The area we had camped at overnight had been so peaceful. No people, roads, trains or factory’s for miles. Not even the animals were making a noise in the night. I slept for 9 hours solid, only the third time this whole trip that I have slept trough the night.
My knees were in a lot of pain when I woke and my legs were achy. They were needing a rest from scrambling, but, that wasn’t going to happen today. We had 30km to cover with an especially difficult first 5km. Progress was slow and, despite my good nights sleep, I so wanted to just stop and nap. I couldn’t afford to though. The short days were chasing us fast and we needed to get to camp before 5pm when the sun sets.
I found myself in a valley after climbing up and over a ridge. We hit a section with huge fallen boulders and rocks that blocked our path and needed to be climbed over. They just seemed to go on forever. My complaining knees and legs were taking all the fun out of scrambling over them.
We passed a watering hole and found ourselves climbing up a narrow slit to the top of the mountain. The last major climb of the day. I was suddenly hit with a foul smell that caught me in the back of my throat. I knew what it was. It was the smell of death. As I carried climbing it got stronger, to the point that I thought I was going to be sick. I took small shallow breaths through my mouth and tried to climb as quick as I could. There was no other way around. I started to see a few tufts of the animal fur and a handful of bones, a deer maybe. I was surprised by the intensity of the smell compared to how little there was left of the creature. Nothing gets wasted in the desert. I assume it was a desert cat that killed it as it was right at the top of the climb so couldn’t have fallen.
Back in fresh air I took a break but couldn’t face food just yet as my stomach was still churning. I was exhausted. We still had 25km to go and I was wondering if I could find the energy to do it.
I put my head down and just got on with it, barely looking up from the road in front of me. We passed some stinky camels. I wonder if they are the same ones the guy had lost the day before?!
At the 15km mark we started a gentle climb up. When we reached the top I was hit by another one of those magnificent views. This was Ramon Crater, the largest erosion crater in the entire world.
As I was trying to absorb the view, I heard a flap above my head. I looked up and saw 6 vultures circling. They were absolutely huge! I just couldn’t get over their magnificent size.
We started walking along the edge of the crater. It was on a continual gentle up slope. We were still able to keep up a descent pace though. I rang my family back home which was a nice distraction and dropped some subtle hints to my mum that I would be very happy to have a slice of her lasagne, and that white chocolate truffle cake she makes, on my return. Food occupies my mind a good 25% of the waking day (and probably the sleeping!). Hiking is hungry work and I am missing some comfort food from home. I won’t bore you now by listing what I would like to eat…it would be long!
Mizpe Ramon, the city marking our end point, slowly started to expand on the horizon. As soon as we arrived, we ran for the Falafel stand. Falafel is the best Israeli food – pitta with hummus, tahini, salad, falafels and, if you’re lucky, chips – and all for only 14 shekels!
We completed the final 2.8km to the other side of the city to the Field School Mount Negev who open their doors for hikers to camp for free overnight.
The field school was perfect and we had a nice place to put up our tent with running water. We also had some friendly (and cute) neighbours.
It was 4.30pm by the time we had set up and I was cooking dinner, it was already starting to get dark. We had been walking for 11 hours solid with barely any breaks. It had been a tough day and even doing some mild stretching was causing me too much pain. All I was good for was sleeping and eating.
I couldn’t find a position where my back, knees or hips were not sore. This is the stiffest I have felt the whole trip and it kept me up most of the night. My body was not in a good way so I was looking forward to having an easier day. Not easy, but an improvement on the last 2 tough days.
We have only 2 weeks left before we reach the end point of our hike, Eilat. It’s gone so fast but also feels very long. With the end in sight, I feel like my body is telling me that it has had enough. I always find that no matter what I do, the last part is difficult. Regardless of the distance, when I go for a run, the last mile is the hardest. No matter how high the mountain, the final push always feels like my body won’t make it. This hike is no different.
We descended into the crater with poor visibility. We had been sat in a thick fog since midnight, making all our camping gear wet by morning. It made for a great mystical view though.
At the bottom, the path flattened out and we made our way across the crater floor, taking a detour up and over a small hill. We were chatting lots, recalling memories of our school days and talking about what we are going to do when we reach Eilat.
A lone acacia tree came into view and it provided the perfect haven from the over bearing heat. We rested while we watched the birds and a strange rodent (it looked like a squirrel but with a black bushy tail) search for food.
We had a tough climb up Shen Ramon following our break, steep and long. Then a steep down with a short technical section – something my ache knees didn’t appreciate.
We continued on for another 4km then had another short but steep climb, the last of the day. I was digging deep to get to the top of this one. I stopped 10 metres short as I wanted to make the most of the rare shade opportunity.
The climb down was gentler. We followed a well kept, flat dirt road for the final 4km into the designated camp area at Gvanim.
When we arrived, there were men setting up for a huge group. I counted 100 tents. We camped about 40 metres away, barely outside of the campsite but with a small hill hiding the view of the group and hopefully some of the noise.
We laid out our gear to dry. It was 3pm and hot. I had a headache so rehydrated and took some pain killers. I got in the tent to get out of the sun and eventually also shut the doors, despite it being like a sauna, as the flies were driving me close to insanity. Desert life isn’t easy.
As the sun started to set, a ranger approached us and said we needed to be in the campsite. We moved without kicking up a fuss, we were, after all, in the wrong. I understood why there were designated areas but I asked him in all seriousness if he thought it was ok to have such a large group here. He said that everyone deserves to enjoy nature – fine, except this group of over 200 have huge generators, lights rigged up, were playing music into the night, making microphone announcements, the kids were shouting and shining laser torches – this was not enjoying nature. This was an intrusion on nature and on anyone else in the area trying to enjoy it! The whole point of the areas is to protect the reserve. Our small discreet tent and leave no trace attitude is not doing any harm, but, this group?
Anyone following my blog will know that one of the biggest challenges for me has been the camping. The noise especially. It’s a harsh contrast going from the quiet isolation of the desert to an overcrowded unnecessarily noisy camp ground. The evening is often the time when I most need a bit of space and calm to relax and collect my thoughts. I’ve changed my attitude towards it though so didn’t get annoyed that we were moved and I now had to sleep by the loud group. Part of travelling in a different country is accepting that expectations are different. Even if I don’t really get them. This is just how things are in Israel, generators and all.
I am walking 1000km the full length of Israel. Part of the reason I have taken on this challenge is to raise money for Africa’s Children in Education. Each time I receive a donation it is a HUGE morale boost…please donate!