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Published: March 10th 2016
The reason I got up so early this morning was that today is a day for rejuvenation and learning! I booked a tour to visit Masada and the Dead Sea. Visiting the lowest point on Earth at 1400 feet below sea level was worth it on so many levels (pun intended).
The bus picked us up at 7:30, and then ran through Jerusalem to pick up a few more people, before heading towards the Jordanian border and the Dead Sea. On the bus ride, I met a great group of people: 2 other Vermonters, a Houstonian, 2 Canadians, and a couple Californians. I spent the day bouncing between them for conversation and entertainment.
First we stopped at a private beach on the north shore of the Dead Sea where we dropped off a few people that were just on the tour for the Dead Sea. Then the majority of us continued south to Masada, the location of many last stands. Along the way, we stopped to see the Qumran Caves, where the Dead Sea scrolls were found by a shepherd about 70 years ago. Some of the scrolls are though to be the original writings of Biblical canons, and
others are old manuscripts and descriptions of battles and wars.
We then stopped by the AHAVA factory, a company that specializes in body care products made from Dead Sea minerals. I'm relatively sure that our tour guide got commission from them, but luckily we weren't pressured to buy anything from their factory store...a good thing, since I have carry-on baggage and all of their stuff was over 3 oz!
We finally made it to Masada, a fort built by the High Priest Jonathan in the first century BC on top of a 400 meter high plateau in the mountains of southern Israel, overlooking the Dead Sea. It was captured by Herod shortly after, who added several palaces and buildings. Some historians think that Herod may have built the whole thing, and Jonathan was never involved. However, they do agree he likely only spent about month of his life there. It remained under Roman rule for only a few decades before the extremist Jewish Sicarii captured it. The Romans, in a play to take it back, used slave labor to build a ramp to the walls on the west side ("only" 90 meter cliffs). Upon breaching the walls, they
just left of center
found that the occupants had burned the stores and committed suicide rather than become slaves; of the 967 in the fortress, only 2 women and 5 children survived the self-slaughter.
In later years, a group of Byzantine monks, exiled from Jerusalem, occupied the fortress briefly and added a cathedral. However, the fort was unoccupied and unknown for most of its existence until it was rediscovered in the 1800s, and excavated in the 1960s. It is now a major tourist attraction, but relatively well kept, thanks to its UNESCO World Heritage Status.
After leaving Masada, we went back to the private beach, where we had an hour and a half to do all the classic Dead Sea things: namely, float and coat yourself in mud. Until you experience it, it's hard to believe that you'll actually just naturally float in the water. However, I waded in to about hip-height and lay back and held my breath and...breathed. And floated. Without trying. In fact, it's hard to go down. Swinging your legs downwards to stand is decidedly difficult. The water is 34%!m(MISSING)ineral, with a density of about 1.24. The human body is around 1.05, meaning that not
difficult...even the buffest of people wouldn't reach 1.24.
I also did coat myself in the mud...it's really more like clay. It could be molded as easily and certainly felt like it would do well in a kiln. In turns your whole body black, but my skin has never felt better in my life. Baby smooth. Unfortunately, I have not yet gotten my pictures in it from the Canadians, but I'll post them when I do!
I made it home around 7:30...an hour late, thanks to the Secret Service shutting down roads for Joe Biden's visit. Marie and I then went out for falafel (again...2 nights in a row. Good thing it's delicious!), followed by a drink at a very cool outdoor bar. Tomorrow is a chill-and-love-life day around Tel Aviv, so I'm certainly looking forward to it!
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