture lens and the other lenses are in the bottom of my bag. Pictures out the window rarely work very well anyway.

We came down the hill and began driving around the lake near Magdila - yes, a certain Mary was from there.

Yes, that Mary of Magdila... or Mary the Magdalene. The modern town passed by outside.

And you expect to see a huge body of water that has expanses where you would think you shouldn't be able to see the other side... this is not so. The other side of the Sea of Galilee is easily visible. In fact, it only took a few minutes to drive most of the way around the western side of the "sea" towards the north.

The mountain of the Beatitudes is right there... we approach Tiberius and pass between the hillside and the waterfront. The location of such profound history known by even the youngest Sunday school child - it was right there! It was not across the seas anymore, detached from us by time and distance and only seen in our imagination or on some illustration in a children's picture Bible.

It was right there.

So became the theme of the trip. It was no longer possible to only see these locations in our mind's eye. It was all real to us and these places many of us had heard about all our lives came into our view one after another.

I leave you now for need of sleep. This was a quick introduction of my Israel with only a few images. The best stories have yet to be told, but they'll come in time.

School resumes tomorrow at 9am.

Stay tuned, my friends...
~Noah D.

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