Kayaking or rafting on the upper Jordan River? Okay, it’s not the Snake or the Colorado. It ain’t even the fictional Cahulawassee River from the movie “Deliverance” (do you hear the strains of dueling banjoes among the trees?). Its rating is probably a one-double-minus as whitewater goes; but it’s still a raft-full of fun, as you coast in and out of shady spots on a hot summer day.
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The Jordan is the confluence of three main tributaries. The Hatzbani (now Hebraized as the Snir Stream) begins in Southern Lebanon, some distance north of the Israeli border. The Dan, the biggest of the three, rises on the Israeli side of that border. The Banias (a.k.a. the Hermon Stream) emerges at the foot of Mount Hermon, below the ruins of an ancient pagan shrine. Here, in the Hula Valley, the upper tip of the Galilee panhandle, the Dan and the Banias converge, and then, some way downstream, run into the Hatzbani to form the deeper and lazier Jordan River.
The pristine upper section of all three streams, and the abundant greenery that crowds their banks, are declared nature reserves, with picturesque trails for anyone from keen hikers to the disabled.
There are legends as to how and why the three rivers united and became one. One relates to the much-excavated site of the biblical city of Dan, on the abundant stream of the same name. It is a huge earth mound – a “tel” – heaped up by the debris of ancient cultures built one upon the ruins of another. Dan was a son of the biblical patriarch Jacob, and the ancestor of the eponymous Israelite tribe that conquered and settled this area some 31 centuries ago. But “Dan” (a cognate of the Hebrew “dayan”) means a judge, hence the Arabic translation of Tel Dan: Tel el-Qadi, the Hill of the Judge.
The legend relates that the three rivers once argued among themselves as to which was the most important. Finally they agreed to invite God to come down and judge their claims. Seated on the tel – hence its name, the Hill of the Judge – the Deity heard the arguments of each river in turn and pronounced judgment: “Surely, if you combine, you will be the most important river.” So they did and became the Jordan!
Several commercial outfits run the river, with most routes beginning on the quick-running Hatzbani. They rent inflatable rubber “kayaks” (a rubber canoe for two; age restrictions apply) and inflatable rafts for three to six people (appropriate for families with kids over 5 and adult supervision). Life jackets are provided and are mandatory. Water-shoes or sandals are recommended (some companies demand them, others do not).
Assume that anything you take on board will get wet. A shirt over your bathing suit is a good idea, both as protection against the sun, and because it makes leaning against the rubber cushions more comfortable.
There are usually toilets and changing facilities at the entry point to the river, and a safe place to leave car keys, etc. – but check this when you call to make a reservation. The companies provide transportation from the end-point of the route back to the entry-point. Note that locations differ for each company, since each runs an overlapping but not identical stretch of the river.
The Kfar Blum route includes the only rapid – a safe 10-second adrenalin rush. (A digital camera automatically records your experience and provides a copy for sale at the exit point.)
Swimming in the river en route is prohibited because of the rubber rafts, which can potentially block a swimmer from emerging safely from the water.
The most pleasant time of day is late afternoon (check closing times and allow yourselves extra room), but a morning excursion (again, check times) may find fewer groups of rambunctious teenagers on the river.
Kfar Blum www.kayaks.co.il tel. 1-700-50-66-11
Maayan-Hagoshrim www.kayak.co.il tel. 077-271-7500, 04-681-6034
Dag al-Hadan tel. 04-695-0866