We left Jerusalem a little later than planned because I was printing my father’s Christmas present (a personalized calendar for 2012 made up entirely of photos of the family on holiday in different parts of the world) and proceeded on a long long drive to kibbutz Kfar Menachem, where my mother had volunteered forty years ago. I was a little disappointed by the fact that we didn’t actually drive through the ultra-orthodox city of Beit Shemesh to get there. My parents refused to detour through the city; they said they’d seen enough in Me’a She’arim.
Kfar Menachem is sweet enough. We toured the kibbutz with a friend of my mother’s from her late teenage years and then met with another friend of hers for supper at a very very tasty Druze restaurant located beside (or as part of) a gas station. We stayed at a nearby kibbutz, where we felt that the lodging was over-priced, the cafeteria was hard to find, and the people were hardly friendly. This being his first experience of Israel outside of Jerusalem, my father was unimpressed.
The following day, we drove to Ein Gedi. I had wanted very much to drive through Hebron so as to show my mother, father and brother the situation and the occupation there, but a friend the night before had insisted that there was no exit at the lower part of the West Bank. I was sure he was wrong, but my parents decided to go with his advice. It turned out that there was an exit there after all. However, being Israeli he is forbidden from driving along many of these roads and areas (by Israeli law) and therefore didn’t know about them.
We reached Ein Gedi towards the evening and headed to the Ein Gedi Field School, where we rented out a dorm for six for the family. Once again, we felt that we were definitely overcharged for value and the food in the cafeteria was overpriced. However, we didn’t want to stay in any of the fancy hotels in nearby Ein Bokek, so we happily settled down and had an early night to prepare for a day full of hiking.
Hiking through Ein Gedi on New Years Eve was beautiful. We went on easy trails, but somehow managed to miss most of the tourists. We followed the route on the map that led us to various springs and waterfalls where we dipped our toes in the water (I would have loved to swim, but it was too cold). Once we finished hiking through one wadi (and taken in stunning views of the desert and the Dead Sea) we headed to another one, where we walked along cliffs until reaching another oasis and waterfall – this one with more people. It was nearing 3pm, the time by which everyone had to begin exiting the reserve, and while most people chose to return via the route we came through, we returned via the river trail. This was my favourite trail in the reserve – scrambling over rocks, jumping over stones, ducking under branches – there’s something about walking through gorges and rivers that I love. It was also much cooler because of the running water and the sheltering branches.
That evening, we tried to find a nice restaurant to enjoy New Year’s Eve supper. However, most restaurants were closed by 8:30, even in Ein Bokek, or had buffet-only deals. Being a vegetarian family that doesn’t eat a lot, we were unwilling to go with one of these, so we drove into Ein Bokek and checked out some hotels. Finally, we were seated in the lobby of a hotel that served food and drinks. We tucked into some ravioli and discussed, in amazement, the lack of celebration for the New Year in Israel. We had understood that Christmas meant nothing in most of the country – I’ve honestly seen more Christmas decorations in Indonesia than in Israel, which seems to absolutely ignore it unless you’re in Arab/Christian areas – but New Year’s?! Really?! This hotel was celebrating with a lack-lustre and tacky performance in one of their halls, but nothing else.
A little disappointed but pleasantly full, we were back at the Field School by 11pm. Happy New Year’s Eve 🙂