Last night as we were reviewing our options for the way to the Dead Sea, the guy at the hotel who originally suggested our spectacular hike also suggested a scenic drive, part of which was along a road that "is no longer actively maintained" since the government built the new modern highway. But! It would afford us beautiful views he said.
The next morning we decided to start off with another of the old Nabatean cities along the Spice Route - Avdot. It sits on a hill and unlike Petra seemed to have had a much longer life after the fall of Nabatea being repurposed by both the Romans & the Byzantines. About a third of the town was evident in one way or another and we spent a good two to two and a half hours exploring the ruins, speculating on the development and fall of what was once one of the world's most powerful cultures.
From there we went to Ein Avdot ("ein" means "spring" - the water kind rather than the coiled metal kind- in Hebrew) a little further up the road. The cliffs this time were a rich creamy white, towering over the spring's waterfall and resulting little stream. Unfortunately, it was at Ein Avdot that we finally ran into other tourists - about 6-7 bus loads of them, mostly school children. This made the otherwise idyllic canyon echo at times quite painfully and it also meant that following the trail to the tops of the cliffs was much too crowded. So we enjoyed the little river and made our way leisurely back to the car, leaving the kids to run amok higher up the canyon itself. Not for the future: do this *much* earlier in the day before the busloads of school kids arrive.
From there we drove down highway 206 which wound its way through the Large Makhtesh, another stunning piece of scenery. The drive was a little harrowing as the road narrowed to a single lane after we left Yerucham (our lunch stop - more schwarma and pickles), and there weren't an insignificant number of buses trying to go the other way. Still, it was beautiful, though Stephen and Branson did much of the oogling while I drove (Stephen having done the majority so far).
After that we hit route 227 - the road that would take us to the third Makhtesh of the region - the Small Makhtesh - and the road the hostel guy suggested, you know, the one that's no longer maintained. We drove part way down to the section of trail leading out to the lookout point over the Small Makhtesh. While (obviously) smaller than the Large Makhtesh or Makhtesh Ramon, it was in some ways even more impressive since you could see the entire crater from a single vantage point. Really beautiful.
Now, we had to decide - continue down route 227 or turn back. Being brave and having plenty of daylight, we decided to give it a go. The road condition wasn't as bad as we feared and it did give us some amazing views over yet another desert valley (again mostly enjoyed by Branson & Stephen - though I got glimpses!). A plaque by the side of the road said that it was built over the old Roman road which led down to the sea at what is now Eilat. To give you and idea of grade, the original Roman road had stairs over which pack animals had to be led and carriages carried. It was also the site of a terrorist attack carried out by Jordanian terrorists in the early days of Israeli statehood. So a bit of history and some more natural features of what is thought as a desolate corner of the country - desolate, perhaps, but really really beautiful. So very glad we did it!
This put us into our next hostel - Shkedi's Camplodge. It's something of a unique mixture of tents and cabins in the bedouin style. But it has free wifi, kitchen facilities & hot showers. Still, I bet you can tell the boys booked this stop, can't you? It should give us something of a feel for the local colour - so far a little mixed. We'll see how this goes.
But I can smell dinner just about ready to come off the stove (Branson's cooking a thai chicken curry, yum!), so that's it for me tonight. Stay tuned for tomorrow's adventure!