From sea to sea Drifting between Israel's four bodies of water can be a healing experience indeed.

January 25, 1998|By STORY AND PHOTOS BY LISA ALCALAY KLUG | STORY AND PHOTOS BY LISA ALCALAY KLUG,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

Israel's four seas -- the Red, the Dead, the Bread and the Med -- are the stuff miracles are made of. At Israel's southern tip, the Red Sea, of Cecil B. DeMille fame, is host to tropical fish, coral reefs and dolphins that commune with humans. At 1,300 feet below sea level, the Dead Sea not only rests in the lowest place on earth; its unique, mineral-rich waters also offer unparalleled relief to skin and respiratory ailments. The freshwater Sea of Galilee, where the miracle of the loaves and fishes was recorded, draws Christian pilgrims to its many holy sites. And, of course, hugging Israel's coasts, there's the Mediterranean, where, among other historic events, Jonah was swallowed by the whale.

It's nothing less than remarkable that Israel -- a country roughly the size of New Jersey -- boasts four bodies of water, each one dramatically different from the other. To describe all there is to see would fill volumes. Here are some of the highlights.

The Red

Of them all, the Red Sea is my favorite. It's where I learned to scuba dive and where I also had the most amazing underwater swim with dolphins.

In less than an hour, I flew Isr-Air from Tel Aviv's Sde Dov Airport to the city of Eilat, where I checked into the four-star Ambassador Hotel, which boasts newly renovated rooms at competitive rates, including a first-class breakfast overlooking a stunning swimming pool and the sea.

I chose the Ambassador, the site of the Red Sea Sports Club's Manta Diving Center. Within two hours of landing in Eilat, I was squeezing into a wet suit and getting a 30-minute beginning dive lesson from Neri, an Israeli. First on land and then in the shallow beach across the street, Neri showed me how to breathe through the regulator, equalize pressure in my nose and ears, empty water from my mask without removing it while diving (press it against my forehead, look up and breathe hard through my nose) and signal with a thumbs up when I need to surface. Neri explained he would adjust my compression as we dived to 6 meters, or about 19 feet, the limit for uncertified divers. All I had to do was breathe regularly, kick my legs from the hip and let him know if I was having any trouble. It would be a good way to help me decide whether to get certified.

We started swimming slowly downward and within seconds, we were surrounded by beautiful corals and stunning fish. As we dove, Neri held my hand, which gave me the feeling of dancing through water. It was magical, peaceful, even romantic. I couldn't believe the colors of the fish -- stunning blues, greens and purples -- and how beautifully the sun shines 15 feet under water. Time seemed to stand still until Neri gestured that we had to surface. Back on land, I returned my equipment, showered off the sea and posed for a picture with Neri.

Next, I headed down the road to the Eilat Coral Reserve area and the headquarters of Snuba. Unlike the traditional dive, where I wore the tank on my back, the Snuba tank floats in a raft on the surface of the water and the regulator's hose extends to the beginner's 6-meter limit. Like Neri, Ofer, my Snuba instructor, held my hand as we glided past beautiful coral beds. Among more stunning fish and ribbon-like moray eels, Ofer also showed me the hiding place of an octopus, which he gently teased through openings in the coral. In the arch under a natural coral bridge, he pointed to the deadly stone fish, then ran his finger across his throat to warn me to stay back. The Coral Reserve was so beautiful and Snuba so easy that I returned the next day.

I started my third and final day in Eilat at the Dolphin Reef, an open-sea facility, where I dived with another instructor. Tal, a young Israeli woman, has a special relationship to the dominant male in the Reef's pod of seven bottlenose dolphins imported from the Black Sea. Although Cindy, as the male is called, avoids most humans, he adores Tal.

His affection for her was obvious. As soon as we passed the underwater gate that separates the swimmers from the dolphins' area, Cindy was waiting for us.

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