Masada and the Dead Sea

Our morning started in Jerusalem, where we walked about 10 minutes to our car rental place and picked up a nice red Fiat 500.  The bags only fit if we squished the boys into the middle and side seat and folded the other seat down.  Given that we only had two bags, it was a bit surprising, but at least we found a solution.

Pulling out of the parking garage, we turned the wrong way down a one way street, but luckily it was fairly empty and we were able to turn around quickly.  Since Waze was developed in Israel, it works really well here, and as soon as we had cell reception, we were on our way and out of the city without further incident.

Leaving the city, we noted that we were driving from Jerusalem towards Jericho.  This is where the Parable of the Good Samaritan takes place.  Looking at the scenery, it paints a very poignant image.  A person is walking along a very desolate, dry dusty road, with miles of hills with lots of good hiding spots.  He can’t see another person for miles.  It is both a perfect spot for bandits, and a perfect spot to avoid giving aid.  No one would notice either act.  The fact that the Good Samaritan cared enough to trouble getting a person who probably hated him on sight to someone who could heal him says a lot.  Given some of the attitudes we heard yesterday, it is very surprising that the Samaritan would help someone outside his own people group.

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Our next stop was Masada, which was a fortress built by Herod the Great, otherwise known as the Herod that ordered all the baby boys to be killed after Jesus’ birth.  During the Jewish rebellion that led up to the destruction of the Temple in 70 A.D., this was the last place the Jewish rebels hid and fought.  They had control over it from 66 A.D. until 73 A.D., when the Roman’s laid siege and eventually made it to the top.  At this point, the Jewish people killed their wives and children, then committed suicide, deciding being dead was better than being Roman slaves.

The northern side of the fortress was the King’s Palace.  There were three floors of ruins with a very nice view of the Dead Sea.

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We wandered through the ruins for a while, enjoying the descriptions of each room.  The boys loved the dovecote towers, an area used to raise doves for both food and for fertilizer.  There were over 900 rebels that lived here, so there were a lot of houses we could wander through.  The storehouses were designed for long sieges and could hold a significant amount of food.

There were a ton of bath houses and swimming pools, which given the dry nature of the area was quite surprising.  There was a nice exhibit that demonstrated the water collection system.  Canals and aqueducts were built in strategic locations to bring the water to the many cisterns.  The kids filled up a metal cup with water, dumped it into the high valleys, and watched it run to the various cisterns inside the model of the fort.  Donkeys would then carry the water to the top.  One particular cistern on the southern side was quite neat.  A long, slightly scary, stone staircase with high, somewhat precarious, stone walls led into a dark hole.  Inside the hole was a huge cistern that was quite cool given the scorching heat outside.  In all, the fortress could hold 40,000 cubic meters of water, or over 10,000,000 gallons of water.

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At the end of our walk, we ran into a “quiet” couple with an English speaking guide.  The guide asked the boys if they would yell something as loudly as they could.  A few seconds later, a very nice echo came back.  The boys were thrilled!  This was the first time that they had heard an echo that took so long to come back.

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We were hot, so we decided to take the cable car back down.  In cooler weather, you can take a 45 minute hike, but it was closed due to the heat.  There was a food court at the bottom, so we got lunch there.

Our next stop was the Dead Sea, the lowest point on Earth.  At 1,378 feet below sea level, this is 1,096 feet lower than Death Valley, the lowest place in North America, and a place the boys and I were at just a few weeks ago.

Kalia Beach is nice since it has bathrooms, lifeguards, and a lot of safety features.  One thing about visiting the Dead Sea is that it is so salty that getting it in your eyes can blind you, so it’s important to be careful and only float on your back.

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The water is so salty that you float like a cork.  All you do is gently sit down and your hands and feet are in the air.

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James’ favorite part was the mud.  When you go to nice spas, you can pay a lot of money to get mud treatments.  Here, all you need to do is reach down to the bottom of the Sea, scoop up some mud, and rub it all over your body.  Other people put it on their face, but we wanted to avoid water in our eyes, so we only went from the neck down.  Alas, Jeremy thought it was “untidy” and didn’t try it.  The Dead Sea apparently isn’t for everyone, but the boys and I loved it and could have spent all day there.

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After showering, we headed out for Tiberias.  We love our T-mobile plan.  It is very mediocre to bad at home, but in other countries it is amazing.  In most countries we get free 2G-speed data roaming and phone calls only cost $0.20 per minute.  The only exception we have seen is Jordan.  For whatever reason my phone thought we had crossed the border and wanted to charge me $0.50 for texts and $2.99 for phone calls.  The beauty is that we can easily text people at home, check/send emails, and use Google Maps or Waze.  With our rental car, the maps programs are essential, although we always carry real maps with us.  We have had a few incidents where Google Maps has failed.  Walking between Bethlehem and Rachael’s Tomb yesterday was one example.  Another time, years ago, we tried to get to a nice beach in Hawaii, but instead ended up a sewage treatment plant.  A third time we were driving in Bosnia, using OpenStreetMaps, and ended up on a very scary road that only a tractor should ever go on, and even then the driver might want to think twice.

Our arrival in Tiberias was nice.  We are right on the Lake of Galilee.  The boys enjoyed talking about Jesus walking on water, feeding the 5,000, and other stories that happened in or near this lake.  We rested a bit in our apartment, enjoying a fabulous view of the lake.  We decided to wander by the lake into town to see if there was somewhere to buy groceries.

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The views of the the lake were wonderful, but the mini marts didn’t look very appetizing, so we went back and picked up the car.  By this time it was fairly late and we did a rush job getting groceries.  Oh well, at least we have breakfast and light dinners for the next three days, even if they are mostly bread and dairy.  Hopefully we will walk by some vegetable markets before Shabbat, the Sabbath rest, starts tomorrow evening.

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