We decided to join a tour as we did not really know how else we were going to get there. However, the problem with tours is that you usually don’t have enough time to see the things that you want and spend way too much time on the bus or standing in the line for a various number of reasons. Regardless, we felt like this was our only option for this particular destination so here we were.
After riding around on the bus for over an hour in Jerusalem picking up other travellers, we were finally on our way through the Judaean desert. What a bleak, beautiful landscape! There are still people that live here in Bedouin villages and Jewish kibbutz (commune like communities) making a living raising goats and sheep, vegetable gardens and fruit trees (including dates, which are very yummy!). As we descended towards the Dead Sea (it is 1388 feet below sea level), Richard and I could both imagine Judas singing on one of the hilltops or the rest of the cast of Jesus Christ Superstar dancing across the desert!
The Dead Sea was much larger than we imagined though you can also see where the water is receding – estimated at a rate of a meter per year. There are sink holes along the shores, and resorts that thrived just a few years ago have now been abandoned as they slowly sink into the ground. Our guide told us that this is because the upper Jordan river that originally fed this sea has been blocked off for irrigation and personal use. There are initiatives in place to regulate this flow and start adding water back into the Dead Sea but it will be many years before it returns to its former glory. Actually it will never return to its original level, but they are hoping to someday divert water from the Red Sea which would hopefully maintain a level.
Across the valley, you can see the mountains of Jordan and it is hard to believe that there is still war and animosity between these two nations. Just to confirm this sentiment, we were stopped at a border checkpoint as we left the West Bank and two young soldiers with very scary machine guns came on board the bus to give us a look see. Apparently, none of us looked like terrorists as they left the bus as quietly as they came on. Further to this, while we were on the mountaintop of Masada, a half dozen fighter jets flew overhead, low and loud. I have to admit, it made my heart race just a bit. Another incident that makes us appreciate Canada even more!
Masada! A ride up on the cable car brings us to the ancient ruins of this Herodian palace and final holdout for the Jewish revolt against the Romans in 73 AD. King Herod built this grand Winter Palace in the style of Rome in 40 BC. It was meant to entertain and impress and I’m sure that it did! The sheer number of storerooms and water cisterns would ensure that one could stay here for years without having to leave the mountain. Even the ingenuity and the enormous effort of getting the building materials up the mountain at this time in history is mind boggling. The living quarters, entertainment areas, bath houses must have been magnificent. There is much original stonework left as well as frescoes and mosaics that have stood the test of time. Unfortunately, our time here was shorter than we would have liked but it was amazing, nevertheless.
Dead Sea – So you hear the stories of floating in the sea or the famous picture of reading the paper while sitting in the water. The healing powers of the water and the mud. We were told to wear footwear into the water to protect our feet from salt rocks so I had a pair of flip flops that I had purchased in Thailand. Richard had his sandals. As we walked into the water, we slipped and slid in the mud and soon our feet were stuck fast. Trying to get my flip flops out, I fell against a large salt rock, scraping my left foot and shin. Ouch! I finally just laid back in the water and guess what? You really do float. In fact, even though we were only in water knee deep, I was unable to rescue my flip flops because I could not touch the bottom with my hands without rolling off my feet. It was a pretty weird sensation and being the control freak that I am, I did not particularly enjoy the experience. So, the flip flops are forever laid to rest in the Dead Sea Sea and I can say that I have floated there very briefly as well.
Back in Jerusalem, we picked up some snacks to spend a very quiet New Year’s Eve watching the mini series Masada. We fell asleep long before midnight but not before wishing friends and family a wonderful 2019!
Today we are off to Nazareth to follow the path of Jesus as he begins his ministry. Can’t wait!
Masada. If you are not familiar with the history of Masada I highly encourage you to look it up. It is an amazing piece of Jewish history.
The mosaic on this floor is the original tile installed over 2000 years ago. Apparently it has lasted this long because of the dry climate.
As you look down from the fortress you will see square enclosures around the perimeter of the fortress. This is where the Romans set up to prevent the Israelite’s from escaping in 73 AD
The picture below shows where the Romans built the ramp which allowed them to bring a battering ram to bear on the fortress which brought an end to the siege.
The Dead Sea….
Someone is making some money off of mud.
Yep, you actually float in the Dead Sea. Even I (Richard) did and I don’t float. Once I was floating on my back I wasn’t able to get up as I couldn’t get my legs to go down and touch the bottom so I had to paddle my way into shore until I could touch the bottom with my hands. Hard to believe but very true.