For you Israelis -- who know this area even better than I do -- you have permission to skip this post if you want to. I think the US readers might find it interesting, though.
I went to Eilat yesterday -- Eilat is a seriously remote seaside paradise on the Red Sea -- not the Mediterranean. If you look at a map, it is at the very tip of southernmost Israel, just across the Red Sea from Jordan -- and only 12 miles from Saudi Arabia.
The road from Beersheba to Eilat is famous for its austere beauty and its danger. Built in 1958, for much of the 150 miles the highway is just two lanes, which irritates antsy drivers who try to pass and then don't quite make it. Then, too, sometimes camels wander unto the highway which is always fatal for the camel and usually fatal for the car passengers. Because camels have very long legs and a high center of gravity, when a car hits a camel, the very heavy body of the camel tends to fall on top of the car and crush it from above. Not good.
It's also dangerous because of the totally ridiculous "S" curves that mark a good portion of the way, especially about a third of the way in. The two lane road snakes back and forth, with sheer drops on the outside, with what look to be totally inadequate barriers -- they may not be inadequate, but they don't look very formidable. Last December the driver for a tour group of Russians made a bad mistake and 24 people were killed when their bus plunged over the side. Also not good.
So as the bus leaves Beersheba, it's usually full of people going on vacation to the seaside paradise -- a very popular spot for young people, especially. As the bus starts the journey, there's a lot of laughter, talking and like yesterday, even a few singing. It's a happy crowd. From what I could see, I think I was older than anyone else on the bus by about 30 years.
But about 20 miles out, the bus passes through Dimona and enters the stretch of road that's especially dangerous, with the "S" curves and the sharp drop offs. As many times as I've made this bus run, I have to say that the Egged drivers are excellent -- they drive very slowly through this part, maybe doing their best to prevent death by heart failure, as much as by road mishap.
Or maybe it's that it's just like pilots. There are old bus drivers, and bold bus drivers, but on the Eilat run, there are no old bold drivers...
So for the half hour that it takes to negotiate these curves, the bus is so silent you could hear a pin drop. Okay -- so maybe everyone is just talked out at that point, but I have a feeling that I'm not the only one holding my breath. (I've also found that slamming my left foot down hard on the foot rest doesn't help a bit, either.) There aren't many atheists on this stretch of road.
Here's the sort of thing we pass through:
There's just no way to describe the total, absolute, desolation of the Arava, which is what this area is called.
It's rocky, completely without water, and although from time to time on the long drive you'll find kibbutzim, they are few and far between. Mostly it looks just like this:
People do go hiking among these "wadis" -- drainage channels -- but not at this time of year. The heat -- yesterday was something over 105 -- the lack of water, the absence of shade make it among the most rugged country on earth.
There's some law, though, or regulation maybe, that bus drivers can't drive more than three hours without taking a break. So going and coming, there are tourist bus places to stop. An oasis, if you will.
Yesterday I just had to laugh -- here's the oasis we took a buy-water and use-the- bathroom break:
Maybe that doesn't strike you as funny as it does me, but this reminds me of a New Yorker cartoon -- there's this scraggly guy crawling on his hands and knees through the desert, and he finally finds a water hole.
And lo! it even has the Golden Arches!