Published: November 17th 2009November 17th 2009
Today, we journeyed to the ancient fort of Masada and to the Dead Sea. We started out the day with a breakfast of eggs, chocolate bready stuff, bran flakes, juice, and 2 cups of coffee. While we were enjoying our respective meals, we chatted with a representative of the travel company we are using about modern Israeli politics. We still seem unable to get a satisfactory answer to the question, ‘why does almost every nation often vote against Israel in the UN, except for the United States?’. The standard Israeli answer seems to be, “The Arab states are very powerful”. That may be true, but why does almost EVERY country disapprove of the way Israel conducts its affairs?
When we finished our breakfast, we met a small shuttle at the hotel entrance, which transported us over to the Regent Hotel, where we boarded an equally small tour bus. From there, we drove down through the West Bank past the Dead Sea to Masada. On the way, we talked with a man named Noah, who was from Boulder, Colorado. Noah, apparently, is a professor and a scientist, and we had a fine time talking to him about impressions of Israel, and the state of the state.
We reached Masada, and here I should really give a bit of an introduction. Masada is a fort on top of a huge plateau in the Judean desert. Originally, King Herod built a palace on top of it, and used it for an escape and for relaxation. Then, later, Jewish rebels used it as their last stronghold. About 1,000 (I thought many more, but this is still quite a few) Jewish rebels and their families lived in Masada for 3 years while the Romans laid siege to it. When it became clear that the Romans would take the fort the next morning, the rebels killed their wives and children, then elected 10 soldiers, who killed all the other rebels. A rebel then killed the remaining 9, as well as his wife and children, and threw himself on his own sword, committing suicide. They did this because they would rather be dead than slaves of the Romans. When the Romans entered the fort the next morning, all they found were all the weaponry and armor in a huge pile in the middle, and piles of bodies next to it. Five hundred years later, Byzantine monks built a small church on top of Masada and spent many years spending all their time trying to be with God. When Israel was created, the government set Masada apart as a national park.
Anyways, we got to the bottom of Masada, and bought a couple of water bottles and used the bathroom before climbing into a cable car and riding all the way up. There isn’t much left of the buildings and palaces of the fort, and much of what is there is reconstruction, but it was still amazing to be able to look through this ancient stronghold, then over the sides of the surrounding walls and down the sandstone cliffs. We toured through Masada, seeing the palace, synagogue, dovecots, water cisterns, food store rooms, bathhouse, watchtowers, and dormitories. It was incredible to imagine the amount of work it would have been to carry enough water up from the lower streams to fill cisterns that lasted 1,000 rebels and their families more than 3 years (they had plenty of water when they committed suicide). Even more than that, it was mind blowing to think of the work the Romans did. Despite the fact that the rebels were rolling rocks down on them, and probably shooting arrows at them, they built a massive, and I mean MASSIVE ramp from the desert floor to Masada. That couldn’t have been easy! It took them 3 years, with rebels attacking them. Finally, they hauled a battering ram and attack tower up the ramp, and used it to break into Masada. Man, those people really knew how to work! I wouldn’t envy the position of Roman foot soldiers in those days.
After exploring Masada, and looking at some lovely birds found only in the Judean Desert, we descended, again by cable car, and bought some Masada postcards, which we will be mailing to you all :D. Afterwards, we hopped in the bus, and traveled a few minutes to the En Gedi Spa, right on the Dead Sea. We stopped and had lunch first, which for me was rice mixed with some peas, some kind of delicious Jewish grain and bean sprout based dish, a roll, some olives, some really good hummus, and a Coke. After getting entirely stuffed with delicious food, we decided to go swimming. We hopped on a small, tractor-driven train to get to the beach. I have to say, the beach of the Dead Sea, and the sea its self, is really something. The sea is a gorgeous turquoise blue, and though the beach is sand, near the water it is encrusted in salt. In water of even just a few inches, there were big stumps of salt. In the sea itself, the entire sea floor is crystallized salt. It is a rough, even sharp, solid carpet. They recommended that people not go into the sea without sandals. I walked in, and though the water was a little cool at first, I got used to it quickly. The water is absolutely amazing. It is a little more than 30% salt content. Because of that, when you get in, you float like you have never floated before. In fact, when you take your feet off the bottom, and put them even slightly in front of you, they float up, and it is actually difficult to keep them down. When you lay on your back and float, the entire front of your body is above water. Anything in the water gets encrusted in salt very shortly. Being in the water makes your skin feel almost slimy, but when you get out, it is soooooooo soft. People actually come to the Dead Sea because of its spa-like capabilities.
We got back on the train after taking a brief, beachside shower, and picking up a small piece of crystal salt as a souvenir. Then, we got back on the tractor thing and drove to the mud station. Apparently, there are supposed to be great health implications for your skin, so people cover themselves in this stuff. We slathered up, covering ourselves from head to toe in the grey mud, laughing and helping each other. We walked to the showers and tried to wash the sticky mud off, all the while asking each other, “Why the hell did we do this, again?”. We went inside the spa building, and entered a stinky sulphur water bath with a bunch of other people. The smelly water was the color of mud, but it was deliciously warm, which was fantastic after the cold beachside shower water. It is also supposed to have some magical curative property. I am waiting to feel like a whole new man.
We took another brief shower, and looked around the main lobby of the spa. We bought a couple Dead Sea products, and a couple key chains for Mom. I also bought 2 lattes for the ride home. We hopped on the bus and drove home, where we come to the present, with Dad wanting me to hurry up with this post, so we can get a drink downstairs. So, I a