Despite a terrible bad back that kept her in bed for nearly a week, Itka joined me in Dimona. I went down to write about the surprising cultural revival in that dusty desert town. She needed a cure. "I think my back pain is a result of too much city tension." she said. "I need to go over the mountains and relax."
I empathized. I too needed to escape the familiar reality, catch a bit of dry desert air, be in a land without people. Recent events have turned me into a misanthrope. How unbelievably sad. We decided to catch a lift off of Dimona's plateau down to the Dead Sea and indulge in its bromide-rich air. Bromide in small quantities acts as a relaxant.
I took on the load as we left Dimona
The first lift took us to the very middle of nowhere,
though in a way we were in a very famous spot, only several electrical fences away from Israel's secluded nuclear reactor, which generates no elecricity (any better photo than this one could get me into serious trouble).
The second car was driven by a guy who's been living in the desert for four years now. Most of the time he spent in a secluded inn called "The Ashram". "I went there one day to fill up on water and stayed for years." He said.
Itka liked that. "I need a hippy environment" she said. The Ashram was in the very south of the Negev, 80 kilometers north of Eilat. the driver explained its location. We were to travel another 100 kilomerets south of where he left us, then turn right from the main road to a tiny road, then left to another, tinier road, then we're there. Trying to hitchhike to a place like that seemed like lunacy, but the lady with the aching back has made her request. On we rolled.
Two hours later, in the heat of the afternoon, we reached the first of the two turns. Highway 13 leads from nowhere to nowhere. we waited there for an hour or so. nothing happened.
Bored with all the gravel, she put her scarf over her head and asked: "would you have picked me up?"
I said: "Yes, if I were Marcello Mastroianni."
Finally we gave up and headed north. The first guy to give us a lift was a hardcore settler from the environs of Hebron. He was dressed in an orange shirt, a remnant of his days in the rebel movement opposing the evacuation of settlers from Gaza. he told us he was jailed at the time.
He really was a very nice chap, a lettuce farmer. We avoided the political stuff for an hour or so, then tones rose over the imprisonment of Ashkenazi ultraorthodox parents who wouldn't send their daughters to study with Sepharadic girls. thankfully this is when we reached the intersection: west to the West Bank, East to the Dead Sea. No time to discuss Baruch Goldstein.
The next car was driven by a mixed couple, and Arab man and a Jewish woman. This was the first time in my life i've ever met such a couple. I'm 34.
The couple took us to the Dead Sea's patch of luxury hotels. I was worried for my girl's back and wanted to check about prices. Could I spoil her? However, the heat had drained me and I ended up slumping on a bench in the midst of this peculiar oasis, drinking an ice coffee. She's the one who ended up asking around for room prices. None fell below the 1000 Sheqel mark. Insanity.
At least we knew of a youth hostel 30 kilometers up the road. A lighting engineer of children's theatre took us there in his shiny new Masda (he freshly divorced, and the car was his "gift to himself").
The place turned out to be full of automatic weapons. Some army commanders' course took over it for the weekend. There was no room left for us. We relaxed a bit on the balcony, right next to the Israeli version of an AK 47 (forgive me for not being better versed in the names of our weapons), then went to dip in the vaseline-like water.
By the time we stepped out, dusk has fallen.
We desperately needed a place to stay. North of Ein Gedi and up the mountain is another hostel, called "Metzokei Dragot". Neither of us had ever visited it. We found the number and were told by Eddy, the warden, that he'll be glad to pick us up from the main road and bring us to the crest.
We waited for Eddy at the intersection. It just happens to be the same spot where the road going along the Dead Sea leaves Israel and enters the West Bank.
The road up to Metzokei Dragot, at the top of a nearly vertical cliff overlooking the Dead Sea, winds sharply for about six kilometers in the dark. At the top is a military base with a massive antena and a small, fenced holiday village. The rooms were not to our liking, small spartan and asbestos roofed, each with three tiny single beds. None of them was worth the money charged by Eddy.
We offered to pay him for his trouble and gas if he drove us back down. Eddy refused. We asked about tents, knowing the place offered a few. Eddy said he didn't want to go into the trouble of setting one up for us. "I did my job. I'm done," he said.
What to do now? I was willing to take the blow, pay what he asked and give my woman rest for her vertebrae, but she wouldn't hear of it. "We're outa here," she said, and headed for the gate.
So there we were in the middle of the desert, walking down a steep road by the light of the moon. The heat of the day gave way to a magnificent dry breeze, we were cracking jokes about Eddy and about life, having a wonderful time all in all, until Itka remembered the leopards.
"What if a leopard springs at us?" she asked.
"I think you need to be a rodent or a fox to worry about that. they're not huge leopards around here."
"What about Hyenas?"
"I think they're only found north of Jericho."
"Why do you just think all these things? why aren't you sure of them?"
"Darling, I wouldn't really worry about Hyenas so much as I would about your back. It's 22:00 and you've been zigzagging around this entire country the whole day. Aren't you crippled already?"
She wasn't. in fact, her back didn't ache at all anymore. The adventure cured her.
We had to draw several conclusions:
1. Adventure can cure backache, at least in certain people.
2. Meandering for an entire day, crossing hundreds of miles without reaching a single destination is the best way to travel.
3. There's no escaping Israel. Even as you go into the emptiest portions of it, the settler from Atniel will be there, as will the reactor, the checkpoint and the guns. A group of Eddy's guests who witnessed the scandal came by to give us a lift down the hill. They spoke of the fotilla and said all its passengers should have been shot on the onset.
4. Bromide really works. We didn't get mad when our benefactors suggested the mass killing of hundreds. We didn't get mad when they spoke racistly about Bedouins, desert souls who would never have kicked us into the night as their Israeli host did. They described all Bedouins as rapists and killers, then called us: "rapist huggers".
We kept our calm.
We didn't get mad after returning to the roadblock, seeing Arab families with yellow license plates turned back at the roadblock, not permitted to reach Ein Gedi.
We didn't get mad seeing Palestinians youths who came to camp on the shore harassed by the soldiers. For once we were too stoned by peculiar minerals and tired to care.
We got a lift directly back to Tel-Aviv with two French tourists, watching the lights grow more and more numerous around us with every turn.