Masada is one of those historical places with such a crazy history it gives you the chills just thinking about it.
Because I’m so far behind on blogs I’ll spare you the details – but I suggest giving it a read on Wikipedia if you’re interested. In short, it’s a completely isolated and self-contained fortress perched atop a 1,300 foot-high plateau in the desert overlooking the Dead Sea, originally built by Herod the Great around 35BC. Later, around 66AD, a group of Jewish rebels occupied Masada during their last stand against the Roman Empire. They held their ground for several months as the Roman armies below failed attempt after attempt to get into the city. When the walls finally fell, the Romans arrived to find that the Jews had set fire to all of the buildings and food storerooms before committing mass suicide, choosing death over capture and enslavement.
There are far more details to the (debated) story than this of course, which is why I suggest looking into it if you’re interested 🙂
After watching the sunrise from Masada the group and I hiked down the Snake Path and rode the bus to the nearby Ein Gedi oasis, where we went swimming in a (very small) waterfall isolated within towering cliffs on all four sides. Once again, my waterproof camera enclosure came in tremendously handy 🙂
Then it was just a quick trip across the road for a dip in the Dead Sea.
I swam in the dead sea once before – when I was in Israel in 2004 – but that didn’t make it any less astonishing this time around. Everyone knows that the Dead Sea is salty, and that you float in it. But swimming in the Dead Sea is one of those things you’ve just got to experience to believe.
First of all, you don’t just “float.” You’re so incredibly buoyant that it’s actually difficult to keep your legs under the water and remain vertical. If you lay on your back, you can fall completely asleep on the glasslike surface – your head won’t sink farther than your ears. Even your hands stay afloat. You can lay on the water on your belly if you want, too.
And it’s not just “salty,” either. It’s so salty that the seafloor is littered with sharp fist-size salt crystals, and instead of sand, the beaches are covered with salt. If you stay in the water too long every little microcut on your body begins to sear with pain – just pray you didn’t make the mistake of shaving the day before.
Swimming in the Dead Sea is such an unusual and non-intuitive experience that it’s actually not uncommon to see people panicking in the water – if just one drop of the stuff gets in your eye it feels like you’ve just been stabbed through the retina with a foot-long needle. So you attempt to wipe it out. Bad idea. You hurry to swim to shore. More water splashes. More pain. You try to swim, but you’re so buoyant that you can’t get any propulsion going. It’s really something you’ve got to get used to, and something that I can say with certainty that you can’t experience anywhere else in the world.
After the Dead Sea we rode the bus into Tel Aviv, and after a short seminar by the extremely witty and interesting Niel Lazarus, it was time for our one and only truly “free night out,” where we’re allowed to go wherever and do whatever we want. The evening consisted of a club, followed by a bit of ice-cold night swimming at the nearby beach before finally getting home just a couple hours before dawn.
…Which isn’t to say that we had any time to sleep in the next morning.
More coffee and Red Bulls, and we were off for a tour of…
Old Jaffa, …
…a bustling street market, …
and Independence Hall, the site of Israel’s Declaration of Independence.
(Incidentally, Israel’s 60th Yom Ha’atzmaut – Independence Day – takes place this Thursday. Most neighboring Arabic countries refer to this day as al-Nakba – “The Disaster.” I wonder if this is a safe time for me to be here…)
Then it was a few hours in the Mediterranean beaches of Tel Aviv, and finally to our hostel in Jerusalem for a meeting to prepare ourselves emotionally for Yad Vashem – the Holocaust Memorial Museum.
Apologies for the very terse description – gotta catch up somehow!
Now do you see why I didn’t have time even for blog notes on this trip? 😆