Up early and rearing to explore, my crewmember John and I left the Intercontinental David Tel Aviv hotel and elected to go on a tour to Masada National Park and the Dead Sea. Driving through the Judean hills, it took almost 2 hours to get to the Israeli side of the Dead Sea. We passed bedouin tents along side of the road, and it made me wonder how they lived in such intolerant dry temperatures, moving their family regularly and living entirely off the land? I am thoroughly intrigued by their rugged lifestyle and their harsh realities and have decided to gain more knowledge of their culture.
We made a quick stop at the Ahava Factory, popular and widely known for its Dead Sea body products. Past experience told me to wait on a purchase – often times the factory has the most expensive prices, and I was not here to shop. I was anxious to explore Masada and ready to float in the Dead Sea.
As we approached the vast desert fortress, we were told that it was too late in the day to hike the winding Snake Path around the mountainside, so we rode the tram to the top of the mountain. It was a blistering 90 degrees of dry arid heat. Walking along the top of the plateau, we were totally mesmerized by the views we had overlooking the mountains of Moab and the deep crevices of the dried up riverbeds left by the ancient Dead Sea. Masada has remained largely untouched by humans and has a fascinating history.
In Biblical times, Masada was a Judean stronghold built by Herod strategically as a refuge against his enemies. The final siege lasted a few months and was made up of a legion of 8,000 Romans who overtook the Jewish People. If you’ve ever seen the movie Masada, you’ll understand when I say they used a monstrous ram head to batter the walls of the fortress down and then lit the mountain on fire. (Watch the movie before you go… it will make you understand the history much better and it’s thoroughly intriguing!)
We traced Herod’s steps through the Roman-style bathhouse, with frescos on the walls; entered the enormous storage rooms (15 in total) that were used to stockpile years’ worth of food, wine from Italy, and weapons; and stepped into the walls of Byzantine Church where we stood over the shoulder of a Jewish man inscribing the Bible by memory with his calligraphy pen.
Not really a sea, more like a lake, the Dead Sea is one you don’t simply dive into. Heavily concentrated with sulfur and salt, I was very careful not to get water in my eyes or mouth. My second time in the Dead Sea, I was still intrigued and amazed at it all– and to find that the water level on the Israeli side was very shallow. In order to prevent sinking into soft gooey mud in water that was knee deep, I sat down and back paddled in the shallow water, but kept running into rocks that would scrape up my back. After having an “Aha!” moment, I realized that those “rocks” were actually big mounts of salt that had built up over time. As I took to floating on top of this dense wonder, I reached down and broke loose a chunk of salt the size of my palm. Suddenly, the term “sea salt” took on a new meaning.
Determined to take a piece of it home, I wrapped it in tissue paper to absorb the water, hoping to get it through airport security and then home in one piece. Honestly, this palm size piece of salt rock made my day. Yes, slathering black mud all over my body was a treat– you feel like a kid again, and your skin feels like a baby’s butt when you rinse off. But the fact that I had a piece of history, a piece of the Dead Sea, is what satisfied my travel cravings the most.
In fact, the Dead Sea is literally evaporating away and creating huge salt mounds simultaneously and won’t be around much longer. If I could recommend one place that should be on your Bucket List, it’s the Dead Sea. In my opinion, it should be on the list of the Coolest World Wonders! And I plan to visit it again, and again, and again– until it’s gone.
Hint to the ladies – don’t shave your legs the day you go to the Dead Sea. My legs stung the entire time I was immersed!
Back on the bus, we headed to the hotel for a 2-hour nap before we worked the flight back to New York. Exhausted but exhilarated, when I landed back at base, I was physically ready to sleep for 24 hours straight – but mentally preparing myself for my next layover…
For Carefree Vacations, Sherry Martin
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Photography by Sherry Martin
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