Monday, September 01, 2008
'What? You Went SOUTH?!'
Contrary to 95% of the country, our family actually went to visit Machtesh Ramon (the Ramon Crater) in the Negev for our end of the summer getaway. I kept feeling like I had to justify it beforehand, as I encountered the inevitable "You're going to the DESERT in August? You're crazy!" Hey, it was hot, but at least it was dry heat, as opposed to the steam bath otherwise know as Tiberias at this time of year.
We took this deal that Isrotel's Ramon Inn offered, that included two nights at the hotel and entrance to all kinds of attractions in the area for a great price (pretty much the same as a tzimmer up north.) The room turned out to be a two bedroom suite with a full kitchen and living room (the hotel is actually a renovated Amidar building, so this was basically a fixed-up low-income apartment). It was clean and nicely decorated, but there was only one a/c unit in the living room that was a bit noisy. The rest of the rooms had ceiling fans.
[As a side note, I have only had great experiences at Isrotel hotels. Their food is always great, the atmosphere is generally low-key and relaxing and any entertainment they provide is actually tasteful and enjoyable. Not that we go away all that much, but I pretty much will only stay in their hotels when we do.]
Anyway, the place was packed with lots of other crazy families from the Merkaz who took this deal. But unlike Chayei Sarah's vacation experience , these Israelis were so well-behaved, the only people who drove us crazy at breakfast were our own kids.
The first day we checked out the Visitor's Center, which is a really great way to take an air-conditioned tiyul to the crater. They have a nice sound and light show about how it came to be and exhibits and explanations of the different types of rocks found in the crater. They also have a nice panoramic lookout. My three year old daughter did a great interpretive dance in front of the window, which topped off our trip there. (Since we don't even have a camping/packing list for the kids to burn, I can't even show you pictures because we stupidly forgot our camera!)
We also got a great map from the center that directed us to all the cool spots in the crater. So that evening, we took a drive in to the crater, did a very mini tiyul (like 20 minutes) to check out the ruins of an ancient inn and the spring it was next to and then had a barbecue at a SPNI campsite. Unfortunately, we got to the campsite after dark, which threw a bit of a wrench in our bbq plans due to the limited outdoor lighting (duh, it's the desert!). I just kept praying there was no salmonella in our chicken breasts. Of course, the pple next to us brought their own light and extension cord (apparently, there are outlets at these places) and pretty much set up a make-shift kitchen at the picnic table next to us.
On the drive back, we got to see a skyfull of stars, Milky Way and all. It was gorgeous, but the moonless darkness thing freaked the kids out.
The next day, we checked out the local alpaca farm, which was fun, but the alpacas were a bit aggressive. They had llama rides for the kids and all kinds of nice indoor activities with wool and stuff.
On the way home, we tried to stop at some kind of Negev nature center at kibbutz Revivim, but it was closed by the time we got there. But we did stumble on this great JNF park on the way out, Golda Meir Park that was beautiful, green and even had a nice lake! And bathrooms! and playgrounds! You know you're traveling with kids when it's the last two things that really excite you. It also has some nice bike trails that we tried to explore on foot/stroller, but I had the wrong stroller with me to really enjoy it.
We had a fantastic time in the DRY 40 degree heat. We cooled off in the hotel pool as needed and actually did stop at the Nitzanim beach in Ashdod on the way down. (Great, well-cared for beach with beautiful water.) Very recommended trip, and I'm sure in the winter it's even more gorgeous with the wildflowers in bloom.
BTW, an even cheaper way to experience the crater is to stay at the Har Hanegev Field School, which I did as a camper and madricha on this Israel trip as a teenager. That was even more breathtaking because you're right at the edge of the crater. They can also organize all types of hikes for you, jeep trips, etc.
Wherever I am, my blog turns towards Eretz Yisrael טובה הארץ מאד מאד