Day 11 The Eilat / Petra Extension
We got off to a late start from Tel Aviv today for our flight to Eilat. This was a Saturday (shabat) and since many Israeli airline employees consider it sacrilegious to fly before sundown on shabat we didn’t have a wide choice of flights. We timed it to get to the airport two hours ahead of time to make sure we had no difficulties. When we got to the airport entrance, however, it was closed and we were instructed to wait until a half hour before the scheduled departure.
We inquired as to why we were not allowed in and they said brusquely “No, is closed!” When they finally let us in, we went straight to security. When they found out that I was the group leader, they let everyone but me straight through and began asking me all kinds of questions. The funniest question was when the guard asked me “How big are you?” I was shocked that she would ask such a personal question, so I told her that it depends on how cold it is… this was apparently a lost in translation moment, since it turned out that she wanted to know how big my group was!
When we arrived at our lovely Eilat hotel near the shore of the Red Sea, they were crazy busy, so we put our luggage into storage and went for a walk along the promenade. There was so much stuff to do in town and I made mental notes of everything in order to make suggestions for future tours.
Tonight I scheduled dinner for everyone at a fantastic seafood place that catches all its fish locally in the Red Sea… I sort of laughed inside, as I know there is overfishing in the Red Sea, and I imagined a plate full of old boots and fishing lines. But, the fish was fish (and fabulous) and everyone loved the restaurant. We got sauced on fabulous Israeli wine; several of the guys argued about which wines were better, so we just taste-tested them all! After we left the restaurant, Sam and I got the ridiculous idea that we ought to ride a huge slingshot ride where they lock you in a cage and shoot you several hundred feet into the air… not the best idea after several glasses of wine. I really needed to lay down afterward… but I would do it again in a heartbeat.
Day 12 The Dolphin Reef
This morning we transferred to the Dolphin Reef, a huge enclosed dolphin habitat located on the Israeli Red Sea Coast. Essentially they have just walled off a massive section of the ocean to make a controllable diving habitat. When we arrived, they got us all ready with our gear. Everyone was trying to wear their swimsuits under their wetsuits, I just stripped naked and suited up. We had the option of snorkeling with the dolphins, but everyone opted for scuba diving instead, which turned out to be the way better choice.
This was actually my first time ever scuba diving, and they assigned me my own personal instructor… Somehow I got the very hottest instructor. Winner!!
The diving in the underwater world was absolutely amazing! Scuba diving is like flying in space. Everything looks so different that it’s like floating above another planet. I highly recommend diving for everyone. Here I was, 25 feet below the surface, breathing air from my tank like I belonged there, when suddenly a dolphin swam underneath me and looked right at me. It was fantastic! I vowed to get my diving certification after I got home.
After diving, everyone in the group except me and Ron went back to the hotel to sit around the pool. Ron and I stayed at the reef drinking scotch and watching the beautiful people go by. It was a lovely afternoon, but we completely forgot and never used any of the spa treatment options that were offered at the Dolphin Reef. They have several options for massage, underwater treatments, etc. I think Ron and I had way more fun staying at the Dolphin Reef and flirting with passersby.
When we got back to the hotel, we went out for drinks and to find a nice place to get dinner. We were sitting on the patio outside a cute place called Moses (my namesake!) and having drinks, when all of a sudden the temperature fell about 20 degrees. The wind began to pick up speed.“This is going to be a huge storm!” I proclaimed. Of course Don pulled out his iPhone and checked the weather. Weather.com told me I was wrong, but I insisted that I have spent most of my life living in the desert, and a storm was coming and it was going to be huge. When the storm started hitting us, the umbrellas on the beach took off flying. It was amazing, like something out of a movie!
Eventually it got too crazy outside, and we ran into the restaurant for safety. We were dripping wet and laughing like madmen. Inside we had more drinks and made hilarious videos about our adventure for Facebook. All of a sudden the power went out. The waiter explained that this sort of storm never happens in Eilat. We all had so much fun! After all, this was The Great Israel ADVENTURE Tour! Sam made this hilarious comment: “Wow, I’m only traveling with HE Travel from now on, all of this once-in-a-lifetime-weather at no additional cost!”
Day 13 Off to Petra
This morning Russell (our local ground operator) called me in a panic saying that because of that storm the main road in Jordan was covered in debris, and some cars were covered in rubble. This kind of storm never happens in this region; it resulted in flash floods and mudslides. The Jordanians were working frantically to reopen the road to Petra. Russell was warning me that we may never get to see Petra unless things got cleared up quickly.
I decided to wait to say anything so that I wouldn’t alarm the group. Right before the time came that I had no choice and needed break the news to the guys that we couldn’t go to Petra, I got the call from Russell saying we could still go. Hooray!
We got in the van and made the short drive to the Jordan/Israel border. The process took awhile, as does all security in Israel. Of course, I took the longest, because my mother thought it would be funny to give me three biblical names (Zachary Adam Moses). The security guards of the Middle East are always giving me grief. Are you an Israeli Moses, or a Jordanian Moses?
As we drove through Aqaba, Jordan, just across the border from Eilat, it looked like a disaster zone. Debris was everywhere. I wondered if Jordan has something like FEMA to help mitigate the damage of such a natural disaster. In most places the roads were cut down to half their size even with bulldozers clearing away the dirt. It got even crazier as we got closer to the mountains, where some of the dry riverbeds had overflowed for the first time in generations. The rubble-filled flows of water had crashed through road barricades and swept away many cars.
Once we reached the top of the mountain pass, things were normal. We made quick time the rest of the way to Petra, where we were all shocked by the sheer size of this man-made wonder. Most of us had no idea just how extensive this monument is. We had all seen Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, but no one expected hundreds of monuments like the treasury from the movie. No wonder Petra was selected as one of the New Seven Wonders of the World in a worldwide Internet vote in 2007. (When HE Travel owner Phil Sheldon visited Petra in May 2007, there were large banners urging visitors to go online and vote for Petra – it worked!)
Tonight we discovered a bar called The Cave, that was built in the first century BC and literally carved out of the side of the mountain. We all smoked hooka (tobacco!!) and had fabulous drinks! Tonight was our last official dinner together, so we all sat around sharing stories before going to bed.
Day 14 Wadi Rum, farewell to friends.
This morning we rose at 7 am for breakfast. We had to get out of the hotel plenty early so that we could complete all of our plans on time. Sam wanted an omelet, but did not think he had time to wait in line, since there were about seven women waiting to get an omelet as well. Sam went over and got in line, as soon as he showed up they stopped serving the women and took his order… apparently Jordan is still a man’s world. This is good for gay guys, but if we were traveling with women in our group, some chivalry would clearly be in order and I would need to order their omelets for them!
We departed on time at 8 o’clock, and made a drive to a little shop where our local guide ordered us all Turkish coffees. It was a nice break, and helped to keep me going even with the severe sleep deprivation of several late nights.
Before going back to Israel, we had one last stop to make, the national monument of Wadi Rum, a vast desert filled with massive sandstone monuments and surrounded by constantly shifting sand dunes. We loaded into the back of a pickup truck and started cruising all over this enormous wasteland.
We drove past the site where Lawrence of Arabia kept his camp as he planned his conquest, and it was amazing when we got out of the truck and climbed our first sand dune. The views were spectacular.
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