Israel's Good Name

Eilat

In Eilat, Israel, Negev on July 27, 2020 at 8:50 AM

Just a few weeks ago, in the beginning of July, my wife Bracha and I went on a two-day trip down to Eilat, Israel’s resort town. The trip was organised and heavily-subsidised by Minhal HaStudentim, which offers trips and activities – in addition to tuition help – throughout the year to immigrant students. Being that we are both immigrants and students, we were able to snag this fun little trip for quite the bargain.

Is it a honeymoon or just a group trip to Eilat?

Early Sunday morning we sleepily lugged our bags over to Rishon LeZion, where our dedicated tour bus was waiting. Somehow we ended up being attached to the bus with students from the areas of Rishon LeZion and Rehovot, and not with our friends from Bar Ilan University, but we made the best of our predicament and made new friends. When we had successfully found our permanent seats – factoring in the safety guidelines during this strenuous time period with the coronavirus – our bus driver turned his vehicle in the direction of Eilat.

Our guide, Liran Gabay

However, we had a quick stop along the way, and that was Ein Gedi off the coast of the Dead Sea. Our route took us through Jerusalem, and our tour guide, Liran Gabay, filled our ears with wordy explanations to the various sites that we passed. Upon arriving at Ein Gedi we were greeted by dozens of fan-tailed ravens and Tristram’s starlings, as well as a splendid number of blue-spotted Arab butterflies – truly astounding to see such concentrations of flappy, yellow wings.

Ten blue-spotted Arab butterflies at Ein Gedi

Due to time constraints, we just did the short walk to the lower waterfall, where we whet our appetite in the hot, dry desert heat. After sandwiches, which served as a pre-lunch, we got back into the tour bus and began the long, straight drive down Road 90 to Eilat. But no, there was still another adventurous stop to make, and that was an extreme park by the name of Top 94. There, we did a variety of activities including a shooting range, paintball and eating lunch.

Bracha firing the .22 sporting rifle

I was quite excited for the shooting range as we were going to be shooting .22-calibre bullets – a calibre-first for me, and Bracha’s very first time shooting any weapon. We stationed ourselves side-by-side and unleashed a succession of hot metal at paper targets pinned up downrange. To my delight, both of us had rather tight groupings, although both sporting rifles’ iron sights were quite inaccurate which led us to wildly miss our targets.

Targets: Bracha’s to the left, mine to the right

Paintball was also delightful, yet the splatters of orange caused a bit of pain and bruising here and there. Bracha and I were on opposing teams in a game format that meant playing just to shoot each other willy-nilly, all in a brown, garage-themed setting. Lunch was nice as well, a generous portion of schnitzel and rice alongside french fries. There was a small museum on-site, the Negev Warriors Museum dedicated to soldiering between the years 1917-1949, but unfortunately it was closed.

Getting ready for some paintball

At last, we boarded our bus and began the final leg to Eilat proper, arriving directly at our sleeping accommodations, the HI Eilat Hostel. The sun set over the mountains of Egypt and we got settled into our own room, a fortunate upgrade that we were able to secure. Continuing the theme of feasting, we headed down to the dining room for dinner – a mess of meatballs, schnitzel, rice, pasta and more. It was an interesting affair balancing a hotel experience with the necessary restrictions regarding serving, which had limited portions with minimised human contact and longer lines, but we made the best of our situation.

Looking out from our hostel balcony

With the culmination of dinner we had a little bit of free time so we headed out to explore the boardwalk area with its plethora of shops, restaurants, bars and more. The gently lapping surf and the full moon’s reflection on the calm water beckoned us near, so we shed shoes and drank bottled cocktails in the coarse sand. It was a profoundly relaxing moment, even with the hubbub of nightlife behind us, and made the perfect ending to an action-packed day.

Sculpture commemorating raising the Ink Flag

The following morning greeted us with the hot Eilat sun streaming rays of warmth to heat up another day of adventure. Breakfast was served and then we headed out to our first stop of the day, the Umm Rash-Rash historical site just across the road from our hotel. It was the beginning of March 1949 and the Israeli government was bent on securing access to the Red Sea before agreeing to a ceasefire with the surrounding Arab nations. Two infantry brigades pushed south through the desert and reached the coastal area of Umm Rash-Rash which was being held by Jordanian forces. On March 10, 1949 the conquering Israeli soldiers raised an impromptu flag, known as the “Ink Flag”, a symbol of sovereignty over this tiny patch of coastal land linking Israel with the Red Sea.

Taba bording crossing

Getting into our tour bus, we were then driven down to the Taba border crossing which links Israel with Egypt. There, we got out to enjoy the expansive view of the Gulf of Aqaba and our neighbours, Jordan and Saudi Arabia. I kept a sharp eye out for terns, gulls and other interesting sea-going birds, and my efforts paid off. I was rewarded with my first ever white-eyed gull, as well as some white-cheeked terns.

The Gulf of Aqaba from the Israel-Egypt border

Our next stop was the Coral Beach Nature Reserve, where we slotted for some fun snorkeling in the reefs. Neither of us had ever been snorkeling, so we were both righteously excited to strap on some gear and plunge into the water, clear waters of the Red Sea. Terns flitted about over the low waves, we burnt our feet in the scorching sand, and the sun slowly ate through our protective layer of sunscreen. Eilat in the summer is truly a sauna, and we so badly wanted to just get into the cooling waters.

White-cheeked tern resting on a floater

At last our time to snorkel came and we walked our way out to the launch point of the snorkel route. For most people it took barely a minute or so to get the mask and snorkel tube affixed and ready to go, but I floundered in the shallows struggling to breathe normally as I peered into the underwater world with blurred vision. Unfortunately, the bespectacled among us couldn’t wear our glasses and with my prescription, I’d be happy if I saw any of the many fish species that live in and around the coral reef. Interestingly enough, this is the northernmost coral reef in the world, but alas, I have no pictures to show for it. When the snorkel activity was over, and I had seen a few colourful fish-blurs which shall remain unidentified, we got back into our bus and headed back to the hostel for lunch. When our bellies were full we were escorted back out to the waterfront, for even more watery activities. This time they were of the boating sense, as well as lounging about on the beach with the other beach-goers.

Coming back aboard after banana boating (photo Liran Gabay)

Our first option was the banana boat ride, where we and eight others were shipped out to sea and then marooned on a floating banana-like raft roped to the back of the boat. We hung on for dear life as the boat captain sped away, dragging us along in his wake, cool saltwater splashing our faces liberally. We clung as we laughed, the buoyant raft being swept along effortlessly as the captain throttled his engines.

The more extreme version of banana boating

There were some close calls but alas, nobody was fully capsized and we made our way back to the marina smiling and dripping under the hot midday sun. The next option was an even more extreme raft where the riders lay clinging to a rectangular float only to be flung about wildly. There’s a mutual understanding that those riding the rafts desire to be slightly drowned, and that the sea captain desires to do the drowning. Bracha and I decided that we’d rather watch the proceedings unfold, and I rushed to get my trusty camera.

Green sea turtle at Eilat

The eight riders flopped about in the foamy water, the spray dousing them with every turn. Bracha laughed heartily as the riders clung desperately to the raft, only to be thrown off every other minute. Indeed, everyone was laughing and a good time was had by all. One of my favourite moments, however, was when one of the fellow students spotted a green sea turtle coming up for air in the marina.

Eilat’s North Beach

After the boats we spent a bit of time in the water and then headed back to the hostel to change. I had been angling to pay a quick visit to North Beach, a famous birding haunt, where I was hoping I’d see some new and interesting terns, gulls, sea birds and the like. Bracha joined me and we walked along the beachfront boardwalk, replete with excessive tourist attractions. It was a longer walk than either of us had anticipated but at last we made it and we stood at the seashore as the sun began its daily descent.

Juvenile white-eyed gull flying over the sea

I scanned the seas with my binoculars, seeking flapping or soaring wings, but also made sure to check the far-out floating buoys. At first there were just more white-eyed gulls, but then a large tern appeared overhead – my very first Caspian tern, a true behemoth of his genus. That certainly was exciting, but I wanted more. I checked the drainage canal for birds, but there was nothing identifiable, so I scanned the seas again and again.

Some invasive house crows

One of the delightful aspects of birding is the unpredictability involved; sometimes, where you expect to see something you do not, and other times, sightings come as a wonderful surprise. Knowing that one day I’ll eventually tick off other, yet-unseen terns, gulls and other seabirds, we headed back to the hostel for a “barbecue dinner”.

Lantern tour at Timna Park

The government had convened once more to discuss the ongoing coronavirus pandemic and it was decided the restrictions be put in place once again. Therefore, our trip was being brought to a premature end, and some of the much-anticipated events cancelled. Hoping to give us one last hurrah, it was decided that we’d have a quick early night trip to Timna Park for a special “lantern tour”. I had been to Timna twice before, see HERE and HERE, so I was okay with the idea of going at night – despite the fact that the ground colour is one of the park’s finest features.

Egyptian influence at Timna

Our lantern tour was surprisingly picturesque, and certainly everyone made the most of it as we knew that we were to be heading back up north on the morrow. It was late when we returned, but that didn’t keep us all from enjoying one more night in Israel’s resort town. On the drive back the following morning we saw a few nice species of wildlife from our bus window – including one dorcas gazelle spotted by Bracha.

Mitzpe Ramon’s desert sculpture garden

We also made a quick stop at Mitzpe Ramon where I took the opportunity to walk out into the Desert Sculpture Park along the Israel National Trail. We arrived back home safe and sound, thankful for our special little outing but also ready to get back into our daily routines.

Lovely bit of vacation

More trips were to be had shortly, as my friends were angling to get out and explore as well.

  1. Shem tov you are the best !!!

  2. One of the nicest honeymoons I’ve ever been on.

  3. Great pics of a memory making trip. WOW! All those places are so near you & to go for free is unbelievable. Good to see Bracha joining you on one of your trips. Looks like you both had lots of fun.

  4. What a wonderful get away. History and Wildlife! The Sea is beautiful. I look forward to more of your adventures.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: