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Diving the Red Sea: Eilat, Israel

//Diving the Red Sea: Eilat, Israel

My diving adventure began as I sat in the backseat of a taxi and asked my driver where I could find the best rainbow fish to eat during my stay here in Eilat in the Negev Desert, the southernmost tip of Israel. His head snapped around and he glared at me with what I can best describe in this part of the world, as the evil eye.  As the taxi screeches to a halt, let me go back in time, dear Reader, to catch you up. Before I left on this trip, my mother relayed her stories of traveling to Israel over 35 years earlier. She impressed upon me how rainbow fish was such a delicacy, with the bones the same color as their shimmery scales on the outside of their body just like in the book I loved as a child. She advised me I should jump at the chance to find some while I was there, so I proceeded to ask waitresses, residents, and finally this taxi driver where I could find the elusive fish. Now, back to this taxi, asking for guidance. The driver turned around, stared at me as if to memorize my face, scolded in thickly accented, yet precise, British English, “Eating Rainbow Fish is illegal as they are a protected species”. I immediately called my mom and told her she almost got me arrested! Like many traveling mishaps, this one became an amusing anecdote to tell at parties.

Parrot Fish in the Red Sea
Parrot Fish in the Red Sea

While I was avoiding being locked in an Israeli jail, surprisingly not the sole time on this trip, I pursued a dive shop to go snorkeling or SCUBA diving in the gulf of Eilat, known as Aqaba, which makes up approximately 1% of the total area of Red Sea. This region has an amazing variety of more than 1,200 species of fish (10% of which only exists there) and upwards of 200 variations of both stony and soft corals. These waters also boast pristine reefs stretching along the one km coastline, and 20-30 meters of visibility so shallow diving is beyond satisfying. As it happens, the one I found was a dive shop in Taba, eight km outside the center and one km from the Egyptian border. I took a bus and then walked for a while along the winding road and after not seeing any signs or even cars for that matter, I started getting concerned I had misunderstood the location. Finally after rounding a bend, I saw a billboard advertising a SNUBA School. SNUBA is different than traditional SCUBA diving because instead of having a self-contained underwater breathing apparatus carried on one’s back, this style has the compressed air tank floating on the surface of the water. The benefits of this style are many: 1) Since the max depth to dive is 6 meters, the risk of oxygen toxicity or nitrogen narcosis is highly minimized; 2) Not having the heavy tanks on one’s back, allows for more freedom of movement and if one suffers from back pain, it’s a better alternative to lugging a tank around; 3) Unlike deep dives, there are reduced decompression times or safety stops which means virtually no risk of getting decompression sickness (DCS). Despite the many benefits, there are some downfalls as well that should be taken into account. These include: 1) Although the regulator has a very long first stage, there is a depth limitation and as you are constantly connected to the air tank above, it will also limit how fast you can go; 2) Despite the fact DCS is not really an issue, barotrauma is still a major risk factor but can be easily avoided by breathing normally upon ascent. If tech diving, diving beyond the recreational limit, is more your thing than this might not be the best option. But there are numerous traditional diving places which can satisfy all types of divers. Having gone SCUBA diving in many places, I can say Eilat, with an average of 360 sunny days a year, is still one of my favorite places to see an incredible sundry of flora and fauna. Plus, trying a new style of diving was unbelievably fun!

Traipsing back to Eilat, I passed 26 enormous sculptures of different species of fish standing 1.6 meters tall, all brightly painted and designed by local artists. One sculpture stood out from the rest, adorned with brightly colored scales and dramatically splashed above a wave crest, the paint glistening in the scorching afternoon Israeli sun. The elusive rainbow fish! Almost mockingly, it was named “Custom Made For You”. Proceeding down to the beach, I sprawled on a chair, watching the sun set while diving into an icy Piña Colada. I thought about the rainbow fish I saw but not about eating them. I did wonder what was available for dinner but made no attempt at movement to find any sustenance.

I passed 26 enormous sculptures of different species of fish standing 1.6 meters tall, all brightly painted and designed by local artists.
Enormous sculptures of different species of fish in downtown Eilat.

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2017-11-03T14:18:39+00:00