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Published: April 14th 2009
I found myself in Eilat for the second time in five days. I had made a mad dash to Cairo to see the Egyptian Museum and the pyramids, I wouldn’t be able to forgive myself if I had made it this far without seeing them, but finally it was time to relax after two weeks in the always challenging but also extremely rewarding Arabic countries of Egypt, Jordan and Syria. I was only in town for the night, the next day I was headed up to the beaches of the Dead Sea.
I was on a completely different schedule from Arabic living and my body didn’t even know it yet. The following morning after a three hour bus ride I found myself at Masada, the ancient fortress so important to Jewish mythos. Something was wrong when I arrived though. The fortress was there but the town wasn’t. Whenever and wherever I had traveled I became accustomed to there being at least some rudimentary services near a hostel. Here the hostel lay right underneath the fortress, the only modern building for miles. Also I could see the Dead Sea, it was miles away though which conflicted with my plans to go for a float. All in all this place was starting to look like not a very hospitable place to stay for the night. Best to try and get a bed anyway, but as it turned out there were none available. The woman at the reception at the reception didn’t even bother to talk to me in person, “just catch the next bus to Ein Gedi” she said through the intercom.
In my travel guidebook I could see that there was a hostel there too. I figured it was worth a shot and failing that I could probably just make it into Jerusalem that night if things really became desperate. My sense of desperation was not helped by the tardiness of the bus, it was forty minutes late. Getting on I asked if the driver knew where to stop for the hostel, but he spoke only Hebrew and I spoke only English so a younger woman intervened on my behalf. Paying the fare I sat near the front not wanting to miss my stop. After about fifteen minutes I saw the usual sign indicating hostel, I started to stand up, the young woman looked back at me and realized she had forgot to remind the driver. The driver sensing both of our uneasiness squealed on his brakes. Half a kilometer behind me was my hostel and I was going to be walking back.
Much to my happiness I got to the hostel and found not only that they had vacancies, but they had many vacancies. They were in fact a little bit surprised to see anybody at this time of year. I was the first non-Israeli tourist in three days. With this news and again no town to offer any kind of nighttime pastimes I nonetheless happily signed into a room. Occasionally a lone traveler will have the luck to have a hostel room to themselves. However this is really only a benefit in a large party place where there are lots of people to talk to yet no one to keep you up at night. This would not be the case here. I looked at my empty room and knew that I was the only English speaker in the area and I knew there would be lonely times ahead.
With so much free time ahead and with no one to talk with I realized I was in no hurry to do anything. I had already agreed to two nights here. There were no buses running the next day for Jerusalem until later, and I far preferred arriving to a new place during the daytime hours as opposed to the night. So with the sun out in full force and my cool room offering temporary respite from its rays, I decided to head down to the nearby beach in the late afternoon, when it wouldn’t be quite so hot. And so when the time came I headed to the public beach for a splash in the world famous Dead Sea.
I saw some of the locals covering themselves with the dark clay that they had dug up from the beach. After floating for a few minutes I was eager to get some mud all over my body too. I tried it first to make sure it didn’t stain my clothes, and with this test out of the way I got covered as much from head to toe. With my beach fun out of the way, I headed back to the hostel for the supper which I had bought a ticket for. It was only then when I had arrived that that I remembered that this was the Sabbath. I had been so used to traveling in Arabia that I forgot that I was living with a new religious schedule as well. This explained why the buses weren’t running the next day. Still the meal itself was magnificent, especially for someone traveling on my meager budget. My meal included chicken, potatoes, salad, hummus, cauliflower, jello with fruit, and chocolate cake. As I sat eating, numerous of the locals who were staying in family or single rooms broke out into song and dance. I sat and enjoyed their celebrations of faith and then headed to bed. Sleeping was not an easy proposition though as their conversations carried on into the night. It was not a worry anyway, I could sleep in as late as I wanted the next day anyway.
Not surprisingly I woke up late and left late the next day. I was headed to Ein Gedi National Park. It was nothing like the National Parks that I was used to. For me a national park meant forests and animals, this place was nearly as lifeless as the desert around it. After climbing from 400 meters below sea level to 200 meters above I was on the top of Mount Yishay. The small beach where I was the previous day looked like a small sliver far down below. I had another task on my return as the park was to be my only means of sustenance for the day. Nowhere in the area sold food on the Sabbath and so for me to find anything at all to eat for the day, I had to go to the ridiculously small canteen at the park’s entrance. The hostel was part of an international chain that required breakfast to be served, however with breakfast out of the way, my only food for the rest of the day would be a tuna sandwich which lay unbought in the refrigerated display case.
Back at the hostel I knew that the waiting was about to begin. I had the rest of the day and the whole night to myself. There was no one else at the hostel now and so I waited, not with any real thing to do, until I felt like going to the beach. At the beach I repeated much of the same pattern as the previous day. I floated for a while then went to find myself some clay. Some tourists at the beach were amazed that I was covering myself in clay. First out came the cameras, then came the brave individual who asked me where to find it. I took him to the small hole which I had dug and soon the beach was full of people imitating my darkened body. I left soon after and went back to the hostel. I was now with nothing to do and no one to talk to, the gentle breeze coming off the sea and the occasional vehicle passing by the only the thing to break the silence.
The next morning I got my bus out of Ein Gedi to Jerusalem. I couldn’t wait to get out. Ein Gedi had been a lot of fun, but for someone used to a breakneck pace for traveling, it felt weird to be stranded there.
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