Chilling out near Mitzpe
Experience the spirit of the Wild West down South.
Mitzpe Ramon area Photo: Courtesy
Mitzpe Ramon is a special place however you look at it and whatever you do there. There surely is nowhere else in the world where you can enjoy a relatively temperate climate in the desert in the middle of summer and, of course, there’s that unparalleled view of the Ramon Crater.
As you approach the town from the north, you might get the impression of a shanty town or something that looks like a throwback to the Wild West, with its one gas station strategically located by the exit before the long drop into the crater, and a small shopping center with a supermarket, bank and pizzeria. There also don’t seem to be many people around, which isn’t surprising, considering that Mitzpe Ramon has a per square kilometer population density of just 74, compared with more than 6,000 and 7,000 for Jerusalem and Tel Aviv respectively.
There is a handful of plush or semi-plush hotels in the town, but if you want to get a bona-fide desert experience and don’t mind forgoing such standard facilities as a TV or even electricity, you’d do well to get yourself over the western perimeter of the built-up area and check in to the Silent Arrow Desert Lodge.
A few hundred meters down a rough but navigable road, a Wild West-style sign appears announcing that you have arrived at the said unpampered but definitively cool desert accommodation. The lodge is mostly confined within a dried palm-branch perimeter fence that includes a large tent-enclosed expanse sleeping up to 40 people, and a smaller structure that serves as the living room, with seating, low tables and a self-catering kitchen with gas rings, an assortment of pots and pans, dishes and cutlery and condiments.
On the other side of the compound is a storeroom staff area and, most importantly, a toilet and shower unit with constant hot water. The latter facility was particularly welcome after my 200-km.
bike ride down there from Jerusalem.
There are also more private dome-shaped accommodation units – colorfully called Kingdom, Wizdom (sic) and Freedom – for couples and/or small families. There is nothing materially luxurious about these dome rooms, but the sparse décor is welcoming, the interior ambience is in perfect harmony with the rustic locale, and the blankets on the comfy double bed were the warmest I had ever experienced. With a howling gale and temperatures down to single figures outside, the bed covers were greatly appreciated.
Lodge owner Dror Gurion says that he initially had not intended to provide guest facilities at the spot. “I came to Mitzpe from Tivon in 1997 and lived at Succa in the Desert,” he says, referring to a similarly rough-and-ready spot just to the west of the town near the rim of the crater. Gurion was drawn south by a growing interest in archery, as well as the opportunity to take in lungfuls of pristine desert air on a daily basis. “I came here to learn archery with [veteran archer] Ya’acov Everet. He still gives workshops here,” he says.
It took a while a longer for Silent Arrow to rise up out of the bone-dry land, and even longer for the lodge to open its palm-branch gate to the general public.
“I built this place, with help from friends, in 2000 and lived here with my family. I opened up the lodge in 2004,” says Gurion.
The venture was not an overnight success, although he says that word of the new elemental guest facilities gradually got around. “We didn’t mount an aggressive marketing campaign and, primarily, we first got backpackers from abroad who heard about us through our website and through word of mouth. Now we also get families and people of all ages,” he says.