The southern end of the Dead Sea offers all sorts of surprises, from desert khans to ceramic workshops to yoga atop the white marl hills.
> by ERETZ Staff
The southern end of the Dead Sea is one of the least-known places in Israel. It is a land of salt marshes, a high water table, and white marl hills that create narrow canyons and clefts in the rock face as the riverbeds of the Arava Valley make their way into the Dead Sea.
The road along the southern end of the Dead Sea branches off of Route 90 six kilometers north of the Arava Junction, if coming from Beersheba and Dimona, and five kilometers south of the Dead Sea Works, if coming from the north.
The road leads to the moshavim of Ein Tamar and Ne’ot Hakikkar, which are eight kilometers from the junction. Precisely 4.1 kilometers down this road is the spring of Ein Plotit, known locally as Lovers’ Spring. It is a few hundred meters past the Dead Sea Works’ operational pool and east of the road. A clump of date palms gives the site away. Between the palms is a small pool that is about a meter deep and has clear, clean water. It is not easy to find (which is good), but visitors to Ne’ot Hakikkar will find that members of the moshav will gladly explain how to get there.
Just past the houses of Ein Tamar is the memorial to the 21 Nahal soldiers who died here in 1970, when a huge rock, which shaded the dining hall of the army base that was located here at the time, collapsed just as everybody had gathered for lunch. The Nahal base that was here is a reminder that in the 1970s, this was a very active border, with attacks from across the border in Jordan aimed at both the Dead Sea Works and traffic along the road to Eilat. After the peace agreement between Israel and Jordan was signed in 1994, this became a very peaceful border.
Moshav Ne’ot Hakikkar is at the end of the road. Seven young people who had just been released from the army first settled here in 1959. They decided that the dense marsh vegetation and abundant water in the area, even if it was saline, made it just the place to set up a cattle ranch. The authorities said it would not work, but the seven decided to go ahead anyway, pioneering the whole idea of agriculture in the Arava Valley. In 1962, they founded the Ne’ot Hakikkar desert tours company, which offered visitors the opportunity to roam the desert in specially outfitted military command cars. After 1967, this flourishing desert tour company started offering tours in the Sinai, becoming the first and most successful of the many off-road tour companies. Disagreements between the founders brought about the abandoning of the ranch, while the tour company relocated to Jerusalem.
In 1970, after it was proven that agriculture is possible in this area, a group of nine families settled at the site and founded Moshav Ne’ot Hakikkar. Today it is 70 families strong with over 300 residents, who earn a living from agriculture and tourism.
The moshav’s residents offer a variety of accommodations and services for tourists. There are three local desert khans, Kesem Hamidbar, Fata Morgana, and Shkedi’s Khan. In addition, the families of the moshav operate numerous bed and breakfast establishments that have a total of 60 guest rooms.
Fata Morgana also is the moshav’s unofficial tourism center. It offers information on where to go, guides, and local families that operate small catering businesses with home-style food.
The moshav also has a very visible art scene. Rina Ventura has a gallery of recycled works. She has been creating them for over 40 years with everything from bags to discarded jeans. Ventura also crafts cardboard furniture and gives short workshops on cardboard furniture design. Jojo worked in farming for many years, until one of his agricultural machines broke down and led him back to making metal furniture, a craft that he knew well from his father’s house in Morocco. Eti Avrotin works in glass and metal and Estee Barak gives workshops in ceramics at her pottery studio, Esh Vahomer. There also is Asaf, who works in wood and stone.
Those seeking an alternative desert experiences at Ne’ot Hakikkar will not be disappointed. Melach Haaretz gives health treatments and yoga lessons on the marl hills around the moshav.
Finally, a word of warning is appropriate as summer approaches: as charming as it is, do not go to Ne’ot Hakikkar in the summer. The heat is oppressive. The time to visit is September through May.
Camping and Desert Accommodations:
Fata Morgana, www.fata-morgana.co.il, 050-680-0544
Kesem Hamidbar, www.kesem-hamidbar.net, 052-899-1358
Korin’s House, 050-680-0545; Shkedi’s Khan, 053-793-3367
Eti Dadon, 052-899-1154; Michal Luzon, 052-408-1233
Daliya Zagori, 052-899-1199
Art and Alternative:
Estee Barak’s pottery studio, www.deadseaceramics.co.il, 052-899-1147
Galrina, 052-426-0488; Jojo, 052-296-4677
Melach Haaretz, 050-759-4828; Virtouz, 052-545-0518