Tuesday, December 26, 2006

Southern Tiyul

It was to be the perfect close to the Machon a five day trip to the warm South, away from the dank, cold air of the hills of Jerusalem. Four days of fun yet challenging hikes in the Negev and Judean Deserts in the South of the country. As we had discovered the North (or rediscover it as we had done most of it on tour) so we were to discover the South (actually same thing applies.)

Wake up on Thursday was predictably early as we had a two hour drive down to the beautiful Ein Gedi Nature Reserve for a three hour hike, which we had of course done on tour. That doesnt stop it being a wonderful hike which involves wading knee deep in a small river (I was clever enough to bring sandals and unlike everyone else did not need to spend half an hour complaining of squelchy hiking boots.) After the hike we drove across the road to the Dead Sea. The Dead Sea is the lowest point in the world currently at about -418 below sea level and its salt content is so high that nothing can live there, but it also means the water is so dense that it is possible to just float on top without doing anything. I did not go in as I have rather unpleasant memories of last time where after about two minutes I ran out screaming from the pain, and before you judge me imagine what it feels like to have that much salt water wriggle into your nether reigons.

After an hour by the Dead Sea we drove to a Bedouin Tent, somewhere in the desert (I was probably asleep during the drive, happens a lot). When I say Bedouin Tent, its more like a Bedouin themed tourist campsite. Bedouins by the way are a small nomadic group that live in Israel. The main attraction there was camel and donkey riding both of equally entertaining value, and I was particularly interested to discover that there is more than one way to ride a donkey (thank you Sarah). Before I go on I feel I should mention just how cool camels are, I say this without jest (or any sort of sexaul intent) but I just love camels, I think it is that they are just have a perfect serenity about them, and are completley at peace with their surroundings as they look around in their casual and relaxed manor. After the camel/donkey ride came to an abrupt end we went to one of the big tents where we were treated to a talk on Bedouin music and hospitality and we were also served Bedouin tea and coffee. The tea is amazing but the coffee is rather bitter. Dinner was both lovely and plentiful and then after a short program which involved desert survival games and stargazing it was off to bed in one huge tent for an early night.

Wake up next morning was at 4:30, if you didnt get that the first time I shall repeat it, wake up next morning was at 4:30, why you might ask this truly unholy time, because we were to climb Masada. Masada is a mountain with a long flat top which in times of old was used as a fort by the Jews, it is also the sight of the ancient world's greatest mass suicidies, when a group of Zealot Jews decided they would rather fall on their own sword then be captured by the Romans. To mark this momenntous occasion it is customary for all tour group that pass through the reigon to climb the mountain to see the sun rise, because for some reason it looks so different to every other bloody sunrise. There are a number of paths up to Masada a ramp which takes about five minutes to climb which we took on the way up, and a snake trail which takes 40 minutes which we used for our descent. Masada is a very interesting site, which we of course did on tour, and I am sure I would appreciate far more with more sleep and a different breakfast, but still its worth a visit, althought maybe not with a group that believes its best viewed with little sunlights and less sleep.

After Masada we made the two hour or so drive down to Eilat, a time used by all to catch up on their sleep. I do not want to say too much about Eilat as it shall feature prominently in later entries so I will give a very brief summary of my time there. On arrival we went straight to our lunch, after lunch I walked from the hotel we were staying in the Adi hotel full of tour groups and trashy working class Israeli's to the Royal Beach Hotel full of rich North London Jews, to visit my parents, who had arrived the previous day for a ten day holiday in Eilat. I of course gave them a huge shock jumping out from behind them and it was a real pleasure to see them after so long. After a brief period with them I returned to my hotel for Shabbat, the service was very nice, the meal was lovely and we sang so much that many people in the neighbouring tables came over to sing with us and called out for more as our vocal chords could take no more. After supper we had a program full on Hanukkah games and then it was early retirement to the rooms for a quiet night in front of the TV.

The next day was a typical quiet shabbat with a service in the morning, another lovely meal with more singing, then a free afternoon used to visit parents followed by more food back at the hotel and finally a stair well havdalah (meant to be on the roof but it was too windy.) After shabbas had gone out we went on a disco boat (did that on tour as well) which was great fun and a good laugh. That lasted for around an hour and a half and having disembarked I went a few of the bars Eilat has to offer.

The next day we departed from Eilat to the 'mountains' outside it, I put mountains in brackets because when you get near them they look more like hillocks. This was the day of our five hour hike through the Southern Negev and along the Egyption border. It involved climbing the highest mountains in the Negev, which was actually pretty tricky as in places it was actually vertical. It was a great hike which was lots and lots of fun and actually not that tiring, it concluded with the Red Canyon a beautiful canyon which was a bit like an obstable course, and guess what, we had done it on tour. After the hike we drove to some sand dunes but as they werent there we went on to our next destination Mitzpe Ramon.

Mitzpe Ramon is a small God forsaken settlement in the middle of nowhere, which only has a population because all the Russian immigrants get sent there, there is actually nothing to do there. The youth hostel where we stayed was funnily enough the first place we had stayed in on tour, the only thing that mildly interested me was the fact that there was actually a bar somewhere in the town, and even more alarmingly there were points in the night when we were not the only people in it. So why did we come to Mitzpe Ramon the reason is because it overlooks the Ramon crater the largest crater caused by erosion in the world. Its all very interesting to a geologist but does that really mean we have to hike through it, just like we did on tour, although it was a different, easier, hike, praise the Lord,

Following our hike in the crater we went to a small wooded area for team building games, which may not have been compleltely useful being at the end of tiyul and Machon, which means that if the team was not built by now, there is no real way a few games are going to help. Nethertheless they were good fun and at times rather amusing. When all was over and done with we borded the coach for our final drive back to Kiriyat Moriah and the end of Machon.


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