The residential parts of Eilat are nice and green, but outside the desert begins and doesn’t end for a very long time. They have a network of hiking paths there that I was using in the morning. The trouble with deserts is, once you have seen a small part of one, you have pretty much seen it all. It’s surprisingly colorful; the red rock is what gave the Red Sea its name.
The Treasury, the most well-known building (carving?), is where Indiana Jones has found the Holy Grail in his last crusade (first picture). Oddly, the movie doesn’t show the hordes of tourists doing selfies, the tables of the souvenir vendors with their identical trinkets, the horse buggy operators with their electrical cables for whips zooming through the crowds, and the coffee and snack containers all over the place. Despite all this, the magic is still there. The city is much larger than I expected.
The corals at Eilat aren’t the best I have seen. Much of the seafloor is sand, but due to the clear waters the colors of the corals and fish are brighter than what I have seen elsewhere. Big yellow-silver moraines with gaping mouths are waiting for prey, and we have seen stingrays and sea snakes too. Big schools of orange, blue, and silver fish, and a few enormous blue-green-yellow ones, didn’t mind at all that we were plowing through them.
The good news is that most diving sites don’t need a boat; you just step into the water at the shore. The bad news is that scuba gear, when wet, weighs close to 30kg, and I had to walk barefoot over sharp gravel… The same gear that lets you float effortlessly under water is enormously clunky on land.
Eilat is at the intersection of Israel, Jordan, and Egypt. I could see the others at a distance today. Tomorrow I’ll do a day trip to Jordan.
Israel only has a few kilometers of coastline at the Red Sea, and the port city of Eilat. Like Ein Bokek, Eilat is a major beach tourism hub with all the concomitant ugliness. But unlike Ein Bokek, it’s a real city where people live, not just some lifeless vertical concrete in the desert where tourists in bathrobes trek from hotel to beach and back with empty eyes.
You can’t dive in the Dead Sea. You’d need a block of concrete to submerge, and one wayward drop of water would be the end of the adventure. But the Red Sea has many diving centers. There is one legal roadblock: although I have the Advanced Open Water license, my last dive was in February and a couple pages down this blog, and that’s too long ago for Israeli law so they require a (rather trivial, but as expensive as three regular dives) refresher course. Did that today.
I had a restaurant recommendation, the Fish Market down at Coral Beach where the dive centers are. I ordered fish (what else) and expected the usual slab of stuff on a plate. Instead, fifteen little plates appeared with fish, hummus, salads, baked eggplant, and other dishes. Delicious!
That’s why I didn’t stay there and went to Neve Zohar, a pretty village 5km south. The beach is a kilometer away, at Hamei Zohar. Still too much concrete, but far nicer than Ein Bokek, and no jackhammer noise. It’s nearly 400m below sea level.
Swimming in the Dead Sea is weird: you can’t. You float on top of the water because it’s so dense with salt. When floating upright, your armpits stay dry, but it’s hard to stay upright because your legs want to float to the surface like submerged champagne corks. Swimming amounts to floating on your back, two thirds submerged. It feels like a very soft water bed. Breaststroke swimming is a bad idea, if you get water in your eyes or swallow any water you’ll need to see a doctor asap. The beach here is sandy with thick salt deposits along the edge of the water.
Ein Gedi has little to do with the lush oriental paradises in the movies. Two wadis – river beds – meet the Dead Sea there, and the few groves of trees would be boring if they weren’t in this desert country. They have a number of hiking paths there that go up the wadis and over the hill connecting them. They are surprisingly steep, but harmless compared to the Calanques in Marseille. The highest point was at an elevation of -163 meters.
Masada is a massive hilltop fortress half an hour south of Ein Gedi. It’s so tall that the top is at 44m, above sea level. It was built by King Herod but became famous for a thousand Jews who held out against a Roman army in 72 CE, until the Romans finished a gigantic ramp up to the gates and smashed through the walls, at which point all Jews committed mass suicide. The outlines of the Roman camps, and of course the ramp, are still visible (third picture). The three-level palace at the northern tip, connected by very long stairways, is very impressive; the second picture shows the lower levels.
Since Masada consists of only two buildings, the visitor center and a huge hostel, there isn’t anything to do here at night. But there are no lights and no noise, around me is just desert.
There’s this thing about all these places: nobody knows for sure. Usually, a thousand years or so someone pulled some vague evidence out of a hat and calls it proof, because Popper hasn’t had the chance to define what is a proof and what isn’t. The “proof” became dogma and a church or chapel or other big pile of stones gets erected there and all the pilgrims start sticking their hand into holy gaps in the wall and feel enlightened. Good for them.
Spent a lot of time just wandering through the narrow alleys and markets of Jerusalem. It’s very easy to get lost there and very difficult for a GPS unit to catch a glimpse of the sky.
I am staying in a very nice hotel but the WiFi was disconnected. Fortunately I wouldn’t dream of travelling without an RJ45 Ethernet patch cable, or you wouldn’t be reading this.