A perfect full moon night on 101 desert

It is a real scorcher at the southern tip of Israel. A bath in the Red Sea is the last chance for refreshment. We set off north towards the Sea Dead. The visibility in a full moon night allows us to ride after dusk. We continue until none of energy is left, whereupon we find a random place in the desert to camp. The following day, still in the morning, we arrive to an oasis located exactly on 101st kilometer of the main road linking southern and northern tip of Israel. While refilling water we get to know Daniel, who sells iced coffee and ice cream. Seeing us, the two tired cyclists, he says: “Guys, if you want to relax a bit, you are welcome to use our swimming pool. Come on, let me show you".

I could not believe it until I actually saw a deep, well-maintained and genuine swimming pool. Surprisingly, no one is here at the moment. It was until I jumped into the water from the diving board when I realized this is actually happening. This is our lucky day. A swimming pool in the middle of desert, who would have thought!

We refill supplies in the store, once again. While I am waiting outside, a woman comes out of the shop and asks me “Are you Danish?”.  Being a bit surprised, I reply “No, I’m Polish” and so began our conversation. Soon Mieszko finishes shopping and when we are just about to cut the conversation short and probably say each other ‘goodbye’ in an unnatural way, the lady says “Come on guys, I will show you my telescope”. And that is how it began, again.

Wienie is extremely hospitable and inspiring person. She is originally Dutch, a full of energy and in high spirits for life 60-year-old enthusiast of the sky, stars, the sun and everything else linked to astronomy. If the weather conditions do not allow her to watch the sky, her alternative hobby is to search secretive corners of the desert for fossils.

Wienie on the Israeli desert

Wienie inside her desert castle

It all began with an innocent, a few months long volunteering trip some 40 years ago. As Wienie describes herself, “I have this problem that if I am somewhere where I like it, I do not feel like leaving that place". Thus, her trip, planned as a short one has extended to twelve years or so. After this period she has lived in Egypt, then spent some time in Morocco and again returned to Israel. Her passion, the desire to learn, the call of nature, willingness to travel, peace, Hebrew and Arabic – all combined together create a unique everyday life around Wienie.

A small cozy cottage, an original semidesert garden and ingenious decorations are just a cover for a powerful telescope and a second, less powerful one allowing to watch the sun during the day. It is here where for the first time I could admire the giant solar explosions of which I previously only have heard. With a naked eye I see the phenomena having the magnitude of a few thousand atomic bombs!

We start with a customary Bedouin tea, but our conversations extend well into the afternoon, so before the dusk we decide to overnight a few miles into the desert. This time we easily find a place with no traces of civilization, not even a glow on the sky. This is a true wilderness resembling lunar landscape.

We leave our bikes and climb in the moonlight to the highest mountain in the area. Countless little stones are loose under our feet and in steep parts of the ascent it becomes slippery and sometimes dangerous!

There is a fast moving point on the sky. It is an orbital station with crew flying over our heads precisely at 8:12 pm. All information Wienie gave us is right. Another amazing experience one can have in the desert, even though allegedly not much is happening on deserts.

It’s definitely the most magical night of the trip. We sleep in sleeping bags in the open sky and the desert around us absolutely silent.

We spent so much time here that the following morning we are running out of water supply, hence we must go back to the oasis. We meet Wienie by chance again. She invites us for coffee. At the farewell we get a decent lunch pack: a massive melon and a box of chocolate flakes.

Desert again

Yes, we are in Israel

We decide to ride nonstop, so when the sun is at its zenith we test our ability to withstand the desert. It is well above 40°C, much rather closer to 50°C. Because of the unbearable heat my inner tubes keep on melting. Today I had to fix about twenty punctures!

I saw fainting people on Mojave desert in Arizona once and it seemed to me that it couldn’t have been any hotter. Today I feel like I was on a burning pan inside the oven. Every person has his own limits, but after these several hours at the first opportunity to hide in shade, we have to make a break.

It turns out that we have enough energy to get to Hatzeva to find Johny and his son Benjamin, Wienie’s friends. Together with some other relatives this is a big Danish family. Back then the family has been traveling slowly in a convoy of large trailers and it took them a dozen or so years to arrive from Europe to Israel. Having reached the destination, they decided to settle exactly in the desert and run various fundraising and humanitarian projects.

We are fortunate and once again we get to know friendly people. Also, just by a coincidence, today there is a general rehearsal day of a play which will take place in Masada during Easter holidays. We meet volunteers from Denmark and other parts of the world. We are invited to join the diner and overnight stay in Bedouin tents.

The last section of our cycling tour goes straight into the biggest depression in the world. We reach the Dead Sea and enjoy bathing. Doing so for the first time, I admit floating on the surface of water is an unusual feeling. Note that you should be very careful not to get water into your eyes. It is unpleasant experience, not only because of high salt content, but also many other dissolved (and suspicious!) substances whose concentration is increasing as a result of water constantly evaporating. We meet with Kate and Ohn and return together to the Mediterranean coast. We have still a few days left to catch up with Ohn, who always has a lot to say about nearly every subject.

The early morning I get on a plane, close my eyes and reflect all of the good people I met here, as well as I bring to mind the peace and freedom of the 101 desert. That is how I am going to remember Israel.

April 2011