As soon as I decided that the family was ready to meander south to see Israel’s legendary Negev Desert, I knew that I would include a feature journey in a 4WD jeep. When I researched the Old Spice Route Trail, part of the ancient world’s labyrinth of trading pathways that spanned South Arabia to the Mediterranean, I found a guide for this journey and a Bedouin campsite to stay. I was excited as I saw this amazing experience take shape, because it would combine a lot of the travel elements I love: adventure, culture, natural beauty, something layered and completely different from the everyday realm for us - and rugged and outdoorsy enough to test my two teenage boys. Not that the Said women on this trip aren’t up for whatever I send their way! I knew that my wife Sheira, young daughter Zoe, even my mother Jackie would all roll with the punches brilliantly.
Being an obsessive planner at the best of times, I knew that the sheer unforgiving harshness of the desert requires preparation and the right kind of tour. There is no turning back or changing your mind in the middle of the dust and sand of the Negev. This trip was something I really looked forward and I preferred to have it planned well in advance.
I wanted to use a guide that came recommended, and got a tip about Gil Shkedi through friends in Sydney who are total authorities on travel through Israel. These family friends had actually slept in a Bedouin tent on a sand dune at a camp that Gil had created - so I knew that this was my man.
Before I left Australia for Israel, Gil had asked me to brief him on everything from sleeping bags and pillows to what type of foods we wanted so he could customise the picnic lunches he would pack. He organises anything that involves the jeeps and Bedouin tents - all we had to do is coordinate our trip south from Jerusalem to meet him in Mitzpe Ramon - the starting off point for our Jeep Journey.
We made our way out of Jerusalem with our regular Israeli guide, David Shavit, with whom my family has a long and established warm relationship. He is always our “man on the ground” in this part of the world: an invaluable travel companion who knows what interests us and always helps us discover this amazing country. We had arranged that David would accompany us as we spent the day heading south, stopping at various places en route to MITZPE RAMON.
There, David would deliver us into Gil’s safe care for the second phase of the journey - our jeep ride, 2-day tour and Bedouin adventure. We would wind our way north-west until our tour reached the base of MASADA MOUNTAIN two days later, where David would again be waiting for us.
Gil apologetically informed us that he had been called up for military service, we rolled with the punches and were just as happy to meet his young colleague, Zif who would lead us across the rocky roads and dunes of the Negev…