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Sunday, May 2, 2010

Wandering in the Desert -- Ein Avdat, Mitzpeh Ramon, and Kibbutz Ketura in the Arava.

Sorry about no decent internet access for quite a while to post updates but I feel as though I've been here a really long time and done so much and at the same time it's not enough ;-)

So when last I left you, we were in the loving care of Iseec and his wife Leah. Iseec hand-delivered us to the Eldan car rental company the following morning, where we were delighted to discover that though I had booked a tin can car rental on the internet, instead I was given a Mazda 3, apparently the most popular car in Israel. I think Iseec had something to do with the upgrade, must have put in a good Sabra word for me ;-)

The nice Ethiopian guy who got my car for me was very apologetic having spent 10 minutes looking for a map for me in English but couldn't find one. Iseec told him it was no problem as I can read Hebrew. I too thought it was no problem, but later (of course) when I was asking my mom to help me with map reading it occurred to me that she can't read Hebrew! So driving at highway speed and reading a Hebrew map was a little much. I was lucky to be in the desert where the drivers are less ... Israeli, shall we say (by this I mean aggressive, tailgating, honking the horn if they think you're driving too slowly, passing you by going into the lane of oncoming traffic... -- actually very much like New York City).

So off we went, from Netanya south, farrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr south, to Ein Avdat and Avdat -- a site where there was an ancient Nabatean civilization. Lots of very cool archeology to see but my mom got tired walking so I did a quick buzz through on my own.

There I happened to meet a woman who was a Black Hebrew who lived in the area --her family had immigrated to Israel from Chicago and she was born in Israel but spoke English with an African American accent though she has never been to the US. Apparently a community moved from the Midwest at some point in the past, including some relatives of Whitney Houston's. Hopefully they had a better outcome than she did, eh? We gave her this woman a lift to Mitzpeh Ramon which was our next stop. Here there is an incredible geological crater. I will try to put in some photos. I can't even begin to describe what this would resemble in the US? Maybe the Grand Canyon? Except of course I have never been to the Grand Canyon! Anyway it is quite impressive. We would have liked to go to Bio-Ramon, the sort of zoological park that goes with the crater visitor center, but ran out of time. At some point we bought one of those all-Israel National Park Passes which is priced pretty high at about US $35ish per person, but you can get into 63 different sites over a two week period and it was just easier than spending separate money each time.

From Mitzpeh Ramon we went on to where we were spending the night, Kibbutz Keturah in the Arava (an agricultural area within the Negev Desert). This Kibbutz was set up in the 1970s by North American immigrants. They had quite a nice B and B that we stayed at, and a gorgeous pool which unfortunately was only open between 3 and 6 pm so we missed out on that too. The following morning, a very nice guy named Mike who had lived there since the beginning gave us an incredible tour of the kibbutz and the experimental orchards and algae farming they have there. Most kibbutzim (which are collectives that are part agricultural/part industrial) have privatized in the last decade or two, but this one has not, meaning that no matter what a member does for a living, his/her salary goes to the group at large and everyone benefits or profits equally from the work of the group at large. Socialist, kinda. But the people are very happy there and they're doing well.

The two biggest moneymakers there are date orchards and algae farming. They produce medjool and deglet noor dates that are yummy, and they have an interesting understanding with the surrounding middle eastern countries -- they'll buy their products as long as there is no mention of the word "Israel" on it. So they market them as "Jordan River Valley Dates" with a mailing address that is a PO Box in Jericho (which is in the West Bank), and laugh all the way to the bank, and their neighbors get to eat the yummy dates they crave. The other business, the algae farming -- he told us all the scientific names which a week later I have since sadly forgotten but I will look up when I get home. They grow them in closed systems which use as little water and recycle as much as possible, given that they are in the desert, and these algae when fed to salmon first of all have major antioxidant properties, but also cause them to turn the lovely salmon pink color that makes people want to buy them instead of the gray color they otherwise would have been. Very high tech stuff. In the experimental orchard they are also growing various types of trees to determine what would be good to provide fodder for animals in Africa, and also spice trees and some acacia trees and lots lots more. The stay at the kibbutz was very comfortable, the only downside was the food is served in a dining hall and was less than inspired. We did pay a visit down the road to the Kibbutz Yotvata dairy, where they have very very fabulous (and pricey) ice cream.

Another comment on Israeli food -- they eat salads all day long. Including breakfast. The Israeli breakfast is kinda famous. Tons of really wonderful dairy products, salad salad salad, terrific bread, maybe some sour cherry jam, coffee. But not big on cereal, pastries, etc. And, no dessert even at dinnertime. No wonder they all look thin and healthy. The tomatoes and the avocadoes are supreme. At Shmuel's house we had an avocado that probably weighed almost a kilo. They dwarf anything sold in the US. Don't know how they do it.

Also at the kibbutz I bonded with the local cows. They are raised primarily for dairy and not for meat. They are black and white and cute all over. One night I drove in after a day out in the hot desert sightseeing (see the next entry) and decided for some reason looking at the cows that they would probably enjoy licking my salty arm. So I parked the car and stuck my arm into the pen and sure enough 5 cows lined up to get a piece of me. They would grab my whole hand into their mouths and suck on it! Their teeth aren't sharp so it wasn't a problem. For those of you who are thinking ewwwwwwwwwwww, why, that's gross -- actually their tongues have a nice consistency, kind of scratchy like a cat's tongue. I think if on my way back into the country I am asked if I did anything agricultural, I'm just gonna say "of course not" (and "please don't read my blog" ;-).

Next entry will discuss Timna Valley Park which was AMAZING!

1 comment:

  1. love the palm tree and gecko photos - Koren