Day 10: Deep in the Desert

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Hiking in the desert

Today begins early again (what's new) with a three-hour drive into the desert.  Israel is a very small country (about the size of New Jersey) so when you drive three hours to get somewhere, you know you are going far. 

Sometime around 10am, we arrive at our destination (we had to make a restroom pitstop and pick up another "paramedic" first).  It's a national park deep in the Negev Desert.  The park is lined with huge canyon walls (think Grand Canyon, but smaller and less brilliant in color).  As a group, we hike along the valley floor until we reach a small lagoon.  From here our large group of 100 splits up.  Some return to the buses for a ride out of the canyon; the rest of us ascend the canyon walls (using rock steps and ladders) to get out.

The start of our hike.
  It's a pleasant (albeit extremely hot) climb up with gorgeous views back into the canyon.  When we finally reach the top (which takes some time with 50+ people climbing out), we are rewarded with fresh watermelon. 

It's back on the bus for a quick drive to David Ben Gurion's house.  DBG was the first prime minister of Israel and he lived in a modest desert home for the last 20 years of his life.  And when I say modest, I mean modest.  His tiny house was probably no more than 1000 sq. ft. with a living room, bathroom, kitchen, two bedrooms and a study.  The house is now a museum which we got to tour.  It is still decorated the way it was when DBG died in 1974.  Among his possessions were a copy of the Israel Declaration of Independence, a portrait of Ghandi and a picture of Abraham Lincoln with the words of the Emanicpation Proclamation printed over it.

Climbing up and out of the canyon.
 

We stop for lunch at a nearby cafeteria.  There are tons of soldiers out on the lawns nearby sunning themselves in the noon heat.  They are all resting peacefully with their large weapons laying nonchalantly next to them.  I'm still not used to seeing such big guns in everyday society.  You'd think you'd feel more secure with so many people packing heat, but it's actually a bit unsettling. 

From here we drive deeper into the desert and visit a nomadic Bedouin tribe.  We sit under the shade of their makeshift tent on colored rugs and pillows.  There are camels tethered nearby and small barefoot children playing with a mule.  They serve us coffee, tea and pan fried bread.  We hear a member tell us about their culture and their difficulties assimilating into modern Israeli society.

Sara stays hydrated.
 

We drive back toward Jerusalem, but make another pitstop at the graves of DBG and his wife Paula.  They are on a bluff overlooking the canyon we climbed out of earlier today.  I'm not sure if I could live for 20 years in this desert, but I do have to admit that his finally resting place is sure in a beautiful spot. 

After our visit, it's another 3 hour drive back to the hotel.  We have an hour to eat, shower, freshen up and be back on the bus.  After this quick turnaround, we head over to the Hebrew Union College for a string quartet concert that is being held just for us.  We sit in a most beautiful, peaceful courtyard and listen to the musicians play pieces from Mozart and Dvorak.

Me at the top!
  It's nice to sit still and just listen for a while.  It's past 11pm when we finish (another marathon day), but we technically haven't had dinner yet.  We drive to a popular local hangout called Abba's Falafels.  Again, the falafel is soooooo good.  We all loiter around the small restaurant munching our food quickly as we know we are compromising precious sleeping minutes with every second we delay. 

Then it's back to Ramat Rachel and our hobbit beds for one more night!

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Hiking in the desert
Hiking in the desert
The start of our hike.
The start of our hike.
Climbing up and out of the canyon.
Climbing up and out of the canyon.
Sara stays hydrated.
Sara stays hydrated.
Me at the top!
Me at the top!
DBGs desert home
DBG's desert home
The living room of DBGs home
The living room of DBG's home
Soldiers at rest
Soldiers at rest
Our friendly paramedic with his …
Our friendly "paramedic" with his…
Bedouin woman
Bedouin woman
Camel!!
Camel!!
Beer Sheva
photo by: candywellins