It is strange how different the feeling can be for two places just a few hundred meters apart. The Sinai Peninsula is considered dangerous, and most governments around the world have travel warnings for this area. A couple of hundred meters across the border to Israel, Israelis and tourists are camping on the beach and enjoying food and good wine in the holiday-town Eilat on the Red Sea. Israel has only a few kilometers of coast line on the Red Sea, and it is mostly developed into tourist resorts. Almost at the border is a Marine Reserve (for corals), and they allow free camping directly on the beach.
The evening we crossed the border we drove into town to look for a cheap hostel, but didn’t really find anything. Israel is an expensive place, and the Youth Hostel would charge us 130 USD per night for a double. After checking out a couple of places, we drove back out to the “free beach” and camped there. The plan was to stay for the night and keep driving north the next day, but when two park rangers pulled up (we thought they were there to tell us to get lost..) and wanted to take pictures of the Patrol and the roof top tent, they told us about where we could find water, toilet and shower facilities nearby. We ended up staying four nights relaxing after the long days in Egypt sorting out the shipping that in the end didn’t happen. It was also good the go through some of our emergency food that we’ve had in the car for months coming up through Africa. There were some interesting combinations, but it really is amazing what a Chef can do with dry and canned food.
As we more or less missed out on the desert in Egypt we went for the Negev Desert in southern Israel. We had a route recommended by internet friends from Israel, and we had a fantastic drive up the Nekarot Canyon. Negev reminded us of southern Utah in the USA, and it really is 4x4 country. There must be loads of different routes and camp sites in this area.
Camping under the stars in the Maktesh Ramon Crater. We had the camp for ourselves, and in the light from the full moon the crater was magical!
The road also went up and drove along the rim. The views were spectacular.
Everybody has heard about the Dead Sea and how the saline levels make you float like a piece of cork. The Dead Sea is a lake on the border between Israel and Jordan, and it is about 400 meters BELOW sea level. Yes, this is one of the lowest places on earth. Driving down from the Negev Desert the temperature rose about a degree per 100 meters driving down (300 ft.).
When we reached the lake the thermometer in the car showed 42 degrees Celsius, almost at hot as in Khartoum. As several places along the lake are marked as dangerous because of sink holes, we drove until we found a designated swimming area. We asked the guy at the parking if he knew about any camping nearby, and he told us it would be no problem camping right there at the parking area. Why not? We popped the tent and went for the swim.
Well, it wasn’t much of a swim. You are just too high in the water to get your feet and hands in to push forward. The pictures you may have seen of people just lying there reading a newspaper are actually true. You can. And be careful going in if you have a cut or a wound as it stings like he##. The water is so salt it actually feels thick. Very strange.
We also got a chance to stop at the Masada ruins on a hilltop not far from the lake. They have built a gondola going all the way up to the plateau, and that is probably smart considering the temperatures. We bought a one-way ticket, and decided that we at least would walk back down.
Masada was built between 103 and 76 BC and then got into the hands of Herod the Great in 43 BC. The location is spectacular, and it must have been a very efficient fortress at the time. Unfortunately (for them..), in the end it was conquered by the Romans, the outline of their camps still visible far down below the city. The 967 Jews that had taken refuge at Masada committed mass suicide instead of being captured by the Romans.
The temperature was getting quite unpleasant around midday, and we decided it was time to leave if we should have a chance at all to get down before coming down with a heat stroke. We soaked our hair and shirts in water and went for it. We jogged most of the way down, and 30 minutes later we were eating at McDonalds at the visitor center at the base of the gondola. A dispenser coke has never tasted better…..
Climbing out of the depression around the Dead Sea the temperature dropped, and before reaching Jerusalem it was back down to a comfortable 32 degrees Celsius. Perfect for a few days strolling around town taking pictures and drinking ice coffees.