Southern Israel. You CAN do it by bus! Eilat, Mitzpe Ramon and the Negev Desert

Sue and I are traveling through Israel using only public transportation. Anything I’d read said you need to rent a car to see the South but neither of us likes to drive so we’re up for the challenge. It takes a bit of planning and the completely Hebrew schedules make it difficult but we did it. You can too!

Previous posts on Israel: 5 days in Jerusalem
Masada, the Dead Sea and Ein Gedi

January 29th, 2019

I was awakened at 5 am by a room-mate getting ready for her hike up the mountain. I know it’s hard to do quietly but it would have been nice if she’d turned the lights off when she left. Oh well. You can sleep when you’re dead, right?

The fellow at reception kindly purchased us tickets for the bus to Eilat as the website is all in Hebrew so it’s kind of difficult for us.

Bus #444 took us to Eilat in just over 3 hours including a 20 minute bathroom break about half way. Then a 1/2 hour walk and we found the Exodus Dive Center, our home for the next 3 days. It’s a nice guesthouse in a new residential neighbourhood with four bedrooms around a central kitchen. There’s a lovely deck and small pool as well.

We set off to find some groceries to make breakfast with the directions left in the room. Of course we got lost but still managed to find some breakfast ingredients.

Back at the house, we met a nice young woman and invited her to join us for dinner. Together we found a recommended falafel place which was REALLY good.

I thought we should buy bus tickets for our onward journey and discovered that Shabbat meant the only bus is at 6:30 am on Friday. Yuck.

Wednesday

Our host popped in this morning and we rented some snorkel gear from him. After chatting with him and other guests for a bit, we headed for the bus stop and then Coral Beach. We rented a chair for the day and I jumped in the water. BRRR! The snorkeling was okay, but nothing special An afternoon of sitting in the sun reading is okay on vacation too now and then 😉 As we left the beach we realized we hadn’t gone far enough and weren’t actually IN the nature reserve. Good thing we’ve got tomorrow to check that out.

Back at the Exodus guest house we started a load of laundry and went back to the falafel place. Yep, we liked it a LOT. Falafel Alvia is the place to go.

Thursday;

We’re starting to know where things are. That usually happens when it’s time to move on. We walked to the central bus station, hoping to find out we didn’t have to take a 6:30 am bus but nope, that’s all that’s available as Friday is Shabbat. Since our host never got back to us with other options and none of the other guests are going that way, I guess that’s what we’re stuck with.

So we took bus #15 to the Nature Reserve and despite the chilly wind, did some snorkeling. It was good. Not the greatest snorkeling I’ve seen but there was a nice assortment of fish and some living coral. I met a Dutch couple and got in the water with them but lost them at some point. Apparently they got out long before me and told Sue I must be pretty tough. Haha

We took the bus back and in our search for an ATM found a duty-free mall. It looked much the same as home, as were the prices so we left after a quick run through. That will likely be our shopping experience for the whole trip.

Why mess with a good thing? Yep, falafels for dinner again!

Friday, February 1, 2019

I woke up just before the alarm went off at 5 am. An early morning is easy when you’re sound asleep by 9:30 pm!

After packing the last of our stuff complete with some boiled eggs, oranges and leftover granola, we conquered the 1/2 hour walk to the bus stop. This is why we pack light.

Today’s bus carried several military personnel as there were a few stops at military bases. We’re getting used to the fact that they all carry machine guns like they’re purses.

Once in Mitzpe Ramon I checked my favourite app, Maps.me and we walked the 1.7 km to the Desert Shade Eco camp. At not even 10 am it was way too early to check in so we left our bag and went exploring. The visitor’s centre has a museum and gift shop and they’re friendly and kind but not terribly helpful. She recommended a hiking trail but when Sue asked if SHE had done it….nope. Figures.

Armed with maps and advertising things we enjoyed a coffee in a cafe overlooking the Maktesh crater and planned our next few days. Then we set off to hike the rim as far as the Camel lookout. That’s pretty cool. It’s a big rock that really does look like a camel. Parts of the path along the edge are a little scary as it’s loose gravel and kind of close to the edge for us fraidy cats. We did it and survived. 😉

Next we walked back to town and just by asking kind strangers found a grocery store and a farmer’s market where we loaded up on fruit including the amazing Israeli oranges, a massive pomegranate and yogurt for breakfast. We even found an ATM that would give us money.

Back at the Desert Shade we checked into to our cozy eco tent which we were thrilled to see has a HEATER. Yay! It gets down to 3 degrees at night.

We took off again to find some dinner which can be difficult on a Friday in Israel, it being Shabbat. In the Spice Quarter was a nice place that served us chicken coriander, with rice and salad. DELICIOUS!

Back at the camp we spent the evening in the gallery (lobby, family room type thing). Two different families had Shabbat dinners which was nice to see. Our host offered us sweet tea and we purchased a small serving of malabi, an Israeli dessert treat.

Another great day and 23,000 steps later we were ready for bed by 9 pm. The 6:30 am bus turned out to be a good thing.

Saturday.

The sunrise from our hut was really nice but it was still cold so we holed up inside until the sun came out in full force. After enjoying our yogurt, granola and bananas we packed up and headed the other way out of town on the Israel trail. The first 5 km are very scenic, overlooking the Maktesh Ramon (Ramon Crater) but after that….it’s just desert. We met one girl who passed us going the same way and a friendly man going the other plus one vehicle. Oh, and a hare that hopped away before I could get a picture. So, yep….it was quiet.

After about 8 or 9 km we gave up on finding the lookout we were aiming for, found a nice rock and enjoyed our boiled eggs and oranges.

Back at the hostel we took our hiking shoes off to give our tired feet a break and snacked on pomegranate, grapes and a chocolate bar I’d brought from home. We’d walked about 18 km so deserved a break

Dinner was at InnSense where I enjoyed amazing sweet potato soup and fatush salad. Sue had lamb and beef mince on rice. The 2 km walk back aids digestion.

Sunday.

The place cleared out and it’s REALLY quiet. After our usual breakfast we walked to the Visitor’s centre where we met with Moshe, our jeep driver for the day. Funnily enough a couple from Seattle we’d met at dinner joined us. The jeep tour was informative and fun and went down into the Maktesh. Moshe introduced us to the hardy desert plants and the geology of the area.

Moshe dropped us off in the Spice quarter where most of the shops were STILL closed. They get a 3 day weekend?

So we walked to town to see what we could find there and picked up some more breakfast items plus an ice cream. We deserved it.

Back at the Desert Shade, we made arrangements with Omar to drive us into the crater for a hike tomorrow.

Monday.

Omar cautioned us on bringing enough water and we’re glad he did as it was hotter in the crater than above. He left us on the side of the highway and we hiked the Carpentry trail with a couple of deviations. First was to see a small pond (giant puddle) left from the last rain which was November. It looked pretty amongst the coloured rock.

Next we climbed a lot of stairs to a lookout. Not sure why. There are lots of lookouts.

We continued for about an hour up and down, through old creek beds and around rock piles left by ancient volcanoes. Then came the hike up, up and up. We peeled off a few layers of clothes and drank our water. It was a tough climb but fun with lots of stops for pictures and checking out plants.  It’s supposed to be a 5.5 km, 2-3 hour hike but with the detours and add on’s we did about 8 km.   We did it in 2.5 hours which surprised us as we did take our time. 

Coloured Sands

Shop in the Spice Quarter.

Desert wildlife

Sunrise from the Desert Shade Eco Camp.

Jewish boys enjoying the view

Tulips! Who knew they were so tough?!

Back at the hostel we showered, packed and tried again to check on the bus situation. It’s really confusing and no two sites give you the same information.  The best t;hing is to ask someone.  Preferably a person who USES the bus.

Oh well. We’ll figure it out.  

And we did. We arrived at the bus stop a half hour early just in case. The nice driver tried to help us get off at the right place but he didn’t know where the camel ranch is either. Too funny. So we had him drop us off at the Central Bus Station in Dimona. He told us to ask someone. So, we we to a convenience store and asked a woman if there was a phone we could use to ask the Camel Ranch people to pick us up.

“Here”, she said “just use my phone”

WOW! So I gave her the phone number and she dialed it. I talked to Ariel and 15 minutes later, a young man picked us up and took us to the Negev Camel Ranch.

We were greeted with herb tea and shown our room. A half hour later we enjoyed a typical camel herder dinner prepared by Ariel’s wife. REALLY GOOD!

Tuesday.

After a good night’s sleep we woke to a freezing cold room (there’s a heater for a reason. haha)  so we stayed in bed as long as we could. Breakfast was as good as dinner.

The one hour camel ride was okay but we were hoping for a longer one. Oh well. We had more time to walk….and walk we did.

The Mamshit Nabotean ruins is a 30 minute walk away so through the desert we went. After spending a couple of hours there and enjoying an ice cream we wandered some more through the desert. I thought I knew where I was but it’s SO EASY to get disoriented. I’m glad I had my phone and the app, maps.me pointed us in the right direction.

Back at the camp, Ahmed told us about another hike so we did that too.

By then, we were thoroughly dusty, dirty and tired so I showered before dinner.

Dinner was again wonderful. We had couscous with chick peas and veggies, stuffed grape leaves, pomegranate and sprout salad, assorted roasted veggies, herb toast….way too much for the two of us but we tried.

Mamshit National park. Nabotean ruins. Some Roman ruins in there too.

Looks like a giant fish. Apparently it’s a dirigible

 

 

 

 

 

 

Negev Camel Ranch from the top of the hill

Wednesday February 5, 2019

Today we climbed the hill behind the Camel Ranch and looked down on it. We needed the workout after the huge breakfast.

After checking out and enjoying a dish of camel milk ice cream, a nice young man drove us into Dimona to the bus stop for transit to Be’er Sheva. Once there we found the train station and purchased tickets to Haifa. We had ONE minute to catch the train and actually made it.

I love train travel. You sit ain comfort and watch the world go by. As we headed north the landscape changed from desert to greenery. What a HUGE difference! Fruit orchards, fields of crops and even trees dotted the landscape.  

The next post is about our destination:  Haifa!

Negev Camel Ranch, Mamshit National Park

Negev Camel Ranch, Mamshit National Park

Evidence of flash floods

Hello? My room is right behind her.

Bedouins with their sheep and goats

Little critter

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5 thoughts on “Southern Israel. You CAN do it by bus! Eilat, Mitzpe Ramon and the Negev Desert

  1. Pingback: Haifa and Akko (Acre) by train. Northern Israel and public transit | Where in the world is Grandma?

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