The NegevMost of the instructors arrived at MEET and after a day of orientation were whisked off to the Negev for a retreat before the hectic of the summer started. The goal of the retreat was to get to know the instructors and staff at MEET that we'd be working so closely with all summer. It just so happened that we got to go into the Negev too!
The Negev is in the south, south of the city of Beer Sheva. It sprawls for about 13,000 square kilometers, says Wikipedia, so there is a lot to see. We were aiming for the Mitzpe Ramon Crater, near the development town of Mitzpe Ramon. In the Negev, there are a few small villages, some kibbutzim, and a few Bedouin villages, but other than that, it is just a sprawling wasteland.
I will only put a few choice pictures here, since the rest of them are on Flickr: http://www.flickr.com/photos/mpratland/sets/72157634730392020/
Noga arranged for us to be driven around the Negev with these Jeeps, including some short hiking, some off-roading, and some talks about the history and significance of the Negev.
The views into the Mitzpe Ramon crater were amazing - the Mitzpe Ramon is apparently one of the few "natural" craters in the world, not formed by a meteor. The way it was described to me, think of building a mound of sand on the beach. Then take a bucket of water and pour it on top. What do you get? A crater!
It was so hot, but the way to hike in the desert when it's so hot is apparently to walk a bit, have a picnic, walk a bit, go swimming, rinse, repeat. I'm not complaining.
And at the very end of the two-day trip, we of course drove past the Dead Sea (and later swam in it). The view before descending the last few hundred meters is amazing - the salt flats across the sea and the view of Jordan across it, completely surrounded by sand, is quite impressive.
We camped in the Mitzpe Ramon crater for a night after having dinner and a bonfire. The stars were among the most amazing stars I've ever seen - the Milky Way crystal clear, and the sheer quantity of stars was incredible. Because the sun was so powerful, we slept in the shade of a cliff wall until the sun encroached on our campsite and we woke up to the powerful rays of sun (and of course, Abdallah making coffee).
The Dead Sea
On our way back up north, we had to stop by the Dead Sea for a quick dip.
The Dead Sea itself is unique, that's for sure. The salinity is so high that there are signs and warnings all around to NOT put your face in the water, and if you get the water in your eye, it is too painful to open, so a friend should escort you to the nearest outdoor shower to rinse off. The feeling of weightlessness is incredible and nothing like I'd ever felt before - you just lie there and you float. Your knees, feet, shoulders, and your butt all gravitate towards the surface - no swimming required! We of course tried to spell MIT while floating in the Dead Sea, but I'm not sure the pictures came out (they were not on my camera).
What surprised me most about the Dead Sea was the heat. Sure, it was hot, but the water felt like a sauna! In addition to the fact that all your scars and cuts stung (a.k.a. most of your skin, because everyone has many micro-cuts on their skin just from regular life), the water was not refreshing from the 37+ degree Celsius heat. In fact, the moment you got out of the water you instantly felt better.