Autumn is the perfect season to take a trip to the Arava. The pleasant weather makes hiking out in nature extremely comfortable, with many trails, riverbeds and canyons to choose from. Another reason to take a trip out to the Arava now is the Tamar Festival, which includes a number of tours of agricultural festivities celebrating the date harvest.
The festival, from November 8 to 10, will include activities for the whole family. Not many people hear about dates grown in the Arava and the festival is a nice way to familiarize oneself with this wonderful agricultural branch in Israel.
Many Israelis are familiar with the long Arava Highway that runs all the way down south to Eilat and automatically associate this road with vacation, with its gorgeous desert landscape. There aren’t too many residential communities in the area, and the few moshavim and kibbutzim located there have learned to take advantage of their unique natural resources and now are successfully growing dates.
It turns out that the Arava’s dry climate combined with high groundwater levels makes the land the perfect location to plant date trees. In fact, in the southern section of the Arava alone, there are nearly 900 hectares of land on which farmers grow a few types of dates. There are also remains of dates that prove that date palms grew in this area back in ancient times.
Dates were one of the staples grown in the Arava and other areas of Israel and pits have been uncovered that date back to ancient times. If you haven’t yet had the opportunity to visit Kibbutz Ketura in the Arava, I highly recommend you do. There you’ll see a date bush nicknamed Methuselah, which sprouted from a date pit that was uncovered in excavations carried out in the Masada area.
On one hand, Methuselah symbolizes the historical connection between the Jewish people and the Land of Israel, while on the other hand, it glorifies the development and progress of settlers who chose to make the wilderness bloom. And if you’re already at Ketura, you should take a tour of the kibbutz, in which you’ll learn all about the Israeli solar industry and the advances Ketura is making in this field (Ketura is home to Israel’s first solar field).
At the end of next week, just days after farmers finish harvesting the dates from the treetops of palms growing on land belonging to kibbutzim in the southern Arava, the festival is set to begin. The three-day fiesta will include agricultural tours of orchards, sunset tours, delectable dinners out in nature and a variety of workshops. A highlight will be a happening out in the middle of the date orchard in Kibbutz Elifaz. There will be a challenging rope course, a painting workshop in the pomelo orchard, cookie baking using solar energy, local artists selling their wares, arts and crafts workshops and plenty of space to lounge around and relax.
IF YOU have time to make a real vacation out of this trip, I recommend driving down on Thursday afternoon before
the festival begins and staying a few nights in one of the kibbutz guest houses. As soon as you get there, you can take part in kite-flying activities along the sand dunes and then join a night tour in which you’ll learn about the nocturnal habits of animals that become active only after the sun goes down. By the end of the day, you’ll surely have built up a appetite, which you can satisfy with a meal served outside in the open air of the orchard.
Friday morning, you can join a guided tour of the Southern Arava Agricultural Development Center, where you’ll be treated to tastes of a number of delicacies prepared with dates. While the kids enjoy date-flavored ice cream and silan balls, the adults can make a toast with beer or liqueur made from dates, including amarula, which is made from the fruits of the marula tree. Apparently these fruits are loved by elephants.
Another tour you can join during the festival is a visit to the Five Senses Greenhouse, situated close to the pomelo orchard. Visitors can learn all about the many interesting plants and produce grown inside this uncommon desert greenhouse. During the Five Senses Tour, visitors will be invited to taste, hear, touch, smell and of course see everything, and at the end will enjoy a lovely cup of herbal tea made from desert herbs.
As the sun begins to set, you can join a guided sunset tour of Timna Park, which commences at the new visitor center at the entrance of the park. At the center, guests can gaze upon remains discovered during recent excavations, as well as take in a short film that discusses the life of copper miners who lived there and determinedly cut out copper from the rock.
When you’ve finished with visitor center fun, the tour continues on to the arches. There, you can climb up to the large arch while holding onto the pegs stuck into the stone of the mountainside. From the top, you will enjoy an incredible view of the Edom mountains. As the afternoon wanes, you’ll see the rays of sun coloring the park in a variety of beautiful shades. After you climb up to the outlook, you can climb through the tunnels that lead to the mines, then return to your car and drive as a caravan to the lake.
A Kabbalat Shabbat ceremony that will be accompanied by Elad Theater actors will take place next to the lake. The theater troupe is made up of actors who used to perform in well-known theaters in Central Israel, but who decided to move to outlying areas of the country to join the Arava theater troupe. The show will include improvisation games incorporating members of the audience and afterward, there will be a tasty dinner with Solomon’s Pillars lit up in the background.
The festival will conclude with a huge happening on Saturday in the heart of the date grove in Kibbutz Elifaz. Spread out over a huge area, the event will include a challenging rope course with a zip line, a rope bridge, a climbing wall, dartboards and bows and arrows. Creative children will enjoy arts and crafts workshops in which they will prepare tasty date pastries and bake cookies in solar-powered ovens. In the meantime, parents can relax, peruse local artwork or partake in delicacies prepared by local chefs.
Price of the all-inclusive package includes overnight stay, meals and activities: NIS 750 per person for double-occupancy room with an additional NIS 460 per child in parents’ room.
Details: (08) 661-6976, www.aravaway.co.il
SCALE A climbing wall at the Kibbutz Elifaz happening.
KIDS CAN flex their baking muscles and prepare date pastries at the happening...... WHICH WILL be spread out over a huge area in the kibbutz’s date grove.
THURSDAY AFTERNOON is a great time to fly kites among the sand dunes.
HEAD TO Timna Park for Kabbalat Shabbat services, a show and dinner against the dramatic backdrop of Solomon’s Pillars.