University of Haifa International School Student Blog
Hi everyone! This past weekend was probably one of the most enjoyable trips I went on with the International School. We rose early Friday morning to board a bus towards the Dead Sea. I am not a morning person, so it was nice to sleep the three hours on the bus. Our party consisted of around forty International School students, two of the most awesome Madrichim (social coordinators), Dana and Tal, an official guide for the area and hike, and a security guard. We drove deep into the Judean part of the Negev Desert, and quickly abandoned the mountains of Haifa for a more arid landscape. When Americans imagine deserts in the Middle East, most of us probably think about tall sand dunes and high winds with no sign of life. Instead, the area of the Judean desert near the Dead Sea is quite rocky and mountainous, with stunning (almost aerial) views of the surrounding landscape.
We began the day with a short upward hike to literally the top of a mountainous canyon. At times, the hike was more like mountain climbing than hiking, and involved using metal ladders on the sides of cliffs and handholds. This made it all the more exciting! I am a pretty experienced backpacker, but don’t usually do much rock climbing. Though it was physically strenuous for certain points, it was not too difficult overall—especially when compared with the rewarding views. We had lunch at what felt like the top of the world, with views of the sparkling Dead Sea and Jordanian mountains beyond. Afterwards, we hopped back on the bus and headed to the Dead Sea itself. I opted to buy some mud for seven shekels, and lathered up before heading into the cool water. Though I had already traveled to the Dead Sea before with my parents, the experience wasn’t dulled in any way. My skin stung a bit on cuts I didn’t know I’d had, but it wasn’t too painful and felt cathartic—purifying in some way. After washing away the mud, my skin felt silky smooth and healthy underneath.
Departing (somewhat reluctantly) from the Dead Sea, we headed to our campground. It was a huge Bedouin tent on top of a mountain with great views. The area also had picnic tables, a fire pit, bathrooms with flushable toilets, and showers! It honestly felt more like glamping (glamorous camping) than the camping I was used to. The tent itself was warm and comfortable, with mats covering the floors and thin mattresses available to sleep on. We settled in, and relaxed for a bit before starting dinner. Preparing Shabbat dinner was definitely a highlight for me. I love cooking for large groups of people, and the chaotic, bustling nature of many people cooking at once. I was in charge of the grilled vegetables and vegetarian corn patties. I think I did a pretty good job, despite dropping some pieces of zucchini into the stove (oops!). Our immense and delicious feast consisted of grape juice, three different kinds of chicken, vegetarian corn patties, grilled vegetables, pasta, three different kinds of salad, and challah. There was enough food for everyone to eat until they were stuffed.
When it got late, we had tea and s’mores around the campfire, with several people telling scary stories (I will never forget the story about the Goat Man…). Another fun part of the night was seeing two grey foxes—presumably drawn in by the smell of our feast. That night, I slept really well, so much so that it was pretty difficult to get up in the morning. Saturday morning, after packing up and watching the sunrise, we got on the road once again. The hike was a bit longer this time, and began with a slightly strenuous uphill stretch. However, it wasn’t long, and soon we were moving quickly through a remarkably beautiful canyon. At times, we had to finagle certain ways of moving down rocks in the canyon, and sometimes this involved sliding. These natural slides carved into the rock were really fun, and induced a lot of laughter for us.
After lunch, we hiked downwards towards the Ein Gedi stream and waterfalls, stopping to swim in the cool, clear, pools. This was the only part of our hike where we had encountered many other people. The area around Ein Gedi stream was a living green oasis in a dry, dead, land. On our way out, we saw Oryx—beautiful desert antelope, and Hyraxes—these small, cute rodents that climb trees. I really enjoyed this trip and think it brought me closer to my fellow classmates and the natural world in the land of Israel. I’m sad we won’t be doing another camping trip and feel slightly bittersweet as the end of the semester approaches. Hopefully I can pack all the other excursions I want to do in Israel and Haifa during this last month!
Atlanta, GA USA