An Open Water Travelogue from Israel
by Terry Laughlin

Posted on November 5th, 2011

It will surprise few that I rate any new place I visit, in part, on the interest and accessibility of its swimming options.  I also value culture, cuisine, and history, but the quality of swimming options ch weighs heavily.

Until now, Sydney was my top-ranked swimming-city. Its beaches – like Bondi, Coogee and Manly – are justly famed. Many also have rock pools that fill with sea water each time the tide comes in. Finally it has terrific 50-meter pools all over. I hadn’t expected Tel Aviv to rival Sydney, but my week here has been a revelation. The local pools aren’t much to write home about (though the 50-meter Gordon Pool, right on the beach and filled daily with salt water, is worth a visit) but I’ve been impressed by the fantastic sea-swimming opportunities here . . . and elsewhere in Israel too.

For devoted sea swimmers, Tel Aviv is close to heaven. I’ve never seen a city with a more welcoming beachfront, and so accessible from the city center. There are miles of unbroken, easily accessible beachfront, much of it parkland with a superb pedestrian/bike pathway along it, and stretches with first-rate restaurants, cafes and shops. It is an enormously popular gathering spot for locals, both day and night, even in early November. The Mediterranean is beautiful, crystal-clear, comfortable and perfect for swimming.  There are reefs with marine life in many spots.

And just three blocks from the oceanfront is Dizengoff Sts, Tel Aviv’s equivalent of the Big Apple’s 5th Ave.  I’m staying in a nicely appointed, reasonably priced (US130/night) hotel just across the street from the shoreline park and have walked along the beach to a dining spot for dinner most nights.

Tel Aviv-ians describe this (first week of November) as winter and few think of swimming now, but the water temperature this week has been 24C/75F as warm as NY beaches ever get. And the air has been warm enough to attract crowds to the beachside cafes, where TI-ISR Head Coach Gadi Katz and I eat a light breakfast after our morning swims.

Besides the cityside beaches, Gadi and I swam yesterday morning at Tzuk (Cliff) beach, just north of downtown and this morning at Dor Habonim, about 60km north of the city. Dor Habonim is in a nature reserve. We entered the water at a beautiful rock cove, and swam 2km south to explore a wreck, a German freighter that sunk in the 1930s, then back. We rode a few waves before getting out.

And I’ll briefly relate two swims I did last week away from Tel Aviv. I came to Israel mainly to participate in the TI-ISR-sponsored 3Seas3Days, 30 km of swimming in the Red Sea, Sea of Galilee (aka Kinneret) and Mediterranean, scheduled for Nov 2-3-4. (The Mediterranean swim was postponed until Nov 18 because of rough surf.)

We flew to Eilat (35 min by air from TA) on Tuesday afternoon and started the Red Sea swim at 6 a.m. on Wed. Eilat shares the border with the Jordanian city of Aqaba. The 70+ participants began the swim by swimming east to within about 500m of Jordanian waters, then swam back to the Israeli side before swimming south for another 9km. Our finish point was a long stone’s throw from the border with Egypt. (We did the 1km east-west bit at the beginning in order to complete 10km short of the border). The water quality and views of marine life were excellent. And where we finished was 15km across the Red Sea to Jordan’s border with Saudi Arabia. So I could see three Arab countries from that spot.

On Thursday morning Gadi and I left TA at 3:30 a.m. to drive to Kibbutz Ein-Gev on the east bank of the Sea of Galilee where we met 24 other swimmers who were to swim the second leg of 3S3D. On the drive, we passed highways exit signs that resonated with names from Old and New Testament history – Megiddo, Caesaria (or Qasariyya is it’s called now) Tiberias, Nazareth, etc. Israel is so compact, and so packed with history. As we drove up the east side of the lake, an imposing miles-long hill loomed over us. That was the Golan Heights, which Israel took from Syria in the Six Days War and has remained a sore point ever since.

Then there’s the Biblical significance of the Sea of Galilee. Much of Christ’s ministry — and many of the Bible stories I studied in Catholic school – took place on its shores. We swam 5km north, then back to our starting point at the kibbutz. About 2km from the finish we paused for our final feed. A short distance away a fishing boat was hauling in its nets, which reminded me that Jesus recruited several of his disciples from fishermen on these same waters. Other miracles said to have taken place here included Jesus walking on the waters, feeding the multitudes with five loaves and two fishes, and calming the raging waters.  While swimming the final 2k, I mused that I wouldn’t mind some water-calming when an approaching storm roiled the water.

I’ll write more about the wonderful experience I had during the 10K swims in a day or two.

See more pix from Eilat and Kinneret here.


2 Responses to “An Open Water Travelogue from Israel”

  1. carlos says:

    I wish you could visit Haifa and the area around . We have a nice park not so far , on the north . Akziv , probably Gadi told you about it .
    I am happy that you are enjoying your stay here !

  2. The dead sea is an amazing experience speaking of Israel. Nothing like it in the world.

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