A little disclaimer: As I’m writing these posts very quickly and after-the-fact, I’m sure I’m making plenty of mistakes in my factual accuracy. To anyone who’s particularly religious or may be offended, my sincere apologies.
Our second night in Israel was spent in a Bedouin Tent in the Negev Desert. That was quite an experience – traditional Bedouin food (eaten from a communal “trough” with your hands), live music, and a sleeping bag full of scorpions to keep you company at night.
Alright, that’s a bit of an exaggeration. In reality the tent we stayed at was very commercialized – with electric lighting, running water toilets, and a parking lot for tour buses – but it was still pretty cool, and definitely unlike anything I’ve done before.
After dinner ended, half the group broke off and started a small campfire in the desert where we stayed up late sharing a few bottles of wine and plenty of private stories from past lives across the Atlantic. It was great bonding time, and an overall very exotic atmosphere – under the stars in a Middle Eastern desert oasis.
The next morning I woke up at dawn to the sound of groaning camels being saddled for our day’s ride, and decided to take the opportunity to get in a quick work-out. Then when the others started to rise (and complain about their backaches and bugbites), we hopped onboard for a quick desert excursion. Again, very commercialized, but very fun.
Man, camels are WEIRD animals. The way they stand up (they first stand COMPLETELY on their back legs while their front legs remain in the sitting position, making you feel like you’re going to fall over their head, before straightening up), the way they look, the way they walk, and the way they groan. Did you know those things can survive in the desert for 40 days without food OR water? Wow.
When our Bedouin experience ended we hopped on the bus to Ein Ovdat where we went on a short nature hike.
Having chosen “Israel Outdoors” as my trip organizer, I expected a fair bit of exercise and physical challenge. And while the trip definitely kept me on my feet, I must say that I was very disappointed by the level of challenge. As I mentioned, there were both pluses and minuses to traveling with a large group – and the vastly different physical abilities of the participants meant that while some were huffing and puffing, others were waiting for their hearts to start pumping. The pace of this and most of the hikes on the trip were something like 20 minutes of walking, 10 minutes of rest, 10 minutes of walking, 20 minutes of historical lecture, 10 minutes of walking, 10 minutes of rest in the shade, etc. Basically, more of an “enjoyable stroll with interesting educational information thrown in the mix” than a “hike.” At times it got frustrating, but again, got to keep it in perspective: it was a free trip after all 🙂
Actually, while I’m on the topic (and since my photos are getting ahead of my content), I’ll mention one more brief irritant on this trip: obsessive-compulsive safety. My feeling is that this has more to do with the specific guide than anything else, but myself (and many of the other more seasoned travelers on the tour) just often felt like we were being treated like children rather than 18-26-year-olds.
Example: when we went to the beach, Avner said that we couldn’t go in the water unless there was a lifeguard on duty. Even though we have TWO certified lifeguards in our group – that’s not enough, they have to be on duty. Then we got there and saw that the water was less than waist-high all the way out to the breakwater. No lifeguard. No swimming (we did anyway).
Another example: towards the end of the trip, we participated in a big bikeride with hundreds of Israeli soldiers. When I showed up in flipflops, Avner said “no way, it’s far too dangerous.” Nevermind the fact that I’ve done three cross-country bikerides in Japan in flipflops, hiked the Grand Canyon in flipflops, and backpacked half of the world in flipflops. I don’t even bring sports shoes when I travel – just flipflops and a pair of nice shoes for going out at night. But nope. I guess 25 isn’t quite old enough to select my own footwear and take responsibility for my own body and safety.
Anyway, on with the narrative. The next stop after Ein Ovdat was rappelling in some distant corner of the desert.
Flipflops weren’t allowed, so Mike was nice enough to loan me his sneakers 🙂
Then we proceeded to Israel’s largest Makhtesh – a unique type of crater that only exists in Israel – before continuing to our hotel in Arad.
Everyone was exhausted and filthy from the long day (and from not showering at the Bedouin tent), but our spirits were still high – after a little “dance party” on the bus, Liran, one of the soldiers, had a friend of his drop off a homemade hookah at the hotel and about 20 of us stayed up late drinking and chatting in one of the rooms.
…Which might have been foolish, considering we had to wake up at 4am to make the trek up Masada for sunrise.
But I’ll save that story for next time.