Monday, 13 July 2020

Nahal Arugot

You may remember that back in May, when I celebrated my 50th birthday, we planned to go hiking in Ein Gedi, the biggest oasis in Israel. Well, it turned out to be too hot that week but Mister Handmade in Israel suggested that we go on his birthday instead. June actually felt cooler than May this year, so when his big day came around, off to Ein Gedi we went!
There are two major nature reserve hikes in the Ein Gedi area. Nahal David and Nahal or Wadi Arugot. Nahal Arugot seems to attract less visitors, which can be advantageous during a pandemic, so we set off very early on Mister Handmade in Israel's birthday and were at the Dead Sea, the lowest place on earth, by 8am!
Nahal Arugot is one of the few canyons in the Judaean desert with water all year round. It has a number of springs that provide water throughout the entire year. It is also the longest running river on the western coast of the Dead Sea and flows into the Dead Sea, passing through Ein Gedi. The water is fresh and very drinkable (there is a free of charge cooler for filling up any half empty water bottles next to the ticket office). Kibbutz Ein Gedi, on the hill to the south of the river mouth, uses the water for its own consumption but also markets it as a bottled mineral water.
The Hebrew name Nahal Arugot means "flower beds". It is based on the Arabic Wadi Araja, "the ascending brook". This area is where David hid from the pursuing King Saul (1 Samuel 23 29: "And David went up from thence, and dwelt in strong holds at Engedi"). Nahal Arugot was also one of the sources of water to the ancient site of Ein Gedi, which dates back to the Chalcolithic period (approximately 5,000 years ago).
There are two paths to choose between at Nahal Arugot - a dry hike on the river banks, overlooking the river from a high steep cliff, or a walk in the water. We chose to walk in the water, which turned out to be a little harder than we expected since it includes some climbs against running water and river crosses with slippery stepping stones. It also took us longer than the 1 hour each way that we had been advised, but the scenery was beautiful and there was a lot to see and enjoy.  
Due to the fresh water and the high temperatures of the region there is vegetation such as oleanderCapparis, Calotropis Procera (the poisonous Apple of Sodom) and saltbush in the valley. There are also a lot of tamarisk trees. These are evergreens with small scale-shaped leaves. They blossom during the summer with a white-pink flower. These trees were frequently planted by the Jewish National Fund in arid conditions for shade - in the Negev, in the Jordan Valley and by the Dead Sea - but the trees at Nahal Arugot are natural. Most botanists and bible scholars believe that the Eshel tree planted by Abraham in the Book of Genesis, was Tamarix aphylla"And Abraham planted a tamarisk tree in Beersheba ..."
There are also many acacia trees. The Acacia raddiana is a thorny tree that has a single trunk and round branches and is the most common acacia in Israel. It grows in the Negev, the Arava and Judaean desert. The Acacia tortilis is a another thorny acacia tree with a number of trunks. It is easy to recognise because of its multiple trunks and umbrella shape. This tree also grows in the Arava Valley and on the Dead Sea shore up to Ein Gedi.
The path, which alters between wet and dry, leads all visitors to The Hidden Waterfall ("Mapal Nistar"), above. It is the highlight of the hike! We started to wonder if we had walked right past it, since the hike had taken us longer than an hour, but once we saw the pool and waterfall at the end of the lower path, we knew that we were in the right place. It was a beautiful sight and a wonderful way to cool down! I stood under the pounding water for a natural massage. (Yes, I have a photo of it. No, I am not posting it here!). There is another pool and waterfall higher up but it was recommended to only walk as far as this waterfall in the summer heat and, truthfully, it was enough for us.
Just as a matter of information, the waterfall is one of only two places on the route where eating is allowed and it was the perfect spot for a lunch break.
I was excited to see Nubian ibex, below, as we hiked back to the starting point. They roam around the cliffs and steep slopes which are its natural habitat. At one time the ibex almost became extinct but were rescued thanks to stricter enforcement of the nature reserve laws and strict prohibition on hunting. One might also see rock hyrax, Golden spiny mouse, porcupine, river crabs, Agama Lizards, striped hyena and more. The most exciting would be footprints of the single Arabian leopard (Panthera pardus nimr) that once survived at Ein Gedi, though the last time it was spotted was 2007. The species is now presumed to be extinct here.
We had originally intended to take the dry path back from the waterfall to our car, to enjoy the spectacular views and dry off, but the stream and shallow pools were once again irresistible. We were soon splashing in the water and an hour or so later were back at the trail head. We had hiked a distance of about 7 km and spent around 5 hours in the canyon.
Nahal Arugot had proved to be an amazingly beautiful hike and it was just about the right time of the year to do it. Any later would have been too hot. The hike is apparently lovely during the winter months and if you happen to be there at the right time, you get to see some beautiful flowers like the desert tulip and other rare species. I'll definitely be going back!

Thursday, 9 July 2020

Fireman Sam

Last year twins Benji and Daniel were into Mickey Mouse and elephants. Now they are obsessed with Fireman Sam, or Sami HaKabai as he is known in Hebrew. Mum asked me if I could make the boys cards for their 4th birthday showing them wearing fireman costumes. I went one step further and made sure that their costumes were exactly like Fireman Sam's!

Whilst both cards had the same theme, I wanted to make them slightly different from each other. I have shown the blond-haired boys in different poses. Benji is holding a fire hose, ready to tackle a fire, whilst Daniel has a torch and an axe attached to his utility belt, which he uses for cutting entry into inaccessible areas.
I finished both cards off with a big number 4 to mark the boys' age and a little badge of their favourite animated character as well.

Monday, 6 July 2020

Nir and Jonny

I made a birthday card for Nir last year with the greeting "Enjoy your last year in your 30s". Of course this year he was celebrating his 40th birthday and a new card was requested. He is a baal kore (the person who reads the weekly excerpt from the Torah during synagogue services) and enjoys Jewish learning. His wife says that he also has a cheeky side to him. He is a big football fan and loves the Israeli football club Macabbi Haifa and Ronaldo. He also likes listening to Shwekey, an Orthodox Jewish recording artist and musical entertainer, and singing with his kids.
I have shown Nir with one of his favoured kodesh books (religious texts) in one hand and a football in the other! He is wearing an Israeli policeman's hat - a reminder of the fun times he had with his kids at Purim, a Jewish holiday where customs include wearing masks and costumes to public celebrations and parades. Behind him is a badge of his favourite football team, to his right is a picture of Ronaldo and to his left, Yaakov Shwekey. I added a big red number 40 to mark his age and a few music notes too, since he loves to sing with his kids.
Nir's wife sent me the wonderful photo of him proudly showing off his card.
Jonny has received many, many cards of mine over the years! Last year I showed him joining in a karaoke session singing Queen's "We Are The Champions". This year, lockdown year, his wife asked me to show him sitting on the brown sofa on their balcony with his laptop on his knees. He has his England shirt on - a little dig at the fact he was supposed to see them play in the Euros this summer - and his favoured blue Reading F.C. cap. I added some red and blue balloons and bunting because, let's face it, the brown sofa wasn't so exciting!
"Great card as usual" Jonny wrote to me.

Thursday, 2 July 2020

Spurs, Shopping and Sleeping

A new customer who spotted my cards on Facebook contacted me with a request for birthday cards for her husband and for her sister. Her husband loves Tottenham Hotspur F.C., travelling and debating about whether G-d exists and what he wants from us. He has recently got into playing draughts and he loves dogs. She requested a portrait of him on the front of the card as well.
There were quite a few hobbies to choose from but since my customer wanted extra large cards, I had plenty of room to work with them all.
I have shown Elliot, my customer's husband, wearing a Spurs shirt (Tottenham Hotspur are commonly referred to as Spurs). He is sitting with his dog and and has a football next to him. Behind him is the Spurs club badge featuring a cockerel sitting on a football. I added the little speech bubble saying COYS (Come on You Spurs!), which the fans chant to encourage the team. An aeroplane, globe and suitcase represent his love of travelling and I included a draughts board and some pieces as well. Finally, I suggested using the planets and stars to represent Elliot's interest in G-d and the universe.
The second card was for my customer's sister Abi, who lives in the UK. She loves shopping, sleeping, watching Netflix, travelling and her nieces and nephews.
I have shown Abi sitting cross legged with a shopping bag in one hand and her passport in the other. Let's hope she can use it again one day soon! To her right I added some little photos of her nieces and nephews. A palm tree, aeroplane and globe represent her love of travelling. On her left is a big TV with Netflix on it. Finally, Abi is dreaming of sleeping. I have shown her lying in bed fast asleep!
My customer sent me a lovely message telling me that the cards had been very well received:
"Hi Lisa, my husband and sister loved the cards. Thanks so much for making such beautiful creations."