One of the things I did on my recent trip to Israel was to cycle round the Sea of Galilee. A cycle-path is being developed around much of this, but there are some parts where you need to use the main road, and in the north-east corner this takes you quite a way from the Sea itself. As soon as you are away from the shoreline it can ramp up quite a bit. The Sea is really a lake, the freshwater lake with the lowest elevation in the world – the Dead Sea to the south is lower, but of course isn’t freshwater. I hired a bike from a local hostel which was functional but not much beyond – the best of what they had. It was about 40 miles in total. I did this fairly early one morning, between 8-11am, to try to avoid the worst of the heat.
It’s a fascinating route. The wildlife is plentiful – herons, egrets, hoopoes, lizards, etc.; the views are great; and you really get a sense of the complicated interrelations of place and politics here. (I’ve long felt the best way to get to know an area is by bike – you can cover so much more ground than by foot; you appreciate the physicality of the terrain in a new way; and see much more than doing it by car.) On the east side, you cross into the Golan, through previously demilitarised areas between Israel and Syria, and for quite a stretch alongside a minefield. You cross the River Jordan twice, in the north and the south, and even though I’d been prepared for it, the diminutive scale is still a shock. To the south there is the first kibbutz at Degania Alef (‘Wheat of God’), and to the west the tourist town of Tiberias. The area around Tiberias was busy, but for long parts I was the only person around. It’s said to be the most popular tourist cycle route in Israel, but I didn’t see anyone else doing it. I guess late June is not the ideal time for it. The northern shore has a host of churches and other sites associated with the life of Jesus including Capernaum. It would have been good to stop off at more places, but I wanted to keep going before the heat became unbearable.