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Four weeks in Israel, November 2019


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Wednesday November 6 2019
Sunny and hot (75F) in Jerusalem, low 90s at the Dead Sea

Hot! Strong sun!

We checked out at 10am and drove to the Dead Sea. We reached Kalia Beach on the north end of the Dead Sea in an hour. This is a private beach with shops, a cafe, a bar, casual restaurant, juice stand. You can rent lockers and towels and go into the Dead Sea to float in the very salty and slimy water. Then cover yourself in black mud at the waters edge. There were a good number of people there with more arriving as we left at noon. 59 NIS each. We had to pay it even though we didn’t swim. It was worth it just to watch the scene. But the flies! Small black ones.

Further south on the Dead Sea the beaches are not as easy to get to. The sea is shrinking so the beach at the Ein Gedi Spa is a mile from the buildings at the entrance. They shuttle you to the water. One of the small towns has a tour by boat

Ein Bokek, a resort further south, has good beaches but it is a sort of false Dead Sea, man made lakes with water from the a Dead Sea.

We continued south along highway 90, along the Dead Sea, to Ein Gedi. This is our third visit here. We had planned to hike up Wadi David in the National Park but when we got there we saw around 30 parked tour buses. We’ve walked there when it was crowded with school children and tours and it is a bit like the Cinque Terre in Italy, nose to tail. So we skipped it.

As we left the parking area we saw a large herd of ibex eating bushes by the side of the road. Many young ones and I saw one male with very long horns. We should have stopped but they were right beside the highway.

We went to the hotel and had our lunch in the garden while waiting for our room to be ready. I made our lunch - bread with vegan spread (butter shortage) and the best avocado that I’ve had in a long time.

We got a lovely room, the same as last time with a view of Wadi Arugot, but the air freshener in it was overwhelming. I had asked for fragrance free when booking. We opened the windows and went out for an hour, driving around to see Ibex (didn’t see any) and when we got back it was still unbearable. So we changed rooms. No view but no perfume! They said the maids determine how much air freshener they use.

I went to the spa to use their Dead Sea water pool. This is the best way to go into the sea. Steve did once and hated it!

Dinner at the hotel restaurant. They are kosher and dinner is a meat meal - a buffet with many vegan selections. No dairy in any of the food and they manage fancy cakes and ice cream.

It is magical walking to the restaurant on a path along the edge of the canyon in the still warm air.



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Thursday November 7 2019
Hot! Sunny! Temps in low 90sF.

After breakfast but before checking out, we went ibex hunting. We drove up to the field school where we saw them a year ago (they go to eat the grass) and walked all around. No ibex. Driving back to the hotel we saw a herd of them near the Wadi David parking. There were about 20 of them, mostly young. No outstanding males with those huge horns. But the young ones are very cute. They were up in a tree!

We checked out and drove south along the Dead Sea. I take back what I said yesterday about the Dead Sea not being as real near Ein Bokek. It looked beautiful. We didn’t stop but have stopped there on other trips. Ein Bokek is a modern resort with a line of high rise hotels. They must have beautiful views of the sea.

Passing Mount Sodem (yes, that Sodem) we came to the Arava Valley where we spent 3 nights a year ago. It is desolate but beautiful with small farming communities along the highway.

Highway 90 is notorious for fast, aggressive drivers. We were almost in a head on collision with a car driving straight at us as he was passing. Luckily a driver on his side slowed to let him back in but Steve was just about to drive off the road to avoid him.

We drove the Peace Road, a paved road off the highway that runs between 3 moshavs (farming communities) on the border with Jordan. Interesting but not as spectacular as described online. Also interesting are the “Danger, Mine Fields” signs.

We stopped at Ursula in Tzukim where we had an excellent lunch last year and had another excellent lunch. I had roasted cauliflower over freekah (wheat berries). Steve had salmon. I had a herbal ice tea, fresh lemon, mint, cinnamon with a reusable aluminium straw.

The scenery closer to Eilat, starting around Timna Park is beautiful. The Jordan mountains in the distance, beautiful mountains close by.

We checked into our apartment around 4:30 just as it was getting dark (AirBnB for 3 nights). Our host met us and gave us Eilat info. The apartment is in a large complex of low rise apartments. I saw many of them on AirBnB but chose this one because it was cute and the owner lives nearby in a large house where she has a few other AirBnB apartments. The apartment is cute. Small kitchen - 1 burner portable stovetop so I had to carefully coordinate cooking pasta and zucchini tonight.

But a washing machine! I washed the Dead Sea slim off my bathing suit and a pair of trousers I put on over my bathing suit at the hotel spa.

Eilat is a tourist town and I can hear Stevie Wonder’s Isn’t She Beautiful blasting from the beach area.



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Friday November 8 2019
Sunny and hot, 90F.

It is cooler in the mornings, low 70sF. We walked into the town center, about 20 minutes and got bread from Broitman, run by a 4th generation Ukrainian baking family. Their challah is different than usual, made with sourdough. Usually challah is very white, not really nutritious. I liked this bread.

We had hoped to have breakfast at Broitman but there were only a few tables and they were full. We continued walking and stopped at a Cafe Cafe, a chain, near the old airport in the city centre. Had a pretty good omelette sandwich.

Continued walking and it was 11am and getting warmer. Back at the apartment we got ourselves organised and drove to Dolphin Reef Beach. We had to pay to get in but it was worth it. They have a “group” of dolphins who live in the water by their beach. They are not captive. They feed them but the website says not excessively so the dolphins still have to hunt. We walked out on the piers they have into the water and there were several dolphins swimming, leaping, coming up to the decks. One of the staff fed them. Great fun.

There were a lot of people but it wasn’t too crowded. We went to their beach and had a great swim. The water is calm, no waves, and is much warmer than I am used to in Dorset.

On the way back home we picked up falafels and ate them sitting on our balcony. It was a beach day!

I did several loads of laundry today. The apartment has a nice washer (no fragrances in it), I got fragrance-free laundry soap in Jerusalem. Things dry on the rack on the balcony very fast!



100+ Posts
Gosh, that Dead Sea "slime" is hard to wash off, isn't it? So much fun to flounder around in the water though. (Although it's almost more like being ON the water than IN the water!)


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Saturday November 9 2019
Sunny and hot, 90F

We were up early and met @joe at 8:30 in Timna Park, 25 minutes north of Eilat. We did a fabulous 6.5 mile hike that took us 3 hours. Joe picked a hike that would work for me in my current state. We left his car at the end and took ours to the start. We walked on a new bike route! There was only one group of bikers that we had to step aside for and the trail was beautiful.

Timna is a stunning area with smallish rock mountains to the west. You can see the larger Jordan mountains to the east. It is a large bowl with colourful and interesting rock formations in the center. In prehistoric times, Chalcolithic I think, they mined copper in this area. On rock face had small tunnels that they dug into the rock looking for copper.

No ibex sightings today! But some pretty small birds. And evidence of ibex (droppings).

Last year Joe took us around the park to see the main sites (prehistoric cave drawings!) and we did a hike with a bit more scrambling. Today’s hike was easier but just as beautiful. My knee did well. Just a bit stiff but no pain and it feels good now. Maybe I getting better.

After the hike we went to the Flamingo Ponds north of Eilat. It was a rough road to get into it and you don’t get close to the flamingos but there were a lot of them walking in the shallow water.

Getting packed up and tomorrow we drive north to Mitzpe Ramon in the high desert near Be’ersheva.

We have liked this apartment even though the kitchen is very small. I managed to make our dinners on the one burner stovetop.



100+ Posts
Yael is a common woman’s name here and it means Ibex. I decided that my Israeli name is Yael Cohen. Yael for Ibex and Cohen is Steve’s last name and is a good name here.

Lovely name, I know several women called Yael . It’s not only the ibex, it’s the name of the Kenite woman who killed the Canaanite general Sisera, enemy of the Israelites, by lulling him to sleep and hammering a tent peg into his head (Book of Judges Chapters 4 and 5 )


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Sunday November 10 2019 - Mitzpe Ramon
Hot and sunny. 80F in Mitzpe Ramon.

Before leaving Eilat we went to Broitman to get bread and the natural foods shop to get things to bring with us since Mitzpe does not have a natural foods shop and their bakery is open weekends only. We also drove by a vacation rental on the southern edge of town (just to have a look). These southern neighborhoods are upscale with nice houses.

We drove highway 12 out of town, following the border with Egypt. We drove this last year. Tall wire fence topped with barbed wire. The ibex and antelope must not be able to get through. Large towers and outposts on the Egypt side. A few military outposts on the Israel side.

We stopped at Pundak Neot Smadar, a vegetarian restaurant at the intersection of two highways about 45 minutes north of Eilat. We’ve been there before. I like this place because it is in the middle of wide open desert with nothing nearby except the kibbutz that runs it. They grow organic dates that you see for sale all over Israel. They also produce many goat milk products, juices, date energy bars, date syrup, olive oil, olives, herbal teas.

It is a popular place with tables in a garden outback, but we sat inside because of the flies. Flies have been frequent since Ein Gedi. Not everywhere but very annoying at times. Their menu is small and it was noon so breakfast was over. We shared hummus and salad.

We drove by the Ovda airport and saw several military jets landing. Later we were talking to a couple of guys in Mitzpe and some jets flew over. They said they were going to Gaza. A reminder of the tense and terrible situation not so far away.

The drive was beautiful. Wide open spaces, very barren. The highway was not as busy as highway 90 that goes down the Jordan Valley. The last 30 minutes is through the crater which is stunning. The road zigzags up the crater wall to Mitzpe Ramon (Ramon Outlook) which sits on the edge.

We arrived in Mitzpe just after 2pm and checked in (phoned the host and he told us where the keys were, then he talked me through how things are set up). Fabulous apartment! It is the top floor of a modern beautiful villa. The host’s in-laws live downstairs but they are not here now. We share a swimming pool and sauna with them. The apartment is large with a huge terrace that looks out to the desert. The terrace could use more furniture, the kitchen could use more cooking things (no strainer!) and there are no closets, but really the place is fab.

We drove into town and got to the visitor centre just before they close at 4pm. They gave us details on two good hikes in the crater. We asked her where to find Ibex and she said “everywhere”. We had already seen one in the parking lot.

I got a fresh pomegranate juice from a vendor in the parking lot. The ibex were hanging around him eating the pomegranate husks. He had to chase them away. We walked along the edge of the crater and saw several more Ibex.

We went into the main grocery in the centre of town. We had missed this area on our visit last year. There is a falafel place, a hummus place and a small vegetarian place, plus a large supermarket. Lots of people about. Kind of a hippy vibe which, of course, I like.

Looking forward to our week here. High desert so it is cooler.



500+ Posts
Sunday November 10 2019 - Mitzpe Ramon

The butter thing : in the photo, if I am not mistaken, the price is 11.90 shekels for the imported Finnish butter.
The (regulated) price of domestic butter is 7.88 shekels for the same type of butter (200 grams).
So, Israelis are being asked to pay about 50% more for the same unit of butter. This is because the local dairies are not willing to produce at the regulated price.

11.90 shekels is about US $3.4 . How much are you people on the other side of the pond paying for your butter?

A friend who came in from Germany recently told me that the same thing is happening over there - a shortage of butter because milk production has dropped, but the demand for milk fats has increased.
There, apparently, the current price is about 2 euros, or about $2.2 .

In other words, in Israel butter is relatively expensive right now....
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In the United Kingdom:

Waitrose Salted Dairy Butter, 250g, £1.62 (£6.40/kg - $8.23/kg)
$1.65 for 200g - €1.49

Waitrose Duchy Organic English salted butter, 250g, £1.85 (£7.40/kg - $9.51/kg)
$1.88 for 200g - €1.70

Note that the UK sells in 250gm packs.


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Monday November 11 2019
Sunny and hot, 80F.

We are not going at high speed on this trip. Our days have been very easy. Still today we needed a day off. I thought I would sit on the terrace and knit all day but there was bang-bang-bang of a big digger a few streets away. At least it was at a distance.

The house has this swinging outdoor seat that I’ve fallen in love with. I did some reading and knitting.

Around 11am we drive across town, parked and explored the Desert Sculpture Park. It is rocky terrain and is on the edge of the crater. Large stone sculptures. We met two women from Toronto wandering around out there and had a fun conversation. It was one woman’s 11th trip. She started out doing Christian tours, then volunteer work and now she was traveling around the country independently, taking buses. They are off to Eilat next. She said how easy it is to do independent travel here.

Mitzpe has a very expensive hotel, the Beresheet, and it is beside the sculpture park. It looks beautiful, right on the edge of the crater, with some rooms with private pools. The buildings are stone and fit in well. Other than this Mitzpe is not a fancy town. It has a scruffy desert town look. It reminds me of Santa Fe where we lived for 20 years. Dirt roads, dry, sunny, Adobe-looking buildings close together. Not a normal looking town.

We saw a few ibex in town when we were looking for the natural foods shop. It was closed and only open at 4pm for a few hours. We will try again tomorrow. We don’t need anything but I want to see what the shop is like.

After lunch and a nap we walked out as it was getting dark (4pm!). We found an easy way to walk to the edge of the crater. It was dark when we got back just after 5pm.



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Tuesday November 12 2019
Sunny and hot, 80F in town, hotter down in the crater

We headed out just after 10am and drove down into the crater to do some hiking. It is only 15 minutes on the main road but then another 30 minutes on rough dirt road. The drive along the bottom of the crater was slow but beautiful. We drove past the Beerot Campground to the Ramat Saharonim parking area. There were 5 other cars.

The tourist office gave us the information on the hikes from here. We could do either a 2.5 hour hike or a 4 hour one. We chose the shorter one, missed a turn and ended up doing the long hike, but it took under 2 hours, not 4 hours!

The hike went along a wide valley, Wadi Ardon. It was flat but sandy, so not totally easy walking. After a hour we turned and climbed out of the Wadi and went back over barren rocky hills. We saw two other groups while walking. It was hot but not as hot as our day in Timna. The views were incredible.

We finished around 1pm and decided to do another hike instead of coming back another day. We drove back a bit, then went to the Ein (spring) Saharonim parking area. There were about 20 cars there. It was obviously the more popular hike.

There are Nabatean ruins near the parking area. This was a stop on the Spice Trail from before the Romans.

There were a few large groups of school kids but they were teenagers and pretty well behaved. Usually these young groups spend their time screaming at each other.

This hike was the Nekarot Horseshoe, 3 hours according to the tourist office. It took us under 2 hours. I wonder why they are exaggerating the hiking times? We usually walk longer than the recommended times.

The hike starts out at the spring which is a pretty green area. Then you walk in a Wadi between two rock walls in a horseshoe around a hill. Again walking in sand. As we went on there was more rock and the walking wasn’t as easy. The tourist office told us we would get to a narrow canyon full of water and we would have to swim or climb up the rocks to go over it. We came to this water after an hour and were shocked because I assumed the tourist office was wrong. We were almost around the horseshoe and they told us it was at the half way point.

Lucky for us there was a group of four Russians at the water. One of them had already waded in and said it was very deep. We couldn’t swim it because our packs would get wet - iPhones, watches. One of them was using a GPS program and found the trail to climb up into the rocks. We all did the trail together. There was some climbing up rocks with steps in them. I was a bit nervous about my knee but I did fine.

The Russians had been hiking since we started our first hike and still had a long way to return. We split off on a shorter uphill trail to return to the car park. We got to the car at 3:30. You have to be out of the park by 4pm.

Two fabulous hikes! We were very pleased that we did both of them. Each hike was only 3.5 miles.

We drove back to town, bump bump bump on the rough road, and went to the natural foods shop. It is very small but had a lot of things. We got some fruit and vegetables, and bread. There is a good bakery here but it is only open Thursday and Friday.

Mitzpe is small. Population under 5,000. One supermarket, a few small food shops, a few restaurants, a couple of coffee shops.

It was nearly 5pm now and the sun was setting so we went up to the visitor center where you sometimes see Ibex this time of day. The young man in the natural foods shop said you can watch them going down into the crater this time of day. We walked around but did not see any, so we headed home. As we came out of the parking area a large group of ibex were coming up beside the road. Young ones and three males with huge horns. Steve jumped out to follow them and I parked the car again, then joined him. We spent about 30 minutes following them as they rooted around the buildings looking for food. We got some good photos but the light was fading.

There was a tour bus with a group of Germans heading to it and they took photos of the ibex at close range using a flash, which I thought was rude until as we were leaving my headlights went into the eyes of the ibex.

What a wonderful sighting. We were very close to them. We had a glimpse of ibex in the morning as we were driving out and some big males were sitting on the rocks above the road.

A lovely day!



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And one more thing. We woke up to the news that the Israel Defence Forces, IDF, killed the head of the Islamic Jihad in Gaza overnight, and possibly another in Damascus, and Hamas in Gaza was retaliating with rockets into Israel. Some made it as far as Tel Aviv. Others went to towns on the coast closer to Gaza. Schools were closed in the area, bomb shelters opened.

Mitzpe Ramon is south of Gaza and inland but only as far away as Tel Aviv, so they could strike here but I don’t think it likely. There isn’t much around here.

I listened to a Ha’aretz podcast about this and they think this will go on for awhile. Our next destination, Zikron Ya’akov, is well north of Tel Aviv, almost to Haifa. The airport remains open.


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Wednesday November 13 2019
Sunny and hot, 80F

Another great day of hiking, this time near the crater edge. We drove north and then west on highway 171 until we were 5km from the Egypt border (45 minute drive). You can’t cross the border here. The road is paved with hardly any traffic (except one guy who pulled out right in front of us when he had the stop sign - do they have the French right priority here?). We were at Loz Cisterns, part of the National Park. I read about this area on Israel by Foot, on their driving plan for Mitzpe Ramon. They mention a 4km hike you can do to see the cisterns

This area has 17 ancient water systems, cisterns, built in the Israelite Period, the Iron Age, 10th - 8th BC. They still collect water. There is a good description on Bible Walks.

The last 1km is a rough dirt road to a campground. There was no one there but there were public toilets that were well looked after - regular flush toilets all the way out there. And an area with some roofing so people can set up camp protected from the sun.

The hike was great. It was 2.64 miles and took us 1.5 hours. It was pretty flat with the usual rocky trail. We walked past about 8 cisterns. The most impressive one was at the end, on the edge of the campground. It is wide open and beautiful there. The trail is well marked. They color code trails in all the parks. This was a red trail and there were a lot of other trails.

During the hike we saw a hyena (we think that is what it was) running very fast across the trail ahead of us. We saw a lot of droppings and footprints that might be camel, but we only saw a couple of wild donkeys way off on a hilltop (with binoculars).

It was hot but not too hot. We finished around 1pm and decided to do a second short hike like we did yesterday. This one was 15 minutes back towards the main highway at Hemet Cistern. I found this easy 4.5 km hike on Negev Trails.

The cistern is right by the parking area. When we finished the hike two guys were swimming in it. It is quite large. The hike was great. We hiked up and back towards the crater edge, the down into a Wadi and followed that up to the edge. Great views over the western end of the crater, the opposite end from where we hiked yesterday. We returned following this beautiful Wadi. There were a few pistachio trees, some water and a few old Bedouin caches, where they used to store things they didn’t need until they returned to the area.

This hike was 3.5 miles and took us 1hr45min. This is the first hike I’ve done without the compression sleeve on my knee. Yesterday I got a bad heat rash because of it so today I did not use it. My knee it still a bit stiff but I did well with no pain. This is great news because we are in Zikhron for 10 nights and there is a lot of hiking up there.

We went through 700ml of water each on the hikes. I didn’t pack a lunch because we had planned to be back in time for lunch, but we each had a date bar and that was enough. I am never one to skip a meal but this heat takes away my appetite.

Back home before dark so we got to watch the fading light from the terrace.

I’ve been following the Gaza news on Twitter. There were rockets sent to a town near south Gaza that is only 51 miles from us. Others went to Bet Shemesh where I had planned to go on Sunday during our drive north (to see some Roman mileage markers). I installed the Red Alert app on my phone and set it to “all of Israel”. It was pinging constantly with all the new rocket strikes, so I set it to Mitzpe Ramon so we can be alerted only if anything comes in this direction. I woke up at 6am this morning worrying about this, but managed to forget about it all day.

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100+ Posts
Great hikes and great photos!

My Jerusalem cousins have two sons who live in the Tel Aviv area, who were housebound yesterday. Today they were both out to work but... I haven't yet heard back from my Ra'anana cousins but I think all the Tel Aviv area schools that his grandchildren attend were closed. And so it goes.
I'm sure if you have all the alerts you are fine. I was in Israel October 2015 (or 2017?) when there were all those knifing attacks but after the first day I just went about my business.


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