Monday, June 20, 2011

Days 16-19: Our Journey South, Part 1

I want to delay writing this blog because I have no idea where to begin.  Whatever I write will most doubtedly fail to convey the vast sense of amazement from our trip this weekend.  That being said, I might as well attempt to put it all into words.  Here it goes.

We took off an hour early on Thursday so we could return to the kibbutz and begin our trip to southern Israel by 2 p.m.  Our normal bus driver was home resting and preparing to drive us south while another bus driver, one we have had a few times before, picked us up.  Like every other time he has driven us somewhere, he has played an eclectic mix of music.  One of the songs being this one:  (watch/listen at your own risk).  After listening to this song several times before this on the bus, a few of us decided to join in.  We sang for a few seconds before Dr. Byron McCane grabbed the microphone and joined our cacophony. Needless to say, the drive loved it and replayed the song.  This time, the entire bus rose in one voice as we belted the tune.  This was the start to our trip.

We will fast forward the next bit.  It involves getting on a bus and driving for 5.5 hours to Kibbutz Lotan.  On the way, we drove through the West Bank, alongside the Dead Sea and in between archaeological sights on all sides.  More on these sites later.

Kibbutz Lotan is an authentic kibbutz, meaning that it holds to the socialist origins from which it began.  Most things on the kibbutz are communal and the kibbutz is financially self-sufficient.  It's mainstay is a vibrant dairy farm comprised of many many goats.  We spent the first night at Lotan in "Club Kibbutz," Kibbutz Lotan's local, socialist dance club.   DJ Comrade, as we called him, played his music under a painted hammer and sickle.  It was awesome, albeit a copious amount of reggae music (including, of course Matisyahu).

The solar powered stove.  Intense.
The next day, we arose and started with a tour of Kibbutz Lotan.  Incredible.  Kibbutz Lotan is at the forefront of the eco-village / green movement in Israel (at least that is my understanding).  Our host took us around areas of the kibbutz where a converted antenna dish was used as a stove top, human waste was combined with straw to produce soil, and a natural water filtration system.  Kibbutz Lotan offers summer classes, and if I have time during my next trip to Israel, I would love to take one.

After our tour, we headed to the beach tourist town of Israel:  Eilat.  Eilat, at least the part we saw, was comprised of hotel after hotel and a gigantic mall that sits on the Red Sea.  I had a debit card snafu and wound up running around town with a friend for a majority of the day trying to get it to work to no avail.  After I admitted defeat, we met up with some others and spent the last hour of our time snorkeling along the coral reefs of the Red Sea.  We saw a vast array of fish and other sea creatures (including a snake!).  To describe it all would take too long.  But it was incredible.

Pat and James on our camel, Jafar.
We completed our day with a two hour camel ride.  For those of you who followed my trip last year might remember that our group at 'Ayn Gharandal went on a nine hour camel trek through Wadi Rum.  This was far shorter and far easier.  There were not enough camels for all, but we paired up in threes and traded off where two people would ride the camel at first and a third would lead it in line with the others.  We went out to a beatufil look-out over the Great Rift Valley (stretching from Turkey to South Africa), which exists as a valley due to the pulling apart of the Asian and European tectonic plates.  From this vantage point, we could see Kibbutz Lotan, and far in the distance, the area of 'Ayn Gharandal in Jordan.  It was a breathtaking sight and worth the ride out.

We returned to the kibbutz just in time for Shabbat dinner.  We arrived in the dining room just in time for everyone to join hands and wrap arms around each other to sing a blessing over loveas of bread and bottles of sweet wine on the tables.  The first song was a song for the sweet wine, which at the conclusion we each took a small sip from our glasses.  The second song was for the bread, which at the conclusion we broke bread and shared with one another.  A feat poured forth from the kitchen.  We were served rice, fish, beef, and much much more as we sat around our table and discussed our exciting day and the prospect of tomorrows exciting visit to Masada.  With that in mind, a few of us stayed up long enough to journey yet again to Club Kibbutz before finally calling it a night.

It is almost dinner time here and I am not sure if I will be able to finish the remainder of the trip in one post.  I will cut it short here and try to recount our Saturday trip to Masada and Dead Sea after dinner or after we get back from the dig tomorrow.  Thanks for reading!