Day 6: Another early day--but totally worth it.
Masada Travel Blog› entry 6 of 11 › view all entries
It's the shabbat, which technically means I am totally free for the day and can finally catch up on the sleep my body is so desperately begging to have. Only I have decided to take full advantage of every minute I have in Israel and have planned a full-day trip to Masada and the Dead Sea. It sounded wonderful 2 months ago, but not so much at 2:45 am when my alarm goes off and I've only had 3 1/2 hours of sleep. Twelve of us are up at this ungodly hour so we can hike up Masada while it's still cool and enjoy the sunrise. We sleepily pile into the taxi van that will take us there (it's about an hour drive) and travel through two armed military checkpoints. We arrive at Masada when it's still pitch dark (according to the Mamas and the Papas "the darkest hour is just before dawn" and I think they're right) and begin our ascent.
Masada is, as a tour guide will later describe, "an island in the desert." Or as my handy brochure points out, it is a plateau located "on the eastern fringe of the Judean Desert near the shore of the Dead Sea, between Ein Gedi and Sodom (yes, that Sodom). It is a mountain block that rose and was detached from the fault escarpment...the plateau is 450 meters above the level of the Dead Sea and is approximately 650 meters long and 300 meters wide."
Masada is historically significant because it is the site of one of the first events of the Great Revolt of the Jews against the Romans which occured in 66 BCE. When Jerusalem was destroyed by the Romans, rebel Jews fled to Masada (which had been built as a palace fortress by King Herod).
We climbed the semi-steep snake path to get to the top, all the while trying to stay one step ahead of the rising sun. We arrived at the top just after 5:30am in plenty of time to watch the 5:45 sunrise over the Dead Sea. Sunrises are always beautiful, but they seem extra special in places like this and after you've had to work for the reward.
Most people descend shortly after sunrise to beat the approaching heat. The twelve of us in my group are stuck here until 9:30 when another group of less-adventurous Kivunim participants arrive after coming up via cable car. With them is our guide, Hillel, who tells us more about the history of this place and supplies us with new (and cold) bottles of water. We all take the cable car back down and at 11am we're already beat.
Next we stop at Ein Gedi--a kibbutz located in the middle of the desert and home to a waterfall and many ibex (Hillel tells us the ibex are native to the New York Times crossword puzzle--Ha Ha!). We have lunch at a small cafeteria and then drive to the Dead Sea, the lowest point on the planet.
The Dead Sea is actually a lake, not a sea, nestled between Israel and Jordan. It is 1378 feet below sea level and its shores are the lowest points of dry land on Earth. It is the second saltiest body of water in the world (behind Lake Asal in Djibouti) is 30% saline.
We change into our bathing suits and head for the water. It's stinky, but warm like a bath. It is very easy to float, in fact impossible not to float. I keep trying to bring my legs down to touch the bottom and I struggle immensely. The people in my group take turns passing around a newspaper so we can lounge and read in the water. We discover mud on the banks of the shore that people apply to their bodies. We coat ourselves in mud then bask in the sunshine before rinsing off. Our skin is smoother, though still stinky. We also visit the hot baths (water that is more than 100 degrees Farenheit and smells like a fishbowl).
Once I get back to my room, I take a really good shower and then sleep soundly for 90 minutes before Sara wakes me to go to another lecture (this one on Israeli literature) and then dinner at an art museum. Luckily, it is a worthwhile lecture and dinner (fresh Italian food-yum) because I'm still very tired.