When the name of the Golan Heights is mentioned, I immediately think of war between Israel and Syria and the tank battle that took place in 1967 in the Six Day War. True, there are still mine fields and rusting tanks that dot the landscape, but the land is so fertile and there is so much water that the farmers are hard at work growing crops, planting vines, and raising cattle in a land that was once called Bashan. Amos, speaking to the wealthy, fat nobles of Samaria called them "cows of Bashan" - once you have seen the bovines, you realise that the comparison was a good one!
Our visit took us to Gamla, an ancient fortress destroyed by the Romans in 67AD, and where breeding pairs of vultures inhabit the craggy cliffs. I have heard before that when Isaiah (40:31) refers to soaring on wings like eagles, the word "eagles" can be translated "vultures". The trouble with vultures is that they have a not-very-nice connotation, "eagles" sounds better. These birds were truly awesome.
Our next stop was at a small factory where olive oil and olive products are made - delicious oil; to a small craft beer brewery (wonderful smell of Horlicks/malt); and on to a small family wine farm which produces wonderful wines from South African cultivars. The first winemaker spent some time learning his trade in South Africa before setting up his farm and today his son runs the farm with such humble pride. The son's wife studied as a chef in a restaurant in New York, so their vision is to create a boutique B&B.
We didn't stop for lunch at the winery, but drove up to a small Druze village where we had the local meal a pancake easily half a meter wide folded in half, smeared with goats cheese, yoghurt and sesame oil and the folder like a wrap - very delicious!
At this point in te day most of us really didn't know what the time was or even the day of the week! We arrived at the ruins of Dan (having driven past the springs at Banias and Caesarea Phillipi) and set off on a hike which took us within sight of the Lebanese and Syrian border. Whenever you read of missiles being fired into Israel from Lebanon, this is where they come from! Even more scary was the sound coming from a Syrian town just over a low hill - automatic gunfire! Our guide assured us that the Syrians were always fighting and, apart from occasional sightings of Hezbollah over the Lebanese border, the place was at peace. We certainly saw large numbers of IDF troops and vehicles, so the Israelis are ever vigilant.