Sustainable tourism finds haven in Israel's rugged desert
Walking up to Desert Shade Eco-Camp, the buildings look like they belong there, grown straight from the sandy, rocky landscape. There’s The Stone Gallery, with huge windows overlooking the crater, where people mix and mingle and sip on morning coffee. Then, scattered through the property are eco-tents, made from recycled products and mud. These special tents regulate temperature naturally in the rugged, high desert climate, staying cool in summer and warm in winter.
How Desert Shade came to be:
Desert Shade is the brainchild of Ziv Spector, who founded the camp back in 1989. Prior to that, he had worked at The Society for the Protection of Nature In Israel, and also for solar companies. Then, the desert drew him in.
“The desert is a place to just be,” says Spector. “In the Western world we don’t have a lot of places you can just be, with silence, sunrise and sunset. This is important for everybody. A lot of vacation spots are just about the view, and you sit in your air-conditioned room and look out. People have to feel the sun, the wind, because if not, they are losing nature.”
Nature has always been important to Spector, who grew up on a farm in northern Israel. As a child, he’d play in the fields and tend to the plants, and as a teenager, started taking trips to the desert, which fueled his passion for this bleak but beautiful zone in the southern part of the country.
“You can see far here,” he says. “In the desert, there are no trees to block your view, so you always have the future right there, in front of your eyes.”
Connecting to the history of the region:
There is much to do when visiting this desert camp, from hiking and cycling, to learning about the deep history of the region. Much of what was written in ancient religious texts took place in this part of the world, and people can read lines of the Bible while experiencing the backdrop of those stories.
“When you’re talking about the story of the people of Israel leaving Egypt in Exodus, when you’re talking about the stories of the Spice Route, it all happened here,” says Spector. “When you take people into the desert, you can use the Bible not as a religious book but as a psychology book. It gives you a lot of knowledge on how to behave in the desert.”
Those who want to interact with the locals can go visit members of the Bedouin community.
“The Bedouins are still into their traditions —still raising goats and camels, and part of that is open for tourism,” says Spector. “You read things in the Bible that are still happening in this community. The way they bake their bread hasn’t changed in 3,000 years.”
More and more people from around the world are interested in taking time out from their busy city lives to enjoy the serenity of Desert Shade. That, and cheaper airline tickets mean more tourism to the eco-camp. Spector says sometimes, tickets between Europe and Israel are just 40-50 euros each way, which allows people to come for a quick weekend getaway. “It is amazing, when you’re here in the evening sitting around the fire, looking up at the stars, we are the only ones speaking Hebrew,” says Spector. “Everyone else is speaking languages from around the world.”