Craters and camelids in the Negev

Solitude can be pleasing, but this was not so much a pleasing and meditative solitude as it was a state of utter solitude.

Makhtesh Ramon 311 (photo credit:
Makhtesh Ramon 311
(photo credit:
What is it like to be sneezed on by an alpaca in the Negev Desert? This is a complex question, particularly since the alpaca is not native to the Negev. There are a number of correct answers. (a) Revolting, as the alpaca, being a camelid, is quite similar to a llama. One would generally not, it seems, wish to be sneezed upon by a llama. (b) Acceptable, if one happens to be carrying an enormous, tent-sized handkerchief in one’s back pocket, folded up with origami-like precision. (c) Traumatic, though partially mitigated by the beauty and calm of Israel’s desert.
I did not pack an oversized handkerchief on a recent jaunt to southern Israel and therefore truly felt the solitude of the desert at the critical moment of kinetic impact.
Solitude can be pleasing, but this was not so much a pleasing and meditative solitude as it was a state of utter solitude, set in motion by the peals of laughter from my wife, older son and friends as birds circled overhead.
The only innocent in this affair was my younger son who, at nine months of age, declined to comment.
The most interesting thing, though, was not the light that this event cast on both animal and human nature – as revelatory as that light proved to be – but rather the chain of events that led us to this alpaca farm in the middle of the desert in the first place.
So I should begin at the beginning, at the Beresheet desert resort which sits on the lip of the Ramon Crater, a beautiful geological phenomenon near Mitzpe Ramon in southern Israel.
Beresheet is an apt name. It means “in the beginning” in Hebrew and is the name of the first book in the Hebrew Bible – more familiar to English speakers as Genesis – a book whose early pages tell the story of the creation of the world. Surely the creators of this man-made oasis had the unformed, primeval nature of the landscape in mind when they gazed at the panorama before them and decided upon a name.
Beresheet comprises an unobtrusive complex of villas that by virtue of texture and modest height blend in gracefully with the surrounding desert landscape. The villas’ exteriors consist of broken stone similar in appearance to the stones strewn throughout the Negev. The interiors are luxurious, and some of the abodes have their own private outdoor pools. The resort also contains a large pool whose waters appear to drop off into the Ramon Crater from certain vantage points, like an infinity pool feeding into a colorful abyss. Ibex roam the grounds freely.
The Ramon Crater is, of course, the highlight of the Negev experience. It is the largest crater in the Negev at roughly 40 km.
long, nearly 500 meters deep, and eight kilometers wide at its broadest point. Stunning pastel colors wash across its interior in yellow, ochre and red striations muted by the sandstone that comprises a part of its geologic foundation. The crater was formed millions of years ago not by a meteor but by water erosion. Today there is precious little water in the vicinity of the crater, but no dearth of sunlight, and at dusk the landscape is bathed in the tangerine rays of the setting sun.
The mystique and the music of the desert derive not only from its quiet and solitude, but from the raucous tenacity of the life which scratches out an existence on its unforgiving sands and rocks: ibex nibbling upon a lonely bush; a Beduin encampment; a flock of birds gliding above, silently.
At night, with the stars as company and the crisp desert chill in the air, one is enveloped by a strangely tranquil emotion.
There is quiet here, and beauty, and life, against all odds.
We drove to Beresheet from the ancient-modern coastal town of Ashkelon, my wife’s birthplace and about two hours from Mitzpe Ramon. Upon our arrival, we refreshed ourselves with sweet tea infused with mint leaves and admired the dramatic scenery though the resort’s oversized windows.
I inquired about hiking opportunities in the vicinity, and learned that a short guided trek was about to begin led by a local resident, a woman named Na’ama.
Within a few steps of the lobby, Na’ama led us to a gravelly path that admitted stunning views of the crater while she offered interesting and informative commentary about the region’s geography.
Not very far into the hike, at a hairpin turn around the lip of the crater, we came upon a narrow path bordered by a sheer drop (no handrail included) that appeared to lead nowhere other than 30 meters straight down the wall of the crater. I will readily admit that I have a somewhat antagonistic relationship with heights, and my old sneakers were not doing a particularly commendable job of gripping the gravel, so I was pleased when we reached a rocky plateau and Na’ama took the group through yoga poses. (There are not many things one can do on a rocky plateau, but yoga is one of them.) When the yoga came to an end, we continued on to an outdoor sculpture garden that rose unexpectedly out of the desert like so many stone and metal cacti.
I was now in my element, and I began to chat with Na’ama about life in this part of Israel. I learned that she and her husband owned an alpaca farm located close to the resort. She explained that the farm housed several hundred of the wooly Andean creatures.
That got me thinking along the following lines: The alpaca is prized for its wool; I might have a chance to purchase a beautiful sweater; my young boys will have a chance to pet and ride the animal. OK.
Let’s go.
So we headed to Na’ama’s alpaca farm, an aesthetically pleasing ranch containing beautiful desert flora, a welcoming and friendly staff and guest accommodations for visitors. But I did not end up with an alpaca sweater. Instead, the sweater I had donned that morning took a grievous hit (not to worry, I brought back from its near death experience with a judicious dry-cleaning). Yet it was all well worth it.
The farm was relaxing, and the children got to ride, and the adults got to laugh and we all had the privilege of experiencing the wonder and solitude of the desert.
Additional Information • Lodging: Rooms in the villas at Beresheet can be booked online at www.isrotelexclusivecollection.
com/beresheet. The guest rooms of the alpaca farm offer an earthy alternative and can be booked by calling 972-52-897-7011. More information can be found at english.html.
• Eating: The food at Beresheet is superb; the breakfast is truly sumptuous. If you would like go into town for a meal, HaHavit in Mitzpe Ramon serves tasty, hearty food.
• Activities: One can partake of a variety of activities in the area in addition to pampering oneself at Beresheet’s spa, including a jeep tour of the interior of the crater and a visit to a Beduin village. The Ramon Visitor’s Center has a very informative and impressive animated display that explains the geological processes behind the formation of the Ramon Crater. The visitor’s center also pays homage very movingly to the life of Israeli pilot and astronaut Ilan Ramon, who died tragically, along with six other astronauts, in the explosion of the space shuttle Columbia in 2003.
The author is a banker and writer whose work has appeared in Midstream Magazine, The Jerusalem Post, and Moment.

Tags hiking