Posted on November 25, 2011 by Derek Kwait
We went to the Negev just as Jerusalem was starting to get really, really depressing. Every day last week was so incessantly rainy and cold, like a Kennywood day in Pittsburgh, that a trip to the desert was just what I needed to re-energize myself and feel excited and alive again.
The tiyyul was about hiking, putting on a backpack and boots, filling up a water bottle, and really living the Land. I’ve always loved hiking–it’s just like walking, maybe the only sport I’m good at, except more extreme. Hiking is extreme walking, and since I chose the hardest hiking option available each day, I got to experience the most extreme, most beautiful, most inspiring, and most challenging (or as our British tour guide called it “technical”*) hikes of my life.
We left early Tuesday morning to hike in and around the oasis of Ein Gedi and Mt. Yishai right next to the Dead Sea.
This is the actual spring of Ein Gedi.
Wednesday, we hiked Nakhal Peres. A nakhal is a wadi, a dried-up canyon bed that today only rarely fills with sudden flash-floods.
Both the above hikes took around 6 hours and went on for 10’s of kilometers (however the hell far that is). Thursday’s hike only lasted about 2 hours but was at least as dramatic and as “technical”* as the other two, containing as it did a nearly vertical climb up the side of a mountain overlooking Makhtesh Gadol, which we then hiked down into. A makhtesh is a geological formation like a crater except formed by natural processes instead of a meteorite. Makhteshim are unique to the deserts of Israel, which have 3 of them.
The hike going up was so technical that those of us who got to the summit early formed a welcoming committee to cheer people on as they reached the top then congratulated them once they finally summitted.
At the bottom of the makhtesh are colored sands left by mineral deposits unearthed by the ancient river that ran through it.
What I’m left with at the end of all this hiking is a profound sense of gratitude: gratitude for the Land, gratitude for the fact that it’s once again ours, gratitude for the opportunity, physical fitness, eyes, ears, and nose to explore it, soul to be radically amazed by my surroundings, and for the amazing people to do it with. While hiking, body and soul become indistinguishable.
Our accommodations were also incredible. We stayed at Shvilim Bamidbar in the middle of the desert, right near the Jordanian border. The resort is like a cross between a sukkah and a luxury hotel–the surroundings were beautiful, the food was abundant and delicious, the showers were hot, there were pool, ping-pong, and Foosball tables, and we had a never-ending supply of Bedouin tea and dates, and the whole facility is designed to be incredibly energy efficient and green (or, in this case, brown). Yet, nearly everything was open-air, allowing you to experience an authentic (meaning freezing) nighttime desert experience tucked together in a heated room or sitting up late into the night talking around gas heaters.
The non-hiking highlight of the tiyyul was the talent show Wednesday night. Students sang, Flamenco, hip-hop, and fire danced (not at the same time), played instruments, did improv, and played instruments while doing improv. It was so much fun not only seeing people perform their talents but also just seeing a different side to your friends than what you normally see. I also participated in the show by showing off my ability to name every US President and his political party in order, thereby securing another term for myself as Chick-Magnet-in-Chief of Makhon Pardes.
This wasn’t our only other activity. Tuesday night, Rav Meir Schweiger, Pardes’ spiritual guide and longest-tenured teacher, shared his inspiring life story with us, and Thursday morning, we met Boaz Oz, founder of Shivilim Bamidbar, a true man of the desert whose lean, fit body serves as living proof of the good of devoting your life to working and hiking the land.
My current ‘stache ranks somewhere between Ned Flanders and President/Chief Justice William Howard Taft (R):
*Quote of the Week: “I think ‘technical’ is British for ‘deadly.”
Looking down on the most “technical” section of the hike:
From Wednesday’s hike of Nakhal Peres
Word Biblical Verse of the Week: In Genesis 13, immediately after God promises him land and offspring, He tells him, “.התקום התהלך בארץ, לארכה ולרחבה, כי לך, אתננה” (“Koom heet’halaykh baaretz, l’arka oolrakhba, kee l’kha etnena.”) – “Rise, walk the length and width of the Land, for I am giving it to you.”