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The Middle East part II:
HOLY LAND 
& NABATEAN DESERT

Deep into Israel's three deserts, the Negrev, Arava and Judean deserts, across Jordan and criss-crossing the Nabatean deserts of Jordan and Saudi Arabia.

This region offers some of the most dramatic and enchanting desert landscape of sand and rocks on earth.

 

We ventured deep into the Wadi Rum desert in Jordan, and the Wadi Hisma (Jibal Hisma) desert in Saudi Arabia on two separate jeep expeditions that took several days.

 

With a reputation for conservatism (and the fact that it can be difficult to obtain a visa for Saudi Arabia), very few travelers come here. But this region is very charming, full of remote Bedouin communities, bewitching villages and Nabatean tombs.

 

We do a lot of trekking and arrange several 4x4 trips into the deserts.

 

We believe, that these lands still have some of the charm that allured the 19th century explorers into Arabia. It still has the rumor of a forbidden kingdom - a land worth visiting because it is so unknown, difficult to enter and furnished with exotic impossibility. 

Location: Israel, Jordan & Saudi Arabia's Tabuk province, with deep explorations of the Wadi Rum and Wadi Hisma deserts

This is leg two on a longer journey across the Middle East. We kick off this leg by exploring the charms and chaos of Jerusalem – one of the single most admired, contested and loved cities in the world with a cultural and religious make-up like no other place on earth. From there, we cross Israel’s three vast deserts: the Negev Desert, the Arava Desert and the Judean Desert. We have seen most of Israel, and surely the most interesting part is the desert regions with its many national parks, nature reserves, and the freshest air in the country. Along the way, we opt to always stay in charming farm settlements – either in kibbutzes or moshavs – placed in rural areas and marked by the harsh desert elements. It isn’t the Sahara, but Israel's deserts are big enough to justify a few weeks here. We finalize the desert loop by exploring the Dead Sea, from where we cross into Jordan.

From Amman, we visit all of the important sights in the Jordan Valley in north, before traveling along the King’s Highway down to the deserts in south. From Bethlehem to Petra, exploring this part of the Middle East is in many ways like taking a time machine through the history of mankind. It has a historical past and pedigree that can be argued to be one of the oldest on Earth. The region been inhabited throughout the centuries by nomads, biblical prophets, merchants of the exotic, conquering armies of the Romans, Byzantines, Arabs, Crusaders and Ottoman Turks. All of these civilizations have left their mark here. History-buffs will love finding settlements dating back 10,000 years BC, ancient Roman cities, Petra of the Nabatean kingdom, crusader castles and castles of the Islamic era, Jesus Christ' place of baptism, Moses burial place on Mt. Nebo, the oldest Mosaic map of the Holy land, and so on.

Finally, we reach the desert region of southern Jordan and north-west Saudi Arabia.

Continue to Middle East part III for leg three on this journey.

 

 

Selected pics during this journey:

Our route on part II of this trip
Our route on part II of this trip
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Christian Quarter, Old City of Jerusalem, Israel
Christian Quarter, Old City of Jerusalem, Israel

If cities could speak, Jerusalem would have a lot to tell. It is simply one of the world's most fascinating cities. Inside the Old City, which is entirely fortified, we spent several days visiting the different quarters and bazaars. Here. in the Christian Quarter in north. The Church of the Holy Sepulchre, Christ Churn, Ethiopian Monastery and Chruch of St. John the Baptist are key sights here in our opinion.

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Waiting for lunch in the Arab Quarter in Old City of Jerusalem, Israel
Waiting for lunch in the Arab Quarter in Old City of Jerusalem, Israel

A true hustle and bustle quarter - basically one big, mazed bazaar witch reckless merchants, donkeys in the streets and a chance to enjoy hot tea on the roof of a guesthouse with a view to the Dome of the Rock.

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View towards Dome of the Rock from a Muslim School, Old Jerusalem, Israel
View towards Dome of the Rock from a Muslim School, Old Jerusalem, Israel

Lying atop Temple Mount or Haram Ash-Sharif this time-honoured site is santified and visited by thousands of pilgrims every week. The site has been headlining news events for millennia.

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Western Wailing Wall in the Jewish Quarter, Old City of Jerusalem, Israel
Western Wailing Wall in the Jewish Quarter, Old City of Jerusalem, Israel

The most important religious shrine for Jewish people all over the world.

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Mourning and lamenting their ancient loss, Old City of Jerusalem, Israel
Mourning and lamenting their ancient loss, Old City of Jerusalem, Israel

The Wall is a place of pilgrmage where Jews come to mourn and lament their ancient loss. We came here to join the shabbat at the wall. The energy pf tje place as groups sing and dance and mourn is amazing.

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Inside the Western Walls Tunnels, City of Old Jerusalem, Israel
Inside the Western Walls Tunnels, City of Old Jerusalem, Israel

Studying old rabbinical texts,

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More wailing at the Wailing Wall, Old City of Jersalem, Israel
More wailing at the Wailing Wall, Old City of Jersalem, Israel
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Looking for breakfast at a baker in City of David, Jerusalem, Israel
Looking for breakfast at a baker in City of David, Jerusalem, Israel

The oldest part of Jerusalem, the City of David is some 3000 years old.

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Shop in the Armenian Quarter, Old City of Jerusalem, Israel
Shop in the Armenian Quarter, Old City of Jerusalem, Israel

A good place to get away from it all inside the Old City! Somewhat shuttered behind high walls and big wooden doors, the Armenian Quarter is very quiet as is has been for centuries. The core of the quarter is one big monastic compound which is very insular.

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Visting the ultra orthodox Jews, Jerusalem
Visting the ultra orthodox Jews, Jerusalem

During a Sunday we would visit the Ultra-Orthodox Jews, which have a glimpse into the rich cultural and religious identity of this religious gruup, better known as Haredim or “God fearers”. They live in a traditional neighborhood, which isn’t typically visited by tourists.

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Dancing ceremony amongst the ultra orthodox jews, Jerusalem, Israel
Dancing ceremony amongst the ultra orthodox jews, Jerusalem, Israel

We ecountered a ceremony in the streets. We visited book stores, music stores, restaurantants, a bakery, and a synagogue, Yeshiva. Not all places in the ultra orthodox neibourhood was possible to enter as it’s was forbidden by the local community to allow us to enter.

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Dancing ceremony amongst the ultra orthodox jews, Jerusalem, Israel
Dancing ceremony amongst the ultra orthodox jews, Jerusalem, Israel
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Arab school in the Muslim Quarter, Old City of Jerusalem, Israel
Arab school in the Muslim Quarter, Old City of Jerusalem, Israel

Visting a Arab school to get their perspective on the world and life n general.

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Monastic school in the Christian Quarter, Old City of Jerusalem, Israel
Monastic school in the Christian Quarter, Old City of Jerusalem, Israel
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Catholic Friday prayer on Via Dolorosa, Jerusalem, Israel
Catholic Friday prayer on Via Dolorosa, Jerusalem, Israel

Inside the Catholic Quarter in Old City of Jerusalem. They started by walking along the Via Dolorsa, the route that Jesus is belived to have taken as he carried this cross to Calvary.

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Souq in the Mamilla area where we slept
Souq in the Mamilla area where we slept

We primarily ate in hole-in-the-wall sharwarma joints, but also visited a few tavers to have e.g. Armenian pizza, spicy sauage and mezze.

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Crossing the Negrev desert around
Crossing the Negrev desert around

After Jerusalem we rented a car and headed straight for Israel’s three vast deserts: the Negev Desert, the Arava Desert and the Judean Desert. Nice spots in the north part of the Negrev are Be'er Sheva and Sde Boker where we stopped to stock up on water, snacks, etc. for the many hikes that we had planned.

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Ein Avdat NP in the Negrev Desert, Israel
Ein Avdat NP in the Negrev Desert, Israel

First stop was Ein Avdat National Park in the north of the Negrev. There are several excellent hikes in the Negrev region, taking in a wide variety of landscapes with lots of ravines, canyons and desert flora.

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Icy pool in Ein Avdat NP in the Negrev desert, Israel
Icy pool in Ein Avdat NP in the Negrev desert, Israel

We found this pool of icy water in the middle of the hot expanse of desert, fed by waters that flow through a canyon. Do get here we had to walk though a steep winding ravine of soft white chalk - incredible scenery. A perfect spot to take in our lunch.

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Trekking the Wilderness of Zin nature trail, The Negrev, Israel
Trekking the Wilderness of Zin nature trail, The Negrev, Israel

This trail leads from the lower entrance of Ben Gurions grave and into the desert hills and mountains. David and Paula Ben-Gurion lie in a spectacular cliff-top setting overlooking the stunning Wadi Zin and the Avdat plain.

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Overnight in Neot Semadar oasis, Negrev desert, Israel
Overnight in Neot Semadar oasis, Negrev desert, Israel

Neot Smadar is located in the southern Negev. The kibbutz was established in 1989, on the grounds of an abandoned kibbutz, Shizafon. Neot Smadar is as an organic community featuring architecturally unique buildings with passive cooling towers.

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View over the Maktesh Ramon crater, Negrev desert, Israel
View over the Maktesh Ramon crater, Negrev desert, Israel

Did a big meteorite create this vast crater? Nope It is one big erosion cirque created by a unique geological phenomenon, where earth is drained by a wadi, thrus creating a canyon, crater or maktesh (all meaning the same: a big assymetrical hole formed by erosion). Similar unique rock features are found Iran and Turkmenistan. This one is the largest in Israel and it looks like something our of The Planet of the Apes. Locals call it the Grand Canyon of Israel. We spent a few nights.

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Hiking inside Maktesh Ramon, Maktesf HaKatan and Maktesh HaGadol, Negrev desert, Israel
Hiking inside Maktesh Ramon, Maktesf HaKatan and Maktesh HaGadol, Negrev desert, Israel

We spent several days in this part of the desert and did splendid desert hikes. Maktehs Ramon is the biggest crater in Israel - it is vast! There are several good trails inside the crater leading to unbelievable rock formations and moon-like landscapes. Maktesh HaKatun and Maktesh HaGadol are both south of Dimona and they can be reached easily from Mitzpe Ramon village in a rented car. The latter had beautiful coloured sands when entering form Yeroham village.

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Overnight in an oasis in the Arava Desert
Overnight in an oasis in the Arava Desert

South of the Negrev Desert we enteret the Arava desert - a beautiful and sparesly populated desert that runs from the Red Sea to the Dead Sea, and it part of the Great Rift Valley, running 5000km from Syria to Mocambique.

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Hiking inside Timna NP, Arava Desert, Israel
Hiking inside Timna NP, Arava Desert, Israel

This national park once had the world's earlist coppermine and the park is dotted with ancient mine shafts, some dug by Egptian miners in the 5th century BC. The red and pink sand is beautiful.

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The socalled Mushroom, in Timna NP, Arava Desert, Israel
The socalled Mushroom, in Timna NP, Arava Desert, Israel
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Getting lost in Timna National Park in The Arava Desert, Israel
Getting lost in Timna National Park in The Arava Desert, Israel

The national park includes a wonderland of geolocial phenomenon as rainfall has formed the granite into strange formations during the past 500 million years.

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Signs of early life inside Timna NP in the Arava Desert, Israel
Signs of early life inside Timna NP in the Arava Desert, Israel

Ancient, childlike inscpritions dating from the second millennium BC.

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Trekking in Yotvata Hai-Bar nature reserve, Arava Desert, Israel
Trekking in Yotvata Hai-Bar nature reserve, Arava Desert, Israel

A great reserve that includes a variety of habitas and sand dunes, acacia forest and salt marshes.

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