Travel Guide: The Negev

The Negev is Israel’s desert and my favorite region of the country. I first visited the Negev on my second trip to Israel in 2013, which was the start of my fantasy of living on a kibbutz by the Dead Sea. I’ve slightly modified that dream based on this trip to Israel and now I think I’d prefer to live on a moshav and work with Israeli and Palestinian children on conflict resolution and restorative peace practices. If my next life plan doesn’t work out, there’s always that!

Having fallen in love with the desert in the past made me even more excited to bring students there on our eighth grade Israel trip. We began with four nights in Jerusalem and then drove to the Negev to hike Masada, an ancient fortress where Herod built palaces for himself in the late first century BCE and where Jews hid after the destruction of the Second Temple. We hiked the winding snake path, built by the Romans in 73CE to reach the hiding Jews. Those Jews, known as Zealots, committed suicide rather than be taken by the Romans. Or so the stories tell us!

It was a hot day and the hike was difficult for many students, which tells me that there’s not enough (or proper or effective) physical education in schools and physical activity in general. The staff on our trip, all of which exercise regularly, had little trouble.

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I love pictures of waving flags but there was no wind when we reached the top, so this was the best I could do.

To the sounds of prayer and singing at the top of Masada, I wandered off alone to meditate and take some pictures. I love the desert because of its colors and its desolation. Such emptiness makes me feel close to the sky and reminds me that in the grand scheme of the world and life, I am nothing, not even a speck on the trajectory of evolutionary history. Those feelings remind me that my own problems are easy to solve and really don’t matter very much at all.

Guards accompany large tour groups in Israel and it was so interesting to see the different responses of each guard to our group’s prayers that afternoon. Most Israelis are secular Jews but we had Jews of many kinds in and among our group throughout our two-week trip.

That afternoon, we visited the Dead Sea, the lowest point on Earth. It is receding at a terrifying rate of about one foot per year. I noticed the shrinking size of the Dead Sea, which is actually a lake, upon seeing it for the second time in 2013 as compared to my 2007 trip, and it was even more obvious this time. The hotels that used to sit right on the shore are now a short car ride away.

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Across the Dead Sea is Jordan!
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Salt from the Dead Sea, which gives it its the Hebrew name Yam HaMelach, or Salt Sea

We spent our two nights in the Negev at Kibbutz Mashabei Sadeh, which had really fun and eclectic decor in front of the reception office:

The following morning we visited Makhtesh Ramon, a geological phenomenon that requires a little explanation. Makhtesh Ramon is often translated as “Ramon Crater”, which is inaccurate. A crater is formed by impact, usually from a meteorite. A makhtesh, however, is formed by erosion and geological changes occurring over hundreds of millions of years. Visiting a makhtesh is basically a journey through evolutionary time. The only examples of a makhtesh are found in Israel’s Negev and Egypt’s Sinai peninsula.

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I spent more time at Makhtesh Ramon back in 2013 and took a lot more photos. For your viewing pleasure, and because I love it there, here they are:

The next morning, we visited an alpaca farm that also raises llamas, camels, donkeys, sheep, and other animals. The owners actually brought the alpacas and llamas to Israel from South America and now have an organic farm where they give tours and sell wool that they make on site.

That afternoon, we hiked Ein Ovdat, a desert canyon. By this point in the trip, we had a number of students ill with a stomach virus and others struggling with dehydration so we didn’t climb the waterfall but that’s supposed to be really beautiful, too.

In addition to hiking Masada, no trip to the Negev is complete without a stop at a Bedouin tent to learn about this group of nomadic people who used to inhabit the desert. In Israel today, 100% of Bedouins live in villages and towns so their desert hospitality tents, complete with dinner, a camel ride, and the option to spend the night, exist only for tourism and education. While camel riding is one of those activities that everyone does when visiting Israel, it is simply the Middle Eastern equivalent of elephant riding, the problems of which I learned about on a trip to Chiang Mai, Thailand about 18 months ago. If elephant riding is animal abuse and needs to be stopped, so does riding camels. And considering one of them bit a student and the rest were stubborn, snorting, and protesting the entire time, I’d say the camels more than agree.


We left the Negev after two nights and I was sorry to say goodbye. The desert is beautiful and I hope you make it there someday, to any desert. I love waterfalls and trees as much as the next person, as my post about the north of Israel will demonstrate, but the desert is special. It’s nothing and everything all at once.

 

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