Well, I survived. I was not horribly maimed or injured by falling off the mountains or by rock slides or by wolves. All of my worst fears did not come true. The hiking was not nearly as intense as I originally anticipated. The clambering over large rocks got tiring after a while but gave me a new empathy for this guy and his crew.
The law in Israel says that schools are allowed to have a casualty rate of 10% on field trips. Our group had two major casualties (sprained ankle and a sick person) and a few minor ones (scrapes, etc.). Which for a group of 70 foreigners, is quite an achievement.
The Negev is no joke. It is quite literally the most arid place I have ever had the dubious pleasure of visiting. I can count on one hand the number of trees I saw (3) and the amount of water I saw (0L). In terms of wild life, there wasn’t really any… I saw two birds (they were not stupid enough to land) and no scorpions (thank god!) even though they are rumored to be abundant in the Negev. The Negev is a wasteland as far as the eye can see. But, oh my gosh, it is a beautiful waste land.
What the Negev lacks in lush foliage, it makes up for in rock. My tour guide kept calling the Negev a geologist’s paradise. Think rock formations from Four Corner’s National Park, Yosemite, Disneyland rides, and Death Valley all in one spot. It is absolutely incredible. There was one particular portion of our hike where there were giant house sized boulders that were tossed about by the force of flash floods. The power of the forces at work here was awe-inspiring and made me very glad that God is not fond of smiting people any more.
I was also a bit nervous about spending such an extended period with so many international students. I like most of them but having classes and social activities with the same 70 ppl gets old very quickly. This trip was not nearly as bad as I thought it would be. Yes, the amount of whining was a little excessive. Yes, it was a struggle to stifle my murderous impulses towards some people. But what made it alright was our Israeli entourage.
We had an entire crew of Israeli support staff with us. We had our two madrichim (RAs/social activities coordinators), Tomer and Michal; two tour guides, Iran and Israel; two security/first aid guys, Rambo and Guido; one survival extraordinaire, Bear; and one other random Israeli guy. Rambo and Guido (not their real names) were these very intense Druze guys. They only spoke hebrew and survived on chain-smoking, coffee, and intensity. In their army service, they were a part of an élite combat unit. Now they are security guards at the university.
Guido was the younger one. He had a lot of energy and was constantly getting into trouble. While we were at a rest stop on the way he impressed a bunch of little kids by showing off his strength at an arcade game. He may have also dunked one of the our guides while we were in Eilat.
Rambo was the strong silent type. For about half the trip, I thought that he wasn’t human. I’m pretty sure that he is at least part machine and part mountain goat. He took his job incredibly seriously and as a result was very good at it. He was always counting us and was always bringing up the rear making sure no one fell or was left behind. As the trip wore on, I began to see his softer side come out. He is engaged and wears his fiance’s name on a necklace. When asked whether that is a Druze tradition, he responded: no it isn’t, he just really loves her.