May 1, 2009

Our Encore In Eilat

April 17
“I want to swim with the dolphins!”

Pesach ended with yet more feasting. And then it was time to turn our kitchen over and return to our chametzy lives, having hopefully changed in some way. I always find it hard to bite into that first piece of bread after spending so much time diligently trying to rid ourselves of each chametz crumb. But we succumb to our puffy bread, our egos, and go back to how things were; those new insights buried by pizza crusts and fast-paced lives.

We also found it very difficult to face returning to that normal routine. School was starting. Work. Bills to be paid. Donna and Alan and family from Toronto just met us in Sfat for dinner and the next morning took off for Eilat. It was as if a fluorescent bulb appeared above Amir’s head, shining brightly. “Ding!” Amir loudly announced, “I want to swim with the dolphins!” Of course he said this in front of the children. They all jumped up and down and shouted back, “So do we!” My daughter, who had a history test coming up that she wanted to miss, was ecstatic.

With all those positive votes, I was the only nay sayer. I am our family's consummate party pooper, the negative mom, the downer who likes to do everything by the book and always says 'no.' I had such a great Pesach, I reasoned that it was time to return to reality. I felt that Eilat should be another trip, something planned in advance. We did not even have a hotel reservation.

Amir philosophized that he wanted to live life as if each day were his last. This is hard to argue against, especially living here in the Middle East. I agreed to go but was too embarrassed to mention this plan to anyone, as I knew this would further confirm that we were complete lunatics.

We had a great Shabbat. We did havdalah, cleaned up and I threw some things in a few suitcases. We did not have bathing suits, sunscreen or flip flops. Tzfat is still in winter mode. I was wearing winter boots and a warm woolen shawl. We threw some pillows in the car and the kids jumped in wearing their pyjamas.

At 11:45 we left Sfat, heading down to highway 4. Soon after, I realized that our map book was in a friend’s car. Here we were, hurtling south on the deepest dark highways, and we had no map. We had no hotel reservations. We had no common sense. I had made us some strong Turkish coffee to keep us awake, but the sheer fear of travelling on these roads in the middle of the night was enough to keep my adrenalin pulsing. After 10 minutes of driving, Amir said he felt tired. I, who does not like to drive at night without street lights, could not take up the wheel. I reacted by simply biting my nails.

No gas stations were open, save for the self-serve kind. That meant no coffee and no map. Luckily, before Beer Sheva, we saw a sign for Eilat. I was elated. But this feeling did not last for long. We left the lights and civilization of BeerSheva behind and drove into the dark, lonely desert.

We had no water, no food, no map (think I already mentioned this). My imagination went wild. Of course I had to pee. But any thoughts of stopping beside the road were quickly dispelled. I imagined scorpions in the sand, yellow eyes of wolves, old Bedouin men hiding behind rocks.

To stir things up and make this trip even more exciting, Amir decided to pull over and turn out the headlights. He got out of the car and asked us all to gaze up at the stars. I craned my neck for a millisecond but could not get into the mood of looking for new galaxies. I was probably hyperventilating. I looked out the window and saw a pair of yellow eyes glaring at me. “Wolf!” I screamed. Everyone looked up and we saw a do like thing looking in at us. Not very menacing, but it was still wildlife.

Amir stretched, looked longingly at his favorite constellation and got back in behind the wheel. The road descended and twisted, turned and contorted. It is a hard enough drive in the day, when you can see for miles. But at night, when one is tired and one has no map (did I mention this?!) and no water, it is a different story. I watched the minutes on the car clock go by. It was 1:18, 2:36, 3:48, then 4:02. I waited for the sun to rise as if the night were some wicked spell. By 4:30, we actually arrived in Eilat.

Thankfully, the road was signposted the whole way. We drove to our favorite hotel and Amir found us a room. It would not be available until 10 am. No problem. I felt safe. I was in a parking back in civilization. I was relieved and thankful for arriving safely. By 6 pm, we went to the pool and lay on beach chairs until the sun’s rays reached us. I was cranky and felt hung over.

We heard the first birds squawking in the palms. We watched the life guards scrub the walls of the pool, and saw the the towel guys set up their kiosk, taking warm fluffy towels off carts. The hotel slowly come to life. We saw the first guests wake and deftly save a row of seats, placing sun screen and draping novels across the chairs. They were wearing sandals and bathing suits. They were on a beach vacation.

I was a refugee from the depths of the desert, still wearing my winter clothes from Sfat. Luckily I had a toothbrush and toothpaste in my purse. I went into the lobby to find the rest room and ran into Donna and Alan. Donna looked as if she had seen a ghost – I probably looked like one. She was shocked and, yes, she probably felt confirmed that we were lunatics.

By nine am, the hotel gave us our room. Amir and I wanted to sleep. The kids wanted to go to the pool. They wanted to buy bathing suits, they wanted candy, they wanted goggles, they wanted flip flops; in short, they wanted to be on vacation. Despite their pleas, I still wanted to sleep.

By noon, Amir and I felt like we could face the world and we had a real vacation-like day: swimming in the pool, a bit of shopping, and dinner out with our friends.

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