Ryo sets his alarm for 6:30 but jumps out of bed at 6:27, excited to scramble up the rock beside our camp. He gets dressed and dashes out of the door without waiting for Sandra who is already awake and reading in bed. True to his word, he climbs the rocks towering above the camp and soon Sandra joins him on top. Meanwhile Skye emerges to discover himself abandoned by the family, who return to join him out in the dunes for a walk as the sun rises. Lots of nocturnal animals (beetles, rodents, and lizards) have left little footprints everywhere, the sand is cool, and the temperature is perfect for a morning stroll. We watch a Bedouin walk by with a couple of camels and an adorable baby camel trying to keep up.
We have omelettes and cream cheese (with pita, olives and all the fixings) for breakfast and then drive out of the desert and on to Aqaba. The road passes through mountains streaked with green and red veins. Arriving at the Red Sea and the Israeli border we bid farewell to Mahmoud and brace ourselves for the border crossing after the chaos of Allenby Bridge on the way into Jordan. However there is practically nobody there, so the various checkpoints go very quickly and soon we are back in Israel, greeted by Pipo (David), a jovial Argentinian guy who calls his pal Julio (also from Argentina) to pick us up for our hotel transfer. He exchanges Skye’s Jordanian Dinars for Shekels, and we are off to the Club Hotel, a monster tourist hotel designed to resemble a cruise ship. It’s only 10am and the room isn’t ready yet so we head out for some snorkelling right away. Julio drives us to the Coral Reef Club, a beach with a modest entrance fee that provides showers, lockers and snorkelling equipment.
Ryo takes a bit of time to get used to the snorkel, but soon he masters the technique and we start exploring the underwater wildlife. It’s absolutely magnificent, we are amazed by the variety of fishes of all shapes and colours: clown fish, needle fish, parrot fish, shoals of shimmering sardines… We are surprised by some pretty purple jellyfish, and not knowing whether they sting or not we thrash about trying desperately to avoid them. As we make our way along the reef it feels a bit like we’re in a video game, dodging the jellyfish and trying to find a safe passage through. We get out for a breather at the next pier and ask about the jellyfish: they have very short tentacles so they don’t sting, at least not on the outside, so you can bat them away with your hand, though they are a bit squishy and slimy. We make our way back down the reef in the opposite direction poking jellyfish along the way, then shower and walk to the Aquarium a bit further along the Red Sea coast.
It’s terribly hot, 42 degrees, and there is some party going on around the pool of the nearby Orchid Hotel, with loud music and tons of people mingling in this heat. It’s so hot that we stay indoors for lunch, eating an uninspiring hamburger in the cafeteria. There are several aquariums where we can learn a bit more about the fish we saw in the morning, and also an underwater observatory. It’s fun to walk at the bottom of the sea along the coral reef and observe the same fishes again, this time from below.
The park also has an enormous shark and stingray tank: at feeding time a diver goes in and plants dead fish like tulips in the sand at the bottom. The sharks ignore them as they only eat once a week, but the rays cruise by and harvest them like they’re picking flowers. Ryo is totally fascinated by all of the fishes. Skye tells him how when he was a kid he wanted to be a marine biologist, and says that if Ryo studies hard in school he could be one if he likes.
We then go to the showing of a movie about sharks, as told by a kid whose Dad is… a marine biologist! We all have a good chuckle at that, and settle into the moving chairs that tilt and sway with the movement of the boat in the film. The motion has an effect probably the opposite of their intention, as it almost lulls us to sleep in the darkness of the theatre, along with the somewhat cheeseball plot about trying to save a whale shark from the clutches of evil poachers.
After a full day we are hot and exhausted and looking forward to relaxing at the hotel. Julio drives us back and en route we notice enormous parking lots full of identical cars, mostly Kias and Hondas. Julio explains that Asian car manufacturers offload their cars in Eilat, which are then transported across the country to Haifa or Ashdod on the Mediterranean to be reloaded onto boats for Europe. This seemingly inefficient route actually works out less expensive than going through the Suez canal which charges a hefty tax per car.
While waiting in line to get the key card for our room, we take in our surroundings. People have all come back from a day at the beach and the hotel is full and noisy with people talking rather loudly in Hebrew, Russian, and even French. They guy in front of us yells across the lobby at his kid “Shai où sont tes chaussures??!!”. Finally we are checked in and the receptionist trainee directs us to our room in a building on the far side of the complex.
We cross the swimming pool area teeming with screaming kids, pass an arcade room, supermarket, ATM… it’s totally like being on an enormous cruise ship, a city in its own right… frankly it’s not our cup of tea, and an incredible contrast with the tranquillity of our desert camp the night before. It’s funny to see that each room has a mezuzah on the doorframe to protect us from demons in our room!
After passing through almost the entire complex, we discover that the incompetent reception trainee sent us to the wrong building and so we have to retrace our steps, schlepping our bags all the way back through the sweltering heat. Finally we reach our room, which is actually more of a studio apartment, complete with kitchenette. It’s well appointed, albeit a bit kitsch in terms of decoration, and we enjoy a refreshing shower.
We have to leave at 7:45 tomorrow morning and breakfast only starts at 8, so we go to the supermarket to buy something to eat in our room for breakfast. We also buy chips, beer & coke for our apero as none of us feel like mingling with the hordes by the pool. Even Ryo is feeling a bit cooked after a day under the sun in 42 degree weather, and for perhaps the first time in his life opts out of going to the pool. We manage to enjoy our apero but we all put on our earphones to relax as outside they’ve gone into party mode with thumping music pounding out down at poolside… oh well. Sandra reads a good review in TripAdvisor about a fish restaurant, Rak Dagim, so we flee the disco scene and enjoy a nice meal in a calm atmosphere.
Ryo sticks to fried shrimp & calamari, while Sandra has calamari in a coconut curry. Skye opts for the “seafood mix” and to his despair the waitress hands him a shell cracker: he is going to be fighting with crabs again! There is a birthday at another table, and in contrast to every other language we know where people sing a localized version of “happy birthday to you”, here they have a Hebrew song with a different tune. Well fed, we walk back to the hotel and are relieved to discover that the boom-boom music has stopped and we can enjoy a good night of sleep.