February 22-26, 2009
We didn’t plan to do big zig-zags in Israel, but it kind of worked out that way. If you recall, Pnina and I entered Israel from the south (coming up from Egypt), so on the way to kibbutz Gal Ed we visited some friends/family in the south (in Eilat). But then my parents arrived in Israel and they also wanted to head south, to visit family and to do some hiking in the Negev (the desert). So, the day after our wedding reception in Gal Ed we all started driving south, back to Eilat.
There were seven of us: Pnina, myself, my parents (Adi & Suzy), our relatives from San Francisco who also wanted to hike in the south (Ron & Marlene), plus Ron’s sister Mookie from Montreal.
On our drive south we passed a sign post instructing us to turn right if we want to reach the “Tamar Drill Site”. I asked my dad what that’s all about and he said that it’s one of the places off-shore (in the Mediterranean) where natural gas was found deep down, below the sea floor, and Israel was extracting it. I had no idea that Israel had any energy sources whatsoever; I figured that’s one of the things that distinguish it from most of the middle east – they have oil, we don’t. Dad also said that a new natural gas reservoir was recently discovered about 90 km off shore from Haifa and that people believe that it has enough gas to fulfill Israel’s needs for 15 years. Wow! Now the trick is that this underground reservoir probably spills northward into Lebanon’s off-shore territory. Both countries could race to drill on their end of the reservoir and extract the gas as quickly as possible, but apparently Israel is ahead and Lebanon is pissed and threatening to sue. I’m not sure what kind of power Lebanon has to sue Israel over this. As an aside, Lebanon once tried to sue Israel for marketing its hummus and falafel foods as if they are Israeli, whereas they are actually Lebanese foods (which may be true).
There’s another energy project that is even more interesting. You probably know that the Dead Sea is the lowest point on earth – the surface of the Dead Sea is about 400 meters below sea level. So, it’s possible, at least theoretically, to dig canals that let water flow from the sea (either the Mediterranean or the Red Sea) to the Dead Sea. Along the way you can build hydro-electric plants for energy, desalination plants to provide fresh water, use the water for irrigation, and possibly create new lakes and tourism sites. This idea isn’t new. Herzl, the man who lead the Zionist movement to re-establish the state of Israel, proposed this idea in 1910 (or so). The Israeli government has talked about this project again and again, and each time they decided that it’s far too complex and expensive. It’s too bad.
As we drove south, we stopped at a viewpoint just south of Dimona…
Marlene, Suzy, and Ron at a viewpoint on the way to Eilat:
This was a pretty windy spot, which reminded Ron of an article he recently read about the potential for harnessing wind energy around the world. The article had this interesting map of the world, color-coded to show average wind intensity. The map revealed a wonderful correlation: countries that have the biggest high-wind zones also happen to have the smallest amounts of other energy sources (e.g. oil). Conversely, countries with a lot of oil (e.g. Saudi Arabia) have very little wind resources.
Once again we went to kibbutz Eilot, where my mom’s cousin, Riva, lives. Ron, Marlene, and Mookie are from my dad’s side of the family, so this was their first time meeting Riva.
Riva, her husband David, my parents Adi & Suzy, and me.
Riva’s older son, Eyal, with his girlfriend Cheli:
The first evening there Riva took us to Eilat waterfront for dinner. There are several new resort hotels in the area, and a museum that tells the story of the Bible in an interactive way. It’s all pretty slick and impressive and maybe just a little too Las-Vegas’ish.
One of the fancy new hotels in Eilat’s waterfront:
We did a couple of hikes near Eilat. The first one was to a place called Amram Pillars. This was a five-hour hike through dry canyons. The hike is named for cliff that has natural column-like formations (though calling them “columns” is a bit of a stretch because they are all attached to the cliff; more like folds really). Pillars aside, the whole area was beautiful – lots of colorful rocks in all directions.
Adi & Ron at the start of the hike. Dad is focusing as much on the map as on the scenery – very typical 🙂
Natural stripes on the rocks:
Suzy & Adi at the top of a hill we climbed. The mountains in the very back are in Jordan:
Towards the end of the hike we passed through a beautiful place called the Black Canyon. Getting through required scrambling down some drops. Pnina and I were very proud of the old folks for getting through it so well 🙂
On one of the steeper descents: Adi, Pnina, Ron, Marlene, Suzy:
North of Amram Pillars there’s a kibbutz called Yotvata. This kibbutz is renowned in Israel for their awesome dairy products – milk, yoghurt, ice cream, etc. Today they also have a few restaurants around Israel. Near the kibbutz itself they have a really nice tourist-oriented shop/restaurant. It was a perfect place to stop after the hike to relax with some ice cream.
Dom Palm & Timna
Our second hike was to a place called Timna.
On the way there we stopped at Dekel Dom, a tiny oasis famous for a unique kind of palm tree. It really wasn’t very impressive. But, very close to the oasis there’s a man-made water reservoir that is home to dozens of flamingos. That site was very cool, in part because it’s right next to the Jordanian border.
The white things are flamingos – trust me:
From there it was a short drive to Timna. A desert park with several sites along a crescent road. It was my first time there. Pnina visited Timna in the past but she said this time it was better than she remembered.
At the entrance to Timna there are some cheesy signs with Egyptian pharaohs. We thought they looked hokey and out-of-place, until we learned that there actually is some Egyptian history in this place: this was the site of an ancient Egyptian mine (was it copper? I forget).
Shahaf & Suzy in front of a pyramid-like rock:
This place had the great name “Mushroom and a half”. The “half” is the little stump on the left:
The signs said not to climb the arch, but come on, how can you resist?
Climbing down after going through the arch:
A different mushroom:
Amudei Shlomo (Solomon’s Pillars) – much bigger and more impressive than Amram’s Pillars:
Shahaf & Pnina climbing up through the folds between the Pillars:
Timna Pond, at the end of the road. It’s supposed to be the highlight of the park, but it’s kind of disappointing. I guess Pnina and I are jaded with all the water we see around Seattle:
Mookie isn’t into hiking. She stayed by the pond and drew sketches of the area:
Uri & Gal at Sde Boker
Mom & Dad stayed in Eilat another day in order to visit Petra, in Jordan. Pnina and I didn’t join them for that since we were planning to enter Jordan the following week (no point in paying Jordan’s visa fee twice). So, while they went to Petra we headed north to Sde Boker to visit her friends, Uri & Gal.
Uri, Shahaf, Pnina, and Gal:
Uri recently finished his master’s degree at the Sde Boker college. I think the major is agricultural engineering, or something like that. His thesis was about using fancy cameras to take photos of fields, and analyzing those pictures to understand more about the soil or plants growing there. The cameras capture information in various frequencies (e.g. not just RGB, not just visible spectrum). The idea is that you can use this analysis, for example, to figure out where you have weeds and therefore where you need pesticides, rather than brute-force flooding the field with pesticides.
Gal also recently finished her masters in Biology and Teaching. She’s now a high school teacher in a couple of places, including Yerucham (same place where Pnina and Uri did community service, and Gal too one year later). Oh, and when we visited it happened to be Gal’s birthday. Happy birthday Gal! 🙂
Uri and Gal were pretty busy with school/work while we were there. So, we hung out together at night, but during the day Pnina and I went hiking by ourselves. This hike was also about 5 hours long, taking us on a loop to a spring called Ein Akev and back around. It was another beautiful spot – colorful mountains and deer.
There are lots of deer hanging around Sde Boker, near Ben Gurion’s grave, but it’s still exciting to see them in nature:
This is the actual spring of Ein Akev. We saw one guy who tried to wade into the edge of the pool and found himself slipping fully into the cold water. We wish we had our camera ready!
One of the deer in Sde Boker, kicking dust:
Before we returned to Sde Boker we could hear old patriotic Israeli songs blasting on a speaker. We followed our ears to the source to see what it’s all about. We found a kind of graduation ceremony for a military-like camp organized for Jews from around the world. The camp is set up to give foreign Jews an idea of what the army is all about, and possibly encourage them to move to Israel. It was a little weird to see some of them posing for photos like Rambo with their automatic weapons:
Claud in Rehovot
Mom & Dad picked us up from Sde Boker on their way north. They had a great time in Petra and gave us suggestions (stay tuned for that).
Together we stopped in Rehovot to visit dad’s co-worker from his days at a company called El-Op, years ago. Claud still works there as head of quality assurance.
Adi, Suzy, Claud, and Shahaf:
Close to Eilat we saw huge lots full of new cars collecting dust:
These cars were intended for dealerships throughout Israel and Europe. But then the economic downturn hit and people stopped buying cars, so the dealerships canceled their orders. The cars had to be stored somewhere, and the cheapest alternative was to put them in giant open lots near Eilat. It’s a very strange site.
In the News
The Academy Awards (Oscars) took place on Feb 22nd. The Indian/American movie Slumdog Millionaire was the big winner, taking best film and seven other prizes. We later learned that there was mixed reaction to this success in India. Most people were thrilled to have Indian actors do so well in America, but some were angry that the film showed so much of the dark side of India. The Israeli film Waltz with Bashir, which Pnina and I saw recently, did not end up winning the best foreign film prize – that prize went to Departures. Best supporting actor went to Heath Ledger for his role as The Joker in The Dark Knight; this is notable because Ledger died from a prescription drug overdose before the film was released.