During the first 10 days of our trip, we traveled throughout as much of Israel as possible. I was amazed how diverse the landscape and vegetation were for a country as small as New Jersey. To give you an appreciation for how different the country is, I have briefly described several hikes that we went on in the first 10 days.
1. Eilat is a touristy city that is at the southern tip of Israel on the Red Sea. They have beaches with snorkeling, scuba diving, windsurfing, kiteboarding, cruises, etc. We climbed up a desert mountain to get a view of the city. The mountains around us had almost no vegetation and was mostly composed of sand and rock. Valleys had been carved out by flash floods. The earth looked naked, and we could see the beatiful shapes of the mountains around us.
2. The Negev is a huge desert located in southern Israel that accounts for half of the country. We had a guide named Iran, who lives in a small community of 100 people and owns nine camels, take us around the desert in his off road land cruiser. He drove like a maniac over roads that would be more appropriate for mountain bikes-- 500 foot drops off of one side while we bounced up a 30 degree pitch (he had a virtual horizon in his car like the ones they have on airplanes to prove it). He took us to Israel's largest "Ramon." It is a geological formation that is only found in Israel, so there is no English translation, but it is basically an enormous crater that you can spend 2 weeks hiking in. Parts of the hike reminded me of the Grand Canyon. You could clearly see 10 different rock layers and how flash floods had carved through the softer layers easily. The layers were gold, green, orange, purple, red-- it was like looking at a rainbow in the ground. I will definitely come back to this area the next time I am in Israel
3. In the middle of the desert, there was a stream running through a canyon called Ein Gedi. The canyon was filled with life-- green bushes everywhere with enormous leaves, trees, birds, groundhog like animals. There were some waterfalls that we saw that belong in Hawaii. The water came from the ground and was incredibly warm.
4. The northern part of Israel has a lake called the Sea of Gallilee. Almost all of Israel gets their drinking water from this place. It is around the Golan Heights, and there are rolling hills with greenery and cliffs. We hiked down one of the cliffs to a little village where a driver picked us up. On the way down, we saw caves in the cliffs that were fortified by the Jews when they fought their last battles before being crushed by the Romans two thousand years ago.
5. Petra is an ancient city in Jordan that profited from being in the middle of the trade routes between the Romans and the East a couple thousand years ago. They built their city in a canyon with heavy Roman and Egyptian influence. However, instead of building the major buildings from the ground up, they carved buildings into rock. It is kind of like Mt. Washington, but instead of carving faces with modern technology, they carved buildings with huge columns, doors, and rooms into the mountain. There were a whole bunch of Arabs Beduins wanting to take you around on their camels or donkeys, but we ended up hiking ourselves. 2 of the larger buildings were at least 3 stories high! Check out the pictures.