At the gas station, a Bedouin signed us on a petition to free Gilad Shalit and tied a yellow ribbon on the car.
A big, airless balloon lying on a field near Kibbutz Ruhama
In honour of our "120th birthday" kind and generous friends bought us a special present - a trip in a hot air balloon, including an overnight stay in a 'tzimmer' (guest house), a champagne breakfast and a massage. This weekend we finally got round to using the voucher.
Since what our friends had bought us was what's called chavila (parcel of services), this first involved coordinating with every contact person in the chain: Hadar for the balloon trip, Gil for the tzimmer, Guy (who turned out to be a lady) for the evening meal, and Hanita for the massage. To cut a long story short, yesterday we took the massage (deeply satisfying), ate Hanita's supper and drank wine (excellent), stayed at Gil's tzimmmer (delightful in its stylish simplicity) and at 5.45 this morning were racing along the deserted, misty roads of the northern Negev towards Kibbutz Ruchama. The "ground crew" there had already called and told us to arrive chik-chak. And since the last thing we wanted to do was to disappoint the ground crew, we stepped on the gas.
An hour and a half later, we were still on the ground. The weather wasn't right, too much cloud cover and general poor visibility. Moran, the on-the-ground flight coordinator, told us that it was a rule that you had to have eye contact with the ground. Safety first. We'd be able to use our ticket for another flight another day.
Sixteen of us were supposed to get into this upturned basket, shown here with burners at the ready but with green light ever givenThe prospect of flying up to a kilometre above the ground on a bright spring morning (with a camera in my hand!) dissolved into the reality that we were standing in a soggy field surrounded by mist. I thought of using this lead balloon metaphor for how turbulence surrounding Israel contrasts with the stultifying lack of diplomatic movement... but I'll spare you.
So... instead of the champagne breakfast, we picked up some sandwiches at the nearest gas station and headed back to our tzimmer (La Paz) on Moshav Sdeh Yitzhak where we bumped into one of the local residents.
Naturally, the visibility picked up as the day wore on and, heading home, we took a dirt road between Kibbutz Ruhama and Kibbutz Bror Chayil. This crosses a nature reserve which someone decided to call the 'Ruhama Badlands' on the English sign. In fact, at least in the height of Spring, after some decent rain, they weren't so bad at all. The land was green and the wheat was standing high in the fields. We saw eagles, a snake, a tortoise and what may have have been a fox (and may also have been a rabbit).
This is a wide open landscape that goes on for as far as the eye can see. In a month's time it will be turning yellow. Caught in the Tel Aviv Bubble, you forget that there's a country out there.