2 Apr 2011

Exploring Desert History

Posted by Deborah

Thursday, March 31, 2011 – Mitzpe Ramon and Avdat

Speaking of spectacular views, just about 15 minutes from the canyon in Sede Boqer is another natural beauty – Maktesh Ramon, or the Crater of Mitzpe Ramon. This I do remember from my high school trip, though we may have seen Maktesh Gadol, “The Big Crater,” which is actually smaller than Maktesh Ramon according to my local friend.

We had a chance to appreciate the site over breakfast at the new Be’resheit hotel that’s being built right on the edge of it. Apparently, BGU had hoped to put us up there but construction took longer than expected. That was clear from the bustle of workers scrambling to finish paving driveways, installing lights and landscaping.

View from the balcony of the main building

The scene from the window of a second floor standard room

A public relations representative said they’re aiming to have at least some of the rooms open by Passover.  They have quite a task ahead, but certainly it will be a magnificent place once everything’s finished. Even the standard rooms have balconies overlooking the crater, and some ground floor rooms have private pools similar to what you might find at a Caribbean resort.

Unlike the past couple of days, today’s focus was history instead of science. We met up with Prof. Hendrik Bruins at the ruins of Avdat, originally a seasonal camping ground for Nabataean caravans travelling along the early Petra – Gaza road between the first and seventh centuries BCE.  In addition to Nabataeans, the ancient city was inhabited by Romans and Byzantines.

A religious altar

From there, we headed to a nearby Bedouin village for the perfunctory camel ride. Riding in a row of camels tethered together and led by a Bedouin on foot reminded me of those kiddie pony rides in the zoo. It was neat to see the landscape from that perspective, though I can say now that after riding a camel twice I really don’t have any need to do it again.

The meal that followed was amazing, as expected. It’s so similar to many things I’ve found at restaurants in the states, but there must be something about the way it’s prepared there that makes it taste so much better. I’m sure it’s not just the setting.

Before sending the group back to the airport, BGU gave us another much-appreciated break at the Neve Midbar spa. I spent two and a half hours alternating between the hot and less-hot pools.

Back at the airport, half the group headed for planes home while the rest of us went of to trains or car rentals for a few days of sightseeing on our own. I barely made it on the next train to Tel Aviv, where I met up with two friends from Charlotte, N.C. – Crystal, who I mentioned meeting on the flight to Israel in a previous post, and Sarah, who I’m staying with over the weekend. We had a quick, but tasty dinner at one of Sarah’s favorite cafes before Crystal headed back to her relatives. Then it was on to folk dancing for me at one of the largest groups in Israel. Apparently, the Thursday evening sessions run by choreographer Gadi Bitton at Tel Aviv University can sometimes attract upwards of 1,000 people. The crowd was “thinner” than usual because Gadi was off in China along with a group of dancers – maybe only 800 people, my first partner guessed. Only.

Once again, I ran into a familiar face, which is so nice in a foreign country. This time it was a woman I used to dance with when I was at Northwestern in Chicago – Irit Stein. I’m glad she noticed me and said something because I left the city before she did and had no idea she had even moved back to Israel.

Former Chicago folk dancers Irit, Chagai and Deborah

Aside from the size, it was certainly a more advanced group than I’m used to dancing with. Oh, and much more fashionable. I guess I didn’t get the message that I should bring my plether pants, cowboy boots and sparkly belt. AND, you can’t forget the leggings. I saw at least three pairs. If 80s are the new retro, I am so there. And so old…

Leggings!

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