Masada and the Dead Sea

November 3, 2009 - 8:22 pm 3 Comments

The 3am wake-up call came to my room since it’s the only one with a phone in it. Apparently, I answered it, thanked the guy at the front desk, and went right back to sleep. I’m awesome.

Off to a late start, we threw our things in the car and then booked it to Masada. Leaving Jerusalem, we passed various checkpoints, some empty and some with guys and big guns. Dad is getting good at turning on the charm when we have to stop and talk to them. We also passed an interesting sign that said that it is prohibited to have your car towed or serviced by the Palestinian Authority. Know why?

Through the dark and cold and windy and desolate Judean desert, up and down winding mountain roads, our little Chevy Aveo was pushed to the max. The GPS did help us today.

We arrived just as the sun was coming up. There were no tour buses or other cars there. Parking lot was completely empty.

Determined to get to the top as quickly as I could, I bounded up the steps with my camera gear and left my Dad and Marion behind. The ramp up the west side of the mountain wasn’t too strenuous.

Climbing Masada

Byzantine Gate

I reached the top just as the sun was cresting over the Jordanian mountains to the east. There were a few people around, but it was almost completely silent. The whole experience had a certain magic to it. Ravens everywhere made it surreal.

Masada Sunrise

Sunrise Over Israel

Masada Sunrise

It’s a much larger complex on the top than I was expecting, with lots of little buildings and restorations and cliffside views to explore. My Dad and Marion, who finally made it up, appreciated the view, but it came at a cost. The climb wrecked Marion’s knees, which were already suspect to begin with. She would hobble around for the rest of the day.

Israeli Flag on Masada

Israeli Flag

Judean Desert at Sunrise

Masada Sunrise

After Masada, it was time to head to the Dead Sea. In a nerdy way, I’m into oddities of the physical world like the lowest point on Earth and water so salty that you can float in it, so it was one of the places I really wanted to go in Israel.

Judean Desert Sign

We drove for a little while before reaching a line high in the mountains that marked sea level.

Sea Level

We continued to descend for another twenty minutes before we connected to the road that runs along the edge of the Dead Sea. Aside from groves of date trees, the entire area is a wasteland.

Our first stop was at the nature reserve at Ein Gedi. We walked around the gardens for a few minutes but got annoyed with the flies and stopped at the restaurant for lunch. Things were OK until we saw two employees pull food off the buffet tables with the fingers and eat, after which I lost my appetite.

After lunch, we drove down to the Dead Sea for a swim. The whole scene is very eerie. It’s like a beach, but not really. It’s like an ocean, but not really. The sky was cloudy and gloomy, the air was silent except for the sound of tiny waves trickling at the water’s edge.

Salty Rocks at the Dead Sea

Shore of the Dead Sea

Shore of the Dead Sea

There I was, in my sweet new gray shorts, standing at the lowest place on Earth. I hopped around a bit, taking photos of the salt deposits on the rocks. Then it was time for a swim. For those who don’t know, the Dead Sea is so salty that buoyancy is altered. You just need to get in on your back, and you will float without any effort.

I put my feet in, and it was cold. My Dad and I share an intolerance for anything colder than bath water, so we stood there like idiots while Marion frolicked in the water. We don’t get to the Dead Sea every day, so we finally manned up and fell in.

Me in the Dead Sea

Floating in the Dead Sea really is an amazing sensation. If you relax, your body will naturally float in a fetal position, with your head comfortably above water. I put a pile of rocks on my stomach and I was still floating. Any other position and you start to flop around a bit as you try to keep your balance.

And that water is damn salty. It feels a bit greasy in your hands, a bit like watery suntan lotion. It’s so strong that you can actually see the little swirls in the water when you wave your hand through it. After wiping my face, it stung my slightly chapped lips and really burned when it seeped inside my mouth. I don’t even want to know what it would feel like to get it in your eyes.

While floating around, two F-15’s roared overhead. Heard a distant sonic boom a few minutes later.

We returned to Jerusalem just in time to get honked at by angry taxi drivers in rush hour traffic. They really are crazy. A moment’s hesitation and they are screaming things like “Alechi tisdaynu!”

Catching a flight to Petra early tomorrow morning! We’ll be taking an organized tour down there, hopefully less stressful than trying to do everything ourselves.

    3 Responses to “Masada and the Dead Sea”

  1. Sylvia K. Says:

    Jeff, your photos of sunrise at Masada are glorious. they capture the exact mystical aspect I was looking for – I needed a photo of sunrise on Masada for a project (long story). Who knew you could actually find such a thing? Amazing, the internet. And your photos too.
    Hope the rest of your trip to Israel was as inspiring as these photos.

  2. Jeff Says:

    Thanks very much, Sylvia!

  3. Lioness Light Says:


    Thanks for sharing your journey. I’m inspired to expand my horizons once again. You can find me on FaceBook. Thanks again!

    ~ LL ~

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