Day 3.5 – 4.8: On the Edge

02 October 2007 – 18:14

So this is pretty darn awesome. Starting from where I left off:

Yeroham to Sde Boker was great. However, by the time I reached Sde Boker it was four o’clock, and with sunset at five thirty, there was no way I was going to reach Mitzpe Ramon before dark, especially since it’s uphill from Sde Boker. So I nabbed an ice cream (the type with the white chocolate in the middle – so good) and sat down to wait for the bus. While I was waiting, this random guy who had been with a group of mountain bicyclists at the gas station stopped to talk to me – the usual where-are-you-from, what-are-you-doing-with-a-bike, and good-grief-are-you-crazy? Well, sometimes I get a that’s-awesome.

Anyway, it turned out that he was a geology major who was working in the physics department at the Ben Gurion Solar Research Institute, which I’m hoping to visit sometime.

The bus came, and I got in, and went up the hilly climb to Mitzpe Ramon, when the bus came to the end of the route, and I and another man were the only one left on the bus, he asked me where I was going, and I said that I was going to get dinner somewhere. He said that he and the bus driver were going to grab dinner at a restaurant; would I like to come along? So I did. He was a local, one of the popular, gregarious types who knows everybody, and we ate at what he claimed was the best place in town (in terms of food). There was a tomatoey, slightly spicy Moroccan sauce for the pita that I really liked. The food was great, and he and the bus driver insisted on paying for my dinner. He spoke English, and the bus driver spoke a little, and I spoke a little Hebrew, so all in all we got on quite well. They even drove me – in the bus (which was way awesome, pulling up in my own private chauffeured bus) – to the SPNI Field School, where I was staying that night. It turned out to be a good thing, too, because it was at the end of an out-of-the-way road outside of town, and I probably wouldn’t have had a good time finding it.

When I checked in, the administrator mentioned that there was an “Irish Concert” on in town that night, and that the sub-administrator was going to it. The sub-admin showed me to the big, shared tent that I was to stay in, and the showers, and offered me a ride to the concert.

A hot shower is amazingly awesome.

The “concert” turned out to be in kind of a pub – not exactly a pub, but more like a small venue with a bunch of tables and a bar on the side, with the focus being the small stage. The featured performers were a two-person team from Ireland, one with vocals and guitar, the other with a djembe or that funky Celtic drum with a two-ended drumstick that I can’t remember the name of right now.

The vocalist was surprisingly good. She has a pleasant, darker voice that handles the high registers well, and her selections ranged from very traditional to more contemporary ballads. I almost bought a CD, but it would probably break in my backpack.

Whoever I was sharing the tent with was asleep when I got back, so I shut ‘er down for the (cold) night. The northern Negev has a steppe climate – sometimes it even snows in the winter – and it’s hot in the day and cold at night. Fortunately I know that deserts weren’t too great in the heat retention department, so I did pack a pair of long pants. It was still cold. I woke up at least twice and spent awhile curling up in awkward positions, trying to get warm.

Oh, by the way, the whole cyclists-passing-me-on-road thing. Apparently there’s a ride – kind of a benefit thing – from Nahariya (the northernmost Israeli town of note) to Eilat (the southernmost city) – and it was happening this week. It takes three or four days, and it wounds pretty sweet, if one has the right equipment. About 300 riders participated this year.

I slept until 7:30 – late, because the sun was well up, packed, and promptly discovered that my front tire was flat. Bummer. I started walking the three kilometers to town, but was picked up on the way by a man and his twelve-year-old sone – he coordinates Jeep tours throughout Israel. We stopped at a grocery store for breakfast – pitot (the plural of pita) – and they dropped me off at the place I was to stay tonight. Since this lodge leads a lot of biking and horseback tours, they had inner tubes (in fact, I got the last one they had). The one guy even rode with me to a bike shop in town, where I got a spare tube fro tomorrow and some opinion on my brakes, so they suck less now.

Sitting down and drinking tea must be an art form here, because when I showed up with my flat tire, I must have looked a little harried. The first thing the manager said to me was, “Relax, we’re on desert time here. Sit down and have some tea.”

The tea is not what I’m used to – it tastes – it’s hard to describe. Tangier, maybe. Sweet without being sweet, but deeper. Yeah, it’s really hard to describe. But it seems to be peculiar to the desert/Arab areas, and it’s called by a name that begins with an L and sounds like a two-syllable girl’s name – maybe lianne?

The Mitzpe Ramon football (soccer) field. There’s a camel standing by it.

With a considerable lighter pack (I left a lot of my stuff at the lodge) I headed to the crater (makhtesh in Hebrew) – and it is a dandy of a crater. Forty-two kilometers long, nine wide, and four hundred meters deep. It’s not an impact crater, but rather one created by erosion and tectonic shifting and stuff like that. It’s the largest of its kind in the world.

Looking down into the makhtesh

I tried my hand at rappelling, which was fun, and decided to take a hike along the rim of the crater. I had wanted to go in, but was advised very strongly by park rangers that the three-hour one-way hike, which was the shortest marked, had no shade and no water supplies at the end. As I didn’t want to wear myself out, I passed on that option. It was during the hottest part of the day, as well.

So I took the crater rim path, and passed a lot of random “desert sculpture”, which was sometimes stones stacked on each other, and sometimes huge concrete slabs.

A “wind sculpture” – it’s supposed to make noise when the wind is blowing, kind of like gigantic wind chimes

More views into the crater


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