Day 22: Camel ride and the Eilat Mountains

Trip Start May 14, 2008
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Trip End Jun 17, 2008


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Friday, June 6, 2008

We had left our flashlight in our luggage in Eilat, but we did have matches with us. These come in handy during the night when the generator goes off and we lost our air conditioning.  You would think that you are paying extra for the room and that they would keep the generator going for the entire night.  Oh well.  Expectations! Harvey fumbles in the dark, but he manages to find the matches and light the candles supplied by the khan.  You would think we know how to open a window, but it took some fidgeting before he figures out that you have to push at a particular spot before they slide.  We had hoped for some cross ventilation, but this would have meant there was a breeze.  It was stuffy.  At some point in the night, a warm breeze starts and enters the room.  We are fine again. And then the dogs start barking, and chasing something through the camp.   Back and forth, we feel certain there had to be some animal prowling around and that they are saving us.  In the morning, Shor says that they were probably chasing jackals.  At breakfast, a woman from the khan offers that the dogs had been examined by a psychologist and it was determined that they think they are seeing something, but nothing is there...they are crazy!   
All the guests are full of stories about last night's dogs and parties; it seems that no one got much sleep.  Maybe the parties are part of the upcoming holiday weekend?  Once again, we're glad, even with the air conditioning issue that we had our private room!  Shor did not get a good night's sleep.  One tent near him had a party going on.  The other one had an amorous couple.  Shor had heard from the tour office and someone told him that our tour is for 1 1/2 hours.   I shrug my shoulders with determination that there is no way that this is going to spoil an experience that I am so looking forward to!

After breakfast, Shor takes us over to the camels and we once again meet Eli, our guide.  We are introduced to Farouk, our camel, who seems more interested in eating his hay.  His big eyes just blink as he looks me over, probably to size up how much I weigh and how difficult this next walk is going to be.  Farouk is on the ground, so I just walk up and sit down on the saddle, figuring you sit like on a horse. Eli and Shor explain what to do with my legs and finally after some fumbling and maneuvering they are correctly in place.  Harvey gets on board and Eli then releases Farouk so he can stand up.  Whoa, we hang on as Farouk gets his balance on all fours!   I ask Harvey to ask me how old am I?  He does and I answer, "I think I'm 10 years old"!  Smiling, laughing, full of expectation!  What a kick!

Eli walks in front of Farouk, guiding him by a rope attached to his bridle.  He explains that even though the camel is stronger, through human will, energy and presence, man dominates.  Eli is our pied piper.  He is 22 years old and recently out of the army.  He volunteered at a kibbutz for one year, went to India and is now working with the camels.  It takes a certain personality to walk at a measured steady pace in the heat of the day, quietly guiding a camel.  His shirt is badly torn and that indicates that that stuff is just not important to him.  Eli is soft spoken, seemed calm, peaceful, nice, smiling, friendly and open.  Kind of like I hope to be.

Eli has guided us up a hill to a viewpoint.  We dismount Farouk and look at the beautiful distant views.  Eli describes the kibbutz where he volunteered and recommends that we go there.  It is Kibbutz Nato Smadar and he says it is a special place, growing organic produce, fruit, olives, grapes, cheese.  I'm putting it on our list for our next visit to Israel. Before getting on Farouk again, Eli tells us some interesting information about camels.  I don't remember any of it now, but there is one word that has been running through my mind since yesterday morning and it is "adaptive".   And certainly the camel's body lives in the desert through adaptation. Just as the antithesis to adaptation is the kibbutz that restructures and changes the environment. Interesting contrasts.

On the way back, we don't talk much, each of us in our own space.  I get into the swaying motion.  I pull in my abs and go with the flow of the camel's movement. It's peaceful.  Shor had said that for most people, at the end of the standard tour of 1 1/2 hours, they are glad to get off the camel and feel sore for the remainder of the day. Thank you Pilates, I've gotten my money's worth today from all those sessions by having developed the core stability and enabling me to totally enjoy the experience!  

As we get closer to the camp, Eli talks about how he goes into the desert and how hard it is to be alone.  He says that no distractions are the best medication.  I think maybe I would like to put myself in that situation.   Just go inward.  I notice that Eli is carrying something on his shoulder and it turns out to be a Bedouin flute.    If only I had noticed this earlier, maybe we could have asked him to play for us at the hilltop! We could have absorbed the sound, wind and vast openness.  I hear it and feel it now on the screen of my mind.

The camel ride is a peaceful experience.  The slow, rhythmic, movement opened my senses to notice the landscape as it revealed itself as we passed.  My body, listening and observing, helped to open my spirit.  This slow pace enables me to observe, discover and feels so natural.  I really am happiest when I'm in nature.  This short experience gave me a little window into the peace that you can get from the desert.
  
Back in the jeep, I wonder if maybe today is another Kabbalah experience.  In stark contrast to the peaceful gentle rhythms of the camel, the 4x4 jeep is jostling and jarring to our bodies.  With the loud engine, we are just barreling through the area so we only see the broad scenery.  Is modern day daily life like this?  A window opens into possibilities and perspectives.  

Our next stop is Red Canyon, where we go on foot through the canyon's natural obstacle course (with some help from man made fixtures in the walls).  It is mid afternoon as we walk in the red sand with the sun's heat emanating from the canyon walls.  With my backpack carrying water and a camera, I recall that these are the conditions I trained for with Courtenay, my web trainer.  I feel confident that I can do this; after all I had trained with a 20 pound pack on the Miami Beach sand!  Take a look at the photos, it was a fun hike!

We drive a bit further and find the only natural water of our trip in the Eilat Mountains at Netafim Spring. At a rate of 1 liters per hour, it is the only running water in 400,000 acres.  We see an Ibex coming towards the spring!

Along the way to our last stop for the day, we pause for a sweeping view where we see Israel, Jordan and Egypt in one panorama.  Shor has been looking for some shade where we can have a snack and look at the map of where we have been in the last two days.  He finds a 750 year old toll bridge that was built by a sultan for people on pilgrimage to the Haj.  Under the bridge, we have a drink and review the map.  We find graffiti that Shor translates for us:  "The whole world is a mirror, reflection of yourself.  You should love your friends the way you love yourself."    It gives us pause.  The last five 1/2 days have been full with many experiences.  It's definitely been different and personally enriching as well.  We might need some time to absorb it all, but I do believe this is the case.  It some ways it's been personally challenging and we have gained new insights and perspectives. This is one of the reasons I love to travel, it is not so much how many and what sites we see, but the people, experiences, learning and perspectives that we gain along the way.  

We are back at the Desert Eco Tours office to pick up our luggage!  I quickly find our itinerary and read that it was indeed a four hour camel ride, with an optional full day route "for those who prefer 4 legs over 4 wheels".  I show this to Shor and he is angry that something like this had happened, knowing how much I had been looking forward to the camel ride.  Harvey decides to give him a good tip saying to Shor that we didn't want to hold him responsible for what the company was not performing on.  He seems so relieved that he says that we had made his weekend.  He gives us the cell phone number of Erez, the manager.  When we get to our room and open up our luggage to get our cell phone, Harvey immediately calls Erez.   After listening to Harvey, he says that he will call us back.  Within 15 minutes we have a return call in which Erez offers another 1 hour camel ride the next day or a credit.  We choose the credit.  Harvey mentions our experience with the Bedouin guide in Wadi Rum and Erez asks us to send him an email with details.   We feel that Desert Eco Tours had a very reputable reaction and responded quickly.  Clearly, it would have been preferable if the person had actually checked our trip file and he would have seen the four hour camel ride, and clearly it would have been preferable if we had had a better Bedouin guide in Wadi Rum.  But we do appreciate the complexities of an adventure travel company and given the options at this time, we feel that Erez handled the situation well.  We do intend to send him the Wadi Rum information when we get back to the States. Note, we have done this since we returned and Erez did respond very professionally regarding Wadi Rum and a credit was issued for the shorter camel ride - proving Desert Eco Tours to be a professional and reputable adventure tour company. 

We would definitely recommend Desert Eco Tours for a Jordan trip as well as in the Eilat mountains. If you check their website (http://www.desertecotours.com/English/index.asp), they offer a wide variety of tours.  Choose one that suits you and ask questions to be sure it does.  Be mindful of the season; for example, it would have been a no brainer to do the 1 hour hike in Etaq Canyon on the first day in the Eilat Mountains if the weather had been cooler.  With hindsight, we should have done the Etaq Canyon hike even though it was quite hot that day.  We are from Miami Beach and used to exercising in the heat and we are in fit condition.  If we had taken plenty of water, it would have been a better balanced day of 4x4 jeep touring and hiking.  Lesson learned - sometimes it is good to be flexible with the itinerary and sometimes it is better to stay with the original itinerary - the key is to have the wisdom to be able to differentiate between the two!  Alternatively, we could have gotten enough feel for the area at this time of year with a 3-4 hour excursion into the Arava Valley & Eilat Mountains, including the hike through Red Canyon (we enjoyed that!), and then a 2 - 4 hour camel ride.  It would have been a long day, but enough for the area (again, this time of year).  Or, maybe we should have gone for a full day camel ride! And maybe taken in one of Desert Eco Tour's night wildlife tours. In any case, we would make it a full day and end it at a hotel in Eilat.

As we walk into the very modern and upscale Hotel Agamim in Eilat, we feel we must have been on a space ship and have arrived on another planet.  There is a large open lobby with lines of people waiting at the reception desk and on the opposite side of the room is a table where a young beautiful girl is passing out cold drinks of lemonade or orange juice! Overload! Overload!  

We have one of the special deck rooms with a deluxe bedroom and bathroom, a shaded terrace with two sitting chairs and table, AND also a private covered pool deck with two lounge chairs and a ladder into a swimming lagoon!  Our fellow Trip Advisors had recommended this hotel as one of the smaller, quieter and comfortable hotels in Eilat.   Our concept in choosing this location was to have two nights of complete relaxation after all the traveling and stimulation of the past six days.  We really had not wanted to come to Eilat, but the holiday of Shavuous was this weekend and we had to work our travel plans around that.   If it had not been for the holiday, we would have rented a car and stayed at Kibbutz Lotan north of here, and then drove into Jerusalem.  Logistically working around the holiday, it just didn't seem to work, so here we are with two nights in Eilat!

We know we are in trouble when within minutes of being in the room, we hear screaming and loud shouting outside by the pool.  This is with the sliding doors closed!  We go outside on our pool deck and see a number of kids playing in the lagoon, one kid in particular is screaming for his mom and the mother is oblivious. We go back into the room and hope for the best.  Maybe things will quiet down.  Six packed days have caught up with us and we're tired.

We unpack the luggage and turn on our cell phone.  We are delighted to have received a voice message from Debi, a TripAdvisor whom we had been communicating with and had set a tentative date for dinner in Jerusalem.  She is confirming our dinner on Wednesday, but Guyava will not be able to join us.  We chat for some time and I thank her for calling and coordinating.  We are looking forward to meeting Debi in person!  

We take showers and watch the bottom of the shower turn brown from the dust and dirt we have picked up on the camel and the road today.  We decide to have dinner in the hotel tonight and walk over to the restaurant for a light meal.   Without a reservation, they are able to accommodate us, but they only have a full buffet at $50 per person.  Buffets are always tough for us, encouraging us to overeat. So, we pass and try to get a taxi to the beach and promenade area.  While we are waiting, we talk with the security guard who says that the hotel is this busy because it is a holiday. Normally, it clears out on Saturday nights and is quiet during the week!  We learn that we are only a few blocks from the beach, so we walk over.  So many people! Eilat seems to be a family vacation spot and most of the people walking are families with children.    Harvey sites a burger place and we're able to get seats at the bar.  We are surprised at how good the burger is!  After eating, we take a walk over to the promenade and last for only five minutes as the crowds of families are just too overwhelming.  

We return to our hotel and zone out in front of the television, watching a movie mostly in Hebrew.  Dialog switches from Hebrew to Arabic to English.  It is about soldiers in the Sinai in 1967.  Actually it is about 2 Egyptian soldiers who are stranded after the cease fire.  They attach themselves to an Israeli patrol.  However, the Israeli patrol sneaks away from them in the morning and ends up walking into a mine field.  While the Egyptians attempt to help them another Israeli patrol runs up.  Thinking that the Egyptians had attacked the Israeli patrol they start shooting and chasing the Egyptians.  It is not a happy ending.  But it is a very compelling story. There is an English summary at the end and it turns out that is a true story.

We put our heads on the pillow and in seconds, we are asleep.

Click here for today's photos.
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