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A Meeting in the Desert

“I cared for you in the wilderness, In the land of drought.” Hosea 13:5

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Dirty and relaxed from the Dead Sea, NYU Law iTrek spent Sunday night getting even dirtier at a Bedouin campsite in the Judean desert. Deserts are mystical places, and I had been looking forward to this part of the trip in particular.

Area where they found the Dead Sea scrolls!

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We arrived after a bumpy ride from the Dead Sea and settled into our tent (all ~45 us slept under the same “roof”!) before enjoying a delicious traditional Bedouin meal. Following the meal, we gathered around a fire in the hospitality tent and enjoyed Arabic coffee while learning more about Bedouin culture.


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Then, a group of us left the campsite and set off into the emptiness under the full moon for a period of meditation. After gathering in a circle, each of us set off to our own spot in the desert. I found a nice flat rock to use as a pillow and leaned back to gaze at the stars, allowing my mind to completely open up. I picked up a small stone to hold in my hand as I reached out to God and connected with my surroundings. As I laid in the very desert where Jesus was tempted for 40 days and nights, and where Moses and his people wandered for 40 years, I couldn’t help but feel small, undeserving, and immensely grateful for the opportunities and lessons of the past year. I thought about my own wandering and temptation. I found myself thinking and praying, until I heard Doron call us back together into a larger circle.

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The rest of the night back at camp involved wine, a bonfire, s’mores, spontaneous singing around the campfire, and deep conversations. No wifi, just each other. I ended up finally going to bed around 4am.

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We all woke up a few hours later for an early morning camel ride through the desert–tracing back over the spot where I had meditated the night before. I had accidentally ridden a camel the day before at the Dead Sea (I was just supposed to be taking a picture, but the camel started standing up all of the sudden)! My second camel ride ever went a bit more smoothly. Mahmoud, my camel, was a joy to start the day with!

Me with Mahmoud ❤️



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After our camel ride, we left for Masada, where we spent the morning hiking and learning about its history from Doron. Masada is a fortress that overlooks the Dead Sea, and Herod built a few palaces for himself atop the fortification. The Romans sieged Masada in 73 AD. Faced with violent defeat, 960 Jewish men, women, and children committed mass suicide within the walls of Masada to avoid a cruel future at the hands of the invaders.




Masada has become a symbol of unity for the Zionist movement and the nation of Israel in the last few centuries, and was declared a UNESCO world heritage site in 2001. “Masada shall not fall again” has become a mantra used by the Israeli army. Besides viewing the ruins and learning the history, we were able to soak in stunning views of the Dead Sea and the hills of Jordan in the horizon. A rabbi also works diligently and continually to transcribe the Torah at the site.

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Masada is extremely steep, and we planned to take the cable car back down after climbing up the Roman ramp. However, the cable car was broken! We set off down the snake path under a scorching sun, finally reaching the bus after the equivalent of 52 flights of stairs. My legs are still sore!

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The mystery of the Judean desert provided more than I could have thought to ask for. As one friend shared after our meditation, our existence is highly improbable (from a scientific perspective) and highly miraculous (from a spiritual perspective). You are the only you that will ever exist, and I am the only me that will ever exist. The rich emptiness and expanse of the desert provided the perfect backdrop to allow these realizations to reverberate and settle.

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One unexpected blessing of this trip has been getting to know fellow NYU and Israeli law students. At school back in New York, it’s often difficult to get to know others on a deeper level. But that has been a constant theme of this trip, and I feel it was also one of many of the desert’s surprises.

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Up next… Jerusalem.


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Ica and Huacachina: A Desert Oasis

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After the short bus ride from Paracas to Ica, we checked into our hostel for the night, Banana’s Adventure hostel in Huacachina. The music here was very loud and the wifi bad, but they had a really good restaurant and bar and all-around good vibe. After dinner (a quinoa burger…yum!), we crashed in bed.

 

Huacachina is the town next to Ica, and I wondered why we were staying here and not in Ica. However, I found my answer the next morning. I woke up and headed outside to the bar area for my morning coffee, and looked up to see we were surrounded by large sand dunes that I had not noticed as we drove in after sunset the night before. Huacachina is a literal desert oasis! After breakfast, Sarah and I decided to trek up the dunes a bit.

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Later in the morning, we headed out to visit two local vineyards that have been operating since the early 19th century. As has become standard, Sarah and I started practicing our Spanish with our cab driver, who did not speak English. He asked me what I did. “Yo estudio en la universidad de Nueva York a ser una abogada,” I told him. His face lit up! He then told me he is a professor of political science at the university in Ica and showed me his ID (I am guessing he is a cab driver on the side!). He then handed me a copy of the Peruvian constitution to keep, and we discussed the parallels between it and the US constitution for the rest of the drive (in Spanish!) This is definitely one of my favorite souvenirs so far, and I look forward to keeping it with all of my other law books in the fall 🙂

 

The vineyards were interesting to visit, but I did not find the wines and piscos we sampled to be enjoyable. Most of the wines were too sweet for my taste, and the piscos were very, very strong! That being said, it was fun to sample them in the place where they are made and to learn something new.

 

After grabbing a bite to eat, we left around 4pm for a dune buggy excursion outside of Huacachina. This was my favorite part of our time in Peru so far! Our driver took us up and down some very steep dunes so fast that I felt my stomach drop a few times. It was like riding a rollercoaster! Then, we parked atop a few tall dunes and they pulled out the boards. Sarah and I were initially hesitant to try sand boarding, but we decided it looked too fun not to try! Plus, I found out I could sit on the board instead of trying to stand on it, so I was sold. Gliding down the dunes was so much fun! After boarding, we were able to sit and watch the beautiful sunset over the dunes. I keep finding so many moments of deep peacefulness on this trip and this was definitely one. It was so quiet on top of the dune, with the only sound being the wind as the sun dropped slowly out of sight.IMG_9001

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After sunset, our buggy took us back to the hostel, where we enjoyed a pizza (my first since leaving the US!) and prepared to leave on the overnight bus. We left very early for the bus station (I am so careful ever since my incident in Saigon), and I proceeded to fall asleep in the bus station because I was so tired! Fortunately, Sarah woke me up when it was time to board! The overnight bus ride lasted 12 hours, and took us on some extremely curvy and steep roads. I surprisingly slept very well (similar to the Vietnamese sleeper train phenomenon) and woke up to this beautiful sunrise.IMG_8958.JPG
Our next stop is Arequipa for the next few days!

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