02.05.2014 - 12.05.2014 27 °C
We have attempted to visit Israel a number of times but have been frustrated by wars, passport stamp problems and my preference for a pork meal at least once a week. Its impossible to drive there at present due to the troubles in Syria and issues with the Lebanese and Jordanian boarder crossings. Crossing the Sinai Desert from Egypt has had little appeal ever since the first travellers to Israel became lost there for 40 years. Not to be forever out-thwarted, Flypaper conceived the cunning idea of sneaking across the Mediterranean from Greece. She knows I like sailing around in small boats but remembers the time she & I were shipwrecked during a particularly nasty storm. Our 12 metre sports cruiser ended up surfing onto a beach and, given the lack of sufficient water up there, falling over. We eventually rescued ourselves and sailed away but to this day she recalls the serious chaffing caused by her lifejacket. Sailing down through the Greek Islands in anything less than a floating palace complete with servants, entertainment, 7 meals a day and an onboard laundry was out. She found a smallish ship that carried only 400 passengers and convinced me that because it had 5 restaurants it was unlikely I would have to suffer the company of many others at any given time. This of course, proved to be a terminological inexactitude. Having so many troughs to feed from only heightened my concerns. I was justifiably worried that the pork on the plate would be substituted by the pork on the chair. I am also very aware that, when faced with magnificently presented food (or even a humble breadstick) I have little willpower. Flypaper produced written evidence that the ship had a gymnasium. I noticed the pictures showed beautiful young women in leotards testing the equipment. They all looked very slim – so I relented.
Once on board my worst fears were confirmed. The slim maidens had been replaced by a demographic that had survived for an average of 75 years but left me worried they may not see out the remainder of their cruise. However, their infirmities had not effected their appetites or their ability to share their life stories and prejudices at a volume that catered for those whose hearing aid batteries were dead. These days, cruise ships are very considerate and cater for those with disabilities – even if the destinations do not. As a result many took a cruise to Israel which they were able to see from their cabin balcony right after their room service breakfast and visit from the nurse. I’m confounded by their decisions – especially those who were short sighted or in the instance of 3 travelers, totally blind. When, in a discussion that left me branded as an uncaring beast, I questioned the suitability of this journey for those people, I was told, “Oh, they do have an amazing enhanced sense of smell”. Smelling the Greek Islands and Israel may be the ambition of many but I would (respectfully and compassionately) suggest, they if you are in this category, you consider a guided mobility scooter tour of the local deli or herb shop on a very hot day.
However, the IQ of Cruisers is not in doubt. The cruise director (an excellent source of valuable information) told us some of the questions he struggled with were …
Does this elevator take me to the front or rear of the ship? - Will our porthole be under water when the tide comes in? - Do these stairs go up or down? - What is our elevation? - Does the crew live on the boat? - How deep will the swimming pool be at high tide? - Is this island completely surrounded by water? - Is the water in the toilets drinkable?
By day 3 Flypaper had warned the restaurant teams not to issue me with sharp knives and sternly told me not to stick pins into the electricity sockets. Jumping overboard and striking out for shore was not an option as apart from preparing to dock we were usually out of sight of land – which way to swim? Added to that, the ship had demonstrated its willingness and ability to pick up people in the water.
Early one morning we sailed into excitement and tragedy. A 10 metre cabin cruiser and a 12 meter yacht, both carrying Syrian refugees trying to sneak into Greece, collided within sight of the island of Patmos. These 2 boats were collectively carrying 59 passengers. 35 survived, 22 didn’t make it. Our ship was among the first on site and rescued a number of survivors and recovered some bodies. The Greek Coast Guard arrived in a navel vessel and seemed a bit miffed by our efforts. They detained us for quite a few hours. They also borrowed the ships dive gear and our tenders scurried around doing most of the searching for survivors until the helicopters and local fishing fleet arrived. I believe we featured on international TV news. One feels very saddened for the Syrian refugees and angry towards the unscrupulous people who crammed then all in small boats in a big ocean. As a retired Search & Rescue skipper I was surprised by the lack of co-ordination and effectiveness of the local Coast Guard. Imagine 'Dads Armey' on water. If the Azamara Journey not been on hand the tragedy would have undoubtedly been greater.
It is written that the second coming of the Messiah will be on a white donkey descending from the Mount of Olives in Jerusalem. That meant there was no way I was able to convince Israeli Customs that my arriving on a ship from the ocean side was worthy of their consideration. It also meant we stood in long queues to see highly commercialized sites of biblical significance in places they may (or may not) have been. Bethlehem, Sea of Galilee, Nazareth, Jerusalem and all places between are not at all what one expects – neither is Israel in general.
We are victims of the news media who focus on the conflict between Israel and her neighbours. Most suggest Israle is difficult to deal with. The reality is quite different. Few in the west know that there are more Arabic people in Israel than Jews. They are totally free and well represented in the Knesset (Parliament). They are also the happiest Arabs in the world. We met some who claimed the Israelis’ were the most accommodating and negotiable people on earth. They claimed it was their own people who simply refused to accept a peaceful settlement that would benefit the whole region. I arrived in Israel interested to learn more about this troubled region and to form an opinion regarding the possibility of peace. Our Palestinian guide in Bethlehem convinced me that peace was not possible so long as both sides had politicians. His solution was to send all of the politicians for a year in the USA where they could observe real political obstinacy, while he and the ordinary hard working people of the region indulged in some serious partying that would soon result a harmonious relationship. Wouldn’t that be a wonderful thing anywhere in the world?
Travel results in learning lots of new stuff. For example, I never knew that the guy why took the Israelites to their promised land (that’s Moses) had a speech impediment. He stuttered. (This is true - told to me by a guy called Levi who was wearing a soup bowl). When Moses had a meeting with the Pharaoh he was asked where he wished to take his group of troublemakers. He said, “Ca-ca-can-can ca … “ Ok” said Pharaoh, “Off you go to Canaan. Have a nice trip”. As Moses was lead out he finally said to the man with the big pointed stick prodding his nether regions, “I meant Canada”. Too bad? Not so bad?. He and his descendants had to deal with Arab neighbours ever since. I wonder how Israel would have faired between America and Russia?