Yesterday (Tuesday) I returned to Jerusalem from a three-day trip to Eilat with "the Gang" from work – our annual outing, designed to enhance social bonding within the Department. As I mentioned in a previous blog, we alternate between trips to the north (to a variety of destinations) and trips to Eilat, Israel’s southernmost town,on the Red Sea. Eilat enjoys (if that’s the right word), very hot, dry weather, even in winter, while as for the summer, it can often reach the mid 40s (Celsius) in the shade. On Sunday, when we travelled down there, it was 28 degrees in Jerusalem, 38 degrees in Eilat. We were supposed to set out at 7.30 AM, but, as usual, when you tell our lot to be there and ready to leave at 7.30 AM, they view that as a suggestion only . In fact, it was almost 8.15 AM before we hit the road.
In years gone by, before the first intifada, and long before the establishment of the Palestinian Authority, we used to stop off for brunch in Jericho, but that, alas, is no longer possible. In the event, we had a late (and pretty substantial) breakfast in Moshav Hatzeva in the Arava. The moshav specialises in desert agriculture and we were treated to a banquet of fresh, locally produced vegetables, cheeses, omelettes, cakes and – I’m getting hungry just writing about it!
The original plan had actually included a guided tour of the moshav, but the sweltering heat made that impractical so we returned to our air-conditioned bus and pressed on to Eilat, which we reached by about 2 pm (an hour later than planned). Unfortunately, we had to wait almost an hour and a half for our rooms – half the country having seemingly descended on Eilat in general and on our hotel in particular! That left just about enough time for a shower and a rest before supper, at seven, followed by an evening of drinks, snacks and party games (social bonding, remember?), rounded off with a traditional Israeli singalong to the accompaniment of Yair on the guitar and Miriam on the flute.
By the following day, it was 43 degrees in the shade and we were all set for a day at the beach. Foolhardy, some might say, but the beaches in Eilat are well equipped with sunshades and straw-topped booths (public toilets are a much rarer commodity!), and by dint of slathering on suntan lotion with a Sun Protection Factor of 30, I managed to avoid both UVA and UVB rays so successfully that not only did I escape sunburn, I didn’t even tan!!! The day was given over to water sports – pedal boats, kayaks, "banana boats" (to be avoided like the plague in my opinion) and outboard motor boats. The latter I did enjoy. Though the motorboats are designed for 6 passengers, we were only three. A few hundred metres from the shore, we formed a circle with the other boats and some intrepid members of our gallant band decided to dive in for a swim. On the way back, my two companions suggested I take the wheel. Mindful of my brush with near disaster at the Go-Karting track last year, I ventured to suggest that this might not be quite the best idea. However, my friends would not take no for an answer so I gave it a try. I did suspect that my steering left something to be desired but apart from helpfully pointing out that I seemed to be headed in the direction of Aqaba, on the Jordanian side of the bay, they left me to my own devices, until it was time to dock.
In the evening, after supper, I went to Eilat’s biggest shopping mall. Eilat, you see, is a Tax Free Zone and therefore, many upmarket retail chains have branches there, where one can purchase the latest fashions, swimwear, sports gear, shoes and jewellery, for far less than in the rest of Israel. Earlier in the day, I had spotted a few items that I fancied but couldn’t try on, as I was wearing a wet swimsuit under my clothes, so now , I returned, to see if they looked as good on me as they did on the hangers. Alas. The black trousers by Zara I had thought would be great for courtroom appearances, or even for concerts with the choir, looked really odd on me and of the two dresses that had caught my eye, finding one in my size proved harder than I had expected. The salesgirl thought (as I did!) that Medium would be right for me (I take a UK size 12/14, and a continental 40/42) , but evidently Zara‘s sizes are on the small side. I needed Extra Large!!! The only dress of the two I had liked available in that size was in a red I could not possibly wear. I gave up and proceeded to Renuar. There, I found another red dress (in a more flattering shade) and in the right size but – it made me look fat! (Considering the lavish supper I had consumed, this was, perhaps, not so surprising after all…)
Empty handed, I walked back along the seashore promenade, with its booths and stands selling all the rather tacky paraphernalia of a seaside holiday (of the sort I remember from childhood vacations in Bournemouth and Brighton), and then along the Lagoon (in reality, a man-made Marina) to the hotel. Some of the others had gone to a club specialising in eastern-style music. From what I heard at breakfast the following morning, most of them hadn’t enjoyed it much except for what one of them described as "the anthropological research". In short, I think I had a lucky escape…
At breakfast, too, it was suddenly decided to set out for home at 11.30 AM instead of at 1 PM, as called for in the original programme. Dutifully, I presented myself in the lobby at the appointed hour. I found precisely two of my workmates there. As you have probably guessed, we didn’t actually leave till 12.15. You see, nobody had thought to inform the bus driver of the change in plan.
Today, it was back to the grindstone once more. This is unusual, as we generally take our annual trip during the second half of the week, from Tuesday to Thursday which, I think, is preferable, as we can then benefit from the extended absence from work to wind down from the long and rather tiring bus journey home. Still, we are not yet completely back to normality (whatever that may be) as tomorrow, we celebrate Jerusalem Liberation Day – 42 years since the liberation and reunification of Jerusalem in the Six Day War.
But that, my friends, is another story…