Back among the fishies

The early bed the night before was due to tiredness and the need to be up at 5:30am to ensure being able to catch a 7:00am bus to Eilat. When I woke, my sleeping back was damp. Actually, not damp. Wet. It’s weird how it doesn’t rain here, yet things are often wet in the morning like some kind of hyperactive dew. Or maybe there’s a random madman armed with a watering can who runs around the rooftops at night.

I left my stuff indoors to dry off, grabbed my pre-packed daybag (recovered from Noa the night before and minus the Twister) and caught a local bus up to the Central Bus Station. From there, it was a comfortable 4-hour trip to Eiliat with a half-hour stop at a decent service station to break the journey up. The hostel I’d picked was only a few minutes’ walk from the station and I was glad I’d pre-booked. The usual evil “that hostel has nothing for you/is closed/has rats” brigade were out in force as I disembarked and I laughed at their now-tired arguments.

The Shelter wasn’t closed (and didn’t have rats) but also didn’t have my reservation on the books, despite me having chatted briefly with them on email. As an upshot, all the dorms were full so I had to settle for a mattress outside – for 20 Shekels less than I was quoted for the dorm. So all good! Had I known there was an outside option, I’d have gone for it anyway especially as Eilat at supposed to be quite expensive for accommodation.

The staff were super-friendly (and somewhat religious – I was invited to their Bible class at 11:00 the next day) and scoped me out a diving school for the afternoon. At $30 for a dive including all equipment hire, plus $15 for mandatory 5-day tourist dive insurance this must be one of the cheapest places in the world to SCUBA. After one of the best falafels I’ve had in Israel (from a little blue kiosk on Shderat Hatemarim) I was picked up by a chap called Alan in a converted, and somewhat well-worn, GMC ambulance and ferried to Lucky Divers.

The building was as much a cat & dog shelter as it was a dive shop. At least three cute, friendly dogs greeted me as well as Israel’s friendliest cat. And some very helpful staff who reconfirmed my flight for me when ISSTA’s website (and backup automated phone system) wouldn’t let me. They organised my insurance, decided on a dive location and we kitted up and set off.

I was one-on-one with Alan and we did a 46-minute shore dive. It’s really not necessary to get a boat out for so much of the stuff worth seeing off Eilat, and even with my depth limited to 10m with my un-housed camera (the housing is somewhere in the post on the way home) we saw so much phenomenal stuff it was amazing. Moray eels, lion fish, trigger fish, angel fish, wrass, clown fish, nudibranches… superb. Visibility was apparently “poor” despite being over 20m. It’s normally around 30m. You can duck your head underwater at the shoreline and see countless beautiful fish swimming around, but the swim out to Moses Rock is worth it for the coral alone.

Before typing this up almost a week on, I wrote the original words down in a succah at the hostel. A succah is an open-sided structure, this one made of palm tree trunks for support and branches/leaves for the room. Very sturdy and very ecological. It was filled with comfy chairs and sofas and two bookshelves chock full of Bibles in various languages. Somehow I didn’t spontaneously combust. I sat and watched kids play chase and football and “hit the small kid on the head”. All popular playground games.

I also watched the huge number of flies trying to invade my every orifice. They were hugely annoying. I don’t know why they liked my face so much. I didn’t like theirs. I decided to try to escape and went for a burger for dinner, which turned out to be a moderately OK decision. Nice burger, much too large a bun. Result: dry and chewy. Nice big chips, though. I’ll stick to falafel.

After chowing down, I went looking for an internet connection but the only convenient one was over £2 an hour. Ouch. The library is the cheapest place at 10NIS an hour, but is only open for limited hours. I decided to be cheeky and use the dive shop’s the next morning. Instead I took a walk down to “Millionaire’s Row” where all the rich people stay when visiting Eilat. I found an Irish bar, Paddy’s, with a huge Brown Ale logo painted on the side, but I fear in Israel it will be the filthy draft version which tastes like it has come out of a SodaStream. Nothing wrong with SodaStream per se, but it’s not for making beer in.

The “Row” area houses a large street market that comes to life as the sun goes down. It sells all the usual tourist claptrap, but it nice for a walk along while people-watching. The accompanying restaurants and bars are expensive, but look like a nice area to hang around with a partner or family. The guy on the bridge trying to advertise his restaurant was hilarious. I didn’t understand a word of his Hebrew, but he sounded like someone shouting “”Rrrrrroll up, rrrrollll up for the most amazingest restaurrrrant experrrrience of a lifetiiiiime!!!” or words to that effect. He certainly talked to a lot of people and handed out a ton of leaflets.

I got back to the Shelter around 20:30 to find a group of locals/guests sat in the succah playing acoustic guitar, singing and clapping. I hid on the other side of the building and cranked up the new Megadeth album on my MP3 player. I felt safer.

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