After-hours in the Arava

Plenty of attractions make a visit to the South a surprising option for a summer vacation.

Desert311 (photo credit: Courtesy)
(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 time.
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.
The 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 store.
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 facilities.