July 8, 2016

Nocturnal Surprises

Summertime….and the living is sticky. I live in a sauna. The air in Ra'anana is soupy thick, burning, as if the lid were taken off a giant, simmering stew. So we steam, feeling lethargic.

I love running yet find I cannot breathe, I can hardly place one foot in front of the other even to walk to the couch. I can no longer relax in the garden and must now watch my outdoor plants from inside, as if watching fish in an aquarium. The flowers wilt in the breezeless air.

So when Amir suggested we get away to camp in the desert, I looked at him and twitched, already feeling a prickly sweat drip down my neck.  

As he eagerly packed up the gear, (including his brand new ultralight tent cleverly suspended by hiking poles), I checked the desert weather forecast. I never do this as July weather in Israel is usually hot and sunny, hot and sunny, then hotter and still sunny.  

To my surprise, the day temperatures in the centre of Israel matched those in the south. The night temperatures in the south were 21 degrees celsius, while they hovered at 28 degrees in the Tel Aviv area. I looked at humidity: 65% in Tel Aviv; 20% in Mitspe Ramon. Now I was interested.

We drove south in the dark, the air conditioning blasting in the car. Around Be'er Sheva, realizing the air temperature was cooler, we opened our windows and sucked in clean, dry, cool air. 

We continued south towards Sde Boker and down into Nahal Zin, where we would pitch our tents in the dark.

Stepping from the car my daughter gasped, “The stars!”

We looked up and saw a multitude of twinkling lights across dark velvet. Silence. Cool, clean air.

“Ahhh,” we sighed.

We perched on a mat atop the sand as shooting stars streaked by so closely, I felt I could reach out to touch them.  We had front seats at nature’s very own fireworks show. 3D surround sound, yet smoother. A white mountain loomed in front of us and jackals shrieked, their cries echoing off canyon walls. 
Our dog, who’s used to retiring for the night atop an Oriental carpet, looked at us confused, stressed. “What is this?” he seemed to say, curling up on the thin mat. “Where is this?” he wanted to say, pawing the sand.

We patted his head reassuringly, then slipped into our sleeping bags in our cozy tents, totally convinced this was the 'best value for money lodging' with the most superb view.


That is, until the jackals surrounded us and started to howl. One howled and the other answered. They had us surrounded. The Oriental carpet dog instinctively abandoned his urban self and stood upright in the tent, demanding out. Now. 

He ran into the darkness and all I could imagine was that he became dinner for the pack. Fast food from an urban takeout.  All I could hear were paws scraping, sand flying, howls. And then silence.

I peeked outside and saw a white form curled into the sand. Was it a rock or a dog? Was he alive or an appetizer? I was too chicken to investigate and as soon as I thought I had fallen back to sleep, I heard an even eerier sound. A flute and then loud, plaintive singing. In Arabic.

As the notes echoed across the canyon, I sat upright, trying to wake my husband in the next tent. It was like one of those nightmares when you try to scream and no sound comes out.  I wanted to wake him up yet did not want the 'singer' to hear me lest I too become an appetizer.

I thought about my large bed at home with my duvet and air conditioning and house alarm and en suite bathroom with electric lighting and streetlights outside and maybe police and everything so known and so predictable and so normal.

I grunted towards my husband’s fancy ultralight tent. Again. Teeth clenched, I  asked, “What is that?”

“A ghost,” he mumbled. “And stop waking me up.”

I looked at my watch, praying for daylight to come soon. 3:59 am. The sky was as dark as ever. I knew this was the last night of Ramadan. Was this song a farewell prayer to Ramadan? Was this a shepherd calling to lost goats?

I pondered until the notes stopped. And then the birds started to chirp.

“Coffee? I grunted to the form in the fancy ultralight tent next to ours.
And so the day began. As I stepped out of the tent to a fresh, new morn, I was thankful to have survived.  Even the Oriental urban dog was alive and wagging his tail like his old playful self. No hard feelings from a Labrador.

As I sipped my coffee, the sun churned the eastern sky tangerine and candy floss. The air was so cool, I actually needed an extra layer.  I thought of a July Ra’anana morn, where the sauna is never in the off position. 

In the distance, I saw a couple jogging from Midreshet Ben Gurion down to the desert floor. Nice. I could do that. 

We packed up the car and drove our 4X4 deep into the desert to Ein Ekev, a large oasis with a cold pool of water. We jumped into the fresh water and looked up at a deep blue desert sky. 

Yes, the desert is actually a better place to be in summer than central Israel. And why has it taken me eleven years to figure this one out?

This beautiful country is filled with hidden gems and nocturnal surprises.

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