Traveling in Israel, you can’t limit your sightseeing to the cities. If you did so, you would miss out everything about the Israeli culture, background, education mode, and simply their way of life. Not that all the Israelis have lived or live in the desert per sé, but it’s very normal and usual for an inhabitant of Israel to go to the desert for a hike with friends on a day-off, spend a long weekend with the Beduins in their typical nomad tents, be part of a school trip as a kid, actively participate to the development of local eco-tourism (rather new leisure and precursory business at the same time), and so on. The Israelis are very close to nature, whatever it looks like, and they love to talk about it because every piece of their land is fully loaded with History.
After visiting Tel-Aviv and Jerusalem, we really wanted to experience Israel’s most southern desert, the Negev. We had already been to the Judean Desert when we were younger, and visited Massada and the Dead Sea, therefore our curious eyes were calling for novelty, and that’s how we decided that this time the Negev it will be. Terrific choice! We purely loved that day trip and enjoyed it to its full extend! Starting with the amazing landscapes, following with the food, and ending with fun experiences along the way back to Jerusalem such as a camel ride and olive oil tasting in the middle of nowhere! Read my next posts for more insights about this last one, and more.
We booked our day tour / day trip with the agency Abraham Tour. Their office happens to be located in the lobby of the Abraham Youth Hostel in the city center of Jerusalem, near a tramway station, which is extremely convenient given the early time of departure of the tour in the morning. Abraham Tour’s people are hiring regular freelance guides who are as nice as professional, talking to us and driving us around for a very good price given the tour is almost a 12 hours journey. For this “Best of the Negev Tour”, we chose what they call there a self-guided tour, meaning our driver was driving us from place to place while explaining a little bit of this, and a whole lot of that along the way, but let us go and visit the different sites by ourselves with brochures in hand and then picked us up at the end of each trail or activity. Our guide’s name was Alon Kruger; once more on this blog, I invite you guys to contact him if you visit Israel someday (just click his name) as he is pretty interesting and of great company. He is currently working on publishing a book telling about his own former life as an Orthodox Jew, which he is no longer today; I’ll probably buy his book once it’s out because it surely is very instructive.
Our day started with a little bit of driving to get out of the city of Jerusalem. We drove south in the direction of our final destination, Mitzpe Ramon. On our way, while everything around was just lifeless, we unexpectedly came across the firm Sodastream’s factory plant. There? Really? The water bubble maker has set up his plant in the middle of the desert? Water? Desert? Seriously?!
We stopped for a little while in Sde Boker, the place where David Ben Gurion (one major Prime Minister of Israel) and his wife Paula are buried. The site can be entered by a nice greeny park where quietness is the norm. It’s actually amazing to see the contrast between this artificial green area, and cliffs and hills naturally made of rough desert texture a few meters away just facing the tombs. The view is stunning, no wonder the Ben Gurions decided to be buried in such a place.
A short drive further, we arrived at the bottom of one of the few canyons of the area, with the peculiarity that this one has water, and even a little (tiny) waterfall. Ein Avdat is a natural reserve within the canyon. The decor simply blew our minds, first because we didn’t know what to expect, and second because it was just amazing of purity, brightness and surreal peace. I think the pictures will show better than me.
Finally we arrived in the small town of Mitzpe Ramon. We had pre-booked a camel ride on the edge of the Big Makhtesh (crater). I will pass on showing the pictures of myself riding the camel, but you’ll get to enjoy seeing the animals and the view – isn’t that good enough!?
After lots of fun emotions, it was time for lunch. Based on Alon’s recommendation, we went to this fast food place that is well known in Mitzpe Ramon and surely beyond for its hummus and falafels (and if not, now it will be, thanks to me!). It’s called Guingy’s (also written Jinjy’s sometimes), and they make the best hummus of all times. If you’re fond of that kind of delicious vegetarian food, check out my recipes of hummus and falafels, you will not be disappointed either, I guarantee.
After such a fulfilling meal (because, yes, in Israel, hummus and falafels are a main course and not just an entrée), we had no room for dessert. Alon drove us to the next stop, a farm in the middle of nowhere in the Negev, for an olive oil tasting. How original and surprising is that for a dessert in the desert?! This topic is worth a whole post of its own, so we’ll come back to it very soon. Teaser: that’s the story of a young man who, 23 years ago, decided to go from military to farming as a volunteer participant to a government related project that was just given birth to. He took a horse and chose a friend (from the team of other volunteers) to ride and explore the Negev desert; based on ancient historical stories and ancient agricultural experiences and recommendations written by elders, he made the decision to settle down with his family in a certain location and to give birth to a farm just out of desert dust and sand. Now the farm activity is extending to hosting guests with an interest in local agriculture. These activities are indeed the premises of Israel giving birth to modern eco-tourism.
We ended the day with a last stop at the main site of the area before driving back to the city. It is called the Large Crater or the Big Makhtesh, and is one of the three largest craters on Earth. It’s very impressive and really worth a few good pictures. I’ll leave you with it.
Before you go, did you know my first cookbook got published? It’s called Cookbook #1: A French Girl’s Cooking Adventures in Her Kitchen, and it’s available online, you’re just a click away, RIGHT HERE!
Created and Written by Sophie Rebibo-Halimi, © 2015 All Rights Reserved.