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December 28, 2014

Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy

I have roughed it. At least I thought I had…until last week.

Over the years, I have backpacked through Southeast Asia and trekked the Himalayas. I have slept in yurts, barns, shacks, tents and palapa huts, in dark forests, under sequoias and in steamy jungles.

I have slept at 16,000 feet in a tent buffeted by a snowstorm, waking to see that the water in my bottle was frozen solid.
I have seen rats dancing on barn beams overhead, beady red eyes dancing in a flashlight beam as I hid in my sleeping bag. 

I have slept in a tent deep in bear country, hoping curious nocturnal bears would not have a hankering for Sensodyne toothpaste and devour me. I have slept on a wooden bench in a Sikh truckers’ tavern, waiting to hitch a ride from a frozen outpost to civilization, surrounded by bottles of alcohol labeled XXX.

I have trekked into the wild, bathing in ice cold rivers, bereft of toilets, beds and chocolate (yes, chocolate) for over three weeks.
And I have surprised a hairy tarantula spider, squashing it unannounced on a toilet seat. (To this day, I do not know who was more in shock: me or the squirming, freshly pancaked arachnid.)

Yet, last week on a trip to the Judean Desert, I was challenged like never before. The night before our hike, we all piled into a Bedouin tent at Metzukei Dragot. We brought sleeping bags and were given a mattress each. Our tent was windproof, waterproof and even had a small heater. The tent was huge and our group of 22 had a canvas wall to separate us from another group. Beside our neighboring campers was yet another partition. In total, about 70 people of all ages were cozying up for the night in three sections.

The bathrooms and showers were conveniently located nearby. Seemed like it had all the makings for satisfying, soft-style adventure. We even brought along our dog who sat up, wildly alert, listening to all the new sounds of the desert.

These were the sounds of the desert:
-The clicking of shesh besh pieces moving around a board till the wee hours of the night. 
-A baby screaming. And stopping. Then screaming and stopping.
-The automatic dryer in the mens’ and womens’ bathrooms. How many hands were there to dry? And why all night long?
-Crunching of feet on gravel so loud, I kept looking up, thinking for sure someone was lost and about to step on me. 
-The shesh besh players who finished their game and went to bed but forgot to whisper. 

Some 70 people were asleep (correction 68 as neither my husband or I could get shut eye), yet one man kept asking his wife where his things were “Yaeli, where is my pillow?” he screamed, flashing a beam in every direction. “Yaeli, where is my toothbrush?” he roared, rustling through bags and nearly catapulting the thin canvas between us and them.

My restless, indoor dog who sleeps on silk carpets looked at us pleadingly as if to say, ‘you expect me to actually sleep here?’

Then silence. Ahhh. I repositioned myself, ready to finally sleep, aware that I needed to be well rested for the next day’s hike. The alarm was set for 5:20 a.m., which was probably four hours away.

If I thought the night sounds of the desert were wild and varied, I was in for a surprise. Within minutes, Yaeli’s husband started to snore, dreaming of shesh besh pieces coated in gingerbread and dancing sugar plum Yaelis pirouetting with his lost shoes and socks.

His snores were so thunderous, the poles in the tent shook. It was a new kind of desert storm; unpredictable, I would hear a snore and with no new exhalation, I would fall into a light sleep, only to be hit with an onslaught. His snoring was also contagious, with a second trombonist from the deep dark recesses of the tent joining the cacophony. 

My husband elbowed me and asked if I could sleep. My dog pawed me, looking at me pleadingly as if to say, ‘You actually expect me to curl up at your feet here?’

Whispering, we grabbed our sleeping bags and the dog. Where was my left shoe? Why was Yaeli asleep? She could find it for me. Yet how could Yaeli ever sleep a single wink with such a champion snorer by her side?

We opened the tent flap and fled to the safety of the car, pulling down the seats in the Mazda 5 to make a flat surface. The dog took the driver’s seat (of course) and curled up in a little ball as we pulled shut the back door. 



Silence. No snoring and no hand dryers. No crunching gravel. And no sleep.  The surface was so hard, every position I tried ached. I even gave myself a black eye trying to pull up my sleeping bag and missing. Now it was TJ the dog’s turn to snore.

As for myself and Amir, we basically lay in pain all night in the absolute silence of the desert. No need for an alarm as we did not sleep a wink. 

Not wanting to look like complainers or poor sports, we slunk back into the tent in the morning as everyone woke. They all looked alert, well rested and ready for adventure. I had a swollen eye, an aching hip, a sore back and a swollen ear drum. My dog looked a bit like a wreck, although he was wagging his tail. 


I bet Yaeli and the snorer were about to start and new round of backgammon as we set foot on the trail. And as for the day's adventure, you can read about the desert hike here.



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