Eilat is the town you default to entering when taking the Yitzhak Rabin land border crossing. By the time I had arrived in Eilat's town centre, I felt like I had been transported back to the future, though only back to last year. You see, after six weeks in north Africa, the differences were both immediate and undeniable. So much so that I had begun to 'feel' the differences and not just 'see' them. This sensation felt far more profound than even the most graceful of our senses. It was fascinating to find myself marvelling at the most basic of things meaning that apparently my six weeks in north Africa had altered my previous balance of normality a lot more than I had realised.
Accommodation in Eilat was looking problematic but thankfully there were at least a couple of hostels available. I say thankfully as Israel is not a cheap country and to be able to have any longevity in a country, it needs to be affordable. Having booked a hostel for 15 euros a night (without breakfast) I was now on my way to putting the border ordeal to the far reaches of my mind and to be able to start adapting to life here in Israel.
For your first 'surprise-statistic', I can assure you that I am not the only traveller wandering through Israel. You may recall that in Egypt I could almost count the total travellers on two hands during my two weeks! Admittedly I felt reassured to know that I am far from alone in being massively enticed and intrigued by this country.
So as of now I've been in Eilat for three nights and I've had three really enjoyable days. When was the last I said I had three consecutive enjoyable days!? Back in Morocco February time perhaps. Although I've not been exposed to the country for very long, strangely I feel compelled and confident enough to make some big statements regarding it. Of course these views can change but I've travelled long enough now to know a good feeling from a country, irrespective of what the future may hold.
Eilat is Israel's 'tourist' city and as such it will receive mixed reviews, especially from Israeli's but of course I can understand this. To re-emphasise, I said there is a tourist city in Israel! Is that itself a surprise to you? For once though the majority groups are not English and Americans but Russians, Germans and even French.
Why did I have such an enjoyable time here in Eilat? Well, for starters I've meet some people that I've hung around with for these last few days. However, that's not the only reason. Don't forget that I spent the last two weeks in a troubled, unstructured country and therefore the moment I was back in the wonderful modern world, I was massively excited by this and instantly smitten. I was like a young kid at a fun fair! All around I could see bright lights, big hotels, high-street and designer brands, supermarkets and most notably for me, I could not get my head around cars that stop at zebra crossings for pedestrians! To think that Israel and Egypt share the same land mass blows my mind. I mean I walked through the two countries lets not forget and they really couldn't be more different.
So for your second big 'surprise-statistic' of the day, the Israelis not only stop at pedestrian crossings but the drivers do so more willingly and less annoyed that any other country I've ever been to. Don't be quick to brush that statistic aside and instead, dwell on it a little for I believe you can associate certain characteristics to such a statement. Don't you? For example, is the above directly connected to the third 'surprise-statistic' that I'm about to provide you or is it a complete coincidence?
The Israeli people are......................and to generalise here, amongst the nicest, friendliest people I've ever met.
Didn't see that one coming did you? I'm guessing they are generally regarded as fairly hard-faced and unfriendly? Naturally, like anywhere, you'll find these but I tell you, these are the exceptions. Yes, you may on occasion need to break the barrier but once that's down a little, you'll then engage with the real Israeli and you will really see their warmth and friendliness shine through. I've been super, super surprised but if I look back, and look past 'the ordeal' from those days ago, I could even see it (at the end of course) back then in many of them.
For your third 'surprise-statistic' of the day, so far absolutely no local Israelis think I'm crazy to be here and instead when they hear that I've come here from Egypt, the locals honestly say 'You're crazy' in reference to me having been there. But then what do you think the Egyptians would think about that? They would in turn think that was a crazy statement. 'You're as safe here as anywhere in the world' they would say and they would really mean it.
What does this tell you folks? It tell me that nobody knows anything and that we're all only ever as safe until the next attack, wherever that might be.
For those that think I'm brave to be here in Israel, please know now that where I currently am I do not feel unsafe. Yes, of course in such a country there are a going to be dangerous places and as ever, I will try to be extra vigilant when that time comes. Your thoughts and prayers will always be appreciated.
Anyhow please enjoy some simple snaps of Israel, a sentence we all don't come across to often I'm guessing...
Being located on the Red Sea there are many kilometres of beach and sea. Let it be known that the beaches here aren't anything to shout about but that's from a purist's point of view in the sense they are slightly more stone and pebble based. For me, the lack of sand suits me just fine. The sea was blooming cold though despite the ambient temperature being 30 degrees! Still, once you were in, you were quickly warmed up.
After a relaxing day, we found some food and walked towards a water based musical fountain show that lasted nearly 30 minutes. The water sprays at different intervals and lights up in tune with some background music. I was in my element when theme tunes such as Back to the future, Superman, Mission Impossible and Star Wars came on!
After the show we enjoyed a beer along the very pleasant promenade before retiring for the night.
The rest of my time in Eilat was spent doing much of the same shown above. I was a bit gutted to be the only one in the group not scuba diving qualified as that's where all my travel friends were of an afternoon. Still, I couldn't stretch to these prices and that's something I just have to accept.
Join me on the post in a couple of days folks when I intend to make my way up through this relatively small country. So small in fact that the population is less than 10 million. Compare that to a Cairo (a city) reported to have between 20 and 30 million!
By then I'll also hope to have more comparables between this country and others and that may further present Israel to be far from the country we have assumed it to be. Let's see how it all goes...