Neshama are in Tel Aviv, like many students before them, the most exciting part of finishing Desert Experience is taking a shower. Before Gabi’s reflection of the experience I would like to remind you to vote for the World Zionist Congress https://azm.org/elections
WZO is where our voice could be heard, could be influential in Israel, for Israel and for American Jewry.
“ I don't think any of us truly understood what "three days in the Negev" meant. People probably expected hiking, scenery. People expected to sleep in tents and some level of independence. I expected it to be extremely cold at night, because my mom had told me that the coldest night she suffered through in her Israel trip in her junior year of high school was in the Negev.
It was all of those things, and it was none of those things.
The moment we got there, after waking early to leave from Agron in Jerusalem, we were all given dirty, mildly smelly backpacks and told to pack food that they gave us. We were split into three teams (mostly along משפחה lines), and each team was given among their supplies:
- Two propane burners
- Tuna, for lunch
- Rice, uncooked
- Plates and spoons and cups for each team member (to be kept and reused over all three days)
- A little salami, as a treat
And more that I'm forgetting. But the most important thing we were given that day was this piece of advice.
"In the desert, what is your money?" asked Pio, our desert guide for the next three days. "Your money is water. You use it for cooking, for washing, and, most important, for drinking."
We listened, enraptured, and the spell only broke when she explained that we'd have to take two huge 1.5L water bottles with us, each.
The bus dropped us off near a field, and from there we were off. We sang songs, played travel games, and learned about the flowers.
("I've never seen the fields like this," explained Pio to me and a friend. "It's so green, and over there," we looked and saw what she was pointing at, "the whole area is purple. Those are all flowers, because of the rain."Later, she told us that a park ranger, after helping himself to an extra schnitzel, mentioned that he hadn't seen the desert bloom in such a way in over 8 years.)
At the end of the field was the beginning of an incline, which gradually took us higher and higher to the first peak of our 3-day journey. Pio explained about the efforts to help the vultures who lived in the valley we were overlooking. Then we made our way to Table Mountain, took a ton of selfies, and headed down.
We made our way towards a source of water, where we would have our lunch. This pool only existed in the colder months, and was small as it was. Every group got out the propane burners, made some rice and salad and sandwiches, noticed an ibex watching our meal from atop an adjacent peak, and we had lunch.
(This is where I learned about a technique for smoking canned tuna in a pinch—open the can, place a few pieces of toilet paper on top of the now-exposed tuna, and set it on fire. When the toilet paper is fully burnt away, the tuna is ready. All reports indicated that this was a very successful way of cooking tuna.)
Finally, we made our way back down the mountain to a riverbed, fully dry. The white stone (it was actually chalk, said Pio) made for a good contrast for Jonah Heimowitz to spot an oddly-shaped piece of flint.
"That's an arrowhead!" she said, excited.
Later, much later, we made our way to camp. It was an open area near a mountain, and as we put our bags down, the sun was beginning to set. We were given a dinner by the desert experience company, as well as our own tents to set up. We had a campfire building competition (which my team won, by the way, the "B" in Team B stands for Best), told stories around the campfire once the competition ended, and finally made our way to the tents.
The Negev is a very, very, very cold place at night.
When I woke up, it was 5 AM. I had a decision in front of me--do I adjust the sleeping bag to be warmer, or leave the tent temporarily in favor of relieving a far more urgent issue?
I left the tent, came back, and once I realized that I couldn't fall back asleep, I watched the sun rise.
I saw Matan, a worker from the desert experience company, boiling water for tea. I asked for some for my instant oatmeal, which I had packed from home (thanks Mom!). He complied with my request, and I began eating my breakfast as I waited for the rest of the group to wake up and get out of their tents.
Let me tell you. The Negev may be very, very, very cold at night, but once the sun began to rise, it became a far more tolerable very cold. We all shivered and drank tea as we waited for the sun to rise, and once it did, it became quite hot, quite quickly. We packed our tents and went on our way to where we cooked and ate breakfast—mostly simple porridge. From there, we split into our groups and learned how to navigate topographical maps, and hiked to an oasis. After the oasis, we climbed straight up to a huge cliff, and from there, to the site of a former waterfall.
It is worth mentioning that the entire Negev is the site of an ancient ocean. The entire time we discovered shells, even on top of mountains, and the whole area had been shaped by water over millions of years. On the third day, during the morning hike, Pio had us trying to find shark teeth.
Atop the riverbed that led to a huge cliff, we set up tarps for extra shade and ate lunch—it was identical to the first day in ingredients. After two and a half hours (plenty of time to nap) we were all given new navigation goals (which one of the teams actually successfully achieved, though not Team B, unfortunately). Once we all met up again, we hiked past some Bedouin tents, and finally, finally, we had a visual on where camp would be that night.
We were on the edge of a cliff, staring out over the valley. The slope of the cliff below us was turned near totally purple with flowers, a site Pio said she had never seen before in her life. At the bottom of the valley was the campground—we would have to make our way down there, but that was soon. Across from us:
"That area with the trees is the grave of Ben Gurion," said Pio. "Where we are standing right now, that is what he wanted to see from his grave”
That night, after dinner and once the sun had set, Pio asked us all to line up and be silent. We were all given numbers based on our place in line, and told to walk through the desert, following the person in front of us and asking no questions, only listening to the directions of Pio.
A certain distance into the desert, Pio began taking the first person in line and placing them on one side of the road, then the second person on the other side, and so on until the entire line was placed relatively by themselves, on the side of the road, in the Negev desert, at night.
The stars are beautiful, in the Negev. Utterly gorgeous. It's nothing like New Jersey, with the light pollution; although the moon was especially bright that night to the point of casting shadows on the walls of the valley, and it was hard to see the stars close to it. But after a certain point, any thoughts become irrelevant after enough staring at the stars.
It felt like a long time before Pio came back. She asked my number, and I rejoined the line. The exercise was evidently about not panicking when being alone in the desert, but it was much more of a meditative experience for me.
And then we went back to camp, and we went to sleep.
Waking up the third day (second morning) felt like a much more subdued affair than the first morning. We all knew what to do by now. We had our tents packed and stuff ready to go within an hour. We hiked past a river (this one actually filled with water, so care was needed), and ate breakfast. Then we hiked for the rest of the morning, and were done by 10. This morning's hike was done mostly inside of canons as opposed to atop peaks or on the side of mountains, and the only mountain that we climbed was the last one of the entire experience, leading to a dusty parking lot where we awaited the glorious return to air conditioned seating.
After that, we had a graduation ceremony, we cleaned our dishes one final time, and we had a quick falafel lunch before saying goodbye to the Negev.
I don't think any of us are going back soon, but I'd be shocked if none of us weren't to go back eventually. I think this experience is going to shape the rest of Neshama, even if it's just to get us to not complain about the hotels ("Well, at least it isn't a tent in the freezing cold desert"). “