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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.

 

New York Looks Like This

I generally do a lot of walking around new places, both to learn my way around and to get a feel for where I am. New York is a very walkable city. It’s a grid, which makes it pretty easy to get around. I was skeptical at first, but you actually can feel the neighborhoods as they change and evolve. I’m still studying neighborhood maps because most areas blur together to some degree (at least for me). Having a sense of where I am helps me feel grounded, which is something I desperately need right now. Walking gives me something to do and also serves a second purpose – I can unapologetically play tourist in what is presently my city!

So far, I like New York City a lot. I didn’t expect to. For a variety of reasons, I’m not sure that I want to. But I do. I like that a city can look like all of this at once:

I’d forgotten how old New York actually is. It’s so cool to see reminders of that on the same block as the most modern of skyscrapers.

I also like that Bloomingdale’s, for whatever reason, has flags:

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I know the cloudless blue skies won’t be around forever, but I like those, too.

New York is clever, as well. Many restaurants and shops display chalkboards outside with messages to try to entice customers. I’ve stopped and read many of them and this one was my favorite of the week:

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(Yes, that’s a shadow me taking a photo in the bottom right corner.)

I’ve already written about my fears about New York. There have been some significant changes since that post, but the allure of New York hasn’t changed. It’s still big and loud and fast. It’s still dazzling and bright. I’ve found that it’s surprisingly easy to feel equally part of and dissociated from crowds. My favorite moment of New York City living so far was last Saturday’s run in Central Park with hundreds of other people in dozens of shades of neon. I’ve never been so exhilarated by something so mundane as a morning run.

One belongs to New York instantly. One belongs to it as much in five minutes as in five years. – Tom Wolfe

So far, I like what I’ve seen. I don’t know how long I’ll be here but I intend to make this city as much of mine as I can for however long that is.

Buildings in Buffalo

A Conversation
Wonderful friend Ally: Hey, I have an idea!
Me: Ooh an idea! What is it?
Wonderful friend Ally: Let’s go to Buffalo to learn about architecture! You can make some photographs and I can make some sketches.
Me: You’re brilliant! And wonderful. Let’s go!

So we did.

Today, Ally and I spent the morning on a walking tour of historic, beautiful, and interesting buildings in Buffalo, NY. Even though Buffalo is only an hour from Rochester, I’ve been there for exactly two reasons:

  1. NSYNC concert in 2002
  2. Hockey tournaments for my brother

I can’t tell you nearly as much about the buildings as I’d like to, mostly because I was too busy playing with my camera to pay attention. However, I did manage to caption all the photos in the gallery below with the name of each building. For more information, either contact Ally (a very smart, delightful person who asked the tour guide a whole bunch of intelligent questions) or take a tour!

A really neat bonus was that someone was actually playing the organ at St. Joseph’s Cathedral. I don’t know if I’ve ever heard live organ music before and really enjoyed it.

After a delicious lunch of toast, cheese, and spicy red peppers at Five Points Bakery, we made our way to Frank Lloyd Wright’s Darwin Martin House, which is currently undergoing a massive restoration project. The tour guide was very knowledgeable about all things Frank Lloyd Wright, Martin family, and architecture of the time period. She encouraged us to return for a visit this fall when the restoration will be completed and photos of the interior allowed. The outside of the house is still pretty cool:

I still don’t know much about Buffalo, but it has neat buildings, informative tour guides, tasty toast, and cool street art:

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Cheers to a great friend for a good day!