Apr 4, 2021

Tiyulim in Eretz Yisrael: the deep south west, Shivta and 10

We mostly took it easy this holiday. While it is wonderful that the infection rate has dropped tremendously (I would assume because of the high rate of vaccination and recovery rates) and people are able to get out, unlike the last few holidays, and travel the country, I personally hate standing in line and fighting with the crowds. So I love seeing the country filled with people having a good time, and I am happy to see that mostly from my home.

We spent a couple of days getting together with family, along with a relative's simcha, and relaxing.

We joined the rest of Israel out touring one day of Chol Hamoed.

But even then, while most of the Israeli tourists were running around up north or all the way down in Eilat, we went out traveling in a part of the country we thought would be slightly less traveled.

And we were successful.

We went southwest. Deep southwest.

We started out driving down to Shivta National Park. Shivta is an old Byzantine town, now in ruins, from about 1500 years ago along the Spice Route. We got there and ate some lunch before touring the ruins. Another great thing about Shivta is that there was no need to make reservations to see the site (and it was free). 

Due to Corona, many sites and trails require advance booking. Those sites are almost all busy. Also, it is hard to get reservations, as Israelis love to book several sites and only later decide which one to visit. there is no charge to make a reservation, and no penalty for skipping, so that is what happens. It is what it is, but we found a way to not have to deal with that (after trying just a little bit).

So we toured the ancient Shivta site, which is also a UNESCO World Heritage Site. There were other people there, but it was not crowded at all. We took our time and enjoyed climbing through the ruins.

From there we drove further southwest. There is a road called Highway 10 - not the well-known Road 10 on the edge of Bet Shemesh (which is really officially Road 3855), but Highway 10 that runs adjacent to the Israeli-Egyptian border. The road is normally closed to Israeli traffic for security reasons, but a few days a year they open it up, or at least most of it, to Israeli travelers.

The northwestern most edge of Highway 10 is at the very bottom of the Gaza Strip, just a bit northwest of the Israeli town called Kadesh Barnea. The road actually was only opened on the northern-most side from the junction of the town of Azuz, just a bit southeast of Kadesh Barnea, but it took us time to find that (that's what we get for not reading all the details). While we wasted some time looking for the opening of the road, it was pretty cool as we saw the closed borders and security stations. We eventually figured it out and as we got closer, there were also signs pointing us in the right direction.

Despite the road being officially open, it is still manned by Israeli soldiers securing the area, along with closed gates that they open for each car. They asked where we were going, and I said I heard the road was open and we just wanted to drive on it. The soldiers smiled, opened the gate and wished us an enjoyable and safe trip and we were on our way.

Obviously we were not going to drive all the way down to Eilat on this road, as we had no interest in going so far. Also it was late in the afternoon and they only keep the road open for some hours per day and then close it. So our time was limited, which was fine by us. 

The border is secured by a high fence with barbed wire (and probably other forms of security), which I understand is relatively new and was installed to stop the infiltrators from Sudan and Eritrea who came through Egypt several years ago. The road adjacent to the fence is actually new and beautifully paved, and I assume is only used by the security forces. The road used by the public, when open, is just a tad away from the fence and is older and not quite as nicely paved.

After driving for a while, we stopped to ask a group of soldiers securing the road where a lookout point is. They directed us to just a bit further down the road. When we got there we pulled over and got out and walked around a bit. The ground in that area is full of iron ore rocks. We also found a lot of old bullet casings - maybe from the Yom Kippur War (or maybe not). 

After checking things out there for a bit, we got back in the car and decided to drive a little bit further down the road. Someone told us there is "borot mayim" - water cisterns - in the area, and we decided to go a little further and look for them. As we got to the next group of soldiers, they directed us to the water, warning us that it won't be open much longer. We got there and the soldiers there told us we only have a little bit of time left. We parked the car and hiked out to the borot mayim. There were several other people there - some coming, some going. 

The borot mayim were actually a little disappointing. It was one hole in the ground with a bit of water. A few people were climbing down to touch the water, but without actually being able to go in and swim and enjoy, I didn't see the point. The cistern had a ladder, but the cistern was only big enough for one person at a time, and it was not particularly deep. We enjoyed the area and beautiful views and hiked back to the car. When done we turned around and went back to get off the road. From there we went to Tel Nitzana to relax, eat, daven and get ready to drive home.

what interesting trips did you take or interesting things did you do and see?

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