Spending a few days hiking solo in the desert isn’t necessarily the most common way to spend Christmas break, but some people just aren’t very common. Matt, our Program Officer, spent a few days hiking the path in the Negev towards the end of December and ended up learning a thing or two about the simple things in life:
“Do you need help?” – a voice called to me, pulling my mind away from my map.
I was nearing the end of the third day of my solo-backpacking trip in the Negev desert. I had followed the Abraham Path in the Craters Region the first two days of my trip, traveling through stunning desert scenery, including haMakhtesh haKatan (The Small Crater) and Wadi Hatira. On day three I followed the sharp Karbolet Ridge along the south rim of haMakhtesh haGadol (The Large Crater) and then trudged upstream through the dry, flat expanse of the Wadi Tzin Valley en route to Medreshet Ben Gurion, where I planned to stay with a friend before continuing to Mitzpe Ramon.
After a long hike with several challenging ascents and descents, I must have looked rather battered because the speaker’s next words were, “Are you alright?”
“I’m fine,” I replied, recognizing the person as a young woman, presumably a student at the local university, whom I had passed while laboring up a dusty dirt road to the top of the plateau where the town was located. “I’m just checking my map for the right path into town.”
“I’m going in now,” she replied. “I’ll show you the way.”
I eased into a steady gait, following her and the red trail blazes along a dirt path that wound toward the houses in the distance. She slipped off her sandals, clearly enjoying feeling the earth under her feet.
“Where are you coming from?” she asked.
“I started today by the phosphate plant near Yeroham Spring,” I said, and she look at me quizzically.
“A-OR-ON,” I stammered out a Hebrew word I had seen on my map.
“Ah,” she replied, “The factories. That’s a long way. Which route did you take?”
“I came over the Karbolet and down Wadi Afran.”
“Ooooh!” she exclaimed, “There must have been been water in the wadi!”
“Yes!” I confirmed. The desert had recently received one of its rare winter rains, and deep muddy pools were scattered through the length of the steep wadi. “The wadi was beautiful, but I had rough time avoiding falling in the pools!”
“You didn’t get in!?” She sounded appalled. “We have a rule here in the desert, since we so rarely have rain – whenever you find a pool while hiking, you jump in!”
I laughed. Wading through pools had been far from my mind while toiling down the wadi with a 40 pound pack, but I could understand the allure of the touch of water in such a dry climate.
We passed through a small gate that brought us into town. She continued on her way, and I waited to meet my friend, pondering over her words – “Whenever you find a pool, you jump in!” – and her clear, deep appreciation for the land around her.
While hiking along through the arid desert I realized that I too had become keenly aware of brief vibrant moments in otherwise barren surroundings.
In a land devoid of water, I was struck by the several pools (at Tzafit Spring and in Wadis Hatira and Afran) I saw along the path.
In a place where life struggles to survive, I constantly noted the flora (green stalks that would be in bloom within a week or two) and fauna (Nubian Ibex and many birds) I encountered along the way.
And, at a time of year when winter nights arrived at 16:30 each day, I admired the rich starscapes and enjoyed figuring out where and when familiar constellations appeared in the sky, many miles away from home.