Mitzpe Ramon, Israel – March, 2015
“Yeah, you’ll see the signs after a while. Do you read Hebrew?”
“Just keep walking and look for a sign with a llama. If the military stops you, you’ve gone too far.”
And so began my month in Israel’s Negev Desert.
I arrived half an hour later at the alpaca farm where I would be working. I enjoyed the location, isolated in beautiful desert and a reasonable walk to quirky Mitzpe Ramon. The job was quirky and fun, as were most of the coworkers. This portion of the Negev Desert is one of the only places on Earth with a year-round climate suitable to raise alpacas and llamas, making it a magnet for local school field trips and families with young children. The decorations were… unique.
So were the animals.
I worked mornings and went exploring in the afternoon. First up came the Ramon Crater, 40 kilometers in diameter and difficult to capture when it’s foggy and your phone is your only camera. Frustrating, but not as frustrating as having your only trip to the Grand Canyon be on a day when it’s too foggy to see more than 50 feet out, but that is another story and shall be told another time.
The crater was overlooked by a park featuring sculptures of historic events or figures.
After the crater came the town of Mitzpe Ramon itself.
Despite its status as a small town in a desolate location, it had a unique vibe and a strong youth community. The Hangar, a local dance academy that doubled as a hostel and nightclub, attracted twenty-somethings from across the world. I later attended the academy’s Purim performance (I wrote this article about the celebration), one of the highlights of my time in Israel. Mitzpe Ramon was one of the most interesting small towns I’ve ever been to.
One of the most interesting small towns I’ve been to… but still a small town. After a couple of hours I had seen what there was to see. I headed back into the desert and towards the farm. I decided at this time to see what the fenced off hills along the road were. They looked intriguing. The effect of forbidden fruit?
The first labeled itself a communications center. It was all the cheap military communications equipment that I remember from my time in service, surrounded by a fence, topped by concertina wire. The second was much more interesting. It was a weather observatory sitting over the crater, though they didn’t care for strangers poking around. Two guards in golf carts approached me, asked what I was doing, and politely told me that visitors weren’t allowed.
I skirted the barrier and found this lone rose in the desert. A perfect ending to the day’s exploring.