Antelope Ranch, Arava, Arava vacation, Chanukah vacation, Hanukah, Hatzeva, Moshav Hatzeva, Vidor Center

An Oasis in the Arava

You know when you drive to Eilat by way Rt. 90 and you pass what feels like hours of rocky terrain? Barrenness? Mountain after mountain after mountain?

Yeah, we chose to spend our Chanukah vacation among that barren terrain.

And what fun it was.

Most people who travel through the Arava (the area of land below the Dead Sea and above Eilat) do just that – they travel THROUGH. Their destination is either the hot springs of the Dead Sea or the fun and sun of Eilat.

But we’ve made it a mission of ours to explore the Land and to show the kids all sorts of out-of-the-way places in Israel so that they will love their country and love hiking it.

And the Arava was the perfect destination to do so this Chanukah. 

We started the trip traveling South on 60 from our house to Kiryat Arba where Yehuda’s Tefillin were ready for pick up! We picked it up, threw some candy at him, and were on our way.

Then, since we were driving right by Sussya, we decided to stop and show the little boys where their big brother goes to school. They had a blast asking questions, “Is this where you study? Is this where you sleep? You play basketball here?” and it was really nice for them to have a picture of Matan’s life away from home.
In Matan’s dorm room.

Then, we headed South to the Dead Sea to go on a great hike at Har Sodom (Sodom Mountain). The hike was beautiful – but even more fun was watching Matan lead us on the way, teach us about fossils and enjoy guiding us. He’s really learning a lot at Sussya. The rock formations are incredible at Har Sodom, and so are Matan’s picture taking skills.

Then, we went nearby to the Nachal Pratzim where we enjoyed an hour walk inside the canyon walls. It was absolutely breathtaking and the kids loved playing with the chalky walls and making mud piles where they could. Is that surprising?

There are seven communities nestled in the Arava. The land looks so stark and barren, and then you turn off the main road and suddenly feel like you’ve come to an oasis. It is amazing how the people in the area have cultivated the land and built communities out of nothing. Most of the communities in this area produce vegetables, flowers and other items for export. The communities in the Arava are responsible for producing 65% of the vegetables eaten in all of Israel!

So we stayed in one community called Hatzeva where our landlords grow peppers, eggplant and other items. They also have an adorable restaurant that they open only when someone requests it, and they have five cabins for rent. We stayed in two and it was spacious and perfect for us.

Day 2 began with a journey to the Antelope Ranch. This is an expansive ranch in the Arava where a couple decided to plant their roots and bring in endangered animals. Visitors can enjoy their quite impressive Noah’s Ark that is filled with everything from birds and bunnies to peacocks and roosters. Then, they can drive through the area in a car and see zebras, antelope, wildebeest, Nubian ibex and more. The have an African wild ass, one of only eighty left in the world (and one of six in Israel), that we got to see as well. The guide gave us a great overview of the place and the animals that are there. And of course, Yakir had to try on the antlers for size.

As we were driving back from the Antelope Ranch to our next adventure, this happened. Oy.

Now, you have to keep in mind that we were NOWHERE. And we had no idea how we were going to get the tire fixed. And I saw visions of our fun vacation disappearing before my eyes. We called the people who own the apartment we were using and they instructed us that there was a repair shop not far away. Amazing! What they didn’t mention is that it’s a tractor repair shop…not a car repair shop. Oh dear. So Josh put on the spare and we headed over to Ein Yahav, a lovely community. The repair people really wanted to help, but they simply didn’t have a tire to offer and they couldn’t repair ours. We realized we were going to have to drive slowly for the entire rest of the trip..and get to Beer Sheva for a tire repair…when suddenly, out of nowhere, the guy pulled out a tire in shimmery gold packaging. I am not making this up. I was too stunned to actually take a picture of it, and I don’t know how the discovery came about. But he was suddenly holding the perfect tire – that he used to replace the one on our car. Viola! We had our Chanukah miracle and we were back in business! 

We got the kids ice cream at a cute little shop in the area……..
and then headed to our next adventure – a hike in Wadi Zin. We were the only people there and we had a blast exploring the area and enjoying time by ourselves. (Who manages to go anywhere during Chanukah vacation without loads of other vacationers?)

On our way back to our apartment, we drove through the green houses where they grow so many amazing fruits and vegetables. And we found this on the side of the road…yeah, that is a zucchini!  Holy smokes!

On the third morning, we treated the kids to an awesome jeeping experience (courtesy of Grandma and Grandpa’s family Chanukah gift). Everyone had a blast.

And then we went to the Vidor Center where they teach people about the Arava. The center is brilliantly designed with a short 3D movie, a visit to two hot houses where they show how they grow vegetables, flowers and more, and an interactive room that teaches everyone. It was an amazing learning experience for everyone in the family from age 4 to 43…the take away is that we are an incredible people that can literally make the barren desert bloom!

Inside one of the chamamas (hot houses).

We came home educated and energized. It is truly a blessing to be able to show the kids something new every time that we go on vacation and to teach them about this beautiful, dynamic country filled with treasures. We lit the Chanukah candles for the last night, and sighed that the holiday and vacation were coming to an end.

But we will now have the Arava in our hearts…until the next adventure.

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