Israel Retrospective, 19Mar2014

Today I got an unexpected day off! The owner of the Kfar offered to take me around some of the surrounding desert, to show me the sights. We went first to a huge crater in the Arava Valley, where the land split sometime in the distant past and then wind and water eroded the soft sandstone until the limestone crust collapsed. The cliffs surrounding the resulting valley provide a spectacular view of the geological formations on the valley floor.

On our way down a frankly terrifying set of switchbacks (guardrails? What guardrails?) we stopped at a little nature reserve called the Colored Sands. This is exactly what it sounds like. Iron deposits in the desert have oxidized in various ways to turn the sand all different colors, from pale beige/dun to purple. And when I say purple I mean PURPLE. It looks almost artificial.

Driving from the colored sands down the rest of the mountain, we took a small, one-lane road called the Scorpion Ascent. The switchbacks were intense, and the road itself follows a natural valley between two mountains. It rained last weekend, and everywhere the water had run was carpeted in a profusion of flowers. It was the fairytale desert that appears overnight and disappears only a day or two later. Little yellow and purple flowers carpeted the dry bed of the temporary stream, interrupted by spreading trees with twisted trunks. Here and there among the purple were patches of white blossoms, or little scarlet poppies like licks of fire. It’s hard to believe that so much lush vegetation could lurk beneath the wasteland of the desert, but water unlocks life in the arid soil. Given half a chance it clings to every crevice and patch of shade, ekes out each hard-won drop of moisture, and blankets everything in color.

At the end of the Scorpion Ascent we turned right, into the parking lot for a… crocodile farm. I was DEFINITELY not expecting that! We visited a couple who had done a lot of work in Africa with wildlife there, and had eventually returned to Israel to start a crocodile farm, with the intention of preserving the endangered Nile Crocodile.

Croc Facts that I learned while visiting:

  • Crocodiles have the strongest jaws in the animal kingdom
  • Crocodiles have the most acidic stomachs in the animal kingdom
  • Crocodiles can eat basically anything
  • Crocodiles sometimes fight
  • Crocodiles can carry prey underwater with their mouths open because their throats seal shut
  • Crocodiles have no tongues
  • Crocodiles have no muscles on their faces, just skin and bone, so their expression is set at “stone cold killer” and is unlikely to change
  • Crocodiles make noise! They sort of… roar/grunt sometimes, and they squeak from inside their eggs even before they hatch
  • Crocodiles can kill you with their tails
  • Crocodiles can kill you with their teeth
  • Crocodiles have built-in goggles so they can swim underwater with their eyes shut and still see you and kill you
  • Crocodiles basically haven’t evolved since they were dinosaurs, because why mess with a perfect design?
  • Crocodiles are fucking terrifying

Also I held a baby croc and it tried to bite me and slapped me with its tail. Adorable! We put that one back and went to have tea made from a kind of mint that grows high up in the mountains of Africa. (Not sure where specifically, they just said “Africa.”)

Eventually we did have to leave the crocodiles, so we continued South to an agricultural community where we saw bell peppers and flowers being cleaned and packed for export. Very cool! Then we drove up along the shore of the Dead Sea as the sun was setting, and saw the strange, alien shapes of dried salt on the stones. There was a mountain to our left made of sandstone and salt that erodes and changes shape every time it rains and the salt softens. We passed an elevation marker carved into the cliffside that read -100m, and we’d already been climbing.

Overall, a full and exciting day! I still love the desert, and will be sad to go, but I’m looking forward to the next piece of this journey. Speaking of which… Get ready for a lot of stories about me searching for minotaurs in the near future!

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