This is the end of the third day in the Negev desert. It has been absolutely amazing so far- forget anything I called a “good view” in the previous two weeks. The desert is better. In case you didn’t read the last post, I took a bus to Eilat and am now hiking with an Israeli man, so I am doing the desert northbound.
Noam turned 35 on the first day out of Eilat, and we have been hiking and camping together. He is Israeli, and has done a decent amount of hiking in these parts before, which has been a great resource for me. I have learned so much from him already- about the desert, the animals we are seeing, Israel, types of Judaism, and so much more. It has also been good to have someone to talk to- I like being alone and in my own head at times but maybe not for several days in a row.
The most amazing part of the Negev so far has been the rocks. In other words, the entire landscape that I am seeing because there aren’t many plants. Not that I know much about the classifications or history of the rocks I am seeing, but even to an uneducated eye, the desert is a geological paradise. The colors are unbelievable. When I hear the word “desert” I immediately picture a sand dune of one color but I have seen so many different shades here. All sorts of purple, red, white, black, and yellow. Beyond the colors I have noticed other characteristics, even within similar looking rocks- some are crumbly while some are solid. And maybe the most interesting has been the sounds they make upon contact with my hiking boots or poles. Some sound like glass, or metal. Some sound hollow when I tap them.
As for animals, actually many of the ones I have seen are native to places more like New York City. There have been a bunch of pigeons, which Noam said is a sign of an unhealthy ecosystem in the area, which made a lot of sense to me. And at the first night camp we had a problem with mice. Since the place we were camping was a well established campground near the city of Eilat, all the groups before us (and their trash) had taken their toll and a small mouse colony was thriving near the best part of the campground. Unfortunately we discovered this after dark and after we had set up tents, but moving was well worth it- our bags (and the food inside) were untouched in the morning. The good news is that there have been several more interesting animals. My favorite have been the ibex, a sort of desert deer. Look carefully for it in the second to last picture below. In three days roughly 6-8 have crossed our path and they aren’t the least bit scared of humans. Other than that, a few lizards, one small scorpion, and several rock hyraxes, which are really cool and you should google.
You might be wondering how I am getting enough water to survive. The first night, a taxi from Eilat brought us water and most of our food, which we had given him in advance to lighten our load. The second day I was carrying quite a bit (about 9 liters) and at the end of the day we had a cache (6 liters each) waiting for us. A cache is a stash of water, food, etc that has been set up in advance of the hike. There are several ways to handle this, and in fact as part of my agreement with the Dartmouth Outing Club to get funding for this trip, upon return to campus I will be doing a trip report presentation with a special focus on how people handle water in the Negev. I will discuss the pros and cons of each method, based on talking to people involved with it (like jeep drivers), interviewing other hikers, and experiencing it myself. One method is to rent a car and cache yourself. Another is to hire a jeep driver who knows where you should cache (usually by night camps) and bring everything you want to stash away on a day trip with the driver. You can also pay, in advance, one of a few people who maintain water caches throughout the desert (this is what I am doing). It is also possible to hike with no caches, which requires going off the trail sometimes to refill in towns, and sometimes carrying two days worth of water. I originally planned to do it that way, but after two non-desert weeks I realized my daily water consumption is far above that of a normal human, and that it would be worthwhile to spend the money on caches. Finally (and this is a good transition to my next topic), today I learned about yet another method. Late in the afternoon, we crossed paths with southbound thru hikers, and of course for my report (and interest) I asked them how they were handling water, how they chose that way, and what worked and didn’t work. Their answer was largely based on Jesus. They were a very young couple from Germany who had started the trail in September and had been hiking at a very slow pace. They had chosen not to do caching because Jesus had told the guy that the way forward was with no caching, and they were confident that in any time of need, they would be protected. I guess I can’t really argue with that because they seemed quite happy and had plenty of water since starting the desert. They would often carry a lot of extra water after opportunities to fill up, and apparently had found bottles / been given water by other hikers at night camps. I have a strange feeling that in some cases they had stumbled upon hired caches and taken water without paying, but not sure.
Anyway, that leads my to next and final topic of this post, which is religion. I have encountered, in connection with the trail, a lot of Christianity, and Messianic Judaism, which is a Jewish sect (note: some don’t consider it authentic Judaism) of people who consider themselves Jewish but also see Jesus as their savior. First there was the Californian woman who was deeply Christian. Next, the night before starting north from Eilat, Noam and I stayed in a hostel that was free for thru hikers (because the owners had done the trail) and was a hub of Messianic Judaism. Most of the people staying there were part of it, we were given complimentary books published by the “Bible Society in Israel” upon checking in, and invited to bible study at night. The next morning, while starting the trail around 7:00 am on the beach, we met a French man carrying (and talking/listening to) a Virgin Mary statue. We chatted with him for a bit, and he wished us luck in the most religious way possible. And finally, today there was the German couple.
Well, that will be all for now. Enjoy the pictures below but please know that they don’t do justice to the stunning beauty of the Negev desert. You really have to be here.