July 07, 2011
We travelled south for a few days in the wastes of the Negev Desert – spectacular, other-worldly scenery Luckily I had brought some provisions from the boat as there was nothing to be found We quartered the Makhtesh Ramon, an extraordinarily impressive crater, said to be the largest in the world of its type. It was carved out millions of years ago when the ocean, that once covered this area, retreated north.
It was off-season and the desert, not surprisingly was pretty deserted. The “city centre” of Mitzpe Ramon, the biggest town in the area consisted of a bank, where it took two assistants and about 15 minutes to change some money, two kebab stalls and a mini-market. We found a hotel where we had to wait until 8.30pm for Shabbat to be over - “when we could see three stars in the sky” – to have anything more than a sandwich for dinner. The town was totally dead with more ibex than people roaming the streets.
Next day we walked through canyons carved out by flashfloods, passed petrified trees, seeing occasional feral camels. We stayed at a “vineyard”. Their output was fewer bottles per year than M used to make in his elderberry and banana vintage days. I think it was really a cover to attract custom to their four “log-cabins”. It was more of a hut really but nicely done and we were the only guests. Incongruously there was an open-air jacuzzi tub so we were able to relax with a glass of something cooling. Dinner was DIY but luckily we had got some chicken at the mini-mart before leaving the “city”. Getting the fire going and cooking the chicken took most of the evening, while we watched the dying sun turn the desert pink.
The place was lovingly cared-for in a very “green” style. We had a waterless eco-loo which separated liquid and solid waste and was totally smell-free. Waste water from the huts was used to irrigate trees and shrubs they had planted. They were growing fruit as well as making wine.
The farmer’s wife brought a splendid local breakfast of fresh-baked bread, cheeses, olives, tomatoes and a massive omelette to our hut next morning. I asked where they got their water – “From the pipe” she said rather disarmingly. Evidently water is piped into the desert from a massive de-salination plant at Ashkelon.
We visited the ruins of the hill-top Nabatean town of Avdat, next day. This was one of a chain of settlements, including Petra, that gave shelter to the enormous camel carvans, that travelled along the Spice Route from the East to the ships at Gaza.
Got back to the boat in the evening surprisingly quickly. Israel is really very small and the roads are very good so you can travel through completely different regions of the country in a comparatively short time.
Chilling out, swimming from the glorious beach next to the marina and making ready for the big passage tomorrow.
June 21, 22
Wanted to leave at first light but again we were governed by immigration and had to wait until the woman who manned the office could get there by bus. Left about 8.30 for the 209 nm passage (longest yet) in company with Endeavour. We were very pleased indeed to have Brian and Carole looking out for us and kept up the four-hourly radio checks during the 32-hour trip. Hardly any wind for most of the trip so motored all the way. The journey was pleasant until the last couple of hours when we were banging into a nasty sea with 12 knots on the nose.
Our objective was Monastery Bay on the southern-side of the pan-handle of North Cyprus, where we dropped the pick in gin-clear water. Belle Helene had already been here a few days and welcomed us with
a delicious curry and a very jolly evening.
June 23, 24, 25
Sad to wave off Endeavour and Belle Helene at first light. We’ve had a lot of fun with them. We have decided to stay in this heavenly place for a few days. It’s so relaxing to be swinging off the anchor, dropping into the glorious water. Also did a some good walking, including to the cape of the pan-handle around which we had sailed early in the rally. There are lots of wild donkeys roaming in this region. They are the descendants of working donkeys set free when the locals got more mechanised. They certainly look in much better condition than those poor little over-laden creatures we used to see in Greece in the late 60s.
Our peaceful solitude was spoilt at the weekend by a jet-ski so after lunch, we upped anchor and set off on our journey round the pan-handle towards Girne to check in officially to North Cyprus. There are very few anchorages around Cyprus but we were lucky that conditions were good enough for us to drop the pick in a bay near a small fishing port for the night.
Arrived in Delta Marina Girne and were very surprised to see Belle Helene and Endeavour who we had last seen departing to totally different directions several days ago. Evidently they had very difficult weather and huge seas so had run for cover to Girne. It was such a bonus. We had dinner with Justine and Helen. Carole and Brian had gone to stay with friends in the South.
David and Kath, the rally leaders, have kindly invited me to stay with them while M goes back to the UK for a week for a conference. We went up to their lovely home, with sea view and swimming pool. What a treat.
My birthday. Managed contact with all the family which was great. Found out S was in London. He and M met up later for a drink. The day was taken up with a trip to the South to take M to Larnaca airport and do shopping. David and Kath go there regularly as various provisions, like bacon and black pudding, are available that you can’t get in the North, and some things are cheaper.
June 30, July 1,2,3,4,5
Lovely few day: played golf with Kath at the spectaular course where she is a member – mountains to one side, sea the other. Some very challenging holes. We had a buggy, which was fun. I haven’t driven one before. Also go stuck into Wimbledon, which I really enjoyed. Swimming, walking and lots of tourism. David and Kath have been so kind. Went to Bellapais and found Lawrence Durrell’s house, which was interesting having just read Bitter Lemons. There seem to be a number of claimants to be the Tree of Idleness with each cafe putting a sign on the tree near them. Climbed nearly 800 metres up to the stunning St Hilarion Castle, the one Disney modelled the castle in Snow White on. David took me on a beautiful drive along the ridgeroad which traverses the Kyrenian range, complete with a lovingly look after tank which plummeted over the edge during the ‘74 invasion (1974 was the last time M was here. He came in with the invading army from Turkey). Also visited Mavi Kosh the 1950s home of a mafiosa gun-runner. The original furniture is all still there. It’s in a beautiful hidden location with a tunnel down the mountain to the bay where the guns came in.
Life in North Cyprus seems very pleasant indeed.
Went down to the marina to give the boat a good clean ready for the final phase of our trip – the return to Gocek. David and Kath picked me up at lunchtime to go to Larnaca to collect M. His trip went well but he’s very glad to be back. Very jolly dinner at the poolside. Carole and Brian are also at David and Kath’s for a few days and Carole had cooked one of her famous Thai curries. Delicious.