(photo credit: Courtesy)
As any good musician will tell you, it’s all about the timing. So what, you may
well ask, is so great – timing-wise – about heading for the Arava in the summer?
The short and surprising answer is, there is plenty to do down in the desert
without having to be carted off to the hospital suffering from dehydration or
second-degree burns. The evenings and nights are more than tolerable, and the
purity of the unsullied air is a joy to the lungs and heart.
Last week a
bunch of curious – and mostly not too hardy – journalists flew down to Eilat to
see what the Arava tourism chiefs have to offer in their newly and neatly
packaged afternoon-evening-nighttime attraction lineup down south. It was hot
enough at Sde Dov Airport in Tel Aviv when we took off, and the 42-degree heat
in Eilat was, to say the least, impressive. But the lack of humidity made the
heat far more bearable. The weather was still, well, desert-like by the time we
got to the Hai Bar nature reserve, near Kibbutz Yotvata, about 30 km. north of
Eilat, but that did not impinge on our enjoyment of animal feeding
It was fascinating to watch the tigers, caracals, wolves, jackals,
hyenas and porcupines gorge themselves on their meat and (the porcupines)
vegetables. There were also some less voluminous critters on show, including
slothful snakes and some lizard-like creatures that had far less room for
maneuver. Due to our flight delay, we did not have time to drive around the
nature reserve, but we still caught a glimpse or two of ostriches, oryxes and
addaxes roaming freely around the large compound.
It was also encouraging
to hear that the animals at Hai Bar are mostly kept there for a limited period,
to prepare them for release back into the wild.
Then it was off to the
higher altitude and somewhat more temperate climes of the Shaharut camel ranch
from where, after an explanation from our guide Yael about what to expect from
our humped steeds, we mounted camels in pairs and took a leisurely lope up to a
clifftop perch. The ridge location offered us a panoramic view of part of the
Arava valley far below, and the majestic mountains of Edom on the Jordanian side
of the border.
A tasty alfresco dinner was soon laid out for us –
includtravel ing a vegetarian repast for yours truly – after some more information from Yael
and one of her colleagues about some of the shorter and longer camel trips
around the region offered by Shaharut.
Some camel treks last a few hours,
while others offer a longer experience that last several days. As we ate our
dinner, the myriad stars made their pristine presence felt overhead.
day’s finale took us back in the direction of Eilat, to the majestic natural
splendor of Timna Park near Kibbutz Elifaz. Solomon’s Pillars, the aptly named
Mushroom Rock and plenty of other aesthetic geological figures were suitably
illuminated, and the artificial lake next to the well-stocked visitors’ center
offered welcome respite from the surrounding arid beauty.
Younger – and
older – visitors can make pretty creations in small bottles with local
multicolored sand, and all can enjoy an informative, but not high-brow,
explanation of the celestial patterns overhead.
The day’s visiting and
journeying ended at the comfortable accommodation at Kibbutz Elifaz. The bed was
comfortable, the shower welcoming, and the cold mineral water in the
refrigerator a lifesaver.
On the morrow, the more adventurous among us
were up and out and in a jeep at 6 a.m. to sample some more of the natural joys
of Timna Park in the still cool early-morning air. Our driver and tour guide,
Ron Harari, took us to the aesthetically impressive Hidden Lake, with its rich
blue-green-purple water seasoned by the copper seams around and beneath it. We
spied gamboling gazelles and fluttering wheat-ears enjoying the morning
tranquility, and we learned about some of the colorful flora of the area,
including the luxurious caper bush with feathery white flowers and pear-shaped
red fruit. The latter is used to make tasty and very sweet jam by a certain
Tuvya from nearby Kibbutz Yotvata and is available in the kibbutz
There is plenty more to see and do right across the Arava in the
coming months, and some of the local sites are offering free admission between
August 4-6 and August 11-13 for visitors staying at local accommodation