Sderot, Israel, and the Gaza Border

Sderot, Gaza, Israel

Sderot, Israel, is one of the most troubled cities on Planet Earth

There are few places in the world that suffer as much terror and missile fire as Sderot, Israel

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Sderot, Israel

The “Bomb Shelter Capital of the World” in Israel is a hell of a place to visit. Sderot (pronounced S-de ROTE) is an Israeli city in the western Negev desert located right next to the Israeli border with the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip. The formerly vibrant community shows the scars of years of rocket and mortar fire from the neighboring Palestinian enclave which under the terror group has become a hub of conflict and war. For a bit of history, the Gaza Strip was vacated by Israel in a unilateral move in 2005 which led to the relocation of some 10,000 Israelis from 21 Jewish communities. The controversial move was even more so disheartening as Hamas took over the territory from the Palestinian Authority in a bloody coup shortly thereafter. Since then, the 24,000-strong city of Sderot has seen continuous rocket and mortar fire numbering over 20,000 (some estimates have this number much higher due to the recent conflicts between Hamas and Israel).

Sderot, Israel

I was shooting from a disposable back in July 2007, about 18 months after the disengagement, when I visited the already-weary small town. I took a few quick snaps of some bomb shelters from our bullet-proof tour bus and was quickly prompted by our decent English-speaking yet thickly Israeli-accented tour guide to hold off. “You will run out of pictures if you photo each bomb shelter.”

Yeesh.

The first place we stopped off upon our arrival to Sderot was the Sderot Media Center to learn more about the conflict and current situation of the Gaza-border communities. The center is located inside a bomb shelter which quickly makes the experience much more real and serious (as if it wasn’t enough already)!

Sderot, Israel

Sderot, Israel

With our information session out of the way and with hundreds of questions on my mind, we headed out for a tour of the city and were confronted with the day-to-day reality of life in Sderot. On one side of the street you can see a beautiful house while the other side of the street has a house that’s been bombed-out. Upon reflection, this is the very reason why the Iron Dome missile defense system is such an invaluable part of the defense of the State of Israel – residents have less than 30 seconds to reach a bomb shelter after the siren blares before impact.

Sderot, Israel

Sderot, Israel

Sderot, Israel
A synagogue sits between a home being rebuilt after a rocket attack and a bomb shelter (orange-brown building) on the right

After driving around parts of the city, it’s clear why, according to Realtor Yaakov Levy, property values in Sderot have dropped between 30 and 50 percent. It actually got worse as we made our next stop at a children’s playground. Due to the lack of warning time and frequency of attacks (during periods of conflict around 8-10 attacks would occur per day) there are bomb shelters built into children’s playground. Studies have found that at least 75% of the children raised in Sderot ages 4-18 suffer from post-traumatic stress including sleep disorders and severe anxiety.

Sderot, Israel

Sderot, Israel

Sderot, Israel

For a taste of what it’s like in Sderot, you can watch this video on YouTube. I don’t want to dive any further into this as it’s a tough subject to tackle online. In any case, it’s not all doom and gloom in Sderot. We went to a local market for some lunch and the strong, determined community was out and about like any other ‘normal’ day. As an agricultural community, you can image just how many fresh fruits and vegetables are available for purchase. We ate local and it was delectable. Not quite “Bangkok street food level” but delicious nonetheless. Street fried chicken. Yum.

Sderot, Israel

 Sderot, Israel

As this was our last stop in the city of Sderot, I made sure to chat up a few locals to get their feelings on things. They told me to visit the Gaza border lookout less than a mile away. I obliged and convinced our driver and tour guide that we had to see it. After a few minutes of conversation and convincing in broken Hebrew (for me) and English (for them) we came to an arrangement and headed up a small hill. The view of the 41 km (25 miles) long Gaza Strip is truly something to see. There aren’t many words to describe it, however it’s quite incredible that the tiny enclave garners so much of the world’s attention.

Sderot, Israel

Sderot, Israel

Sderot, Israel

Sderot, Israel

And that’s that for my visit to Sderot and the Gaza border. I’ve heard that the best surf in the Middle East is the Gaza coast and one day when peace breaks out in the region I hope to return.

Until next time…

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Israel’s Mitzpe Ramon Crater

Mitzpe Ramon, Negev, Israel

The Mitzpe Ramon Crater is a unique geological formation located in southern Israel

The Negev Desert of southern Israel is home to one of the rarest geological formations on earth, the Mitzpe Ramon Crater.

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Mitzpe Ramon Crater

 Located in the heart of the Negev Desert in Southern Israel, the Ramon Crater is a “Makhtesh” geological feature that, unlike a meteor or asteroid impact or a volcanic crater, is unique only to Israel and Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula. A makhtesh is formed when a hard outer layer of rock covers layers of softer rock. Erosion and rain then remove the softer minerals quickly and are washed away from under the hard rock leaving the hard rock to collapse under their own weight with nothing below to hold it up. A carter-like valley is formed. The hard rock, usually comprised of limestone and dolomite, is found throughout the valley while the softer chalk or sandstone can be found at the bottom of the valley. Ramon crater is the largest of these unique geological features.

Mitzpe Ramon Crater

The town of Mitzpe Ramon (translated roughly to “Ramon Lookout”) sits on the northern edge of the mighty 40 km long, 2-10 km wide and 500 m deep valley. Shaped like an elongated heart, from the town you can clearly see the defined edges of Israel’s largest national park. And of course, plan your route for a day of epic “jeeping,” as the locals call it.

PANO_20140616_130335
Mitzpe Ramon Nature Reserve

Mitzpe Ramon Crater

Mitzpe Ramon Crater

Mitzpe Ramon Crater

Mitzpe Ramon Crater

Mitzpe Ramon Crater

Mitzpe Ramon Crater

The trip, courtesy of Ladbrokes Israel, was a fantastic time in the desert sun. We were treated to a legit hookah lounge and buffet, trekking, massage overlooking the valley and a stay at the incredible Beeresheet Hotel. The baller-status accommodation is located some 800 m above sea level so you’ll need to bring a sweater and long pants even in the summer as it gets quite chilly at night. I learned something about myself in the desert – infinity pools are my thing.

Mitzpe Ramon Crater

Mitzpe Ramon Crater

Mitzpe Ramon Crater

Mitzpe Ramon Crater

Mitzpe Ramon Crater

Mitzpe Ramon Crater

Mitzpe Ramon Crater

For adventurers heading to the Dead Sea, grab a bus over to Mitzpe Ramon. Trekking and camping out in the multi-colored sandy desert makes for a terrific weekend/3-day trip. Day tours are available as are trips to alpaca farms and unbelievable lookouts. There is one nightspot in Mitzpe Ramon and if you’re in the mood for jazz, you’re in luck. Check out the rest of the shots below and high-resolution pics on Facebook by Clicking Here

Mitzpe Ramon Crater

Mitzpe Ramon Crater

Mitzpe Ramon Crater

Mitzpe Ramon Crater

IMG_20140616_115205

Mitzpe Ramon Crater

Mitzpe Ramon Crater

Mitzpe Ramon Crater

Mitzpe Ramon Crater

Mitzpe Ramon Crater

Mitzpe Ramon Crater

Mitzpe Ramon Crater

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The Dead Sea is Alive and Well (Mostly)

Dead Sea, Israel
The Dead Sea is a one-of-a-kind lake in-between Israel and Jordan

Facing Jordan to the East and Israel to the West, the Dead Sea is a destination spot for tens of thousands of travelers each year and certainly doesn’t disappoint.

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Dead Sea

The road from Jerusalem to the Dead Sea is a wild and winding one, filled with intermittent security checks, gas stations with camels  you can ride, Arab, Jewish and nomadic Bedouin villages and more as the big capital city turns into the dessert. Nice and clean roads help with the smooth hour-plus ride and the scenes are absolutely breathtaking. Commonly referred to as “the Dead Sea” due to the high concentrations of naturally-occurring salt in the water prohibiting any animals from living in it, it is the lowest point on Earth and a unique and stunning place to visit.

Dead Sea
Jordan shares the other and more undeveloped coast of the Dead Sea

The high concentration of salt makes you so buoyant you can float for days on the water. You wouldn’t want to, however, as the salt stings and burns everywhere! PRO-TIP: Men don’t shave your faces, ladies don’t shave  your legs. Any open cuts or nicks will leave you stinging like nothing else. Also be sure to NOT dunk your face under the water. Your eyes will snap shut and you’ll be begging for fresh water to rinse them out.

Dead Sea

Dead Sea
Try it with your sandals! Everything floats!

Huge chunks of salt lay at the bottom so make sure you don’t cut your feet! You can pick up chunks as large as a basketball all around the Dead Sea. It’s really something to see. So after you get your float on, your skin will feel velvety smooth and it’s time for the famous Dead Sea Mud Bath. It’s supposed to be amazing for your skin, not so sure about that but it does feel great. After the mud dries, head back to the water to carefully (read: carefully) rinse it all off. There are fresh water showers all around the beach so hit that afterwards to get all the salt off your burning body.

Dead Sea

Dead Sea

Dead Sea
The sand was brutally hot!

After you rinse off the mud, you’ll feel baby-skin smooth. People come from all around the world to the Dead Sea for its healing attributes and the uniqueness of it all. I’ve been several times and each time I go it’s as good as the first time. Just make sure you rinse all over (ALL OVER) when you finish there. About 2 hours is good, as once your… private areas… start burning you’ll be aching for a cold shower. Next time I visit I plan on hitting it from the Jordanian side. The Israeli side has been developed much more however I’ve heard great things about hitting the Dead Sea from the east side of the sea.

Dead Sea

Dead Sea
Fancy a camel ride? The SUVs of the desert
Dead Sea
Mountains of the ancient Judean Desert
Dead Sea
The same in any language
Dead Sea
We opted for ‘al aish’, Hebrew for barbecue

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Tel Aviv Ya Habibi Tel Aviv

Tel Aviv, Israel

Tel Aviv is the party capital of the Middle East and a hub for high-tech

Israel is home to 3 of the major world religions and Tel Aviv is where you go to take a break from them all.

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Tel Aviv
View of Tel Aviv South to North (right to left)

Tel Aviv has a magic and charm so great that I lived there for several years! A bustling and growing city located on the Mediterranean Sea, the sprawling mass of buildings and cars make it hard to believe that this entire area was swampland only 100 years ago. For a traveler passing through, Israel’s economic capital is quite pricey and the food and lodging is something you’ll have to plan for. The nightlife is incredible but you’ll have to spend your money wisely as a round of drinks for four can cost around 120 Israeli shekels ($30 USD) or more!

Tel Aviv
Kikar Dizengoff (Dizengoff Square – Right) from the rooftop of the City Chic Hotel

Awesome weather year-round makes Tel Aviv a perfect spot to spend a bit of time (with the partial exception of the ‘winter’ – basically half of January and February). Contrary to what you’ll hear daily in the media, Tel Aviv is incredibly safe and women routinely walk late at night through the entire city usually without any problem. As with all big cities, of course you should exercise caution and cab it if you must. Domestic crime other than petty theft or opportunistic thievery is quite rare (definitely don’t leave a bicycle unlocked!) which is a huge plus for extended stays in this city.

Tel Aviv
SUP (Stand-up Paddle Boarding), kayaking, surfing, waterboarding and kiteboarding are all for rent and hugely popular

Tel Aviv is a huge vacation spot for tourists from all over the world. A day on the beach and you’ll hear Hebrew, American & British & South African and Australian accents, Russian, French, Arabic, Spanish, Italian and more! It’s considered the most inclusive city in the Middle East for all religions and is considered the Gay Capital of the Middle East. The annual Gay Pride Parade is really something to see even if that isn’t your persuasion. Parties around the clock keep everyone entertained and coffee shops are buzzing all day long.

Tel Aviv
Street parties are a must in Tel Aviv
Tel Aviv
Candy at the Tel Aviv Shuk (Market)
Tel Aviv
Tel Aviv Architecture
Tel Aviv
Rent paddle boats and canoes on the HaYarkon River

I could write for days on the Bauhaus architecture that lines the city, on how Tel Aviv is a capital for world high-tech and startups, on the parks and incredible food… the list goes one. I’ll post more in the months coming up but for now I’ll leave you with some of my favorite cell phone shots from around the city.

Tel Aviv
Tehina, jachnun, egg and ‘resek’ – fresh tomato sauce
Tel Aviv
Football on Tel Aviv Beach

Tel Aviv

Tel Aviv
Tel Aviv is incredibly dog-friendly
Tel Aviv
Kikar Dizengoff
Tel Aviv
Azrielli Center, a hub for business, high-tech and shopping
Tel Aviv
Sailboats at Jaffa Port

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