Hello to you all again
As we settled into the marina here in Ashkelon, we did all the usual jobs one does including giving the boat a good wash down, then, a couple of nights later we had the most wonderful downpour of rain. It was amazing what Red Sea dust and sand we still must have had in the rigging as it was all over the decks again in the morning. So we are very clean now having washed the boat down again.
As I said in our last note, Ashkelon is just north of the Gaza Strip – only 16ks. The Gaza Strip is only 45ks long and 10ks wide. The locals here have given it the nickname of ‘Hamastan’. In March of this year the Palestinians sent rockets into Ashkelon, but no one was killed thank goodness. In fact one of the American yachts that was here at the time told us they came out of their boat to watch to see where they were landing!! Alec reckons the reason why this is the cheapest marina in the country is because of its location.
So for all of you who know Alec well, you will understand why I gave him ‘the pep talk’ before we arrived in Israel about his discussions on politics and religion. He was BAND from bring the subject up to the locals, but if someone asked him first he was to keep things VERY short and not to air his opinion too openly – it would be better just listen to what they said. Well that talk was a total waste of time as I thought it might be. Any time we are at a bus or train station and we are waiting on the bench, he seems to be like a magnet. The old guys will come and sit down beside him and in Hebrew start talking away. It makes no difference that they can’t understand each other . Alec has been a wee bit restrained, but only when I stand on his foot, and we are still in the country – they have not kicked us out yet!!! The other day an old guy of 82 thought Alec was ‘only 70’ and after a lengthy chat about whatever, he let Alec have a go on his kids size scooter after giving him a demo first. I thought they would both end up in Hospital with broken legs. No, in fact we are having a great time and have just done our first trip away sight-seeing with a delightful American couple from off another catamaran whom we first met in Hurghada Egypt. Ron and Joanne off ‘Miss Jody’.
We hired a car and set out for Eilat, the resort town at the top of the Gulf of Aqaba in the Red Sea. Not that we were wanting to return to the Red Sea but this was our crossing point into Jordan to visit Petra. Our first stop off was in the town of Be’er Sheva for Alec to visit the Israeli Air force Museum. I have to admit it really was interesting with every type of aircraft the Israeli’s have ever used it seems, including spitfires and mustangs. Also a big range of helicopters etc etc. It was then on to a local - what we thought was to be a craft market - but ended up being the local flea market. Never mind, back on the road again we were off through the very barren Negev desert and on to Eilat. Here we left our rental car at the border crossing into Jordan, then taking a taxi into Aqaba to find a Hotel. What a contrast between these two towns that share the top end of the Gulf of Aqaba and sit side by side. Eilat with its modern Hotels, astro-turf sidewalks and an artificial lagoon, is a real glitzy holiday resort where tourists walk around dressed in anything they choose – often less seems best!! Then on the beach front next door in Aqaba new hotels are going up next to the older more basic ones, the sidewalks are crowded with stalls selling millions of pairs of shoes among a thousand and one other things giving the place that lovely Middle East souq atmosphere to say the least, and the dress code here being a Muslim country is more modest.
As for our Hotel, we stayed in the ‘best of the basic’ ones. Yes we had sea views, satellite TV that did not work, a bathroom which you did not loiter about in, and a bed where you prayed they had changed the sheets between customers!!! But it was only a place to rest ones weary body for a couple of nights. No meals were served which was possibly a very good thing. Anyway it was much more fun to go out and eat ‘local’ for dinner and breakfast at one of the open air street cafes. Over all we found the Jordanian people very friendly as many speak English, and are interested to know where you come from. In Israel English is not widely as spoken as we anticipated. We find that at the tourist sites there is always someone who can understand you, but in a lot of shops and around the local markets and cafes little if any English is spoken. We have been told that here in Ashkelon it is mainly a Russian and Polish enclave, hence the lack of English. Also another American Yachty couple who have lived and worked here, said they found that in Tel Aviv, Haifa and Jerusalem that English is more widely spoken. I had forgotten about this since my last visit in 1987.
Next morning we hired a driver with a minivan and set out for Petra. It really is as magnificent as all the guide books tell you. As you emerge from the Siq [the canyon] marking the entrance to Petra with that first glimpse of the Treasury carved out of the rose red rock there is that ‘wow’ factor !!!! We spent the whole day there even climbing the 900 steps to the Monastery in the heat of the day, and it was a hot one!!! Here we were passed by big fat tourists riding up on smelly little donkeys who you felt so sorry for - that is the donkey!! We took so many photos as everywhere you turned there was some other tomb or façade carved into the candy swirled rock that changed colour all day as the sun moved across the sky changing the light making places look completely different .
It was back to Aqaba for the night, then the next morning we crossed back into Israel which this time was a breeze. No twenty questions, but a friendly warm welcome, and we set out for Masada, a high plateau located near the shore of the Dead Sea. It was here the last bastion of Jewish freedom fighters against the Romans held out in AD 66, but when faced with imminent attack, ten men were elected to slay the rest, then killed themselves. Another incredible place to visit. It sits 450 meters above the Dead Sea. One can walk the ‘Snake Path’ to the top or take the cable car. We opted for the cable car after our climb the day before in Petra.
Then it was back to Ashkelon via the West Bank passing through Hebron. Again Alec had to be told no we would not be stopping for tea for him to have his usual chat with the locals. In fact we saw no cafes to stop at anyway.
Saturday 28th May
Not sure where the time has gone but we are still in Israel. We have been doing more site seeing trips. This time just day tips by train up the coast to; Tel Aviv which is far from historical like others here, but a city built along the beach front with the usual high rise buildings and all the tourist stuff that goes with a Med package holiday!! Jaffa by contrast sits at the southern end of Tel Aviv and has a history dating back to the time of Noah’s son Japheth who is said to have settled here. There are many wonderful old buildings which have been restored and ancient streets to wander around. We also spent a day visiting Acre [Akko] which is now a Unesco World Heritage rated town. It is a stoned walled fortress town which has been beautifully restored with another amazing history. Like so many towns in the area the Crusaders lost and won battles over this town. Napoleon was here so were the Turks, Egyptians, Jules Cesar, Marco Polo and anyone else you can think of it seems. We took a walking tour here and were given headsets at the different attractions which told us what we were looking at. That is always helpful. We also visited the Underground Prisoners Museum. Well here we were met at the entrance by two security guards who gave us a grilling. Asked for our passports and asked us why we had Arab country stamps in them. Help we have entered the country boys and already answered all these questions, what is this all about. Alec though we must be visiting a’ working’ prison as we were bodily searched as well with metal detectors. All the contents of our back pack were removed and gone through, and my bum bag was searched thoroughly. It is now only a museum!!
So we hope to move on from here in a couple of days and make our way to Turkey Cyprus. We are just finishing off a couple of boat jobs while we wait for fair winds. No more cheap diesel like we were picking up in Oman and the Red Sea. We hope we can sail a lot more.
A big thank you to all who have sent us emails. Always good to hear from you.
Much love to you all
The Admiral and The Commander