The Best Coffee in the World
It was August in the Hula valley, living on a kibbutz in Israel. It was hot. Too damn hot. So hot the Israelis were hot. So hot that I would work late in the shoe factory, just for the air conditioning. Outside of working, everyone lay around, too lazy from the heat and humidity to even speak.
Then someone piped up with a bright idea – “Let’s go to the waterfall!” How could we not go to the waterfall? Why had we not gone to the waterfall already? Where was this wonder of nature that would wash away our langour and rejuvenate us as the bright and energetic teenagers we were? “Go down the trail past the fields. We should fill up water bottles.”
So we fill up water bottles, and proceed. I assumed that this waterfall was on the River Jordan, which ran not far from the edge of the kibbutz. A reasonable assumption, of which I was soon disabused. The Jordan there in the height of summer is little more than a stream, trickling along the base of the Golan Heights.
We passed through a deserted crossing point made redundant by the war in 1967, when Israel captured the Golan. Sandbags and entrenchments looked as though the passage of fifteen years had passed in the blink of an eye, awaiting the return of soldiers who must be off somewhere sipping mint tea in the heat.
I realized that the waterfall must be some sort of stream feeding from the impressive heights of the Golan into the Jordan. Surely we were close, and our sweat drenched efforts to move at all in the heat would be rewarded soon.
We crossed the Jordan, only to head immediately up into the Golan. The trail turned from a well worn route into a scramble among rocks, little known and little passed. We pressed on, blithely confident in our leader Mary, a Scandinavian with a thick Irish brogue from learning English from her Dublin native room mate. How could the dulcet tones of the Emerald Isle lead us to anything but a paradise?
Up the trail, into a squalid old Syrian emplacement. Looking between the trees and out over the Jordan and the fields of the kibbutz, we could see clearly how the Syrians had damaged an older tower on the kibbutz with the mortar fire; we had heard stories in the oral recounting of the settlement’s history. A world away, two wars and fifteen years. It is difficult to believe that soldiers could see such an idyllic view, and only think of death and the weapons of war.
After a short rest, on up the trail, which now led between posts with skull and crossbones labeling the trail “Danger, Minefield” in many languages. We had been warned in strong terms to stay only on marked trails in the Golan, mines kill two or three people a year still. We do not encroach on the barbed wire that lines our route.
And the sun beats down. The heat is on, we have lost the relative cool and stillness of the early morning in the valley. We have left the trees, and are climbing into the unknown. Unknown to me at least, Mary is quite confidently leading the way, swinging a water bottle.
Did I mention the heat? I had thought at the bottom of the escarpment that we would surely be cooler the higher we went. The wind will be a cool breeze, a balm for our sweating foreheads. Not so, this wind brings only wave after wave.
But it is a dry heat. As though the gates of hell have opened, and the furnaces of Sheol blaze directly onto our bodies and test our souls. We are now approaching Dante’s seventh circle of boiling blood and fire. The waterfall must be ahead, even if it is the icy lake of the ninth circle, we will gladly surrender to it. Mary takes a sip of water.
Through the blinking blur of sweat we see a miracle – trees for shade. And as we get there, joy – a stream runs through them, shallow but moving. I lie face down in it fully clothed, only a few inches deep but I have never known such relief.
As I recuperate I become aware we have company. An Israeli army detachment is also hiking in the area. A young woman with a large back pack and an Uzi sits herself next to me, and starts rummaging through her pack. She produces a minuscule pot, and a tiny camping stove. I watch, fascinated.
In no time at all, she has water boiling, and pours coffee directly in. She waits for it to come to a boil again, and then pours in vast quantities of sugar, settling the grounds instantly. She carefully decants coffee into a tiny cup, and offers it to me.
Best coffee in the world.