There are certain things a person has to see when they come to Israel (check back in a few weeks for my version of an Israeli bucket list). Two of those things include the Dead Sea and Masada, and through some magical planning and twists of fate, 13 friends and I were able to cross those things off our list, along with Ein Gedi, a desert oasis. So here’s the breakdown of our amazing trip:
Four friends and I piled into a rental car and headed down from Haifa, around the West Bank, through Jerusalem and out into the desert. And like any good Israeli roadtrip, there had to be a stop at a roadside falafel stand where there happened to be a man selling camel rides (or just momentary sits, in my case) to gullible tourists like myself.
When we arrived at the Dead Sea and the beach where we’d also be camping, we went floating! You can’t really call it swimming because the salt content is so high, you can barely hold yourself under. It is the oddest feeling, like being totally weightless. This is me bobbing around with my friends Emily and Ariel.
Then we found mud! The Dead Sea’s mud is famous for its cleansing properties, but you usually have to pay an arm and a leg to get some, unless you happen to find it yourself, which we did! You cover yourself up with the nearly-black goo and take goofy pictures while it dries in the hot desert sun. Then you climb back into the water and let the salty water wash it away and it leaves your skin really soft. That’s me in the center, with just my face and feet visible between James and Ariel. The boys were all about covering their faces, but we girls were less keen on sticking our faces in the salty water. Every orifice on your body burns like crazy if you get any water in it, so you have to be very careful. Safe to say, I could not stop laughing as long as we were covered in the stuff.
So after a day of driving, camel-sitting, floating, mudding and sweating our butts off in the 90+ degree heat in the desert until nearly 9 p.m., we hunkered down on the beach campground area to catch a few hours of sleep. So yes, yet again I slept outside, although this time was much harder than the first because we had 30+ mph desert winds blowing on us all night long. But it didn’t really matter since we awoke at 3:45 am to begin our next adventure.
So in the dessert, a mile or so from the shore of the Dead Sea, on top of a little mountain is Masada. On top of the mountain (at the max, 1,300 feet high), is an ancient fortress. Legend has it that several thousand years ago, the Roman army wanted to capture the fortress of Masada where a group of about 960 Jews lived in really fancy digs. The Jews hunkered down and tried to wait out the Romans, while the Romans tried to get to the top by building a ramp to take their army up. When they finally got to the top, they found the Jews had burned their storerooms of food and all committed suicide. So how do people like me commemorate such an occasion? They get up really freaking early in the morning and climb up Masada to watch the sun rise over the desert mountains of Jordan on the other side of the Dead Sea.
My friends and I were up and at Masada, planning on climbing up the Roman ramp, a climb, but not unfathomable. To our surprise, we discovered we’d had some miscommunication and were on the wrong side for the ramp so we had to do the (insert ominous music here) Snake Path.
The Snake Path is comprised of 700 crudely cut steps over 2km long to take you up. To put that in perspective, it’s about the equivalent of climbing around 54 stories of a standard US building. The catch? You have to make it up by sunrise or all your hard work will have been wasted! And I have a confession: I almost gave up. My dear asthmatic lungs couldn’t take another step, but I had three friends who stuck with me and were struggling too and we coached each other all the way up. I don’t think I’ll ever forget the strength they gave me that early morning. But make it up we did, before the sun rose over the mountains or over the clouds above them. It was kind of awesome.
Here are three of the other girls from the group and I basking in the glow of the early morning light. It was around 6 a.m. when this was taken.
Once on top of Masada, we wandered around for an hour or so, taking in all of the ruins and sights up there and the view of the red rocky desert around us, with the salt flats and the Dead Sea to the east. Once it was 8 a.m., 11 of the 13 started the descent back down the Snake Path, but I and my new partner in knee-injury world, Aaron, opted to pay to take the cable car down.
To recap, it is about 8:15 a.m. and we college kids have already been awake for four and a half hours after sleeping outside on rocks for a few hours. We drove to the nearest town to eat breakfast and recover, then made our way to Ein Gedi, a desert oasis and nature reserve where several things happened….
- I swam under waterfalls for the first time in my life.
- We washed the salt and sand of the last two days off of our bodies and rejoiced in cool waters since the temperature was at least 90 degrees again. This is Megan, Julia, Me, Ariel and Steph.
- My friend Benny tried to feed a hyrax sunflower seeds and it bit him. Hard. Note to everyone in the world ever outdoors: never feed the animals. He’s fine, for the record, nothing a visit to a clinic and a shot or two couldn’t fix.
Once Benny was bandaged and we’d had our fill of sun and salt and desert, we headed back up to Haifa, completely exhausted. But here’s the thing, like nearly every other second of this entire experience, I wouldn’t trade a minute of it for anything different. And I think that’s the best thing a person can say about any sort of adventure.