Day 17: Mitzpe Ramon to Gevei Hava Night Camp

Day 17, March 16: Another hard day but different reason - bought too much food for 2 days. Pack is SO CUSS HEAVY. Can't wait till out of desert - can't wait for trekking poles. Kevin comes in 2 days and may hike with for few days. Will be nice to see someone from home. Night: Terrible day. Only good parts were meals. In pain whole day, horribly hot. Trail WOULD NOT END, got to camp in dark after lost, couldn't find cache. Doubts about ability to do harder day tomorrow. Completely exhausted. Guidebook full of vague, contradictory info and maps no help. Camp: Hava?

I don't remember much about this day. We spent the first while hiking along the rim of the Makhtesh, and in the evening we passed through a wadi that was very wild-feeling, full of giant rocks and boulders we had to scramble around. The end of the day was a mess; darkness fell before we could find the night camp (the guidebook gave worthless of its many failings). We got separated and basically had to wander in the dark among a maze of scrubby trees, making our best guess at where we were going.

I made an educated guess that I just had to hope was right and dragged everyone along up some hill, with them yelling back at me, wanting to know what I thought I was doing. My instincts were vindicated and we found the night camp, but we couldn't find the water cache in the dark, so it was not a great night. The next morning we had to search for an hour and a half to find the water caches, as nobody could remember exactly where they were amid the rough hillsides.

I do remember the meals being really delicious on this day. I guess that means this is a good place to cheer things up and discuss our trail diet.

Breakfast each day was oatmeal, which we spiced up with dried fruits and almonds, brown sugar, cinnamon, and sometimes apple slices. The oatmeal we had for breakfast just outside Mitzpe Ramon had all of the above, and it still sticks in my mind as the best oatmeal of all.

For lunches, we brought along pita, vegetables, and condensed tahina (sesame paste), to which we'd then add water and some salt and za'atar (a local herb, iconic of Palestinian cuisine, and similar to thyme). The vegetables were mainly peppers and cucumbers, which we could slice into vegetable sticks to dip into the tahina. Hummus, although full of nutrition, is far too perishable for hiking, and was reserved for lunches that took place near a store. We also brought along little cans of tuna for the concentrated protein, plus apples, dried nuts and fruit, and our cherished dessert, simply called "chocolate." This is a substance similar to Nutella, but in a lighter container, and cheaper - basically just a chocolatey spread that we'd smear on pita at the end of every lunch and dinner.

Dinner was the second hot meal of the day, and was pasta- or couscous-based; rice took far too long to cook. We'd cook up the base (pasta or couscous) in some tomato paste mixed with water (in Israel, you can buy these great little plastic containers of tomato paste, and so avoid the weight of metal cans) along with a mix of spices - salt and za'atar being the main ones I remember - along with maybe a little something spicy and chopped onions and possibly peppers. These hearty stews really stuck to our ribs, which was important. We soon learned which foods stay with you through a day's hiking and which leave you hungry again before long - white bread was one of the first to fall out of favor.

I also maintained a personal stash of the holy trinity of hiking foods: peanut butter (which is imported, as Israelis don't eat it, and is thus very overpriced there), granola (a hearty supplement to breakfast) and halva - a mix of tahina and honey which both tastes addictively delicious and packs a calorie-dense punch to help fuel me through grueling climbs. I still swear by that stuff. Every time we hit a store I'd stock up on whichever of these three items I was running low on, and snack on them throughout the day. The halva was so delicious that I went through it pretty quick, guzzling down calories as quick as I could burn them off. I'd buy a half-kilogram bar at almost every store we reached, and usually finished it before reaching the next one.

Before the descent into a great canyon
Photo by Idan Brodet

The wadi we hiked through as night fell
Photo by Idan Brodet

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