Has anyone managed to drive for five miles in the Galilee without coming across a sign for the nearest guest house? But the Negev is something else entirely. In the Negev you can drive, and drive, and drive, and it’s as if there is nothing there.
But there are guest houses in the Negev. More and more of them have been popping up lately, like mushrooms after the rain, even if there isn’t much rain there. Most are owned by ranch owners near the Spice Road who are offering an alternative to kibbutz and moshav guest houses and to the Ramon Inn.
Yankeleh Geva has been involved in desert tourism for 37 years. He notes that “there were always places to tour here, but people would come, hike, and return to the center of the country.”
His ranch, Nahal Hawarim, was built on the ruins of an ancient Nabatean farm on the Spice Road. Geva raises olives, and will soon open a reconstructed olive press where oil will be produced and groups will be able to learn about olive oil production in ancient times.
Three guest houses have been built on the ranch, and another three are on the way. They show the deep love that Geva and his wife Dorit have for the Negev, with its colors and special character, and for the culture that flourished there thousands of years ago. If in the course of building he would risk causing harm to local antiquities, he’d do everything possible to avoid it.
From the outside the guest houses look like part of the scenery: isolated mud-brown structures with porches covered by palm fronds that look out over the Nabatean city of Avdat and Ramat Divshon. Each guest house has an immersion bath that looks like it’s hewn from stone and is reminiscent of the many cisterns that can be found in the wadis of the Negev. They are all made of natural materials, such as glass, iron, and stone.
“I tried to spread mud on the satellite dish, too, but it interfered with reception,” says Geva, apologizing for the obviously modern accoutrement.
But inside the guest houses, there’s nothing to apologize for. There are air conditioners, a well-equipped kitchen with microwave and refrigerator (with milk inside), a dining area with a bottle of wine, fruit, nuts, and seeds, a bedroom (as well as a double bed in the living room), the inevitable Jacuzzi, with gel and salts.
You probably haven’t come to the Negev just to bury your head in the sand. Are you looking for a desert experience? Geva suggests a tour that combines a car ride and a hike in Ramon Crater, or a circular tour in Parsat Nekarot and Ma’aleh Dekalim, which is also suitable for families with small children. This lasts for about four hours, and you can take your lunch break in the cave at Parsat Nekarot, which fits about 100 people.
Good walkers may prefer to hike in Nahal Hawarim, one of the tributaries of Nahal Tzin. During the day you can see the wonderful canyon and the layers of flint on the trail up to the Ein Avdat road. At night when the moon is full, it’s even more beautiful when the white light is reflected on the soft whitish chalkstone.
The hike to the Ein Avdat road takes about two hours, and can be done at any time of year. Along the way there are many shady spots.
If you aren’t tired yet, continue on to Ein Avdat (there is an entrance fee), and enjoy the water, the waterfalls, and the caves. With a bit of luck you may see ibexes, hyraxes, and nesting places for eagles. The trail ends in a series of ladders that leads to Ramat Avdat, a 10-minute walk from the Nahal Hawarim ranch and the Jacuzzi.
If you’re looking for harder trails descend Ramat Divshon on the steep slope till you get to the channel of Nahal Akev, on the way to a refreshing surprise at Ein Akev: a 30-foot deep pool that is almost always shaded, with cool, clear water. “You can leave your car keys with me, and I’ll come to pick up the hikers at the end of the trail,” says Geva. Bring 5 liters of water per person.
When you come back home and pass by Kibbutz Sde Boker, if you look to the right you might see Ben-Gurion winking at his wife Paula.
Nahal Hawarim Ranch: Several minutes’ drive south on road 40 from Midreshet Sde Boker. Price per night: NIS 450 per couple mid-week, NIS 600 on weekends, NIS 1,000 for two nights. If you are outside of Israel call 972-54-234-6066, or else 054-234-6066 if you are in the country.
Reproduced with permission: Ynet