|We continued to enjoy the desert ... this area of the Negev is where a lot of the stuff in the Bible happened. The landscapes are so spectacular that it's easier to understand why the language the Bible uses is that of hyperbole. Our next stop on the tourist trail was the Hai Bar Wild Animal and Nature Reserve -- here are some links: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Yotvata_Hai-Bar_Nature_Reserve, and http://redseadesert.com/html/060haibar.html. Endangered and extinct animals mentioned in the Bible are bred here for possible reintroduction to the Negev desert. There's an area where you can view noctural animals, another one to see Israeli birds of prey, and the main area where you drive through with your car and the wildlife roams free. Pretty cool! We saw lots of Arabian oryx, some Somali Wild Ass, lots of Nubian Ibex, and a ton of ostriches!!! And the ostriches were so bold that they waddled right up to the car and started tapping on my driver's side window with their beaks!! So I'll have some extreme close up photos to show :) They were literally seeing eye to eye with me :) Don't know why I have this Dr. Doolittle thing going on but it sure is fun!|
Our next stop was the incredible Timna Valley Park -- see this link: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Timna_Valley_Park. This is an area of much history made into another national park ... there are 9 km of driving trails and then many many different sites that you can explore by foot. It features amazing sandstone formations, nicknamed "the mushroom", "the mushroom and a half", "the arches", some copper mines dating back 6000 years with ancient tools found as well (everything in Israel turns out to be archaeological), King Solomon's pillars (which actually have nothing to do with King Solomon, but the name stuck, and I got to climb around there with a German tour group and then exit through a shrine to Hathor, the female Egyptian goddess of mining. They also had built a life-size replica of the biblical tabernacle, which was described in exact dimensions and such in the Bible, kinda interesting to see... It's too bad it was about 100 degrees that day (38+ for you Celsius fans)!
The following day we left for the hmmmm... not greener, but wetter pastures of Eilat, which is just a half hour south and on the very very southern tip of Israel at the Red Sea. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Eilat). Israel is incredibly narrow at that point of the triangle and therefore very very close to land borders with both Jordan, to the East, and Egypt, to the west. Luckily these are fairly friendly borders. The Red Sea, of course, is a misnomer. For more on that see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Red_sea. It's not red. Also, in Hebrew it's not called that -- it's Yam Soof, which I have to assume meant that they thought it was the sea at the end of their world. This is also the sea that parted in half during the Biblical escape of the Jews from Egypt. In order to observe this phenomenon, my mom and I took a little boat trip with a company called Yam Yisrael -- they have glass bottomed boats with a few decks where they go from Eilat to the edge of both Jordanian and Egyptian borders, and back. It passed an area called "Dolphin Cove" where you can see dolphins surfacing, for some reason they especially like that area though they are not contained there (free food? ;) You can see all sorts of amazing sea life through the glass bottomed area, and coral, especially in one area that I have not been able to figure out why they call "the Japanese Garden". Most of the other passengers on the boat were Arab or Russian. The boat people turned up some catchy Arabic music and the Arabs entertained themselves and others with some inspired dancing. The Russians didn't do much to entertain -- there being no vodka around. Anyway, folks, I have to tell you, the Red Sea did not part AT ALL during our little boat trip, tragically. I asked for a refund but those folks have no sense of humor! ;-)
Later that evening we went on a search from our hostel to find Eddie's Hideaway, an aptly named restaurant which was really just a block or two from the hostel and featured delicious fish and seafood, apparently owned by an American. Because it was so hidden away down an alley which emptied into a courtyard, it was just us and a large number of locals who all know about it, but no identifiable other tourists. Very nice :) They feature denis, which is also known as sea bream and local to that area.
The next morning we got up super early and went to the Coral Beach Nature Reserve (http://www.parks.org.il/BuildaGate5/general2/data_card.php?Cat=~25~~410455042) and I got to go snorkeling there and it was AMAZING. I'd say the fishies and coral in Malaysia in the Perhentian Islands which I went to 8 months ago were even more amazing, but this was pretty cool indeed! I loved floating past all that color and sea life.
Just sorry I couldn't do it for longer -- but we had to move on to the incredible Underwater Observatory (http://www.coralworld.com/eilat/eng/) where there are terrific and beautiful tanks of unusual fish but also a large area where you descend into the ocean inside this building and get to see the sea life all around you through windows without getting wet. They also have tortoises, a shark tank where we got to see the feeding, a small Amazon section, and very lovely and patient staff who go through all sorts of interesting information and explanations in both Hebrew and English. As a result I got to learn more words I never learned in bilingual school, important words like anemone שושנת-ים, shark כריש, fins סנפירים, etc. I had so much fun I didn't want to leave!
But we had to move on, from the Red Sea to the Dead Sea (I think it was called that because no life could exist there, it's 10x more salty than other oceans, but recently microbiologists have ruined all the fun with discovery of 11 bacterial species that can survive there -- but once again in Hebrew the name is more appropriately titled ים המלח or "Sea of Salt"). More on that in the next blog entry, but till then here's a link: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dead_sea