"Eilat" on My Mind

Eilat, pronounced "a lot", is Israel's southern most city but almost feels like it's in a league of its own. Located on the northern tip of the Red Sea, it's a city that's earned its reputation from its calm, clear waters, the bustling nightlife, the flip flops and swimsuit dress code, its tax-free shopping and its proximity to Jordan, Egypt and Saudi Arabia. Its reputation teamed with our antsiness made Eilat the perfect destination for a weekend getaway. So we piled into our rental at 4am on Friday morning and off we went. We ended up car camping  on the beach. Tyler slept in shotgun, I slept in the backseat and Ilya crashed in the trunk.

So what did we do in Eilat? To put simply: a lot. Our plan was to get there early Friday morning so we had most of Friday to enjoy and explore, could experience the nightlife on Friday night, see and do more stuff on Saturday and then head back to Haifa Saturday afternoon/evening. (Ilya had a motorcycle test on Sunday morning at 7am that he couldn't miss.) I had been to Eilat on my last trip for less than 24 hours but it was during the off-season and I was there just long enough to sleep, eat and scuba dive before we headed to Jordan. This trip was pretty spontaneous--we showed up with no set plans, including no where to stay Friday night. The planner in me was horrified with this but swallowed my fear and tried to go with the flow as much as I could.

Pulling over for the view on our way to Eliat

Getting to Eilat and getting around Eilat was fairly simple. Israel's a small country. You can drive from the most northern part (only about 30 minutes north of Haifa, where we're staying) to the most southern part (Eilat) in 5 hours--and that's exactly what we did, in a little less than 5 hours. (A lot less on the way there with Tyler driving, but it took about that long on the way back given that I was driving and it was in the wee hours of the morning through dark roads). Eilat itself is fairly small with one major road that takes you from the entrance to the city all the way to the southern most beaches, right before the Egypt border. If you stay in the city area, everything is within walking distance or a short cab ride. It's not always worth driving around, especially when you have to look for and pay for parking. 

A selfie during breakfast to start off the trip

Once we were in Eilat, we took things five minutes at a time. First stop: breakfast. Second stop: hookah on the beach. Third stop: a pier with an incredible view. Then they start melding together. Given that we're all scuba divers, we were thinking about renting some gear to go for a dive, but Israel requires that unescorted divers purchase insurance which made the whole excursion a little too rich for our blood. Instead we attempted to check out the aquarium, a natural reserve and the dolphin reef but found that it was too close to closing time, it was already closed and it was sold out. Instead the guys went freediving while I sat back and enjoyed the view. (Somewhere in between all of that, we met this really cool dive shop owner who has gone  on over 20k dives; he's basically spent 3 years underwater. We also found a camel ranch and booked a morning camel ride for Saturday.)

I sought the sun while Tyler and Ilya enjoyed the shade. If you look carefully in the background, you'll see the Jordanian flag being flown in Aqaba. It measures 30m x 60m. Whoa.

As the day drew to a close, our stomachs reminded us that it was time for a meal. After a delicious dinner of burgers at Agadir (I'd recommend it), we headed over to one of Ilya's friend's places for some hookah and showers. It's amazing the difference a shower can make. According to Tyler, I'm a completely new (and smiling) person after two activities: after I take a shower and after I eat. No argument here :) Feeling rejuvenated, we hit the boardwalk as the city transformed from evening to night and the bars and clubs started to get into swing.

We stopped by a place called "Three Monkeys Pub" for a quick drink to get the night started. Sitting at the bar and just looking around, it was pretty uncanny how similar it was to the world I know back home. There was a couple across the bar that looked like they were in the early stages of a relationship based on the body language. There was a group of three in the other corner of the bar who were taking a selfie before cheersing to each other. And there were tables of couples, some young, some older, who were making a night out of the live music that was about to start. (I always forget how much I enjoy live music until I stumble upon it; must take advantage of the awesome live music in Portland when I get back.) After clapping along to the band, we finished our drinks and headed out to an Irish bar (I swear you can find one anywhere you go) where we met Ilya's friend, Stas.

The first thing you notice about Stas is his awesome haircut: he's all 'business in the front, party in the back' with a good ole-fashioned American mullet. And it fits his personality perfectly. He's been in Eilat for 8 months I think and works for a company that does water sports like renting out Jetskis and what not to tourists. Stas is also in the sailing community, having gotten his yachtsman certification in the UK, and is a bit of a traveller himself. Before the guys got pretty deep into a conversation focussed on sailing, prompting me to focus on people watching, he was sharing stories about the 10 months he spent in New Zealand, which made me to make a mental note to move NZ higher up the list of countries to visit. (Second mental note: research working holidays in NZ. He was telling us about how they'd get paid up to $500/day for cherry picking. A day! Mind you the time to pick is only about a month long, but still!) While Stas is an unforgettable character on his own, what made him stick out to me was his reaction to my sailing adventure. After finding out that I had no sailing experience, he was shocked that I'd even consider going on this trip, let alone that I was already committed and determined to make it all the way across the Atlantic. He pretty much thinks I'm batshit crazy for even thinking about sailing across the Atlantic and has serious doubts about me making it. (That's one thing you learn quickly about people in Israel: they're extremely upfront and outright. If you're not used to it, it can come across as harsh, but it's a part of the culture. Fortunately, I've had plenty of warning from my Israeli coworkers on the social etiquette here.) Having some extensive sailing experience (way more than me), he remembers how physically and mentally exhausting it was when he was doing his course. He didn't get seasick (I have no idea if I will or not), but even as someone who wasn't suffering from the rocking motion of the waves, he remembers still feeling nauseous when trying to focus on writing numbers or doing a simple calculation. His view was refreshing--it was only a matter of time before someone took an opposing view. But actions speak louder than words: I told him we should talk in about 2 months to see what happens. One of us will be conceding to the other and eating our words.

After a few drinks, Stas was off on a Tinder date (Tinder is huge in Israel, although there's apparently a new app in town that's even better that I can't remember for the life of me now--TrueFace?), and we headed to the pool table upstairs for Tyler and Ilya to continue their ongoing pool challenge. The lack of sleep from the night before was catching up to me and I found myself struggling to stay awake so we changed venues to the nearby Bears Bar. Bears Bar reminded me of a college bar, crowded and loud music inside with a patio with seating outdoors. The only difference: almost all of the tables had a hookah going. As the night drew on (it was about 2am), we got word of a party going on at a club near the edge of town. Typically, this is when I would have said no thanks and gone home but considering that 1) we still had no idea where we were going to sleep and 2) I'm in a new city, in a new country, I summoned my second wind and onwards we went.

The party doesn't start til 2am

The party reminded me of a nightclub in Mexico during spring break. An outdoor venue with loud electronic music and a crowd that was dancing its face off while being buzzed on drinks, on life and probably a few other things. Not really my scene or my kind of music, but I wasn't going to let that turn me into a Debbie Downer. (Plus, the coffee I had a few hours ago was starting to kick in.) As I bobbed around awkwardly to the music, I couldn't help but look around and people watch. Even in an unfamiliar city, you notice the familiar scenes: a group of girls holding their shoes in their hands because their feet can't take any more of the pain heels cause, a couple getting all lovey-dovey after a few drinks, a party-goer or three who maybe had a little too much to drink and had a glazed expression on their face, and of course, the two machismo guys who got into each others' faces about who know what but were ready to flex their muscles and get physical until their friends pulled them apart. Some things are inherently the same, no matter where you go.

All that in a day? Told you we did a lot in Eilat!

Getting Over My Fear of Talking to Strangers

Two Weeks Later...