Thursday, June 27, 2019

An Exhausting Day: From Masada at Dawn to Ein Gedi to the Dead Sea

Sometimes plans sound better in theory than they feel in person. The Abraham Tours sunrise tour of Masada, Ein Gedi, and the Dead Sea was that kind of experience.

This was one of the few times I was away when I thought Don would be having more fun than I am having right now. 

We gathered in the van at 3 am. Yes, this is vacation. We had a 30 minute rest stop, and arrived at Masada at 4:20 am. 

By 4:30 am I had my first and to think they do this every day moment when the ticket taker ran out of change. We each had to pay 31 shekels (less than $10) to enter the park to climb (and I mean climb) Masada. He did not take credit cards. People were scrounging to put their money together. Perhaps charge a round 30 or 40 shekels each instead? 


Our group was by no means the only crazy people climbing Masada that day. Julie and I were about the last ones to start. Julie got partway up and pushed me forward. I made it to the top just as the sun was officially rising and people were cheering. There were people as far I could see camped out waiting for this moment. To be honest, it felt a little meh after the 45-minute hike. There were many Jewish teenagers, a British group who brought along their own Israeli medic (he was warm
ly dressed and was cranky about having to make the climb, turns out some groups have him wait at the bottom).

The sun rose quickly.

The great surprise to me was there were actually things to do at the top. I suppose in my mind I pictured an empty space. Instead there are the ruins of a city built by King Herod (read: King Herod's slaves). King Herod is the evil one from the Bible who wanted Jesus killed. Turns out he was also into building an empire.

I witnessed some bar and bat mitzvahs happening in the synagogue. I wandered around the other structures. I also used their bathroom just because they have a bathroom with running water and flushing toilets. The ancient water structure still works 2,000 years later.

The climb down was another 45 minutes. I took it slow as kids dashed passed me -- I saw one fall. I was probably middle of the pack as far as fitness levels. The much less fit can take a cable car, but alas that did not start running until 20 minutes after I had to be back at the bus. 

In hindsight, maybe waiting for the midday tour would have been better. I also wish I put on sunscreen before the start of the hike even though the sun wasn't up yet when I started.

As I got to the bottom I was surprised there were no signs warning about the difficulty of the climb. Turns out, there are signs. They are just not visible in the pitch black.

I could totally see an ultra marathon taking place on the side of the mountain.

Pros: it was cooler at dawn. 
Cons: lack of cable car. 

Ein Gedi
 Our second stop was the Ein Gedi Nature Preserve. Biblically this is the place where David fled from Saul. Today it is an oasis near the Dead Sea -- about the only patch of greenery, waterfalls, and wild animals. We were told to refill our water bottles because the water is super fresh here.

Ein Gedi is one of those rare places where desert and water happily co-exist.
Tired from hiking up AND down Masada, I was not in the mood to be hiking around a nature preserve. The waterfalls reminded me of our trips to Hawaii and Iceland (yes, two destinations not usually mentioned in the same sentence). They have a convenient loop that goes around a couple of waterfalls and back to the entrance. I did that. Julie saw the first waterfall and decided not to continue.

As I continued on the loop (how much further could it be?) I was thinking Julie made the right decision. When we met up again she said she saw a bunch of Nubian ibex race down the mountain, something they must do every single day. To hear her describe it, I pictured the scene in The Lion King when the wildebeest race down the mountain before crushing Mufasa. 


I did see blackstart birds in the trees eating leaves. They are mostly black with some orange. Made me think of orioles back home.

I saw a guide half-carrying a woman out of the preserve. The guide was a member of the Israeli army. This was my first hint that the mandatory service for Israelis is not all military-related. I learned more about this during week 2 of my time at the Kibbutz when I met Noy.

My notes say Ein Gedi cost 28 shekels. This ticket taker, though, had enough change and accepted credit cards. Again I wondered why they didn't just include the ticket price in the price of our bus ride and spare us the long line.

The Dead Sea
  We drove through checkpoints again to the Dead Sea. We drove through them on the way to Masada, but I was too tired before dawn to register what was happening. We were never asked to see our passports. I can only believe the tour company showed them copies of our passports, or has some sort of agreement.

Whatever fee there was for visiting the Dead Sea (it looked like a tourist destination, so I would expect a fee) it was included in our tour price. They also gave us clean loaner towels.

Unfortunately my little camera got wet and instantly became useless. I dared to want to take a picture in the middle of the Dead Sea. The same Dead Sea where my cousin Barbara lost a roll of film years earlier. The Dead Sea and cameras do not get along.

I popped in wearing my Chacos. Floated for a couple of moments alone (Julie was with her camera in the dry area). Returned to see Julie and give her a turn in the water.

I know I should be more excited that I was visiting the lowest point on earth. I know I should be excited that I could float because there was so much salt in the water. I know I should be excited because the Dead Sea mud is supposed to be all curing. 

All I thought about was the fabulous breakfast I skipped to do this, and my wallet was in the locked bus.

Liz had said every cut would scream in pain because of the salt. I didn't feel that, but Julie did. I became sunburned even though I wore sunscreen.

We hung out for two hours before heading back into the van. Twenty minutes would have been enough for me.

I saw a sad looking camel who was posing for pictures in the heat. I skipped the photo op. 

It was 32C out (90 degrees F). Not nearly as hot as it can become.

Totally a day where the paper description did not live up to expectations. It happens.

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