Floating in the Dead Sea. Its 30% salt content (as opposed to 3% in the Pacific Ocean) ensured that no matter how heavy the body (in my case, getting heavier and heavier with each delicious meal) we floated. Boy, was it cold! So cold, in fact, that we made quick work of the floating. Six minutes of body surfing before we dashed out of the water to drape ourselves in towels and sweatshirts.
Camel Riding at the Bedouin Village. In Mexico, you attend a “real” Fiesta experiences. In Hawaii, you party at the “authentic” Luau. In Israel’s Negev desert region, it’s the Bedouin experience that charms you. We disembarked from the bus and immediately ascended the camel humps for a ride around the area. Flashbulbs illuminated the near-darkness, capturing comical expressions on the faces of riders as the camels tilted this way and that. Next, sitting on padded mats on the ground, we listened to a Bedouin man describe the traditions of desert living: how the way you hold your cup indicated the depth of the hospitality you want to share and how grinding the coffee beans becomes the rhythm to which beautiful songs are sung. I confess I fell asleep on the cushy pillows, only to awake enough to stumble into the eating tent. There, sitting on bigger cushions, we dined on Bedouin delicacies of chicken shish kabobs, yellow rice, tehina, and freshly baked pita. Sated, I fell asleep again. Traveling can be exhausting.
A Little Bit of Heaven on Earth. We canceled the next morning’s program so that we could enjoy the beautiful sunshine and gorgeous Dead Sea view. (The decision turned out to be particularly clairvoyant as rain – and snow on Mt. Hermon – hit the rest of the country two days later.) The kids discovered the game room and entertained themselves with pool and more videogames. The adults, in contrast, enjoyed the hotel’s heated pool of Dead Sea water (for adults only). We floated and floated. One quick move and we spun out of control. Soon we learned to use our feet on the sides to stabilize ourselves. Someone noted that this might be how the astronauts feel in space. We tarried in the spa, enjoying the jaccuzis. In one pool, mini-alcoves provided specially aimed jets of water. This one massaged the lower back; that one the calves; yet another the feet. Others enjoyed facials and massages in the spa. A moment of rest and a bit of heaven here on earth!
Wandering in the Wilderness of Zin. Tanach (the Bible) came alive as we trekked deeper into the Negev for our Desert experience. First stop, En Avdat National Park and Nature Preserve. Wadi Zin is a broad ravine surrounded by strata of hard white limestone bearing thin seams of brown-black flint as well as base strata of soft clays and marls of reddish, greenish hues. In wet months, a stream flows down the wadi from a magnificent waterfall set halfway back along the trail. We reminisced about the Biblical significance of this area. We read in Bamidbar (the Biblical book of Numbers) that somewhere nearby in this Wilderness of Zin, Moses’ sister Miriam died, throwing the Israelites into chaos. Miriam had a prophetic knack for finding sources of water wherever they wandered. Only later, still in this Wilderness of Zin, did they receive water, when Moses struck the rock in violation of God’s instruction to speak to the rock. His frustration with his rebellious people brought Divine punishment, forbidding Moses to enter into the Promised Land. Throughout the hike, we imagined that each rock by the side of the trail might have been “The Rock,” and that this stream was “The Stream” which from which our Israelite ancestors drank. Our youngest children learned to track wild animals by identifying their footprints and spoor (a nice name for animal poop). The Psalmist wrote (Psalm 104:18), “The high hills are a refuge for wild goats.” These beautifully bearded Ibex with long curves seemed abundant. Throughout the hike we marveled as this species of desert goats walked boldly along the hillsides along the thinnest of ridges.