Israel in January – Part 2

Masada and the Dead Sea Tour

Today we woke up in the comfort of our Tel Aviv hotel room (we made it!).  Our Masada and Dead Sea tour group was picking us up around 9:30 am for the 1 hr 15 min. drive to the Dead Sea through Jerusalem.  My cold was terrible.  It wasn’t stopping me.  I still couldn’t taste but had the same breakfast I had the day before.  (Foreshadowing…I ate that same breakfast my entire trip!  DELISH!)  I took some cold meds, extra cappuccino, and we were on our way.

The Drive

Our tour guide/driver, Aharon, was also fantastic!  A proud Israeli.  He explained the diverse geography of Israel, from desert, to lush green fields and trees which we saw on this short “Med. to the Dead” drive was through the widest part of the country and only took and hour and 15 minutes (without traffic).  It’s also Saturday, which is still Shabbat so the roads are quiet.

Our tour group was around 15 people, so not too big and ridiculous.  About 6 Germans, an English couple, a Polish couple, and 5 Americans.

This shift in the weekend days compared to what we’re used to threw me off.  Their sabbath, Saturday is our Sunday.

We gained elevation as we drove through Jerusalem, and boy my ears were popping!  He pointed out the West Bank wall which significantly helped reduce attacks.  We went through a harmless checkpoint to enter the West Bank on our way to the Dead Sea.  The topography was changing so quickly into desert.  We saw herds of sheep grazing in the desert, camels, Bedouin villages, settlements, and several Kabutz which are like Jewish communes.

Our first stop was Ahava, which is a skin care company that used dead sea minerals in it’s products.  I had to buy some.  Then we went on our way south towards Masada National Park.

It was a beautiful drive along the dead sea and Judean Desert.  We saw tons of palm tree groves which were date trees.  We could also see the mountains of Jordan across the Dead Sea.  Aharon told us about the recession of the sea; 3 feet per year! And because of this it’s creating sink holes, which he pointed out.  One of the resorts was permanently closed because sink holes ate up their parking lot.  The road we were driving on was re-routed because a section collapsed.  Ein Gedi is a naturally lush green area in the desert that looked beautiful.  We had intended on stopping there for a hike in our original plans but it wasn’t part of this tour.

Masada

We drove along and you could see Masada, a lone flat-top mountain, as we approached.  Read the story of Masada here, it was so interesting and the final community atop the mountain – heart wrenching.  We had originally planned on hiking up to the top on the “snake path” named such because it winds up the mountain, but with our tour we took the gondola up.  In my condition, I’m glad we did.

On top you could see the ruins of the previous inhabitants and how they survived atop the mountain.  Aharon told us the story of Masada and how it came to an end with such passion, not in a cheesy way either.  I got a little choked up!  You should read the story or go experience it yourself but to sum it up, the Romans (damn Romans!) built camps below the mountain and built a ramp on the lower side of the mountain.  The Jewish colony on top of Masada chose to take their own lives rather than succumb to death or slavery by the Romans.  960 people!  Here’s that nationalistic pride I keep seeing which is so awesome, Aharon said “Never Again” for a strong Israel going forward.  I HIGHLY recommend visiting!

Dead Sea Scrolls

Now we started backtracking and went back the direction we came from, heading north along the Dead Sea to Kalya resort so we could float.  On our way there Aharon showed us some caves in the hills where most of the Dead Sea Scrolls were found.  In the parking lot nearby, we watched as a group of kids were hitting something on the ground.  Then they picked it up. A snake. Or a viper Aharon thought.  Yikes! but sad to see them kill it.

Caves of Dead Sea Scrolls
Caves of Dead Sea Scrolls

Dead Sea Floating & Mudding

We arrive at Kalya resort for our float in the sea.  It’s not a resort as some of us would think of a resort.  It was more like a beach restaurant with showers, a shop, a beach, etc.  Nothing like in the States, that’s for sure.  Not what I would consider clean and kept up.  It’s sits high above the beach and you could also see the original dock for entering the water…amazing example of the impact of the receding sea.

Floating in the Dead Sea

January is not their high season, but luckily the weather was nice enough for us Northerners to go in the water.  Probably upper 60’s, low 70’s.  Aharon said not to splash because you don’t want to get the saline-type sea water in your mouth or eyes.  And it burns like hell if you just shaved, right Jason?  So you have to float on your back.  And float you do!  We felt like bobbers!  Our skin was so soft from the salty water!  The Dead Sea is 10x more salty than the ocean and has no living anything in it.

From the beach we could see 2 Jordan resort towns across the sea.  That was cool.

View of Jordan from Dead Sea
View of Jordan from Dead Sea
Dead Sea muddin'

Of course we had to mud up to get the full Dead Sea experience.  We rubbed the mud on us and let it dry then went back in the sea to wash it off.  It was really cool.  I wish I would have taken a chunk of salt with me though.

Back to our Car!

Back on the bus we went and Aharon was nice enough to drop us off in Jerusalem on the way so we could get our car after the ramp opened back up after sundown, end of Shabbat.

We had a few hours before that was happening so we walked back into the old city of Jerusalem to walk around and have dinner.  We were so relieved when we got to the ramp and the gate was open!  Back to Tel Aviv we went.

It was a long but amazing day.  An experience to remember, like nothing we’ve ever done.  I’d highly recommend this tour and in hind-site, we are so glad we did it rather than go on our own.  Aharon’s passion, pride, stories, and history were outstanding.  Here’s info.

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