Is kibbutz a uniquely Israeli idea? Maybe not, there are communes throughout the world, however, I can’t think of anywhere else where governments have supplied land and funding to fledging communities in the same way. Knowing little about the kibbutz life, (other than people’s personal tales of joining one during their travel through Israel) I was very curious to see it for myself. We were excited to learn about life in the Arava region, and see some of its natural wonders so we booked onto Abraham Tours Red Canyon, Desert & Kibbutz Life tour.
Our kibbutz life tour with Abraham Tours was gifted but all opinions are our own. Apologies to all of our hosts/guides. I totally forgot to write your names down!
Abraham Hostel – Eilat
The Eilat branch of Abraham Hostels is not due to open until June 2020 so we were staying a little further away. We arrived with five minutes to spare and joined our fellow tour-goers for the day. Everyone nipped to the thankfully completed bathrooms before jumping aboard the Abraham Tours minibus.
The Natural Wonders Section of the Tour
The Red Canyon
Reminiscent of the Siq at Petra, or the rock formations of Arizona, the Red Canyon is a gorgeous slice of geology. Formed in layers, over millions of years, the rocks are striped in red and white, creating striking striations.
Reaching the Red Canyon
To reach the Red Canyon from the car park, our driver guided us along a wadi floor made up of tiny black gravel. I was wearing my trusty jellies which cope well under most circumstances, turns out that tiny black rocks may be their kryptonite. Still, being slightly too proud, I just walked along with sharp stones crunching into the soles of my feet and my brain whining silently.
Top Tip: Wear covered shoes for the short hike to the Red Canyon, and if it is sunny, bring a hat.
Exploring the Red Canyon
Arriving at the entrance to the canyon, we climbed down two ladders and across some metal hand-holds, like a mini via ferrata. Don’t worry, these weren’t too high off the ground.
When my feet hit the rocky floor, it was Insta time! The rocks are beautiful and it is far too tempting to stop for snaps. I wasn’t the only one though, we all took turns in the spotlight. We then squeezed down into the next section where the canyon opened up.
The rock wall towered above me, imposing and beautiful, and happily, below me was sand.
From here, we began to climb the valley wall. It wasn’t too steep so it was a mild surprise to realise that we were now above it. There were more metal handles for the thinner sections so still a family-friendly hike. We then head back up the valley, back on those super little black spikes. It was a relief to get back to the bus.
The Desert Dunes
Our next stop was at the edge of the huge Kasui Dunes. Israel’s desert is generally a little more scrubby, but in this spot, you can allow your feet to sink into a giant pile of super soft sand.
The Abraham tours bus pulled right up to the base of a large, yellow dune and our driver urged us to leave our shoes at the bus. I eagerly complied and my jellies were off in two seconds, feet ready to soak up the sand’s warmth.
We struggled up the face of the dune, losing one step for every two that we took. Laughing, puffing and slipping, we finally crested it and stood still to take in the view or the Arava Valley. It always amazes me how sand dunes can end so abruptly and I stared in wonder at the rock escarpment jutting from the dune as little flurries of sand tickled my legs.
The group alternated between chatting and wandering off for a few moments at peace. We took about fifteen minutes before sliding back to the bus, where a lovely strong coffee was awaiting us, courtesy of the driver.
Top Tip: Tight trousers would make the rest of your day rather uncomfortable as sand slowly works its way around your outfit, so stick to loose items, skirts or shorts.
The Kibbutz Life Tour portion of the Day Begins
Kibbutz Neot Semadar
Noet Semadar Fast Facts:
Population: 200 or so but it varies with art residencies
Main Income: Organic produce, wine, restaurant.
The Art Centre
I think that most of the bus were chatting or checking their phones when we pulled into Kibbutz Neot Semadar. Nobody noticed the striking tower of the main building until we climbed out of the bus. As we walked around the corner, there was a collective gasp. A blend of candy floss and a structure from Whoville, this totally unique arts centre was totally bedecked in pink and green ice cream colours.
We were shown upstairs to watch a short documentary film about the kibbutz. We were then taken up the crazy tower to enjoy the view of the kibbutz. It turns out that the tower isn’t just an interesting architectural addition, it uses old Bedouin desert knowledge, harnessing the power of the wind to create a cooling effect throughout the rest of the building.
Back downstairs, we were given an awkwardly￼ long time in the Neot Smadar shop. It was stuffed with gorgeous things made by the artists in residence. There was a lamp that really took my fancy but it was quite a long way out of our price range. Isreal is not a cheap country, and the items in the shop were no exception. They are gorgeous though, so if you want to shop, bring plenty of cash or make sure you have a card.
Out through the shop’s other doors, we head over to Noet Semadar’s boutique winery for a tasting. It is the southernmost winery in the northern hemisphere that grows its own grapes. Imagine our delight when we found out that their most famous wine was a sweet white AND they did cider. It’s a Flying Fluskey win-win.
They took us through the range of wine that they produce. It is all organic￼ and they only produce between 9000 – 12000 bottles a year. This is split between red, white, sweet and semi-sweet varieties.
The group nodded politely making all the right noises and urging him silently towards the tasting room. I thought I would get one or two wines to sip but it was a great mini tasting. We even got to try the difference between the sweet wine and the sweet wine that they put in the Sun. Despite being the exact same wine before the suntanning process, they taste very different afterwards. We finished￼￼ the wine tasting by trying their herbal liqueur.￼￼ It was described to us as their version of Jägermeister, but I can confirm that it was much nicer.￼
The winery also stocked some of the other Kibbutz Noet Semada produce. There was goats cheese, juice, jam, dried fruit, including dates and olive oil. We bought some cider (obviously) and a small sweet wine that didn’t last long in Mr Fluskey’s backpack. We drank it within three days.
Giggling and weaving slightly, the group clambered back onto the bus with their wine-based purchases clinking merrily in the midday sun.￼￼
Ketura Fast Facts:
Population: Around 500
Main Income: Guesthouse, micro-algae, dates, seminars
We started our visit at Kibbutz Ketura￼ by having a spot of lunch. I say a spot, but food is not cheap in Israel so when someone says, “All you can eat for £10″￼￼ it is hard to be restrained. Add to this a reasonably early start and the fact that the food was delicious and you could have a perfect glutton storm. (Is that glutton or gluten…both!)￼￼
Top Tip: Leave a tiny bit of room for dessert later on.
We took a stroll around the grounds and our host let us quiz him at length as to how the community live and work together. They share vehicles and even have use of a communal laundry. Although some people now have their own washing machines this communal facility is still going and I found it utterly charming.
Amongst other things that the kibbutz Ketura makes an income from is a huge microalgae growing enterprise called Algatech. Giant tubes laid out across the land grow microscopic algae which are used in supplements that can help tackle a whole host of ailments. It is recognised as a leader in the field. They also harvest solar energy using huge panels, so much so that they can sell it back to the government. It’s a canny system for a community in the desert!
Their third income stream is their guesthouse. Visitors can come and do their own kibbutz life tour whilst staying in their own mini apartments. There is a swimming pool on-site and it’s a treat to join everyone for meals.
One random but rather cool feature at Ketura ￼is the Methuselah date palm. It is surrounded by fences which seemed a little like overkill until we learnt that it is an incredibly rare palm, grown (get this) from a preserved seed found in nearby Masada. This means it the kind of palm around 2000 years ago, around the time of Jesus Christ. They are hoping to grow dates, “Jesus dates”. You know the pilgrims will go wild for them!
Yotvata Fast Facts:
Population: Around 700
Main Income: Dairy, organic produce, dates
Kibbutz Yotvata was the first Kibbutz in the Arava area and our host described how it came about. Ben Gurion brought groups of soldiers to the area to protect the border. They fell in love with the area and decided to return as a small group to create a new community. In the following sixty-odd years, they have built an extremely profitable series of businesses.
For this kibbutz life tour, we mostly stayed in the van and drove around the extensive land.
Kibbutz Yotvata started with five date trees, but with careful cultivation, it is now a huge date plantation. Some jumbo dates sold for €1! However, that was not the best bit about that particular stop, as it was here we met our new donkey buddies! They seemed quite happy to see us, especially when we went to find some freshly grown onions for them to munch on.
We then passed a very special gate. The kibbutz has great relations with Jordan, which is just the other side of their fence. They can pass through this private border crossing set up just for them. They just request an army escort and through they pop!
The sustainable dairy farming at Yotvata isn’t just good for the cows, it also produces award-winning milk and the clever people at kibbutz Yotvata use it in the very best way, they make the most delicious ice cream!
After our kibbutz life tour, we were dropped at huge rest stop/shop which was totally cow-themed. We were all gifted a voucher to get a small ice cream each. Happily, the servers were very generous with their scoops and the ice cream really was divine. I went for triple chocolate and raspberry, and was loathed to share it with Mr Fluskey, even for a taste swap. We left very happy campers.￼￼￼￼
If you are thinking of joining the Abraham Tours red canyon, desert & kibbutz life tour, here is some information that you might like to know:
- This tour only runs in winter (October – March).
- Abraham Tours runs the tour on Mondays and Thursdays. It is usually from 08:00 – 17:00 (but it really flies).
- Currently, the tour costs 320ILS, but remember that lunch and tips are not included so bring 40ILS for lunch and whatever you want for a tip.
- You can book directly on the Abraham Tour website or in the hostels themselves.
I suppose that I thought to be part of a kibbutz, you would be a little idealistic, maybe even a bit hippy-dippy but this kibbutz life tour opened my eyes. Yes, there is a strong element of socialism but some of these kibbutz are in the very real business of making money….and a lot of it. What impressed me, is the way they can run successful businesses whilst also upholding their founding principles.
This was a long day but really didn’t feel like it. It was such a nice blend of different sights, new people and delicious food and drink that the hours flew by.