Negev Desert, Israel (Photo creds: me)
As I was born Jewish, I was given the incredible opportunity to take a ‘Birthright’ trip – anyone born Jewish outside of Israel gets a free 10 day trip to Israel, provided for and paid completely by the Israeli government. All I had to pay for myself was lunch and souvenirs. My 10 days in Israel were incredibly life changing for more than one reason, but from all the places in Israel that I visited, I enjoyed my time in the Negev the most.
Our first stop in the Negev Desert was at some Bedouin tents where we would be staying the night. We were each given a mat and after we set up our sleeping area, we were able to walk around the site. We got to see a Bedouin man perform some sort of a ritual while making soup and blowing through a horn, and eventually we were led into the dining tent where we were seated at tables that weren’t really tables, they were more like wire holders. Soon after we got settled on the ground, large trays of food were set down on the wire tables and we were able to dig into the tasty Israeli food.
After dinner, we got to spend the next few hours doing whatever we pleased. We played music while roasting marshmallows around the campfire, traded stories as we all got to know each other better, and explored the Bedouin site a little more. When we realized there were other Birthright groups there as well, we all started mingling and bouncing around. There were people dancing, people drinking, and even some people playing music on their guitars. It was a really wonderful night under the stars.
The next morning, we woke up early to catch our camel ride through the desert! We paired up into groups of two, and each hopped onto a camel. (I named my camel Snow White, because of my obsession at the time with the show ‘Once Upon A Time’ as well as the fact that my camel was the lightest colored one.) The humps of the camel definitely took a little getting used to, and although it definitely wasn’t the most comfortable transportation I’d ever taken, it was the most exciting. During the camel ride, I really didn’t have to do much besides sit back and enjoy. Yes, this was the desert, and yes, there wasn’t really anything besides dirt and brush to see, but in my eyes, it was like I was looking at a paradise. It was so spectacular to me that I was able to have this opportunity, and turning around and seeing a parade of these enormous animals behind me was an amazing sight. There goes one check off my bucket list!
After our time with the camels, we had a quick bus journey to another part of the desert, where we proceeded to go on an easy, flat hike. There were huge rock formations surrounding us on all sides, and if I had listened more in 8th grade science class, I’d be able to tell you if these rocks were igneous or sedimentary. But I didn’t, so I can’t. What I can tell you, is that these rocks looked so fake, yet they were 100% real. That’s what sucks me in about traveling. All these places I get to experience seem like something out of a movie, so unreal, yet they are so absolutely real. We kept walking for a while along the dirt and through the rocks, and eventually we came to a dead end that consisted of a lake so motionless and clean, that it was a perfectly mirrored reflection of the earth above it. At the end of the lake, there was a walkway that took us from the side we were on, to a narrower dirt path on the other side where we were able to walk all the way to the end of the dead end, to where there was a small cove. Not much to do there besides take a look, but we all took turns in the area, took an awesome Birthright selfie, and eventually headed back out the way we came. We finished our hike/walk at a higher overlook point. It was a gorgeously clear day, with not a cloud in the sky, and we were able to admire the never ending horizon of the desert.
Our last stop in the Negev was at a tradition Kibbutz. A Kibbutz is a small community based on agriculture and farming. We were first taken to the stables where the baby goats and sheep were held. Some were as young as a few days! They were so adorable and playful, and so much fun to be around. It was hard to tear ourselves away from them, but eventually we did and then we went to where the grown sheep were. Not as cute, but just as interesting to see. We got to feed them, and watching them eat was very interesting. (A couple of them chewed on my fingers!) After that, we washed our hands clean and got to sample 3 different cheeses that they made there on the farm. I’m a cheese lover, so it was really awesome to be able to eat and try cheese that was not manufactured in a factory, but rather organically and on a farm. One of the women who lived and worked at the Kibbutz spent some time explaining the growing and farming process to us. After that, she told us that we would all participate in helping make clay bricks. To make these bricks they take mud, straw, and water, hand mix it, and clump it together into bricks. After the bricks dry, they are able to put them together. We wouldn’t be doing the assembling, but we would be doing the mixing and brick making. I remember some of the girls weren’t too keen on the thought of shoving their hands into slimy mud, but I thought it was super fun, as well as most of the rest of my group. The end of our time at the Kibbutz was the end of our time in the Negev. It was definitely a dirtier time there than throughout the rest of our trip, given that we didn’t sleep in actual beds or get showers, and we spent our entire time out on endless planes of dirt, but it was an experience unlike any other and I doubt it will be one that I’ll ever forget.