Encounters in Eilat

Shark World boasts the largest shark tank in the Middle East.

Meital Sharabi careens downward with Skydive Eilat. (photo credit: Courtesy)
Meital Sharabi careens downward with Skydive Eilat.
(photo credit: Courtesy)
I take a lot of nature trips, during which I meet many interesting people who are also nature lovers. I come into contact with serious hikers, families out for the day with the kids, and sometimes men and women with physical disabilities who have come out to enjoy nature despite the challenges involved. I’ve heard many complaints about the lack of wheelchair accessibility at national parks, as well as at private businesses, which are clueless about providing access to their premises for people with disabilities.
This week, I discovered a new tourist venture sponsored by the Hilton Queen of Sheba hotel in Eilat, in conjunction with the nonprofit organization Access Israel. It all actually started when I went down south to see what Eilat had to offer hikers and tourists in this cold weather. When it’s cold out, we find ourselves spending way too many hours at the local mall or lounging inside hotels. The people at the Queen of Sheba decided to take advantage of this more indoor- oriented season to offer an unusual and delightful culinary experience.
The attraction in question is the “Feast of the Senses” – or as I like to call it, “a feast that challenges the senses.” Led by Access Israel volunteers, it takes place at the hotel’s restaurant, Chicago, every Wednesday night from January through March.
Think about it for a moment: How is it that people can carry on with everyday activities like eating without using their senses? The first stage – even before we can talk about food – is figuring out how to reach the table. How do you accomplish this when your eyes are covered and you can’t see anything? You improvise.
Or in this case, you walk in as part of a herd, with everyone holding on to one another. When you reach your table, you hold out your hands until you find the chair, then sit down slowly and carefully.
And now what do you do? How do you order? I am the type of person who loves challenges, yet I found myself feeling very helpless in this situation.
I moved my hand around the table until I found my glass of water, and I tried to sniff the plate in front of me a little to get a sense of what foods I had on it.
I realized that everyone at the table with me was in a similar situation. Though we were shy with each other at first, we quickly realized we were all having a hard time together and had common goals. It was a very different experience than I’m used to – meeting people without being able to see them. It lets you overcome your prejudices about people and broadens your horizons.
So that our meal would not take place in complete darkness – and so we could compare the experience of eating in the dark to that of eating with other disabilities – we ate the next few courses with our eyes uncovered, moving on to the next challenge: We put on large, bulky gloves that made it extremely hard to use a fork and knife. It had never occurred to me how complicated eating could be for people who did not have full use of their hands. If I had to eat like that every meal, it would take me hours, and I would probably give up before I finished (maybe I’d even lose a kilo or two?).
For dessert, we were instructed to put in earplugs, which made it difficult for us to hear what the waitress was offering us. So I just ordered what I thought was one of the options and hoped for the best.
All in all, the meal was an extremely powerful experience that has made me much more empathetic toward people with disabilities. I don’t pretend, after experiencing one difficult meal, to understand what they go through, but at least now I am a little more aware.
Price of meal: NIS 235
For more information: (08) 630-6666
Out of all the attractions the city of Eilat has to offer, I must admit that the newest one is the best. Last summer, the company Sky Dive, which operates a center for free-fall skydiving in the Dead Sea area, opened another branch on the boardwalk in Eilat near the Herods Hotel.
Skydiving in Eilat is an amazing experience. Moreover, this is one of the few places in the world where every person who skydives needs to go through an international airport to get to the plane. Each trip takes three participants up to jump, each of them accompanied by an instructor.
After you get over the initial excitement and fear involved in jumping out of an airplane for the first time, the next thing you notice is the incredible view of Eilat and the surrounding area, which is one of the most beautiful places in the country.
While you’re soaring down, you’ll notice the incredible contrast where the water collides with the mountains and the borders separating Egypt, Israel, Jordan and Saudi Arabia – all four of which converge in almost the same spot. I don’t think there are many other places in the world where you can see such a sight.
On the plane ride up, the guides explain to the participants each step that they are about to experience, tighten their straps and get everyone excited. The guides’ goal is to make the participants feel secure, get their adrenaline flowing and let their fear dissipate.
Once all the last-minute questions are finished, each pair jumps out of the plane. This is the moment when fear reaches its peak; once you’re out in the air, the fear begins to recede.
While you’re falling, despite the tremendous noise from the wind, the guide continues to talk about the landscape and then hands you the ropes so you can be more involved in the skydiving experience. While the entire fall lasts only about eight minutes, the smile on your face will likely remain for hours.
Pre-registration is recommended.
Price: NIS 1,350.
Price for video and still shots: NIS 600.
Help – sharks!
The Underwater Observatory is one of the most touristy places in Eilat, even though not much has changed there over the last decade. But somebody recently woke up and decided to add a new attraction: the largest shark tank in the Middle East.
The new compound, called Shark World, covers more than 1,000 square meters. The tank is six meters deep and has water pumped into it from 40 m. below the surface of the sea. Shark World is an incredible opportunity to come face to face with one of the most fascinating animals that live in the sea – one that we thankfully don’t come across often on the beaches of Eilat.
The tour takes visitors on an organized path that begins in a relatively dark room, at the far side of which sits a huge window through which visitors can watch the sharks swimming. There are currently 18 sharks living in the pool, alongside hundreds of species of smaller fish. Further along, there are explanations, videos and interactive games that teach visitors about a typical day in the life of a shark, and about its diet.
In the second part of the compound, visitors can walk right through the pool inside a transparent tunnel – a pretty incredible experience, since it feels like you’re right inside the shark’s habitat and can just reach out and touch them.
Location: Almog Beach, Eilat
Price: NIS 75-NIS 109 (including entrance to Shark World)
Translated by Hannah Hochner.