We left the camp in Jordan today and headed for the border. It went fairly smoothly at first, or as smooth as any border experience could go. We waited in line for our passports to be checked and shuffled forward a few spaces every time someone moved. Once through that check point we went on to the real security. Our passports were checked again and we filed into the security line. Our group were the only people in line. There was one x-ray machine running and one on the other side they didn’t turn on. Every person had to walk through a scanner and each person’s bag went through the x-ray and was heavily scrutinized. When it came out the other side it was opened and completely combed through before they were cleared. My dad and I were all the way at the back and the time dragged on. It took us a good hour to get through this line. They’re serious in Israel. After this we went on to get our visas on arrival. There wasn’t much of a line here since it had taken everyone so long to get through the security check point. Because many of us wanted to keep our options open about going to other Middle Eastern countries lots of us asked to have the visa stamped on a separate piece of paper. They asked us why we wanted it and then handed us a paper to fill out. Once filled out it was stamped fairly quickly and we were sent on our way. Our passports were checked one more time on our way out and we were finally in Israel. It was only our group going across the border and it took us at least two hours. It was irritating at times but I can say with complete honesty that I feel incredibly safe.
We met our new guide Mahdi and headed to Timna Park. We did this because our hotel would not be ready for us until 3:00. Timna park was interesting and a good little day excursion to use up some time. We saw some more eroded cliffs like the ones from Jordan and saw a rock structure they call the mushroom. You can imagine why. It’s composed of two rocks on top of one another making it look like a mushroom. My dad and Kevin, one of our most spirited and funny tour members, raced down to the rock together and ran back trying to be as quick as possible. Lastly we stopped at another great natural arch. My dad and I climbed up all the way to the stone bridge and posed for pictures. Coming down was very sababa (Hebrew for cool). There were metal rungs in the cliff for climbing down into yet one more siq that, like a secret passage, led out from behind the arch.
Then it was on to our five star hotel in Eilat. Because tourism is down in the Middle East we were upgraded from a four star hotel to a five star. You have to remember that at this point we were all in dire need of a shower. We had come from the dessert camp where there were no showers and we were covered in dust and grime. I think we would have been happy with a motel as long as it had a working shower. We arrived at about 4:30 but they didn’t have the keys ready. My dad does not like five star hotels for this very reason. They weren’t ready and every time we wanted to request something the girl at the desk had to call for a supervisor and it took quite a while. Besides the red tape the hotel itself was beautiful. The pool was amazing, with a water slide, a whirl pool, and a swim up bar. To top it off the water was heated. I was beyond happy. Except that the pool was only open until 5:00 and by the time we got down there we had about 15 minutes to swim. We made our way to the upper pool we had convinced them to leave open until 5:30 less than enthused. This pool was not nearly as fun, it was just a rectangle. But it was a pool, so I swam until I had to get out. Then my dad and I and my swimming buddy Kay (she’s always in the pool if there is one) walked down to the beach. We were right by the red sea so I insisted that we swim in it. It was much much colder than the fancy heated pool so we plunged right in. My dad got right out after he went in but Kay and I stayed a little longer and swam around. I got used to the water pretty quickly and it was very nice. Now I can say I’ve swam in the red sea.
We had a little happy hour held in the bar with the group and my dad and I worked out the next day’s itinerary with Mahdi. Once done with business my dad and I went to dinner on the streets of Eilat. Since we were in a five star hotel we were in a very touristy place and everything was very upscale and westernized. We found a little falafel stand and got some shwarma. After all this falafel, overcooked meat, and shwarma I have to admit I’m dying for a good burger. My first day in Israel was very nice if not a bit tiring and I’m excited to see more of this country.