Negev Desert, Israel
Exotic Life in the Middle of the Desert
Who hasn’t wanted to take some time off from life’s routine and escape to a new and different place, free of stress and filled with new experiences; to find a break from the monotony of everyday life.
As an Israeli, I once only thought that I could only find that far away in the countries of Africa or the jungles of South America. But I’d have to fly there, and in so doing dip deep into the savings account. Only then would I be able to have the experience that I so desired.
It is tragic that so often in our lives we are not aware of the wonder all around us and that we don’t always need to travel across continents to experience satisfaction and happiness. I proved this cliché when I volunteered last August as a volunteer coordinator at the “Hai-Bar Yotvata” animal reserve.
The very thought of traveling to the south of Israel in August, the hottest season in the country, to volunteer at the Hai Bar animal reserve sounded like a scorching nightmare. But when we come with low expectations we have the chance to be the most pleasantly surprised!
The initial shock of the midday heat when we got off the bus in the desert will not be forgotten in a long time. It was a bit funny to watch the reactions of the volunteers from cold European countries as they entered a “new world”. The irony is that by the end of the project the heat did not even slow them down. In fact, if it were up to them, they would have stayed at the project much longer.
Our workday was adjusted to the weather. We began at 7:30 in the morning while it was still cool. There’s nothing like getting up and having a cup of coffee before work while watching the sunrise stretch over the vast expanse of desert, when the air is still and quiet – just heavenly. Back to the work: we began at 7:30 by cleaning the cages of the carnivores and then the other animals, next we prepared food for a variety of animals at the reserve before getting to general maintenance work required to keep the facility running smoothly. The work was done in teams of volunteers according to will, ability, and individual strengths.
At around 12:00 – when we’re all hot and tired, we go to lunch. When we return to work we complete different tasks and make an effort to stay in the shade. Drinking water is the name of the game – the desert is dry so you don’t notice how much you sweat, it’s a totally different kind of heat. To stay hydrated you have to drink at least 3 liters of water per day!
Life beyond work
The work finished at 3:30pm, sometimes even earlier (it’s depends on the capacity of the volunteers and daily project type) and we returned home to the accommodations.The short-term (2 week visit) volunteers live in a residential compound on the reserve itself while those who are in for the long haul (1 month and more) stay on the nearby kibbutz Grofit. Of course, the short-term volunteers can join the ride to the kibbutz and enjoy relaxing by the pool. It’s hot – so there’s nothing like sitting by the pool with a cold drink in the company of friends after a hot workday. And after we were rested, and sufficiently bored, we would get in the pool and play ‘water basketball’ and have diving competitions. In the evening there are a lot of options to stay busy.
Employees can go back to the wildlife reserve and partake in the feeding of the nocturnal predators. Some people pass the time by playing soccer on the fields of the kibbutz, or rest in the air conditioned cold barracks with the company of their iPhones or tablets. What happens in your free time is totally up to you – just have an open mind and you will not be bored, there are plenty of things to see and do.
The bottom line
- I was exposed to the magical beauty of the unique desert of Israel
- I met the most amazing people – both volunteers and staff – whom I still keep in contact with today. I even have a trip planned next year with friends I met here
- I saw wild nature – sunrises, sunsets: quiet and peaceful – freedom for the eyes
- I was exposed to the lives of animals on the reservation both day and night and saw what a guest to Hai Bar would not see even after 20 visits
- I took part in the care and treatment of animals unique to this area’s desert habitat
Check out the gallery below for even more pictures from volunteering at the wildlife reserve!