As I promised in Part 1 of yesterday’s post, the journey into the wilderness just gets better and better… full of adventure and excitement…an arrest…and lots of beautiful natural scenery!!! So, buckle your seatbelt and settle in –
When I was a teenager, I had a very special Israeli friend and pen-pal (for years). We’d met several times in America at Israeli fairs on the East Coast. We’d talked about Eilat: the most beautiful place on the earth for its variety in nature. I received pictures of the desert, the beaches, the underwater world accessible by snorkeling and scuba diving. I’ve always loved the water and marine life, growing up watching The Undersea World of Jacques Cousteau. I took scuba classes, and had planned on studying Marine Biology in college so I could live in Eilat. So finally (sofsof!!), here I was! Amazing and beautiful.
The second day, John and I spent walking the beach, picking up coral and shells, taking in the beauty of the place. The turquoise, clear water, white sands, all surrounded by the beige mountains of the Negev to the West and the red rocks of Jordan to the East. Unbelievable!!! Late afternoon, we had reservations at the Eilat Camel Ranch for a sunset camel journey into the desert followed by dinner in a Bedouin tent! As it turned out, it was just me, John, and Roi, our guide. What could be more perfect?
Getting up on a camel is no easy feat as they lurch forward, rump first, which means you should lean back to avoid getting ‘camelpulted.’ OyVaVoy! These ships of the desert move by taking long strides, first with the right legs and then with the left, which makes for extreme rocking motions. All there is to hold onto is a small wooden knob on the camel saddle. It takes awhile to get used to this. You put your leg crossed infant of the saddle with the other hanging down for balance. Not as graceful as it seems. Anyway, after figuring out how to ride aboard this swaying hump, I began to enjoy the experience…while trying to take pics with my iPhone. Oy!
I can’t begin to tell you how sore I was. My whole body was screaming at me after the 2 hour tour, but it was so much fun!!! We returned to the ranch at dusk, and as the camels were being put to bed, we toured the site. What an excellent kids’ camp it would be (hint, hint)! There were zip lines, an excellent obstacle course, camping facilities, and a wonderful Bedouin encampment (run by Israelis, so the food was Kosher) as well.
We were ushered by our host into a Bedouin tent made of colorfully woven fabrics pieced together. Bedu, the Arabic word, means desert inhabitant. There are over 160,000 semi-nomadic tribesmen living in Israel, all full citizens. They trace their lineage to early Biblical times.Their main livelihood is herding livestock. The animals supply all their needs: milk, meat, fibers for clothes and tents, poo for their fuel. The Bedouins live without modern conveniences like electricity and plumbing, much as they have throughout the centuries. The younger generations are gradually beginning to ‘urbanize.’ Anyway, as John and I sat on the colorful mats and pillows, Roi started the fire and talked to us about the lives of this civilization. Then the fun really started, as I joined him in making homemade pita with flour, water, salt and za’atar spice using a rudimentary board, pin, and domed metal cooktop we put directly over our campfire. We also made a delicious tea of mint, sage, and a few other desert herbs. What an amazing experience!!
After the pita and tea were made, we enjoyed more Bedouin stories..they have a rich oral tradition of stories, poetry, and music, that only recently is beginning to be recorded. Roi brought out a huge platter of olives, dates, goat cheeses, fresh veggies, and labaneh, a staple here in Israel. It;s a very thick sour cream. He played a couple tunes on the shababa, an ancient wooden flute, for us. And left us with the platter of food, the tea, and nargila to enjoy the romance of the desert and chilly night air by ourselves. Definitely an evening to remember!
The next day would hold for us the biggest surprises ever! We were going snorkeling in the Red Sea. We were told not to miss Almog (coral in Hebrew) Beach and Nature Reserve… first hint right there. I had heard that coral reefs are endanger due to the use of sunscreen, only 1 part per billion is enough to affect the sensitive environment! So I decided to forego the sun defense. First mistake for me. Anyway, we rented snorkels masks, and flippers, and spent the next four hours in diver’s paradise. It was one of the greatest experience of my life…way above and beyond my wildest expectations. You launch from a laddered pier into the warm, crystal clear water. There is a mile long rope course to follow and you can swim out almost 1/4 mile, pulling yourself downward about 6 feet to take in the brightly colored coral and hundreds of species of tropical fish. Dory was there! I found Nemo!!! Parrot fish, angel fish, sea stars and cucumbers, urchins, anemones, octopi!!! Puffer fish!!! Eels!! Rays! The coolest Picasso fish! Rainbow fish that are the coolest I’ve seen. I tried to capture it all, but the pictures don’t even come close! The parrot fish kept following me…I think it was attracted to the blues and greens in my suit. It is the most amazingly gorgeous creatures I’ve ever seen!!! With patches of turquoise, jade green, aqua, violet, indigo, orange and yellow. And it’s pretty large… over a foot long, I’d say. I couldn’t help but singing the praises of G-d for this wonderfully creative (and humorous – look up Picassofish) undersea world. Just keep swimming; just keep swimming. Plus, as an added bonus, the warm salt water was a healing balm to my body. For the first time in well over a year, I was absolutely pain-free!!! Yay!! And Baruch HaShem!!
Here’s where the story gets really good. We came out of water for a little break before planning to continue our snorkeling afternoon. John rested in the cabana, and I did what I have always done. Ever since I was a little kid, I’ve been a collector: rocks, acorns,flowers, leaves, found objects, shells from beaches along the US East and West Coasts. I use things I’ve found in art projects and in vignettes around the house. It brings back memories and creates interesting conversation. So when I spotted the gleaming white, porous coral fingers laying all over the beach, I envisioned a lovely crystal bowl on my coffee table filled with white shells and coral. Carrying a sock, I walked along the shore, past the life guard stands, picking up my shells and coral for about 20 minutes in blissful reverie.
“Giveret!!” “Giveret!!” “GIVERET!!!!!” boomed the voice over a speaker from the watchtower. (Miss! Miss!!) “Mah at osah? (what are you doing?)” “Who me??? Are you shouting at me? Mah carah? ” I answer and come closer. “Ivrit? Anglit? Russit?” they ask. “Anglit,” I answer. “What do you have? ” “Beautiful shells and coral, ” is my reply. “Drop it, now!!!” they ordered. I started dumping about three quarters of the load from the sock onto the sand – RELUCTANTLY – as John comes over. “Is there a problem? I always collect shells. ” “FORBIDDEN, Giveret” as two guys start climbing down the ladder. I give John the sock, still 1/4 full, to take back. Second mistake. “What were you doing?” they sharply demand. “You’re kidding me, right? This is a joke, right? I was just picking up shells and coral for my coffee table at home…” “Show us your passport!” “I don’t have a passport. I am a new Olah. I have my Teudat Zehoot (National ID card). Is there a problem?” “What’s in your pockets?” “Kleenex, cough drops, gum.” “Empty pockets now!” In addition to the aforementioned, two 2-inch coral hands fall out along with a limpet shell.” Mistake 3. “You gave something to the man. What was it?” “A sock,” I reply. “What was in it? “Keys, cell phone.” Mistake 4. HUGE Mistake 4!!!!! No matter haw scared, never tell a falsehood! I had a feeling this was a simple misunderstanding, a scare tactic of sorts, so I called their bluff when they stated, “We come with you to check.”
Now these were not ordinary lifeguards, but large brown uniformed Park Ranger/IDF/Police guys. “This is a joke, right?” Never joke with police here!!!! I call the bluff. “No problem…” They took me by the arms, one one each side, and I begin to realize I’m in deep kimchee. This is no joke. We get to the cabana, and they demand to see – and to dump the sock. Out comes the keys, the iPhone, and more shells and corals. “We must take pictures of THE EVIDENCE.” says the one. “We must see your identification, both of you,” says the other. They dump out and go through the contents of the rest of my beach bag.
I convince them John is not involved as an ‘accomplice in crime’ as he goes back to the car to get his passport. In the meantime out come the cuffs. I start to cry. “What’s going on?” sob sob… Mistake 5: weak, sniveling, American. No respect for those types at all. “But I always collect shells on the beach!! I have big collections!” “Big collections. We must take you for questioning.” Later that afternoon….. after my intent was verified – “to resell on the foreign market? Poaching? Nature reserve – protected property…did I not see all the signs??? Read the brochure??? Past criminal record??? In Israel, in the States? ” Am I now on an environmental terrorism list? Will I be put in prison…with the real terrorists?? This is now more than pretty serious stuff. But I make one final mistake. They photograph me, tell me they are recording my statement. So I say, “I write a blog on Israel. Israel dreams.com. I want to write a story about this whole thing. Can I take pictures for my blog?” As John repeatedly tells me – and many of you know this- the best thing is just to keep your mouth shut. But no. I made the mistake.
They left us alone for what seemed an eternity as they checked records and deliberated. I just knew I’d be put in prison with the stabbers and bombers. Or – even, worse – be kicked out of Israel right then and there. Instead I got a ticket. A huge, whopping ticket and fine, writing up my crimes, all in Hebrew. I refused to sign at first what I couldn’t fully understand. My mom always told me to know what you sign. “Do you want to go to jail, Giveret? Do you always give people a hard time?” “Uh, do I need to get a lawyer?” So I signed. We left with a huge fine, an incredible story, and in the end, the most friendly, “Shabbat Sholom!” “Stay out of trouble!”
Go figure. I’ll never do that again. We made it to the hotel just in time to shower and dress for an incredible Shabbat Buffet. Rested by the pool all Shabbat as I tried to recover, physically, mentally, and spiritually. Boy, had I sunk to a new low. Stealing, lying, noncompliance with authorities, and environmental terrorism!!! I lasted here just about a year without incident. As, usual, it was like an I Love Lucy episode. I was left with a biting sunburn, a permanent record, and another sock full of coral and shells from the day before that I can’t bring myself to look at now. Who knows? One day, perhaps, I’ll have a sitcom of my life.
A rough translation… very rough. So G-d is involved too, as a witness and judge????? Oy!!!! Such luck… He knows and sees all, and thankfully with a viduii, is quick to forgive.
On Friday, I shall continue with the third and final part of the Great Trip into the Wilderness. Be prepared to have your socks knocked off again… l’hitraot!!