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Off to Eilat

Our gateway to Petra and Jordan

sunny 100 °F
View Israel and Jordan on paulej4's travel map.

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Today, we are off to Eilat. Having a travel day allows me to opine and so I shall.

One learns at a young age—hopefully—that the same situation is described differently depending upon from where you view it. It all depends upon, “your point of view.”

I read in an editorial published in Sunday’s Jerusalem Post newspaper, this quote: “President Trump has proven himself worthy of the trust of Americans, whose economy has improved since he entered office. He is very transparent and does not lie.” The editorial says, “…the peace plan he is expected to announce soon should neither be doubted or dismissed.” It also says, “…every single monumental step the president made for Israel must be appreciated and celebrated.”

An op-ed appearing immediately below that item was headlined: “Why Trump’s peace plan is certain to fail” where two reasons are given thusly: Netanyahu’s impending criminal indictments and “Netanyahu’s expected coalition partners, that include far-right religious parties such as the Union of Right-Wing Parties (URP) which [has been] referred to as racist and reprehensible. Such parties are against the dismantlement of any settlements and go as far as advocating for the mass transfer of the Arab population and rebuilding the Third Temple where the Dome of the Rock stands today.”

Disagreements abound, division prevails, distrust is omni-present. This, of course, sounds familiar to many Americans who live in the same philosophical tug-of-war. The problem is that this could be not a game with a rope but a real war with real—even catastrophic—casualties.

The world is a dangerous place and Israel, if not ground zero, is certainly in the neighborhood. Iran threatens and values collide. When parties disagree about basic human values, what hope can there be for trusting compromise?

Our experience is that many Israelis don’t believe in lines, a concern for the “personal space” of others, using headphones when listening to music or speaking discreetly on their mobile phones or inside elevators. It would seem that if I spoke Hebrew I would know more about my neighbors than I might care to. Behavior that we might consider rude or intrusive in the United States is not perceived that way here—at least from our brief experience. To be sure, this is also true in many other parts of the world but we are here now so we notice it here now. There is much kissing and conversation that blocks the path of others as we board the plane; nobody seems to mind this (it would be greeted with scowls at home because it slows the boarding process). Young Israeli women tend to not dress modestly; there is much skin to see—a lot of it adorned with tattoos. As noted earlier, this is a young country.

Under this canopy, B4 and I depart Tel Aviv from the tiny Dov Hoz airport (after what most Americans would describe as an invasion of privacy in the form of a mandatory security screening) en route to the Ramon airport in Eilat. Here, the runway and the taxiway are the same bits of pavement. Our on-time 35-minute Arkia-Israeli Airlines flight 1803 is a mostly clean and tidy Embraer 195 (marred only by an inoperable air vent into which a previous passenger has wedged a bit of paper) which we board from a mobile staircase rather than a jetway. We are in 12A and 12C; I opt for the window—A—because B4 tends to like to work or read (but oftentimes sleep) in flight.

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Conversely, I enjoy looking out the window so as to see whatever it is that I can see. This is particularly true when I am in unfamiliar territory as I certainly am today. Cloud cover is the bane of my travel existence. I know I will pay a price for this seat selection when I am unable, upon arrival, to leap up, open the overhead bin and quickly retrieve our carry-on bag to facilitate disembarking the aircraft.

We board a bus (three busloads fill the no-empty-seats airplane) at the building that serves as a “terminal” here and ride a mile or so to the aircraft which is parked on a tarmac that I had seen from the beach yesterday morning during my walk.

As I look out the window as boarding the flight is winding down, four people pause to chat on their mobile phones before climbing the steps to find their seats so we can get on our way. One family with two small children in a fancy double-stroller take an extraordinary and unselfconscious amount of time gathering themselves and are the last to board. In the U.S., they would be first. Of course, once they finally board, there is no overhead space for their many necessary accoutrements.

All of this is what makes international travel interesting, challenging and, sometimes maddening.

After a beach front takeoff, we bank left over the sea and then 270 degrees to head eastward and inland before turning south over the long and narrow Dead Sea (the saltiest body of water on earth) toward Eilat. From striations along the bank, it would seem that the water level is at a low point. I speculate, but cannot confirm, that by hugging the eastern border we are avoiding airspace above the Gaza Strip. There is much desert below, dotted as it is with irrigated small plots of farmland and later immense more corporate looking fields of green cropland. Farther on, large man-made terraced ponds appear. It would appear to be a desalinization process from above but I cannot imagine what would be done with the enormous amounts of extruded salt that would become the inevitable result. Hills becoming forbidden, barren, parched mountains loom to the east (our left) where lies Jordon, our destination for tomorrow. The motif below is unbroken sandy brown traced by dry creek beds which, I assume, run wild when the rains come—if they ever do.

That which lies below us is an expanse from which most intelligent mammals would surely flee.

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Upon sight of the very modern and large Ramon Airport, we see the tip of the Gulf of Aqaba which leads to the Red Sea and either the Suez Canal or through the Gulf of Aden to the Arabian Sea and then the Indian Ocean.

With carry-on bags only, we exit the terminal into 100 degree heat and search for the Dan Hotel shuttle bus whereupon we are greeted by a surly driver who won’t leave his seat to open the back door so we can stow our bags. I do it. Later, I will tip myself generously.

The landscape is more moonscape interrupted by miles of Doum Palms planted as soldiers in orderly rows. The Doum Palm produces an edible oval fruit along with leaves that are widely used to make baskets. Their presence indicates that ground water is here. B4, as you may know, began her international merchant career in “1978 or so” as a basket buyer for Bambergers, a division of Macy’s. She does not feel right at home, however. Large salt evaporation ponds sit north of Eilat and between Eilat and the airport. The water is pumped here from the Red Sea. Flamingos stop here but left a couple of months ago heading north to Turkey, Iran or Sinai.

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The Dan Hotel feels like a Las Vegas property, only smaller. There is a convention of Israeli lawyers on the property; we won’t mingle. Here, Hebrew predominates and people either do not speak, or prefer not to speak, English. The language barrier makes it difficult to check in. Problems with my name. By way of illustration, to get online I must enter our room number (505) and my name: Pull.

In 2016, The Jerusalem Post reported: “Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has strongly backed a plan to build a string of gambling casinos in Eilat to save Israel’s moribund southern gateway from its current economic stagnation as tourism has been in decline for several years. And Eilat hotels and other businesses are eager to cash in.” It appears to have not yet happened.

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I phone the concierge seeking a restaurant recommendation for tonight's meal. Again, language is a problem. Finally reaching someone who speaks English, we are told that Pago Pago is the best choice for fish. The concierge person determines to make a reservation for us which I assume is wise because if the hotel folks aren't good with English-speakers, how might restauranteurs be? In any event, he says he will phone me back with a confirmation in two minutes but doesn't. Perhaps I misunderstood. Eventually, we find our way there and it is quite nice. The service is surly but the sea bream is fine. So is, as B4'S Edward has taught me, the sushi.

Upon our return to the hotel, I am again reminded of what it is to be in a nation based upon--in large part--religion. Not only is there a Shabat Elevator, which means that the elevator automatically stops at every floor during the Sabbath (Friday sundown to Saturday sundown) so 'no work has to be done' by pushing the buttons; the thermostat in Room 505 is a Sabbath Control. Lest we forget.

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Tomorrow we will rise early and depart at 6:45am with our guide to visit Petra, Jordan.

Posted by paulej4 12:29 Archived in Israel

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