Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Israel Day 6: Masada, the Dead Sea, Ein Gedi

4:21. That's what time my alarm went off this morning. Why, you might ask? Why would anyone want to get up *that* early on vacation?  I'll tell you why. Cause I'm a sucker for beauty. And in this case, beauty meant leaving the hotel at 4:50 this morning so we could be to the top of Masada in time to watch the sunrise.

In. Sane. We took the Snake Path to the top, beginning the climb at 5:30. Our guide, Amikam, started us off with some history and climbing tips before letting us go at our own pace. He brought up the rest. The rear happened to be me. This how was brutal. I went on one hike in California that was harder than this, but only because it was nearly three times as long. Despite the intensity of the elevation, we managed to make it to the top in only 45 minutes, three minutes before the most magnificant sunrise. 

Call me naive, call me ignorant, call me whatever you want, but I so did not realize there were ruins on Masada. I always thought you hiked to see the sunrise. I am SO glad I thought wrong! The fort ruins were un-be-lieve-able! More history seeped into my brain in that hour and a half long tour than all my history and Jewish studies classes combined. Ten times more. 

Clear as day, history came alive. We saw ancient several Mikva, the most incredible mosaic tile floors, and some unreal fresco walls that were as bright as they were when they were painted thousands of years ago. Everywhere we went there was a black line following us along the walls. Everything below the line was original stone and plaster work. Everything above the line was recreated in the original manner. There was a synagogue where original Torah were found. People hold Bar Mitzvah and Bat Mitzvah services there. And areas of the fortress are still being excavated today. 

What really amazed me is the amount of innovation, creativity, engineering, and even physics that have been in play for thousands of years. The way people brought water to the top of the fortress.... The Roman Ramp used to roll a battering ram to the top.... The ingenuity in the cisterns.... The whole place reeked of skills I dreaded learning as I went through school, but now so eagerly will continue to explore. 

After taking the cable car down (these legs were jelly) we headed back to the hotel for a soak in the Dead Sea. Ironically, the only place you could get Dead Sea mud was the gift shop. The water may have been cold, but this time I went in anyway. It was so cool! Literally and figuratively!  It was impossible to sink! I mastered the floating on my back and reading a book pose, but was unable to pull off the belly balance. The Dead Sea has receded drastically over the last forty years, and efforts are being made to prevent further loss of this ancient, healing wonder. Before we exited the Sea, we exfoliated (maybe a little too vigorously,) showered, and headed to the final destination for the day. 

Upon arriving at Ein Gedi, I groaned. Loudly. I knew it would be more walking, but I didn't think it would be more UPhill walking. Thankfully, we started at another ruins, this one uncovered within the last six years. It was a small ruins area, with small living quarters and a beautiful synagogue. I mean beautiful. It had a perfectly preserved mosaic floor, clearly showing where the bima and ark used to be. They have only just worked in one area of the ruins, and over the next years more will be excavated and preserved. 

The next leg of Ein Gedi, while filled with beauty, was a bit less enjoyable for me because it involved MORE hill hiking. I clearly heard my hamstrings crying with every uphill step. That said, I have never seen such beautiful waterfalls and natural beauty, especially considering it is in the middle of a desert. We also met an Israeli mammal called shevan.  It looked like a little ground hog, however, it's name is equivalent to the American term "chicken" which was rather funny, as one was less than a two feet away from me!  As we walked past and in the waterfalls and streams, we also saw monks caves and burial caves carved into the mountains. We, once again, we walking past history. 
Our day ended with dinner st Dex, a restaurant that came highly recommended by some of the Israeli teachers at school, as well as a few shop keepers we met in Israel. A long day with two hikes finally gave me a solid night of sleep with no wake-ups in between eyes-closed and morning light. Next up, we head to Tzfat and the Druze Hospitality lunch!

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