A little out of place, a yurt in the Israeli desert offers a neat eco-treat.
Feeling jaded from all the holidays in this country, we decided to retreat to the desert for Shabbat (the Jewish day of rest). And this was no ordinary retreat: arriving into Moshav Dekel, in the Eshkol region of the Negev (bordering on the Gaza Strip), our spirits lift when we see our destination: 36 Figs – A Kazakh Yurt Desert Experience. Following on from previous Green Prophet posts about other yurt destinations in Israel, as a sometime ger/yurt builder myself, having spent time living in them with nomads in Mongolia, I have long wanted to get out and see what’s here – who are the yurt fanatics in Israel, what materials do they use and where are they based.
Boris Moldavski and his wife Rivka are immigrants from Russia, who arrived here many years ago and first lived in Nazareth Illit. Being an engineer, Boris moved around the country a lot, until he and other Russians were offered land down in Sinai. On barren desert soil they created the community of Yamit – until it was evacuated in 1979 after the peace treaty between Israel and Egypt.
Six-hundred families, including Boris and Rivka moved, and many of them came to the Eshkol region, founding 6 new agricultural communities, including Moshav’s Dekel and Avshalom, within an area collectively known as Hevel Shalom.
Boris discovered a new passion: his agricultural expertise took him further – to Kazakhstan, where he stayed for 8 years, advising agricultural projects and eventually becoming Israel’s cultural attache to the Kazakh’s. He fell in love with the Kazakh culture, and decided to import traditional Kazakh yurts to his home on Moshav Dekel.
His original plan was to set up a camel farm: “I had sheep, and I loved that job, as every sheep had human qualities,” but after 3 years of trying to work with the local bureaucracy, that plan was shelved. “Camel milk has proven health benefits – against diabetes (Boris was diagnosed with diabetes in Kazakhstan, but daily swigs of camel milk defeated the disease), and even autism,” Boris told us, wistfully.
His eco-tourism venture, ’36 Figs,” comprises of 6 original Kazakh yurts, dotted around a stunning and tranquil organic plant garden and fruit grove, all planted and tended by Boris and his family.
Our first meeting with him was when he popped out from behind a tree as we settled in to our yurt bearing freshly picked fruit – he doesn’t know its name, but its a kind of exotic cherry, tasting of caramel and coffee. Other fruits he showed us, and that we sampled, over 24 hours, include guava, passion fruit, mango (both made into jams and liquers on the premises) lemons, mandarin oranges, pomegranates, lychees, green carobs, and what I think is a cacoa pod, or a chocolate fruit!
The yurts are huge, warm, and very restful spaces. He chose Kazakh bridal yurts, which are bigger than normal, and come decorated with original Kazakh embroideries, full of spiritual, religious and sensual significance.
It is very restful to gaze up at the steam-bent wooden yurt poles, fitting into the circular roof crown. Boris proudly said that they were constructed “without a single nail.”
My passion for gers and yurts comes from the knowldege that they are made from entirely natural materials (ok, canvas isn’t, but hey), and are so beautifully portable, yet strong. There is something soothing about being in a circular space, with a wooden floor, and the infinite possibilities of desert space and sky stretching out from the doorway.
Oh, and for all creature comfort loving Israelis, all Boris’s yurts have jacuzzis and toilets. Two of them are especially outfitted for disabled guests, and the garden is partly designed to be a sensory environment, to enable all guests to enjoy it in many ways, both tactile and through smell.
Boris is a green-fingered man, and is very willing to share this knowledge with everyone. Discussing this, he told me that “all his 4 children worked [with him] on the land, giving them a strong work ethic, and good character.” He firmly believes that a lot of socities ills come from our general disconnect with the land and soil.
36 Figs is a wonderful rural idyll: a place to rest, relax, eat exotic fruit and recharge the batteries. Boris and Rivka are generous and warm hosts. It is also a perfect place for group retreats, yoga workshops, and perhaps the first Green Prophet retreat? Go and experience the green life of a night in a desert yurt!
’36 Figs’ website is here ::36 Figs