Israel and “The getting out of there!”

1st part of our Israel trip is here!

The second to last day of our mini holiday in Israel was upon us. We shoved a makeshift breakfast to our faces (no stores were open, thanks to sabbath) and headed once again to the desert.

Before taking on the cruel winter sun of the desert, we headed to the Dead Sea. Some googling had shown us the free to enter beaches at this famous salt puddle. We were all looking forward to the experience of floating, so it did not take long until we were carefully crawling over the merciless, rasping surface of the dry salt with our bare feet.

And then we floated. The buoyancy of the salty water was surprising. A human just sticks to the surface like a cork. We bounced and floated for some time, until we had to get going towards the hike of the day.

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Our hiking guide was recommending a long walk through the desert plains and canyons and climbing a small peak to reach a panoramic view over the Ramon crater, following partially the Israel National Trail.

So we headed to Mitzpe Ramon, bounced off the main road to a dusty sand track in the desert and arrived to the starting point. The hike started from the campsite of Be’erot and continued into the crater, following mainly the dry bed of the river Ardon.

It was an easy walk, following the sand roads they organize jeep safaris on. So it started all off as a bit of a boring thing, we are used to more rugged terrain, but the views surrounding us were submerging our minds nicely. Soon we entered a canyon and got to walk surrounded by beautiful stone walls and enjoy the gentle shadows.

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A horse shoe loop later the canyon widened out and we met the car tracks again. The crawled through the branching and opening river bed. At the same time the sand turned from yellow to red and we were constantly followed by flocks of quails and some other very pretty birds.

Finally we got to the promised climb. A short jump it was really, but offered a superb view over the desert under the magic of sunset. There we started to feel the chill rolling in too. The thin desert air doesn’t stay warm for long, once the radiation heat is gone. That was a sign to start making our way back to the car. So we went, looking back from time to time, to enjoy the changing colors in the sandy hills as the shadows grew longer.

Just as the darkness was making its way in, we reached the car and drove off. The last night we would sleep in a traditional tent type of a thing in a small town of Be’er Ora, which was only a short drive away from Eilat, handy for returning the car in the morning and getting to the airport. Little did we know, our hosts at the tent and calm sleep of the night would be just a distant memory come lunch the next day.

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The misery started with the returning of the car. We found nowhere to park, the car rental officer saw it fit to bark about such stupidity to Waffle. We were shooed off to find our bus, which was surrounded by anxious passengers who had been promised the bus transfer an hour ago. The buses, however, only leave after being packed full, never mind the timetable. Which, luckily for us, the bus was packed quickly and we got on our way.

The bus driver was doing a long detour via the Jordanian border, which we found a little odd, since the the route via the Egyptian side would have been 20 km shorter. As we stepped out of the bus, we got the answer for the odd choice of route.  We heard gun fire, and big explosions from that side. Which was unnerving, given the fact that we had no idea, whether it was a real situation or just an exercise.

With the soothing sounds of occasional explosions and machine gun series we packed ourselves to the terminal building with all the rest of the passengers. We were ordered in queues. That is where the staff apparently drained all their power of organizing.

We were lucky to be there early enough, since despite the queues, there was no guarantee you got picked for the security scrutiny in the order of flight schedules. The picking was completely random, and if you dared to ask anything, you got somebody shouting at you. Some people evidently missed their flights.

We stood there in the queue for over 2 hours before being picked, interrogated and walked through the security checks, shoving and shouting. For some reason Waffle’s colleague got picked for extra check and we lost him from our sight for almost an hour. We had to board the plane without knowing where he was.

Turned out, the airport staff was not handling the communication towards the crew of the plane too well either. The crew had no clue how many passengers they still needed to wait for. Every now and then a person or two were released and found the plane, eventually the colleague appeared too and we could relax. We were all going home!

It was a bit of a sour taste that the last days experiences left behind. Which is a pity, since the country is beautiful, food there is nice, and we would certainly like to explore the country by camping and heading more to the wild. But it might take some time before we venture that way again.

Ovda airport, Israel

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Israel Breaks the Silence

…of this blog, I mean, nothing political behind the headline. Sorry.

Waffle had promised to take a colleague of his to mountains. The original plan was aiming us to the Welsh mountains in Snowdonia, but as the execution of this noble plan grew later and the weather in Wales got more and more wintery, we changed the direction.

And went to Israel.

Ryanair has opened a route from Charleroi to Eilat ( Ovda), and the tickets are very affordable, so Waffle thought why not, and off we went. We were expecting to land in to a summery environment, but it was surprisingly chilly. Sea breeze was not so very gentle and temperature was not so far above 10 degrees.

It took over 2 hours to get out of the airport to Eilat by a shuttle bus. Another hour to get the car and by then the hopes for us having a first walk for that day had disappeared along with the setting sun. We sincerely hoped that the rest of the holiday would go more smoothly as we drove in the darkness towards the town of Arad, where our Airbnb was waiting.

The road trip was a bit lost on us. We couldn’t see much, so the morning and sunrise brought us a nice surprise, as we saw the desert spreading out all around us. A pretty sight to wake up to! On the planning for the day was a walk in the desert, bit of the Dead Sea and Jerusalem.

We had once again one of the Rother walking guides (a German edition) with us, and in it we found a lovely, short walk through a small canyon of Wadi Perazim, selected as one of the top walks in that book. The instructions for the approach were of course in German, but also not especially precise. After a couple of missed turns we found the starting spot, in the middle of desert of white sand. And cyclists.

The canyon bottom our trail was on, was also the venue of a Desert Challenge cycling competition. Thankfully we were still able to enter the canyon and cheer up the cyclist swooshing past.

The canyon itself was a surprisingly beautiful. The sandstone there is soft, powdery and white, making it unbelievable that such high walls can stay standing. The stone walls created a breathtaking contrast with the blue sky. I was also happily appreciating the sheltering shadows in the canyon, since the sun in the sky seemed fairly merciless.

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The day continued towards Jerusalem with a quick pit stop at the Dead Sea. The road 90 goes right by the side of the sea. We stopped a couple of times to get some photos, and in search for a beach to take a dive in. The most famous beaches are in the northern end of the sea, and it is ridiculously expensive to even enter the area. So no swimming that day, Jerusalem was calling.

We had a mixed set of feelings about visiting the city, since we were visiting there just a day or two after Mr Trump had said what he had about the position of that city, causing some instability in the area. We entered through the West Bank, seeing the contrast between the Israeli and the Palestinian side is thought provoking.

Thanks to the riots, many parts of the old city were shielded off from tourists, and our visit was cut short. We only marched through some of the bazaars, sniffing the scents from the spices, teas and falafels. But as the sun set, we had to make our way out and back to Arad.

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The first days in Israel were interesting. I was a little bitter about loosing the first day completely, but the beauty of the second day had turned the mood nicely. It was new to me to spend time in a place that is so controversial and so holy for so many.

Our Israel trip continues still for two days in the next post. So hold on tight! In the meanwhile, pictures are here: Flickr.

Returning to Marrakesh – Morocco

The third morning was upon us, when we woke up into a quiet morning in Mergouza. We had a long drive ahead of us, straight through the desert, towards Agdz and Ouarzazat.

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Those roads are fast to drive. There are almost nobody there and they are in relatively good condition and cornerless. Before long, we were in the half way of the days journey. That was a lot of desert. We spotted something that we named immediately as “copy-paste-mountains”.

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Some ctrl+c ctrl+v action here?
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Endless road. 

It also became apparent, that no truck or taxi over there moves without being fully loaded, up to the limit.

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If something moves, it moves fully loaded.
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Stripes!

Every time there is a bit of water in the desert there is life, too. The road we took brought us through many spots of greenery. Before I had a little bit childish vision on oases. You know, the two palm trees and a pond? Apparently they can be even full forests of palm trees heavy from dates, surrounded by fields of mint.

While driving by one of those oases, we started to hope, that the next hotel would be in such a place. We got lucky, our navigator, still acting up, directed us to a small road, disappearing into the shades of the oasis.

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We pulled up to a hotel, which was located inside a beautiful garden, next to a quiet road. Dates, oranges and grenade apples hanging from the trees, just waiting for picking. Paradise, might one think.

 

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Fresh grenade apples, straight from the tree. Not too many things better than that! 

 

We got our room from the back of the garden, attacked a few grenade apples and headed for a walk, deeper in the oasis. That particular oasis was used for farming and donkeys kept passing us by. The coolness of the air in that valley after a hot day on desert was so refreshing!

We reached the edge, and saw an old looking town and decided to have a closer look. We took a few steps towards the village and got immediately a man attached to our side. Introducing himself as a Berber, who’s family still lived in that ancient town of Berber merchants. He told us about the history and renovation while we approached. Apparently he was trying to sell us a guided tour around the place, even though we did not ask for one.

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That guy was surprisingly difficult to get rid of. He kept offering us just a small tour of half on hour, even though the sun was already close to setting. After all he gave up on his pleas and guided us to the riverbed and a trail that would take us back to our hotel. That trail brought us into the middle of rather beautiful gardens. We were off to bed early, since the next day would have to bring us all the way, over the High Atlas to Marrakesh. Meaning quite some driving.

The morning came, and brought a bird along. A bird that had for some reason gotten interested about pecking on windows. He woke us up with the banging with the first morning light. It would not quit, so we had to get up and start preparing for the last day.

We were up and running on the road well before 9, very happy about our loose timeline. No rush for the flight, plenty of buffer. Or so we thought, before getting stuck behind a slow, very slow, truck and other people, slow just for no reason, on a mountain pass. And donkeys. Donkey seems to be still the main transportation method in many mountain villages. At least we had plenty of time for sightseeing. Well, I did, Waffles eyes were tightly scanning the road.

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Sandy mountains as far as the eye can see.

 

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Another piece of endless desert road.
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Hey transport. Full.

After all that we were getting stressed and hungry. So we stopped at a small Cafe Hassan, run by Hassan, a Berber. He was extremely happy to get tourists as customers, served us orange juice and tajine.

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Food. Definite plus for Morocco!

At some point that man started also get a bit… invasive… Wanting to take photos with us and getting pretty close to the skin. For my Finnish sense of personal space that was too much. Hassan did, how ever agree on pointing us the route up to a hill close by and guarded our car in the meanwhile.

Soon we noticed, that our time buffer was running out. We run too, down the hill, hopped into our car after shooing off our host and off to the serpentine again. As we drove, the minutes got shorter and shorter. Closing up to Marrakesh and we had only half an hour to spare. And the city center in front of us. Also, mister Murphy decided to pay a visit. GPS died, again, right inside the city walls. Panic.

Chaotic driving in random directions followed. We seemed to fit the crowd in that sense. I don’t know if anybody had a clear direction or destination in mind. Then, after a corner, we saw an angel, dressed as a police officer. He directed us towards the airport, through couple of corners.  After all, we managed to catch the plane, with only minutes to spare.

A sum up. Hm, I don’t think I will visit Morocco again, any time soon. The country is beautiful, yes and the food is good, also the people are friendly up until a certain point. But seeing so much nature being spoiled with trash, and animals treated as they are treated there, it makes me sad.

You can’t really relay on people either, since they very often are after your money, if they offer help. And as a blond western woman, you do get to feel the sadder side of the different culture

 

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Sorry Morocco, but this did not turn into a love story.