Oh, and I have a day hike on Friday next week planned to see the Qumran area, where the Dead Sea Scrolls were discovered.
The long and the short of it is, I may be out of blogging range for the next few days, so I'm going to leave you a compillation of my photos from last year's tiyul to the Negev. Hopefully this year we'll see some different places. Shabbat shalom!
This post starts on day 1 about mid-day.
Me on the bus. Everybody else has passed out, but I can never sleep in public, especially cramped on a bus, so I sit by the window and snap photographs. We are on the bus heading way, way south. Past Be'er Sheva, past Dimona, farther south than I've ever been.
A Bedouin Camel farm.
Big Fin, where we'll be hiking.
Another angle on Big Fin
Pulling over to disembark fro the bus.
Our tourguide. The tour was in fast-spoken, low-volume Hebrew, so I understood like 20%.
Our first obstacle: passing under the Dimona-Eilat railway through a storm drain.
On the hike up, we found a shady spot to stop and make sure everyone was caught up.
One of our comrades was paraplegic, and this was no ordinary hike with a well-tended path. Fortunately, they somehow found a sort of carry-along wheelchair, with one wheel on the bottom, and handles front and back to carry the passenger along. Still, looking at the slope ahead, which required a climb straight up the face of the rock with both hands and feet, it looked to be quite impossible.
We stopped for some Torah shiurim (lessons.) While the megaphone was out, someone figured out how to rig it to their MP3 player. Pretty soon we were blasting music across the canyon. So, naturally, people started to dance.
After a twenty minute break, we continued our ascent.
And at long last, made it to the top. We were looking out over the Machtesh Gadol, the Great Crater. The geologic structure was formed when the ground swelled up to form a giant mountain, but a river eventually cut through the hard surface layer of rock, carving out the softer inner material. And what remains is the crater. At least that's what I understood from the Hebrew, but it was difficult to understand.
Rabbi Bigon, the head of Machon Meir, gives an impromptu Torah shiur on Machtesh Gadol. "Thus we see that a person who has a hard exterior and a soft interior can not last. You can wear a black hat and have long peyos, and pretend to be as great as the mountain, but if this is just an outer shell and your inside is not strengthened with Torah, then you will eventually become as hollow as the crater in front of us."
Looking back towards the buses, where we started out from.
Me on the summit. Behind me is Israel's nuclear weapons production facility... er, excuse me, "Textiles Factory" surrounded by fifteen miles of barbed wire and security cameras.
A Canyon carved by the wadi.
But we made it.
The picture above is inside the crater. Much of the sandstone has reverted to sand, stained with the ores of various minerals, it gives the sand a reddish hue.
Tomorrow: The colored sands.
Descending from the summit, some of the group, myself included, finished early. We arrived at the "colored sands" area inside Machtesh Gadol, the Great Crater.
A camel lost on the colored sands. (I cheated and increased the contrast on this photo.)
More colored sands and scrub brushes.
Three hills, three colors.
Continuing on our way, we passed through mile after mile of desert. The Negev desert actually constitutes 60% of Israel's land mass, but holds less than 10% of the population. Most of the Negev looks like this:
The northern Negev is populated by recently settled Bedouin, who settle pretty much wherever they feel like, and live without running water or electricity. Further south, beyond the range where the Bedouin can survive off the meager land, are the Jewish development towns. Mitzpeh Ramon, Dimona, Yerucham, and the like. These towns are populated largely by relatively poor Jews of North African descent. In Yerucham, our next stop, one friend told me that he's often heard Moroccan Arabic spoken on the street, in spite of the fact that the last Jews moved here from Morocco over 40 years ago.
Land is cheap, and some come here to buy houses they could never afford up north. A few years ago, a friend who was thinking of moving here told me about how he could get a decent sized house on its own land for $20,000 out here. By contrast, an apartment in Pisgat Ze'ev, the cheapest neighborhood in Jerusalem, can run you $300,000.
New housing developments.
The government is eager to settle this area of the country, so discounts and assistance is provided for those willing to move down here. The government also invests quite a bit in social and cultural programs. But most of the residents are still quite poor, so it's common to see shiny new buildings and manicured green spaces next to delapidated apartment complexes and rusted, burned out cars.
Our tour took us to Lake Yerucham, an artificial lake made from, well, I don't know where they got the water.
The sign for lake Yerucham.
One of the problems is that, while there is an official standard for transliterating Hebrew into English, everyone ignores it, so there are about ten different ways to spell every city in Israel. Ever tried spelling Hanukkah?
We arrived in Mitzpeh Ramon in time to light candles for Hanukkah. Lars, one of our German students, lights candles below.
And of course, after a day of hiking up big fin, through the colored sands, and dancing in Yerucham, we were too exhausted to do much of anything. Except... a Hanukkah party with a DJ!
Our next stop was Mitzpeh Ramon, further south than I have ever been in Israel. Mitzpeh Ramon means "The Ramon View", a small town built on the edge of a cliff ringing Machtesh Ramon, the Ramon Crater. The Ramon Crater is another enormous crater, formed by geological processes similar to the formation of Machtesh Gadol (the great crater) and Machtesh Katan (the little crater.) In this case, the crater is so vast that geologists were unaware that it even was a crater until they saw it in areal photographs.
We arrived in Mitzpeh Ramon at sunset.
The clear air, high elevation, and low light produced in the surrounding uninhabited desert makes for a great view of the nighttime sky.
The two main sources of income for Mitzpeh Ramon are tourism (from people coming to see the enormous crater), and the Israeli Air Force base nearby.
Still, it's a sleepy town. Like many development towns, it's full of modern looking structures and carefully pruned public gardens, but the place has the feeling of Shabbat on a weekday night. No cars, very little foot traffic. You can walk in the middle of main street at noon and not have to worry about cars.
A somewhat blurry night time exposure of Mitzpeh Ramon. The big funnel thingee in the background is a water tank.
At 5 AM the next morning, we were all rustled up for Shacharit, morning prayers. We wanted to get an early start on the day and had not time to waste. Walking towards the shul, which is next to the lip of the crater, I took a few minutes to photograph the sunrise.
Yours truly on the edge. It was friggin' freezing!
There is one relieving factor about life in Mitzpeh Ramon; it is the only place I know of in Israel where there is no conflict. You can stand in Tel Aviv and see the hills of Samaria, the "West Bank", always in dispute. You can stand in the north and see Syria and Lebanon, not exactly friendly countries. In my apartment, I look out my window to a concrete wall. But here, in Mitzpeh Ramon, you can look in all directions and see nothing but Israel.