Friday, May 25, 2007

On the road to Eilat, 28.04.07: desert, Dead Sea, pain in the ass and shower with Bedouins

Lyonya's car can carry 5 people easily, but we take Mira's car too. Partly for reasons of space, partly in order to be able to go to different places, partly for safety. Lyonya's car has been having problems, and part of the road to Eilat goes through West Bank, and it is a really, really bad idea to break down near some Palestinian town. (Settlers usually have a person on duty 24/7, and the people whose car breaks down on the way to or from their settlement calls that person, and several armed people immediately go to retrieve the travelers and their car. Regular Israelis who are just driving from one point in Israel to another through West Bank - I think the road that goes along the Dead Sea is the only place where this is done - have to call the Powers that Be for the rescue. Considering the amount of Powers that Be that we saw on the way, I suppose the rescue is never very far away.)

Anyway, I get in the car with Mira, she installs a flag on the roof, and we go. The flag tends to fall off occasionally.

About flags: apart from the regular Israeli flags, which are sold and waved everywhere, there is the Jerusalem flag with a yellow thingie in the middle, and some white flag with three blue guys on it, which turn out to be the current prisoners of war. At some point we also see guys selling American flags in the street, which is weird because nobody seems to be using them for anything.

Another unexpected presense of a US thing in Israel is that prices on real estate are listed in $US and not in NIS (shekel). Even more weird: the prices in the airport shop are in $US. This is really strange because NIS is a fully convertible currency and does not suffer any more inflation than $US.

Judean desert gets more deserty every kilometer. There are occasional herds of goats and sheep, and we see one camel. That is, we see one camel on its own in the desert. Every place where you can stop has one highly decorated camel and one Bedouin who charges tourists for climbing on the camel and taking a picture.

Nomadic Bedouins live in tent camps like this and are very poor both in comparison to the Jewish majority and to all other minorities. The government tries to offer them all kinds of benefits to settle down, and some do. They are Muslim Arabs, but are not considered a serious security threat like other Muslim Arabs.

We stop to take pictures at the sea level. Without a camel. The desert is almost totally deserty now, except for occasional date palm groves.

We enter the West Bank. A checkpoint with a couple of soldiers who look at us and wave us on. Every exit has its own checkpoint, and they look peaceful, somehow reminiscent of Masspike exits (which have toll booths but no soldiers). These ones, of course, have soldiers.

A stop at Qumran. I knew that it is the place where the Qumran scrolls (aka Dead Sea scrolls) were found, but I had no idea that there was something there. There are the ruins of the place where the Qumran community lived. I kind of feel sorry for the poor buggers.

We get down to the Jordan Valley. This is pretty much the lowest place on Earth, but you wouldn't know it from anything if you hadn't read about it. The valley is part of the huge rift that separates the Arabian plate from one of the African plates. Israel is on the African plate, Jordan on the Arabian. Dead Sea in the middle.

We drive out of the West Bank (the only way we know it is a little checkpoint) and stop at the beach in Ein Gedi. There are a lot of black people here, more than I'd seen anywhere else in Israel. There is some black community not far away which is famous for producing tofu and having a lot of good vegetarian restaurants, I assume they are from there. There is also a bunch of Bedouin women who get in the water fully clothed.

The Dead Sea gotta be the most overrated experience in all of Israel. The pebbles are sharp and you gotta have swimming shoes on. I would also strongly recommend covering your hair the best you can. You go into the water, it feels like any other sea water. The people tell you just to sit on water, and you can't figure out how to do it. You are trying really hard not to splash, because you don't wanna know what happens if any of that stuff gets into your eyes, or what other people will do to you if you get it into their eyes. All your scratches keep reminding you why the expression "rubbing salt into your wounds" was invented. Finally you manage to sit on water, after which you realize that a) your asshole is burning and b) you can't really turn around and get it out of the water, and so you gotta wait till the current brings you to the shore and bangs your ass on the stones.

Then you get out and run to the shower (they provide showers right on the beach, and don't even think of swimming in a place that doesn't have showers if your anus is dear to you). Your skin feels terribly oily and you suspect that you'll never get the stuff off, but after a little while it feels better, and your only concern is how to wash the harder-to-reach parts of your butt without taking the swimsuit off or looking too obscene.

Oska decided to skip the swimming.

On the way out of there I pay for a real shower, the kind where you can take your clothes off. It feels weird to be naked there, because most of the other women there are Bedouins and are at least partially dressed even in the shower. They don't react to the naked women in any way, though.

We get in the car, and continues along the Dead Sea, stopping at some resort for a coffee and then later on to take a look at Lot's wife. I wonder whether the legend really came from people looking at this more-or-less woman-shaped stone.

There is a place called 101'st Kilometer 101 km from Eilat, with a sort of poor man's zoo. There used to be more animals but some of them died in a recent fire.

An SMS. "Welcome to Jordan." Jordan is just a couple kilometers to the left.

It's getting dark as we arrive to Eilat. The place is a nice beach resort, with beaches, palms trees, restaurants, etc.

Mira and Lyonya suggest we eat sandwiches in Aroma. Oska, who is obviously not very fond of the idea, says that he would love to, but I am so obnoxiously picky that we should probably ask me. This makes me explode and say a number of things that probably shouldn't have been said, such as that my most acute requirement for the dining place is the total absence of company.

(I generally need some time for myself on my own on a regular basis. My ability to deal with people is a very easily exhaustible resource. On vacations with family and friends it can be stretched quite a bit as long as I get to run off on my own every once in a while, but for example being in close quarters with strangers 24 hours a day makes me unfriendly and mean in 48 hours, and downright hostile and violent in 72.)

I am on vacation with my family, but I haven't had time to go anywhere on my own for almost a week, and it really shows. I apologize to everyone, come to dinner with them in Aroma, and explain that I need some time off.

After that we take a walk along the waterfront. It's pretty and has a lot of little shops and juice stands. Mira and Lyonya want to know how Eilat compares to other beach resorts, and whether it makes sense for them to go to the Caribbean, for example. Our unanimous vote is "no, absolutely not", unless, of course, there is something other than beach that they want to see. Another thing, of course, is that if they want to go to the beach in the middle of winter the water temperature will be 18 in Eilat and 28 in St. Martin.

Planes fly right over us, very low.

At some point everyone goes home and I run off on my own for a while. I really need a drink and go to a bar, and they are out of most of the ingredients for all the drinks I try to order, but they go to another bar and bring them and make me a drink.

There is some highway nearby. It's huge, looks like an airport runway. In the morning it actually turns out to be an airport runway.

Eventually I go home, trying to buy a juice on the way and repeatedly failing because the salespeople are all missing in action. Finally I find a live one. Orange and kiwi juice is a good combination.

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