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'99 Poland - Sinai (Egypt) - Poland Trip 

Third Leg: Dahab (Sinai) and Israel 

 

Dahab (Sinai)


Israel

'99 Israel map

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Dahab (Sinai)

 

Thursday, July 29, 99. Haifa—Dahab

 

J.: We survived through the Israeli customs. Greg didn’t have a Green Card (European vehicle insurance which applies also to Israel) and had to pay US$ 100 for it. Rip off. Then we drove straight south to Eilat (450 km). First impression of Israel was good: a developed country, modern roads, credit cards accepted at gas stations. 

Gas station in Haifa, Israel

G.: On the way we passed through the newly developed town of Beer Sheba, right in the middle of the Negev desert. We got lost so we asked a passing woman for directions. I was totally stunned. She spoke Russian. She couldn’t speak Hebrew but claimed to be a Jew. We found out that a large portion of the city was populated by newly arrived Jews from foreign countries, mainly Russia.

Later, on the way to Eliat we saw a huge crater in the desert, the Maktesh Ramon. It was 300 m deep, 8 km wide and 40 km long. A cross between the Grand Canyon and Moon landscape. 

Ramon Crater, the Negev, Israel

It was nice to arrive at the bay of Eliat/Aqaba. Lots of divers, snorkelers, wind-surfers, a pure vacation spot. 

J.: Crossing the Egyptian border was easy. However, there was a problem with our bikes: since we didn’t have the Carnet de Passage, the traffic officials didn’t let us drive our bikes into Egypt. We had to leave them on the border for a week. I tried bribing, but it didn’t work. The official felt offended by my offer of US$ 50.

On Egyptian side of the border we haggled over the price of the taxi. The most interesting was the quarrel between the taxi drivers over who was going to take us. At moments it seemed like it was going to get physical but really they just argued very loud. We took a taxi along with 3 Israeli tourists (66 Egyptian pounds—US$ 20 each). They were staying in 3-4-star hotel in Nueiba, we—in a camp (US$ 1,50 a night). Now I know what it is to be a backpacker. We had to carry half of our baggage on our back. We left the other half with the bikes. 

We stayed in a Palm Beach Camp, the same one we visited last year. One of the bosses, Mohammed, recognized us!  He also suggested a diving place for us, Penguin Diving Club next door. The hut we stayed in had a straw roof and straw partition walls. If you snored your neighbor wouldn’t appreciate it.

 

Friday, July 30, 99. Dahab

 

J.: That day we relaxed and started to study for PADI scuba diving course.

 

Saturday, July 31, 99—Wednesday, August 4, 99. Dahab

 

J: In the morning we met our charming instructor, Jennifer, a Californian. She would teach us to dive. There were four people in the group: Joop (a Dutch guy), Majken (a Danish girl), Greg and I.   

Diving class of '99

For three days we had theoretical “classes” before lunch and practical after lunch: three hours or more in the water. We learned various techniques: taking the mask off under water, hovering, helping tired diver, taking bikini off a fellow diver, etc. Oh, sorry, the last skill wasn’t part of the course. Equipment was quite new, water warm—what else would one need?  

Getting ready for another lesson

We finished the course on Tuesday. The course was very strenuous. At the end of the day I was really tired, but happy at the same time.  Even though the final test wasn’t easy, I got a perfect score. Diving hungry, we decided to buy two extra dives. The first dive was in the Blue Hole, the second one in the Islands. Along with the instructor we also got a pick-up taxi that drove us to those sites. 

Scuba taxi

The Blue Hole is 80 meters deep. It is quite famous: every year there are several divers who die there. The most “popular” cause is misjudging depth of the dive. Nitrogen narcosis begins to occur around 40 meters under the surface. This is when a diver loses ability to estimate his/her position. At a certain point it is simply too late to inflate the BCD (Buoyancy Control Devise) and down he goes… (Mostly it's men who dive carelessly.)

The Islands diving point was amazing. Under the surface there are number of underwater “islands”. 

Four very talented students under water  Underwater islands

It was easy to get lost but because the area itself was quite small, one could always emerge to determine the location. We came across a school of young barracudas. They had huge eyes and some kind of grace in their swimming. I approached them boldly. They weren’t afraid! For few minutes I swam among hundreds of them. Later on I read that the barracudas could be quite nasty and might attack people! Well, nothing happened to me.  

If you go Dahab we truly suggest contacting the Penguin Divers Club. We were very happy with the way they handled the course and dives. 

Penguin Divers Club, Dahab, Egypt

The food in Dahab was great. I loved local restaurants! You could have an outstanding and very fulfilling meal for 8-10 pounds (US$ 2-3). Our (Greg, Joop and mine) last meal was seafood: fish, calamari, shrimps, etc. Expensive (sic!)—about $5! 

Delicious sea food

The only beer available in Dahab was the local Egyptian “Stella” which everybody called “camel piss”. The alcohol content did not show but it wasn’t more than 3%.

The food was so cheap that it was more economical to order breakfast than to fix one’s own by buying stuff from a store.

Our camp was placed right on the seashore, so when we were eating or resting we could enjoy the beautiful view across the Golf of Aqaba. 

Resting after a day of diving

Egyptians who worked at our camp, entertained the guests with late night music performing on bongos and guitar plus singing. Rum, which is forbidden for Muslims, helped them find inspiration.

In Dahab, air was very dry during the day, but late in the evening moisture from above the Aqaba Gulf was swept towards the land that created stinking humid nights.

During shopping for T-shirts we came across a situation in which an Egyptian merchant refused to sell anything to an Israeli tourist. Some Arabs don’t really like Jews.

In Egypt, it was almost impossible to find a brand new or at least a decent looking banknote. All Egyptian money looked like used handkerchiefs. Greg came across a banknote taped over with electric tape.

Our host Mohammed knew two words in Polish: wielka tajemnica (great secret) so he called us that. He didn’t want to learn other words, though.

The great secret would resolve the next day: has anybody stolen anything from our motorbikes?


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Israel

 

Thursday, August 5, 99. Dahab—Ein Gebi

 

J.: We left at 10 a.m. to Taba. The ride cost 25 Egyptian pounds a person (compare to 65 from Taba to Dahab!). The cab driver looked as if he just got off a camel. 

Egyptian taxi cab: an old Peogot 506

On the border, the bikes were standing the way we left them a week ago. No one touched them!!! Even though some stuff fell off from under the fenders, nothing was missing. I respect Muslims for their honesty!

G.: One more time we had to go through the Israeli customs. I’m telling you, they are very meticulous. They think everyone is a terrorist carrying a bomb. Other than that, customs officials are very pleasant.   

Entering Israel from Egypt

J.: It took three hours riding in hot desert air to get to Ein Gebi. I love desert!

Ein Gebi lies on the shore of the Dead Sea. According to the Lonely Planet guide, there should be a camping place. There was none. Which was good because we put our tent up anyway and saved few bucks this way. We met a solitary German tourist (police officer!).

 

Friday, August 6, 99. Ein Gebi—Massada—Tel-Aviv

 

J.: We took a dip in the Dead Sea (for the second time—the first time was last year on the Jordanian shore). 

Dead Sea

I didn’t like it. The feel of the water was disgusting. It smelled. And you could feel all the cuts you had on your body. There were people covering themselves in mud with some nutrients. For 10 IS you could buy a bag of mud from a guy who dug it. 

There were some interesting gorges and waterfalls in the vicinity of Ein Gebi, but we decided to skip them. Instead we drove to Masada. In order to save few bucks (again!) we climbed the mountain of Masada (3/4 of an hour) instead of taking a cable car. It was quite an experience! Very hot and very dry! It took over two hours to see the whole place (including ½ hour rest after the strenuous hike).  

Hot and dry Masada  Masada

We waited till the ticket window closed and then asked politely if we could use the cable car down. After contacting his superior, the attendant said yes!

After visiting Masada, we crossed sea level, 

Crossing sea level

and went Tel-Aviv through the Palestinian areas. You could really see the difference between Jewish and Arab households. Arabs live poorly…

We got to Tel-Aviv around 6 p.m.—just on time for a beautiful sunset. 

Sunset in Tel-Aviv

After finding a hostel and resting a bit, we went out in order to visit one of the famous Tel-Aviv discos. The following local makes of beers were available in Israel (could be purchased in a corner shop): Maccabee, Gold Star. Not bad. Imagine this: 1 a.m. on Sabbath night and there is almost nobody in the dance club! Why? Because the Israeli club goers begin to show up around 2 a.m.! Among a number of clubs we also came across a Russian Discotheque. I must say, Russian/Jewish girls are very attractive. It was getting very late though and we decided to end the night there. So, no disco for us! By the way: expensive cover charges: 10-20 US$. In the meantime I came across a woman who suggested to have “a good time” for 300 shekels (approx. 100$US). No, thanks. By the way, she had a Russian accent. Holy Land…

 

Saturday, August 7, 99. Tel-Aviv

 

J.: Our hostel was inhabited mostly by foreign workers from Slovakia, Czech republic, Poland, Romania, etc. In the reception there were sings of the following content: "Make sure you get paid every day"; "Never believe a word they say"; "Never believe they are your friends"; etc. It seemed that some of the foreign workers had really bad experiences with the local employers. So it seemed.

In the morning we attended Tel-Aviv’s beautiful beach with fine sand. The beach was packed. It was Sabbath.  

Tel-Aviv beach

In the afternoon we went to Jaffa, the old part of Tel-Aviv. 

Tel-Aviv's skyline as seen from Jaffa

 

Sunday, August 8, 99. Tel-Aviv—Jerusalem

 

J.: We left Tel-Aviv in the morning for Jerusalem. After finding a hostel we ran through the Old City. 

Damascus Gate, Jerusalem

By an accident we met Joop, our diving partner from Dahab, and his current co-traveler, a Moroccan girl from France.

The most confusing thing in Jerusalem was what language to use. Should you say thank you in Arabic (shukran), Hebrew (toda), English, Armenian (?) or Russian? When to use Russian is quite easy: if you see a blond girl, say Spasiba. 

In comparison to other Middle Eastern medinas we saw last year (Cairo in Egypt, Fes and Marrakesh in Morocco, Tunis in Tunisia, Aleppo and Damascus in Syria) Jerusalem seemed to be quite modern. 

Modern  ;-)  Jerusalem: a small tractor instead of a donkey  Souvenir merchant

Israel’s development since 1949 has left a strong mark on the Old City.  

A visit to the Western Wall was impressive. On his entry to the “chapel” just to the left off the Western Wall area, Greg was asked for money contribution and whether he was a Jew. He didn’t donate any money.  

Two Jews

Other very impressive places we visited were the Church of the Holy Sepulchre and the Mount of Olives.

In front of the Holy Sepulchre Church in Jerusalem  View over Jerusalem from the Mount of Olives

 

Monday, August 9, 99Jerusalem

 

J.: Another day of running around Jerusalem. Miracle: we were ready to see places as early as 9 a.m.! We visited all the famous places we didn’t visit the previous day. Greg was using his camera with telescope and as results we had quite interesting close-ups. Luckily we came across some kind of celebration. I believe young Jewish boys celebrated the 13th birthday—they were becoming men. Very exciting. 

By the Western Wall with Joop, our diving partner from Dahab  A Jewish boy is celebrating his 13th birthday

We hooked up with two cool girls from Vancouver: Emily and Anne. With them we did some sightseeing, 

Muslims believe that the Dome of the Rock stands on a place from which Mohammad ascended to heaven   The Haram with Emily and Anne

then had a romantic dinner in a fancy restaurant. We finished the evening in a small park just beside the Old City walls with a bottle of wine.

 

Tuesday, August 10, 99. Jerusalem—Bethlehem—Tiberias

 

J.: The next day, it was very difficult to get up (especially for Greg). We said bye-bye to Emily and Anne, and left for Bethlehem.  

See ya in Vancouver!

Bethlehem was shockingly different. It was an Arab town. We found people living there sad and gloomy. It was a different country—Palestine. Everything was less expensive than in Israel. I suppose that people make much less money too. Government doesn’t support this area at all. Looks like the government expects that this area will have to go back under Arab rule soon. It’s quite interesting that in the West Bank it seemed that there were no Jews. So why does the Israeli state keep this area as a part of Israel? Poverty and mess. …

We visited the birthplace of Jesus and later on the Mount of Temptation.  

The star marks the birth place of Jesus - Church of the Nativity

The road down the valley near Bethlehem had lots of sharp turns and no room to escape from other cars. I like that!  

We proceeded to Tiberias. We stopped at the monastery of St. George beautifully located in a difficult to get to gorge. 

Monastery of St. George  Riding up the stairs - the only way to get to the monastery

Tiberias is called a Sweat City for a reason. Incredible humidity interferes with sleep. We checked out few hostels. All except one were full. The owner placed us in a closed restaurant. It was air-conditioned. Yeah!

Finally we decided to taste kosher food. Nothing special, just regular beef with salad and fries. The waitress was a blond very attractive Jewish girl from Russia. We stroke a conversation in Russian. I asked her how was her life in Israel. She said so-so, but hoped it was going to improve. She just came to Israel 2 months ago and hardly spoke Hebrew.

 

Wednesday, August 11, 99. Galilee & Golan Heights

 

J.: We got up early and made a tour around the Galilee and the Golan Heights. We met a lot of Christian pilgrims. We visited Mountain of Beatitudes, Church of the Multiplication of the Loaves and Fishes, church of the Primacy of St. Peter, and Capernaum.

The Golan Heights themselves were bald, but valleys bloomed with beautiful fertile orchards. In the middle of the road we met an Israeli couple on a motorbike! They were born and raised in a kibbutz. That was our only contact with the kibbutz people. The couple had had a problem with their motorbike. 

Two young Israeli and their motorcycle

Greg fixed the bike on the spot: they just ran out of gas and it was enough to lean the bike over to one side so that gas would pour from one chamber of the gas tank to the other.

G.: Military presence was visible in the West Bank. 

Probably, remains of a 1968 war - overlooking Syrian territories

Very often (not only in the Golan Heights but essentially everywhere in Israel) we saw people carrying weapons. Were they members of the army? Were they carrying them for safety? In Tiberias we saw a young civilian perhaps 18 year old carrying a 4 feet long gun. I guess he was a member of the army in civvies.

J.: When we came back to Tiberias, there was no room for us in the hostel. The owner was expecting a large group of Israeli travelers. We got kicked out! We decided to sleep on the lake shore. Pleasant temperature of 32 C. Jewish beer Gold Star helped us forget about the safety and we quickly fell asleep. Two pros of this decision: saving few bucks, and seeing sunrise over the Sea of Galilee.  

Sunrise over the Sea of Galilee

 

Thursday, August 12, 99. Tiberias—Akko—Haifa—ferry to Rhodos

 

We got up early in order to visit the city of Akko. We were tired and ready to rest a bit on a ferry. We took about an hour to see old part of the city.

Last stop in Haifa. One week was just enough for quick tourists like us.

G.: We stormed a cheep supermarket and stocked up on some food and drinks. Eh! Two nights and one day again on a ferry, one may get bored and a bit hungry, got it?

In front of the store we generated a bit of attention and started conversations with some international Jews: me with a Spanish Jew and Jacek with a Russian Jew. We found out that Jews from different countries did not like each other much.

J.: We found that in Israel everyday courtesy was non-existent. People looked at each other with some kind of indifference mixed with hostility. Store attendants were not friendly. Even the Lonely Planet guidebook admitted that it was not that Jews had bad manners. They had no manners at all! The book was not far from truth.

The border procedure was quite simple. The security officer conducted an interview with us. No one has ever asked me so many detailed questions. What was the name of the hotel? Whom did you meet in the hotel? Where did you go then? Did you meet anybody on your way from the restaurant to the hotel? Etc….

After about half-hour on deck, we sneaked down to the Pullman seats area. Again, we didn’t buy any extra tickets. The ferry tickets were expensive anyway, so forget it! There was 36 hours of boredom ahead of us.  

Ferry entertainment

 

Friday, August 13, 99. Ferry to Rhodos

 

J.: Let me give you some advice: don’t eat canned fish after it has been exposed to high temperatures for a week. I got sick like a dog.

We met two Slovaks coming back home from a 9-month long stay in Israel. They were working, illegally of course, for the past 9 months. During their stay, they didn’t find Israelis very friendly. On the ferry there was also an Italian couple, Monia and Fabiano, whom we met on our way to Israel two weeks back.  


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