Campus Eilat Day Three: Southern Arava

Read about our first day of the Eilat Campus (exploring the Northern Arava and the Ovda Valley) or our second day (exploring the area of Eilat and the Eilat Mountains) or our fourth day (visiting the Timna Valley).

Again, a bright and early start, facilitated by the sumptuous breakfast buffet, and off we went to explore the area of the Southern Arava Valley.

Our first stop, next to the border crossing with Jordan, was at the Eilat Bird Park. As avid readers will recall from our trip to the Hula Valley around a year ago, Israel is a major bird migration station with half a billion birds passing through the country every year in search of warmer climes and the associated increased available foodstuffs. This makes Israel the #2 bird migration centre in the world after Panama.

Our guide shows us some migrating birds in the Eilat Bird Park
Our guide shows us some migrating birds in the Eilat Bird Park

For many birds, Eilat is a final stop to build up energy before the long journey over the Sahara desert (or alternatively a first place to restock having crossed it travelling north) and so is a major spot for bird watching. Although we did not have time to wander through the park or sit out with our binoculars, we were fortunate that our guide had saved a few birds from her tagging that morning (they tag the birds for research purposes to try and track their migration patterns) for us to see.

Flamingos in the Avrona Salt Pools near Eilat
Flamingos in the Avrona Salt Pools near Eilat

We then headed north, admiring the flamingos that have taken up lodging in the nearby salt pools (albeit from a distance), arriving at the Avrona farms.

Crawling through the fugarot / qanat tunnels at the Avrona Farms
Crawling through the fugarot / qanat tunnels at the Avrona Farms

This ancient agricultural settlement dates from around the 9th century and utilised a 1.5km long network of underground tunnels to bring water here that would enable farming (the local water has a very high salt content). The technique is known in local Arabic as fugarrot (in Persia, whence it originates, it is known as a qanat system). We crawled through one of the small tunnels – researches believe they were dug by children or even a special team of dwarves!

Doum Palms in the Arava
Doum Palms in the Arava

A short jump north took us to a botanical stop at the Doum Palms. These multi-trunked palm trees are mostly found in the area of the Nile in Africa, the ones located in Israel in the Arava are the most northern instances of this tree in the world and hence are protected.

Hiking through Canyon Shechoret
Hiking through Canyon Shechoret

It was now time to stretch our legs and as we hiked through the Shechoret Canyon. Having made our way through the towering black granite walls of the canyon itself, we ascended to a beautiful viewpoint over the mountains in the area.

View after hiking through Canyon Shechoret
View after hiking through Canyon Shechoret

Our guide explained the geological processes that made up the multicoloured peaks and created the rift valley that is the Arava.

Ancient predator trap
Ancient predator trap

On our descent, we passed an ancient animal trap. We learned how it worked together with a little about the local predators. As evidenced on our first day of the campus, there used to be leopards roaming the area of the Negev, although they seem to have now died out (there are rumours that there are still some around though and it is fun to keep them going!).

Safari in the Chai Bar: roaming Oryxes
Safari in the Chai Bar: roaming Oryxes

Wildlife was the subject of our next step as with the sunset approaching we arrived at the Chai Bar. Again, avid readers will recall that we visited the northern Chai Bar during our trip to the Carmel Mountain at the beginning of the course! This is the southern version of this impressive project to research species that used to be in the area, which are now extinct, and to gradually reintroduce them.

Chai Bar: feeding time for the leopards
Chai Bar: feeding time for the leopards

We enjoyed a safari drive through the park and then visited the predators section; our guide had arranged for us to arrive at feeding time which meant we were able to see some of these impressive animals in action.

Our final stop, with darkness fast approaching, was at a desert kite. These large structures were first identified by RAF pilots in the 20th century; they are found all over the region – Syria, Jordan, Israel etc and were so called because of their resemblance to a toy kite: two walls sloping in to meet at a point.

Remains of a desert kite in the Negev
Remains of a desert kite in the Negev

In fact, they were anything but toys – research shows that the ancient inhabitants of the land used them to catch large herds of animals and then slaughter them. The remains themselves were not particularly impressive (viewed from a height, one gets a better idea of the scale of the things) but it was interesting to get an insight into how our forebears had a good understanding of the local wildlife; and managed to develop frankly ingenious methods to catch them.

Our infamous course coordinator Benny lights the chanukkiah
Our infamous course coordinator Benny lights the chanukkiah

We returned to Eilat, and it was time for a small celebration! Tonight was the first night of the festival of Chanukah and we concluded the day together with a communal candle lighting, followed, appropriately, by significant doughnut consumption!

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