Yesterday we drove out of town for an adventure near the Dead Sea. On the way down we passed the spot in the hills which marks sea level. The Dead Sea is 1400 feet below sea level — the lowest dry land on Earth.
Our first stop was at the spring at En Gedi. For Washingon State it’s barely worth noticing, but in the desert, adjoining the Dead Sea, it’s mana from heaven. The surrounding hills are barren but still quite lovely.
Almost immediately we saw local “Rock Rabbits” which come from Africa.
From En Gedi we proceeded about 20 minutes south to a nearby hotel to experience the Dead Sea and have lunch. We’ve all heard about floating in the Dead Sea but it is amazing to experience it.
You feel unweighted from the minute you walk in the water. Jim didn’t like the feeling of the concentration of chemicals in the water slowly burning off his skin. If you drink a cup of the water, you’ll die. A bit of it will make you throw up, so most people experience the incredible bouyancy without splashing or getting your head in the water, and even then for no more than 30 minutes. Your skin definitely feels scrubbed clean when you’re done (but without any scrubbing). We rinsed in the beach showers before swimming in the hotel pool, showering again at the hotel spa, before having lunch and heading out to our final stop of the day: Masada.
It was late in the afternoon and extremely hot, but empty. Again, Herod out did himself with the construction of this mountaintop palace and fortress.
Not only is Masada an amazing example of ancient military engineering, it is decorated and plush with both a Southern and Northern Palace so Herod could stay in the part of Masada that was warmer in the winter and cooler in the summer.
It took the a Roman Legion (10,000 troops) 8 months to finally defeat 1,000 Jews (most of whom were women & children). The only reason the Romans were able to sustain a siege that long in the Dead Sea wastelands was the nearby fresh water from En Gedi.
Eventually the Romans were able to build a massive ramp to carry a huge mobile assault tower to the “only” 700 foot high walls on the western side. It must have been terrifying to watch the slow progress of the dirt ramp and wooden assault tower over the months.
Ultimately, all the Jews chose suicide over being being raped, tortured and at best enslaved for life. Each Jewish defender killed his own family, and then 10 men were selected by lot to kill the other men. The last ten soldiers then decided who would kill the other 9 before falling on his own sword. We know this because one woman survived and told the Romans, who then recorded it in their historical documents.
Before the war which followed Israel’s Independence in 1948, the young zionists used Masada as a symbol and training ground for the young men and women who would become the soldiers needed to defend Israel from the likely all-out attack by the neighboring Arab nations that most people thought would follow Israel’s independence.
This morning (our 35th Engagement Anniversary!), we left Jersulam to head south into the Negev Desert. We stopped briefly at the national monument and museum honoring Israel’s first Prime Minister: David Ben Gurian.
A group of wild mountain goats escaped the desert for a green treat in the park like setting.
Tomorrow, our True Love Adventure continues with a long drive further south, past Eilat, then north-east into Jordan to the ancient city of Petra where we overnight before returning to Eilat at the southern tip of Israel which adjoins the Red Sea.