From Sea to Sea and Beyond to Jordan

Saturday December 24 and Sunday December 25, 2016

Happy Chanukah and Merry Christmas!  We realize that we've been blogging daily for the entire trip so far.  The next two days (Saturday and Sunday) will have been low activity days (relatively speaking for us), so we will be combining those two days into one post.

We were awakened at 4:30 by a rooster crowing somewhere in the Negev. And we realized that this is the second year in a row that we have spent Christmas eve in the desert!

The Yehelim Hotel is a boutique family hotel on the edge of Arad. So for breakfast we expected some juice, coffee, maybe some muffins and toast (you know, like at a Hampton Inn back home). Instead, we found a full table of beautiful home made salads and dips (and muffins and bread and spreads) plus eggs of your choosing.  This little hotel (truly in the middle of nowhere) was quite a gem.

After gorging ourselves again (really...who was hungry?), we continued our journey light rain and heavy fog.

Our only sightseeing stop of the day was the Ramon Crater (Makhtesh Ramon). It is not actually an impact crater from a meteor nor a volcanic crater formed by a volcanic eruption, but rather is the world's largest makhtesh, a geological landform considered unique to the Negev desert of Israel and the Sinai peninsula of Egypt. The crater is 40 km (25 miles) long, 2–10 km (1.1 - 6 miles) wide and 500 meters (1/3 mile) deep, and is shaped like an elongated heart. To quantify this better, that is about twice the size of Boston! So our photos do not do it justice. Here is one from the internet...

Coincidentally, Israel's first astronaut was named Ilan Ramon. He and his crewmates died in the breakup of Space Shuttle Columbia in 2003. Ironically, there is a Ramon crater on the moon named in his honor. The Israel National Park system (which does a magnificent job managing and curating the parks) presents a moving tribute to Ilan in several videos at the Makhtesh Ramon site.  You can view the crater by parking in the lot of the Visitors' Center and walking alongside the edge (carefully marked) and/or you can view the crater after a guided video tour--five video stations--three dedicated to Ilan's career and heroism and the remaining two (one in 3D) dedicated to the crater and the wildlife.  Very well done and highly recommended.

After the video clip showing the aftermath of the tragedy, the curtains open to reveal the crater--live. 

We were extraordinarily lucky because miraculously, the fog lifted just as the curtains opened (and it was really cold and windy outside). We had a chance to take a few photos and then the fog rolled back in for the rest of our time there! But time to get one souvenir..

...her name is Yaelle (this Ibex character is the symbol for the National Parks).

After the Visitors' Center, it was time for our final leg with Muhammad at the wheel as we headed to Eilat. The road to get there actually takes you on a bunch of switchbacks from the crater rim down to its floor. What a ride! Luckily, the fog subsided and along the way we could see mesas, canyons, chasms, and crags, covered with boulders and rocks and scree.
Here's one of us about 1/4 of the way down:
After 2 hours of incredible views of these same kinds of landforms, we pulled into Eilat and bade farewell to Muhammad.

This is a seaside resort popular with both Israeli and foreign families. It looks like a Miami Beach / Disney World combination with a backdrop of mountains. Getting here completes our trifecta of seas on this trip: the Sea of Galilee, the Dead Sea, and the Red Sea. 
We spent the afternoon walking the boardwalk, exploring the hotel and preparing for the first night of Chanukah.  The hotel had hired a Chanukah DJ who not only facilitated the lighting of the first candle but then engaged in a wonderful Chanukah greatest hits sing-along (all in Hebrew, of course)!  A definite highlight of the candle lighting was the handing out of traditional sugared jelly-filled sufganiyot.  They didn't hold a candle (pun intended) to the masterpieces from Roladin in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem--but they fulfilled our donut-a-day quota.

And then we lit our own candle.

The children don't receive gifts here (that is an American thing), only gelt.

Sunset from the balcony of our room,
looking southwest toward Egypt from
the northern tip of the Red Sea

Dinner in the hotel and an easy evening as we prepare for our journey to Jordan tomorrow.

Front page of today's newspaper. Fascinating to be here during this time.
At noon we left Eilat and drove directly to the Wadi Araba border crossing into Jordan, about 15 minutes from our hotel. Our driver helped us get through the process on the Israeli side. It was completely painless, especially since we were the only ones there!

Then we walked about 150 yards across the no-man's land, luggage in hand, to the Jordanian entry gate. At moments like these, it's helpful to only travel with carry on!

Once there, we were met by another handler, who quickly got us through all of the passport checks.

We were then met by our Jordanian guide, Muhammed (a good buddy of Yuval's), who was wearing a Blackhawks jacket he bought when he visited friends in Highland Park in May! The itinerary was that we would drive the 2 hours directly to our hotel in Petra, and explore Wadi Rum on Tuesday.  However Muhammed suggested that since the forecast for Tuesday was rainy, we do it today (Sunday) instead.  Indeed, the weather was beautiful: a crystal clear, deep blue sky and temp near 60 (the warmest of the whole trip!), so we readily agreed. We drove for an hour and entered Wadi Rum.  This is the location where Lawrence of Arabia and The Martian were filmed. This is a vast area; the protected section alone covers 277 sq. miles. So, like at the crater, our pictures may not convey the immensity of this place.  Muhammed told us that this valley was created 400 Million years ago. Wadi Rum, by the way, means high valley.  The granite and sandstone structures (some rising up 2,000 feet from the valley floor) were truly magnificent.

We spent a total of  three hours there.  First, we switched to the open bed of a 4WD pickup truck for the first 2 miles into the desert. By the time we got to the Bedouin camp, our gloves and hoods were on; it was f-f-f-freezing! Next, a 45 minute camel ride on the flat terrain of the valley, it wasn't nearly as torturous as the bumpy camel ride last Christmas in Morocco.  Wayne's camel's name was Absullah and Wendy's was Aliyah.  Their temperaments was quite pleasant; according to Muhammed, transporting tourists is their vocation; so they were quite accustomed to our stupid questions (the camels, that is).  One of our young guides spoke excellent English and kept asking if everything was ok.  Other than the fact that Wayne was bow-legged afterwards, the ride was fun and uneventful.

This formation reminded us of Ayer's Rock in Australia

Toward the end of the ride, it got rather chilly, so we welcomed Muhammed's invitation to stop for some hot herbal tea at a Bedouin's stand once we dismounted.  The cardamom/cinnamon/ sage flavoring was delicious and quite soothing.

Next, we got into the jeep for a geological tour.  Wow.  What a landscape.  To add to the beautiful scape, Muhammed showed us petroglyphs dating back to 700 BC.

We went crazy taking pictures; here are just a few; as we got closer to sunset, the lighting became more and more magical! 

Once the sun had set, we went back to the car for the two hour journey to our hotel in Petra.  That's the description you'll read in our next blog.

Until then, with love,

No comments:

Post a Comment