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Masada and the Dead Sea

sunny 74 °F

Jill ended up having a very long night last night. She got sick a few more times during the night and slept very little. Our alarm went off at 6AM this morning and we rolled out to start getting ready. We headed down to floor -1 to find breakfast, but the restaurant didn't open until 7AM so we had to wait for a bit. Our tour bus was scheduled for 7:15AM arrival at our hotel and we got to the lobby right on time. We met our guide Lorne who has been living in Israel for the past 6 years and guiding for the past year. He explained that he's from New York and we later found out he's a degreed archaeologist from Duke University. We picked up a few more groups on our bus, then met quickly at a "depot" to swap passengers with other buses making similar pickups. We headed east out of Tel Aviv toward the north end of the Dead Sea. On our way, we made our first pit stop at the Elvis American Diner. It was packed with Elvis memorabilia and included many large Elvis statues.
After a quick rest stop we were back on the road. When we reached the Dead Sea, we turned and headed south toward Masada driving through the Judean desert. We made a second stop at a shop out in the desert. We stayed outside and soaked up the sun!! The weather has been amazing so far.
We continued our trek south driving parallel to the Dead Sea. As the water warmed this morning, it created a thick fog over the water that made it impossible to see Jordan on the other side. The large lake (it doesn't flow to another body of water) while inhospitable to marine life, does provide a beautiful view. In addition to being the lowest point on earth (430 meters below sea level) the Dead Sea is the saltiest body of water. The ocean is around 3% salt, Great Salt Lake is around 25% salt and the Dead Sea is around 35% salt.
While we didn't get to enjoy views of Jordan, we did get a close up of a small family of Ibex on our drive. These animals look like large goats with long curly horns. The patriarch of the group has extremely long horns (20+ inches) and many of the animals were on their hind legs trying to each from the trees. Jonathon was excited to catch a glimpse even though he didn't get a great photo. This isn't our photo, but wanted to share what they look like with you.
We arrived at Masada, one of 7 fortresses constructed by the Great King Herod in his kingdom. Herod had been very scared of a revolt from the Jewish people as his parents were Arabs. Masada provides an impressive defense based on the surrounding environment and disconnect from the other mountains. The fortress had been designed by Herod to provide an impressive feeling of a hanging palace off the north face (model shown below), but he also implemented aqueducts and cisterns to capture the rain to provide water in this desert environment.
A quick trip to the top of the mountain in the 80 passenger cable car provided great views. We lucked out with timing our trip as the cable car was being shutdown this evening for maintenance and no tours will happen for the next several weeks. In the bottom right of this photo you can see the remains of one of the Roman army camps.
This fortress is a UNESCO World Heritage site because of the incredible well preserved Roman army camps that lie at the bottom of the mountain. The fortress has store houses, a bath house with tiled floors and frescos, and other preserved features. The main palace is on the north side of the mountain to allow a breeze to pass through the chambers during the mid summer when temperatures reach 115 degrees F. Here you can see the raised floor of the bathhouse and the concentric circles that formed the decorative reception hall.
This fortress became well known after the rebellion in 70AD when Sicarii and Zealots burned food in Jerusalem to start a rebellion, then took Masada. Since they had no other food they raided nearby cities and killed many women and children in the process. The 250 men brought their families (a total of nearly 1000 people) to live at the fortress. The Romans scared the rebels at the other 6 fortresses to surrender but here the rebels would not. Surrounded by nearly 9000 fighting me the rebels hunkered down. After approximately 6 months the Roman slaves had constructed a ramp (shown below) to access the fortress and use a siege machine. When the rebels were certain of defeat they rolled dice to assign tasks and "mercifully" carry out their own demise. The 250 men went out and murdered all the women and children; then rolled for 10 men to kill the other 240; finally one was selected to kill the other 9 and then commit suicide. This story was relayed to a historian by 2 women and 5 children that hid in a cistern after hearing the men's plan. They were captured by the Roman soldiers and sold into slavery. A gruesome end to the rebels that had caused so much damage throughout Israel.
Here's a couple happy shots at the top of the fortress to help bring you back from that devastating story. The sunshine has felt amazing and we're very thankful since it rained three days in a row before we started our tours here. Israel has been treating us right so far!
We rode the cable care back to the bottom and ate lunch. The guide asked how we enjoyed the food. When we told him it was not great he said that's not surprising since it was the Shabat (the Sabbath) and they aren't allowed to cook, only reheat food. Back on the bus, we headed north again toward the beach at the Dead Sea. Along the way, our guide told us the story of the Dead Sea Scrolls as we passed the caves, Qumran, along the way.
We made it back to the Dead Sea and enjoyed an hour soaking in the saltwater, scrubbing with salt and putting on full body "masks" to tone and tighten our skin.
Of course they have camels here to allow people to take pictures, sit on and ride as well. We didn't join in, but did take a couple pictures from afar. We got to FaceTime with Sloane for a little while and tried to show her the camels, but she was busy singing Baby Shark, "Run-away" while making laps around Nana and Bapa's living room.
The tour group made it back to the bus and had to wait 20 minutes for one straggling couple to get back to the bus. Then we made the trip back to Tel Aviv and our hotel. Jonathon enjoyed his Israeli Cheetos on the return trip... They were good, but not nearly as cheesy as he's accustomed to.
Jill made dinner reservations at MantaRay a fantastic restaurant nearby and invited a co-worker to join us. We hopped in a taxi and made it just in time for our reservation. We all enjoyed the food and Jonathon enjoyed a Shapiro wheat beer. Tired and full, we then returned to our hotel for much needed sleep!

Posted by cornelljjs 13:28 Archived in Israel

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