Sitting around a campfire at the base of Mt. Sinai, our small group chatted about an unusual experience we had encountered.
A vehicle problem stranded us at the side of the main road until our guide negotiated a lift by camel with a small group of Bedouins to a nearby oasis.
Traveling with an experienced guide in remote areas can be most useful and it doesn't have to be expensive.
I joined that camping expedition through Israel's student travel service, ISSTA. It wasn't a student tour but an economical and interesting desert trip for anyone who didn't mind roughing it a bit.
Many Trips Offered
Through ISSTA, budget travelers can join a variety of tours this year. For example, three-day camping safaris from Eilat to Mt. Sinai and Santa Catherine Monastery cost $165 U.S. A similar five-day program is available for $275. These rates include guide services, all meals, transportation and sleeping bags. Border tax is not included.
One of ISSTA's most popular programs is a seven-day cross-country tour. The $199 fee includes guide services, bus transportation, accommodations (four-bed kibbutz rooms), breakfasts and entrance fees. Some double accommodations may be available at an extra charge of $5 per person a night.
On this tour you can ascend Masada, have a dip in the Dead Sea and visit the underwater observatory in Eilat. Other stops include crusader ruins in Galilee, the Golan Heights, Jerusalem and Bethlehem.
This program is recommended for travelers ages 16 to 35. It leaves every Monday from the ISSTA office in Tel Aviv. You can arrange to join en route for a reduced fee.
For budget travelers with an interest in archeology, ISSTA offers a special four-night Jerusalem package for $99. This includes four nights (double accommodations) in a hotel near the Damascus Gate, three guided walking tours of sites in the city and a full-day bus trip to Masada near the Dead Sea. The single supplement for this trip is $25.
Budget travelers who want to make their way around the country independently can buy unlimited travel bus passes through ISSTA offices. The tickets are valid for travel on Egged buses nationwide. A seven-day Intrabus Pass is $35, 14 days $55, 21 days $70 and 30 days $80.
Budget travelers who also want to investigate Egypt have several economical options through ISSTA. For example, you can join a four-day tour from Jerusalem or Tel Aviv for $99 U.S. This covers transportation, three nights' accommodations in a tourist-class hotel in Cairo, breakfasts and two days of sightseeing. A $5 tip fee, lunches, dinners, entrance fees, visa expenses and border taxes are not included. The trip departs every Sunday.
Similar five-day tours to Egypt, departing every Sunday, are available for $109, plus a $7 tip. This program allows you an extra day to take an optional visit to Alexandria or Luxor at an additional charge. An eight-day version of the tour with stops in Cairo, Luxor and Aswan costs $289, plus $15 for tips. Departures are on Thursdays.
If you want to be more independent, you can take the Cairo Connection for $47. This includes bus transportation plus three nights in a one-star hotel (single supplement $21). For three-star hotel accommodations, the trip fee is $69 (single supplement $24).
Other programs offered by ISSTA this year include hiking, horseback riding, cycling, windsurfing and diving. For example, diving/camping Sinai Safaris are available on Fridays and Saturdays for $60 a day. That rate includes a guide, transportation, meals, sleeping bag, diving equipment and air refills.
You can get further information by contacting ISSTA at 109 Ben Yehuda St., Tel Aviv 63401. In Jerusalem, ISSTA is at 5 Elishar St., and in Haifa, ISSTA is at 28 Nordau St.
For further information on Israel, contact the Israel Government Tourist Office at 6380 Wilshire Blvd., Suite 1700, Los Angeles 90048, phone (213) 658-7462.