Poop Makes Soil, Soil Makes Wheat, Wheat Makes Poop or Tell Us About Composting Toilets

Sorry to be crude. We visited Kibbutz Lotan in the Arava Valley today and this song from our beloved Eden Village Camp came to mind when our guide showed us their composting toilet. Very different than Kibbutz Ketura (though right across the road from each other), Kibbutz Lotan specializes in ecotourism, educational programs with visiting colleges, living sustainably in the desert and Jewish Renewal. It was a fascinating place and we wished we had stayed there in one of their signature straw bale houses. Here are some pictures.
Talking about composting toilets.

Straw bale housing construction.

Rooms for guests.

Earth, sand and straw.


So visiting Kibbutz Lotan was fun (and photo-ops were plenty - see my Flickr) because we also got to eat in the dining hall with the kibbutzniks and eat the yummy veggie food.

Then we hopped in the car to go back to our housing in the moshav. We drove north on highway 90 marveling at the geology the whole way and then turned left to go on route 227. It was on the map, it was on the GPS, but is was this harrowing, single lane, switch-back road that no one but intrepid geologists should travel upon. (Just kidding - go on this road because the views are amazing and you can tell your friends about the steel-drum-with-rocks-in-them guard rails).

Here's the map and some photos...

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The road was built by the British in 1927 and used in 1949 by the Golani Brigade. It was used as a major thoroughfare, "The Old Road to Eilat," until the 1950s, then the decent road (that we took) through Mitzpe Ramon was built.


Snorkeling, Geology and Living Frugally in Eilat

Today we spent a great deal of time in the Red Sea at the Coral Reef Nature Reserve (also called the Almog Coral Reserve) which is part of Israel's National Parks system. The snorkeling here was top-notch,with the main draw back being that we had to stay within a boundary and on the "path." But this was actually a brilliant idea as the coral was in incredible shape. We saw parrotfish, an octopus, angelfish, and a clown fish in an anemone, just like Marlin in "Finding Nemo." Really, the park was spectacular. The beach was crowded and it was roasting hot there, but if you're in the water, it doesn't really matter.

The entrance is on Route 90 and looks like this:

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Later we went to Timna Park, which is not a National Park but still very interesting. We went on a tour, which I think is the only way to go to this park. Timna Park has many amazing geological formations to look at and climb on but really, what it was was an early iron mine. The iron in the rocks was from detrital sediments and was revealed to us when the tour guide poured some water on the ground. Pretty cool.

That evening we stayed at a funky place...the SNPI Field School in Eilat. Six bunk beds, four of us, it was weird but fairly affordable. And we hear that's how the Israeli families get around the country on the cheap. It was right across the road from the Coral Reef we snorkeled around in earlier. There was a view of the Red Sea (if you squint).


South to Kibbutz Ketura and the Arava Institute

Sunday was a get accustomed day. We relaxed and went to the grocery store in Bet Shemesh.

Today we drove about 3 1/2 hours south to stay at Kibbutz Ketura and see the Arava Institute. We drove down Highway 40 and drove through the Makhtesh Ramon. It's not a crater, though that is what makhtesh means in Hebrew. It is a near look-alike of places in the southwest U.S., in particular near La Verkin, Utah, where I did my master's degree field work. A lot of geology we saw along the way here, such as the makhtesh, is a rift and the exposures are perfect. You can see in the map that it sort of looks like a crater from above yet it is a formation created similarly to the Grand Canyon, by water flowing. The water is mostly gone, and now it is pretty sparsely vegetated.

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Actually, the vegetation reminds me of California with bougainvillea, carob, pomegranat, oleander, but the Makhtesh Ramon was distinctly Grand Canyon-like with high, table-top plateaus with flat-lying sedimentary rocks and a valley that has black, low cones of volcanic material.

We arrived at Kibbutz Ketura and were greeted with a pretty amazing heat. Nevada heat. Death Valley heat. We cooled off in the kibbutz pool.

We were given a tour of the kibbutz where 400 people live. We keep hearing that the kibbutzim are dying out, that there's no interest in this collective lifestyle. But, in theory, it sounds like a great idea. Everyone works. Everyone contributes to the kibbutz. Everyone eats and gets health care and an education. Instead of all adults owning one car each, as is the case in the U.S., as is the case in my house, there are shared cars. OK, you have way less freedom to do whatever you want but you're using far fewer resources, buying much less junk, and if you grow your own food or buy thoughtfully, you can make a huge impact on your body and the bodies of your neighbors.


Yes, We Flew on Shabbot

Off on our trip to Israel, we'll be gone for three weeks! We flew into Ben Gurion Airport and rented a car at Sixt which I had never heard of but we got a good price on a stick-shift, 2-door car. We stuffed four people, our four full bags and four backpacks and headed to Moshav Aviezer where we rented a house for the time we're in Israel. This will be our jumping off spot and if you zoomed out on the map below, you can see we're centrally located, close to Jerusalem, the Territories, and Tel Aviv.

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Check Your Passport Expiration Dates...Now!

Looking for the rainbow...

We had been planning a trip to Israel for months. First we were going just for a Bar Mitzvah of our friend's son. Then we were going to make a trip out of it and stay for three weeks. It was huge. Lot's of planning. Lot's of thought. Yesterday at 11pm we were checking into the flight online, pulled out the passports only to find out, to our horror, that the children's passports expired nine months ago! Where was the planning?! We're world travelers, for crying out loud! What went wrong?! How are we going to make this trip happen?! Eleven pm the night before the flight. It seemed impossible.

Here was our thought process...

1) We could just show up with our kids, our luggage and backpacks, maybe some snacks and their expired passports and hope for the best. Maybe plead ignorance. "What?! Oh, their passports are expired?! OMG, could you please let us in anyway?? We're very nice people. What, you say that our children look nothing like the photos on those old passports?" No way. Do Not Even Try This.

2) Google "How to get a passport in a hurry" and you'll find what might be the answer to the dilemma. There's a host of passport-expediter services ready to seemingly make your life easier. You can get your passport in 2 business days for $299 each. Add to that $50 for a FedEx package, one-way to the passport agency, and add another $50 for the return trip from the magical passport genie service, and then add the normal rush charge of $60 that the U.S. Passport Agency charges for those bad planners who need it speedy quick. Oh, and you still need to do steps i - v shown below. That's a lot of pita bread, especially because we have two kids. Gulp.

3) Call the airline and start to cry and see if they have any suggestions. One suggestion was to call the U.S. consulate for Israel in New York. Their message essentially said they were on strike and don't leave a message. A second option was to call TSA. See if they'll make an exception. Ask if they can write us a letter. Vouch for us? Anything? No dice. How about call the Department of State? We called DOS and we were told, without question, do not travel without an up-to-date passport. OK, got that cleared up. What should we do now?! We told our new contact that we tried and could not get an appointment at the NYC passport office (our closest U.S. Passport Agency office) until Aug 7. He asked how flexible we were and, of course, we said VERY. He did some tapping on a computer and said that we could have an appointment in the Portsmouth NH (near Boston) office on Tuesday at 11am and fly out of Boston or we could have an appointment in Buffalo NY on Friday at 9am and fly out of Buffalo. We could pay the expedite fee, wait 3 - 4 hours and be on our way. He said "you will have your passports in 3-4 hours. No problem."

We were on the phone with this guy at the same time as we were on another phone with the airline (United) to try to re-schedule our flight out. Because of all of our strategic planning, we had a pretty good air fare to Israel. In order to change our outgoing flight, we would probably incur a cost because the price will have gone up...we just wanted to find the combination that would give us the lowest added cost possible. Plus, don't forget, there would be a "change fee" ($300/each ticket) for changing the reservation! Now the United agent, hearing our pitiful story had a little rachmunus, a little pity, and waived the change fee (whew, we just saved $1,200 smackers! Thank you, United!) Then we just needed to explain to United that we had to fly out of either Buffalo on Friday or Boston on Tuesday and please tell us which will cost us the least. At $287 per ticket additional, it was 'hello Buffalo!' and a side trip to Niagara Falls (see rainbow above).

If you need to get a U.S. passport in a hurry, here's what you do. Find a U.S. Passport Agency that's near you or that you're willing to get to in some way (drive, fly, skateboard, hitchhike), a place where you can get a confirmed appointment. You need a confirmation number. Don't just show up. Then bring these materials (if it is your child (a minor) who needs the passport):

i) The kid's previous passport.
ii) Both parents, if the kid has two parents. If one parent can't make it, you need some sort of letter. What a hassle! Fastest way. Both parents, in the flesh, carrying their own passports (as proof of who they are).
iii) The kid's birth certificate. The one with the seal, not a copy. This will verify who the parents are.
iv) Parents: bring your driver's license. This will show evidence of your address.
v) A filled-out DS-11 form. But do not sign it yet. Sign it in front of the Passport Agency personnel.

Pay the fee (they take credit cards). Come back in 3 to 4 hours. And, behold, passports!

And happy-ish parents! It cost us way too much for this mistake, but we are on our way to Israel.

But if you do find yourself in this predicament and you happen to go to the Buffalo office (nice folks there), be sure to check out Niagara Falls during your "down time." And do not play the blame game with your significant other!

Learn from our mistake.