Borderlines – couchsurfing in occupied Syria. Or was that Israel?
The Golan Heights is a place frequently seen on the news reel. Unfortunately its not always for the right reasons. Looking at a ‘politically correct’ map of the Golan Heights area of Israel/Syria can be quite confusing. Demilitarized zones, truce lines, peace lines, armistice lines, border lines.
The BBC perhaps quite rightly describes it as “strategically important Syrian territory occupied by Israel”. The Israeli Tourism Ministry describes it as “ Israel’s mountainous northern region, is one of the most beautiful and most traveled parts of the country.”
A quick history lesson.
The Golan Heights was in Syria. Israel captured and occupied it during the 1967 Six-Day War. Syria still see’s the land as theirs and ‘rebels’ launch periodic border attacks to keep the claim active. Lebanon agrees with Syria, and ‘rebels’ launch periodic border attacks to keep the claim alive. Consequently, it’s a great place to go Couchsurfing. No, really. How better to find out what is really happening there, than by staying with the locals and asking them? Besides, all houses are required by law to have one bomb-proof bunker (normally the sleeping room) so where’s the danger?
We stayed in Kibbutz Hagoshrim. Where sadly, even 5km from the border, bombs can be heard from Syrian towns due to the civil war. We can only pray for peace to come soon. There are many interesting spots to explore in the region, the Druze region on the border being particularly interesting as many people come from a long line of Syrian heritage and are not stuck in limbo between Israel and their old homelands. We met a friend of our hosts who took the next day off from work and offered to show us around the area and take us for a walk on the Wadi Ovrim trail. The region is well known for hikes, and there are many listed in the lonely planet book.
To get there, drive on road 918 towards the town of Gonen, Golan Heights. When near the town, look out for the road 959. After the third turn in the road, look out on the left side of the road (when travelling away from Gonen) for a small farm road. It is not signposted, quite difficult to see. Slow right down and pull off onto this road. Park the car right there, by the road. It is safe to leave the car there.
Walk along the small dirt road for a while, until on your right you will see the Wadi Ovrim valley. You can’t miss it. This is where the trail starts. It is sign posted the whole way, and a clear enough track. But keep your eyes open. Be careful if it has just rained as a river flows down the valley and could flood in high rain. The walk takes around 2 – 3 hours and walks up through the valley, complete with car wrecks, trucks and even a whole perched TANK upside down from a mission gone wrong. The walk winds up over rocks, and around boulders following the natural contour of the valley. We saw hundreds of marmot like animals in the hills too! Which they call ‘rock rats’. Eagles are visible, as well the Orvim waterfall at the top (not very impressive when dry).
Once at the top, you will have a rewarding view. Keep walking until you meet the road, continue ‘right’ (west) direction and walk along a gravel road until you meet back up with the 959, opposite a military camp. You can hitchhike back down to the car easily from there.
Only recommended in the dry months.
GPS co-ordinates here: http://www.everytrail.com/view_trip.php?trip_id=1453521
How to get there: