My stay in the Negev desert would also bring with it two new first experiences...
So Israel's desert covers over 50% of its entire landmass! As such, it was almost inevitable I'd get to see or cross some of it on my journey throughout Israel.
You know how back home it's often a case of getting to a destination as quickly as possible? Well here I'm hoping for the exact opposite. As I eluded to the other day, I've been so surprised by this country and its people that I'm really in no rush to leave it! Let's hope my stay here remains safe and that my biggest worry will be money management as this is an expensive country.
Myself and Cora (a German girl from the Eliat hostel) would travel by bus to Mitzpe Ramon a few hours north of Eilat. You know, several days after leaving Egypt I'm honestly still gawking rather awkwardly at how reliable, clean and modern the buses are here. It's a surreal and strangely emotive feeling when you find yourself marvelling at public transport. I can understand that you probably think I've gone mad but I haven't honestly. Clearly this is a transient feeling and one that isn't going to last for very long and before you know I'll be cursing the wretched things again. Obviously.
Can you imagine how uncontrollably excited I was when I discovered there were USB ports above our heads!?
Now, you might initially find a sudden reference to the IDF (Israel Defence Forces) slightly strange in the context of this post but like all matter, IDF soldiers are everywhere! Don't be confused with Egypt and its ubiquitous check points and army personnel for the soldiers I'm on about here are practically pubescent!
If you've ever come across an Israeli and thought he or she looked a little hard-faced, well, perhaps it's not beyond the realms of possibility that this might be due to experiences endured during their young adult lives. You see, every resident Israeli man and woman between 18 and 21 must serve in the IDF at either the army, navy and air force. Service is typically for three years for boys and two years for girls.
Still, think you had it tough as a teenager? Tell me though, you know that common saying back home 'it's a free country'. Do you think that is applicable here knowing such a mandatory service is put upon young people?
You will more often than not see these young soldiers around the town or, I dunno, in a supermarket for example. You know, you're buying some peanuts and dried fruit and then to your left and there are group of young girls and boys carrying a rather large firearm swinging side to side as they walk. Peanuts and dried fruit, who am I kidding. Bread and water more like!
I'm completely OK with this but I know a couple of people I've travelled with, namely Cora, who still find it really unsettling. Well, I'm OK with it now especially being one of very few travellers sharing a bus full of IDF troops travelling home for their short weekend break. That was a quick sure way to 'acclimatise' to such a bizarre environment. At some point into the journey a young IDF girl joins me. Five minutes later I feel a light touch. I turn my head to see her opening a new packet of sweets and she is offering me the first. How lovely and very sweet was that if you'll excuse the pun.
And how to I repay her? By taking a selfie with her after she's dozed off lol
The obvious attraction in Mitzpe Ramoni is its large crater. When I first heard 'large crater' I assumed it would be an impact crater from a big rock from outer space but that's not the case somewhat disappointingly for it's a natural one. However this makes it the world's largest 'makhtesh'.
Wiki says a makhtest is a geological land form considered unique with steep walls of resistant rock surrounding a deep closed valley.
When they said it was large they weren't kidding for it's 38 km long, 6 km wide and 450 meters deep.
Now, depending on what your interests are, you could spend one or two days here for an optimum stay. Those interested in just photography might need only one day for example, and those interested in hiking might only need a day. However, if you've a passion for both you can enjoy two days here like I did. The first day Cora and I sought out photographic opportunities from the top edges of the crater and therefore on the second day we would hike down to the bottom of the crater, all 450 meters of it. I'm reluctant to call it a hike as it was downhill and particularly challenging but that's how it's described by folk here so, so be it.
Day 1: Crater perimeter
If you suffer from photographic vertigo, apologies for some snaps later on. Try to forgive me but as much as I am sensible, I'm pretty crazy too you know.
And for my shot of the day:
Day 2: Down below
And for the first new experience, we hitch-hiked back to the top of the crater. Now Mother, relax, this was hardly being thrown in at the deep end for a) I was with someone and b) we were told that's just what people do to get back to higher ground. Still, it was a decent experience that lasted no more than 8 minutes.
How long did it take an Israeli to stop on the side of the road to pick us up? Less than three minutes!
The morning after the night before:
This is going to surprise you but I've never properly caught a sun-rise before. Mad huh? But it's true. What I can say folks, I'm really not a 5am kinda guy!
It was two new German friends who I had only got to know late the night before that persuaded me to tag along with them and I'm really glad I did as it was spectacular. Yes more Germans! They really are everywhere but most importantly, they really are as lovely as they are abundant.
We stayed here almost undisturbed for an entire hour and a few prayers were said too. All very magical, all very perfect.
Behold the last of my first experiences.
Later that day, like only a few hours later, myself and the German girls caught a bus to Be'er Sheva and from here we would go our separate ways. They were destined for the capital city, I was destined for a Holy City. If you haven't already seen where I currently am from the front page of the website, look again shortly!
The last tale of this post is that having departed the ladies at the bus station, I was back on the road by myself again. As we know, not a problem for but after a few days of travelling with people, there's an initial lonely period which is tough. Except that alone-time would last for a record breaking 15 minutes...
I had a mere 25 minute wait for a bus to the Holy city. I waited indoors by the bus stop and discovered there was another foreigner sat close by proudly wearing a Canadian hat. In my experience, the Canadians are (like the Germans and several other nationalities) some of the most lovely people. As such, I struck up a conversation with this young man.
That random conversation would be one that may very well shape my entire remaining stay in Israel...