‘There’s a famous saying that in the desert, every weed is a beautiful flower,” says Maimon Betaan, a tour guide who works with the northern Negev tourism association and has been guiding in the area for the past 33 years. “Up North, things are always in bloom, but here, in the South, everything is more special because it’s scarcer.” For one month in the late winter, the scarcity disappears as the desert explodes in color, painting the fields with a carpet of bright red flowers. Betaan can barely contain his excitement, sweeping his hand across the horizon and explaining how red flowers will stretch as far as the eye can see.
The anemones, kalaniot in Hebrew, grow in abundance across Israel. In the north, anemones grow in a variety of colors, including blue, purple, and albino white. However, “Anemones in the South are snobby,” says Shai Zakkai, a local artist who leads meditation tours and creates ecological art in the Negev. “In the South, they only grow bright red.”
To celebrate the blooming of the anemones, a cooperation of Negev-area tourism associations is organizing the fifth annual “Red South” (http://www.habsor.co.il/daromadom; Hebrew only), a month-long festival with a smorgasbord of weekend activities for the entire family. The festival includes tours, hikes, bicycle trips, musical events, and plenty of opportunities to eat local produce. Many of the events and tours are free but nevertheless require prior registration.
The festivities start on the weekend of January 29, to coincide with Tu Bishvat, and run through all of the weekends in February. Festival organizers hope to help families reaffirm their connection with the land by drawing on the unique agricultural offerings of the area.
Darom Adom also aims to draw families to an area of the country that desperately needs a boost in tourism. Most of the region suffered from the Kassam rockets that fell regularly in the greater Sderot area in past years. The gorgeous landscape was largely ignored by weekend hikers and day-trippers because of the situation, despite the many tourist amenities.
Last year the festival coincided with the end of Operation Cast Lead. The flowers bloomed as every year, but the festival still took place with much smaller numbers. “This area has gone through so many years of Kassam rockets,” says Betaan. “We’re hoping now many more tourists will come and enjoy now that it’s a time of peace and quiet.”
Red anemones, part of the buttercup family, are famous in Greek mythology. They represent the blood of Adonis, a young hunter and lover of both Persephone (goddess of the underworld) and Aphrodite (goddess of love). According to myth, he was killed by a wild boar while hunting and red anemones grew where his blood spilled. Red anemones also appear in many paintings of the crucifixion and are considered by Christians to represent the blood of Jesus. Anemone is a Greek word meaning “wind flower,” as it often looks as if the flowers are blown open by the wind.
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The anemones are perhaps the most striking flower you’ll see dotting the rolling hills of the northern Negev, but there are plenty of other flowers in bloom as well. Grab a guide from any of the 10 information kiosks scattered at major intersections throughout the western Negev and see if you can identify the poppies, irises, chrysanthemums, and other late-winter wildflowers along the routes.
Even if you’re not captivated by flowers, the festival holds something for everyone. History buffs can explore the ancient synagogue of Maon, near Eshkol, the Museum of Water and Security in the Negev, or the security house at Kibbutz Sa’ad, which tells the story of the military history of the area.
Art lovers can browse the Camel Project Exhibition, featuring five Jewish artists and five Arab artists who were given a fiberglass statue of a camel and asked to create a dialogue about living in the Negev. The free exhibition is located at the entry to Kfar Aza.
The rolling hills and open spaces of the Western Negev also make it a
haven for bikers and hikers. Information about guided hikes, like a
cactus tour near Talmei Yosef, is available at
http://www.habsor.co.il/daromadom. Kibbutz Be’eri ((08) 994-9374)
boasts the region’s best bike store, including bike mechanics with a
wealth of information about paths in the area. Bicycle rentals and
guided trips will also be available from Bike Israel
Organizers are confident that the
festival will provide a little something for everyone. Only an hour’s
drive from Tel Aviv and an hour and a half from Jerusalem, it’s hard to
say no to a chance to stop and smell the flowers.
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