To catch you up to speed, check out these earlier posts about my trip:
Israel I: Modern Tel Aviv
Israel II: Jaffa (the Old City)
Israel III: Modern Art and Bauhaus Architecture
Israel IV: Caesarea and Haifa
Israel V: Acre (Akko)
Israel VI: The Sea of Galilee
Israel VII: Golan Heights
Israel VIII: Nazareth
This post is a photo-doozie, as exploring the Masada and the Dead Sea was so picturesque I had a hard time whittling it down. Last I left off we were in a rush to get from Nazareth to Jerusalem with enough time to return the rental car. We failed in our mission, but it all worked out thanks to the fabulous staff at our hotel, the Mamilla. But more on that in my next post.
The following morning after arriving late into Jerusalem, we didn’t explore the city at all, but instead joined a 7am group trip to Masada, Ein Gedi and the Dead Sea offered by Abraham Tours. My sister is a travel blogger (As Her World Turns) and she booked the day trip getting us a great discount too. This day trip was amazing and we all agreed was one of the best days of the trip. After driving all over northern Israel, it was so nice to have a tour guide (Alon, who was very funny and adorable) who took care of all the logistics of the day.
Above is a general map of where we went this day.The city on the upper left of the map is Tel Aviv, for a sense of scale.
We all met up by the Mamilla mall, a 5 minute walk from our hotel, which is where Alon arrived with a van at 7am. We all got in (12 of us?) and our day began. We exited Jerusalem through the time-warp tunnel. On one side of the tunnel is a bustling crowded Jerusalem, and the other end of the tunnel is desert. The photo above is from the desert side of the tunnel. You can see the wall marking the zone. Israel has a zone system which basically restricts who can go where. As an American, it didn’t affect me much. It’s meant to keep the peace by segregating groups of people (Palestinians and Israelis). It’s a hot button issue as it traps people.
Alon explained the zone system to us. I’m paraphrasing (and dumbing it down for my own understanding of it) but zone A would be where Israelis can go. Zone B is where Palestinians and Israelis can go. And Zone C is Palestine only. At each entrance to the zones are armed guards checking IDs. Since we were a van full of clearly westerners, the zone crossing was very easy. Alon said he can’t enter the third zone. As an American, I would be able to. It’s fascinating.
Our guide Alon was an orthodax jew who recently left his faith. That is fascinating to me because it is a completely different lifestyle that he grew up living and then at 35 (or 40?) decided it wasn’t for him. I can’t imagine at that age trying to learn what normal life is like for other people. In Israel especially, where almost everyone you see is orthodox and you’re seeing them lead a life that is so different.
You know, just camels and Shepherds walking along the road. For realz?! This is a thing?!
On the desert side of the “Time-warp Tunnel” you can see the edge of congested Jerusalem far off on the hillside. There really is a line where Jerusalem goes from city to desert.
Along the highway in this desert are many Bedouin people. They live a nomadic lifestyle where the shepherd the land and move along in clans. This is really how people really still live here. It’s not homelessness, as they have several tent structures, fires going and animals to tend. It’s more elaborate and you can see kids running around and women cleaning. It’s just so different, and I love it.
At sea level, Alon pulled the van over for photos and so people could ride camels. It was on my list of things to do in Israel and since I figured it would be my only chance, I did it. Cross that one off my bucket list.
As the map far above shows, we took a long drive south along the Dead Sea to get to Masada (our first destination). Along the way we drove by the Qumran in the West Bank and it’s here in the photo above where the Dead Sea Scrolls were found in 1946-1956. Yes, you read that right. It was only 60 years ago when these zillion year old scrolls were found. And they were found by Bedouins in caves up in the mountains. Who knows, there could be so many more around Israel. It’s like going for a hike and finding THE bible. Like the first bible. So crazy.
There’s Masada above. You can see how this mountain of land stands on it’s own and why it made such a great place for a King to vacation. If anyone was going to attempt attacking, they’ed see them coming and have plenty of warning.
Since we were on a tour and only had a set amount of time to see the top, we opted to ride up the tram instead of the hike (which is on the right of the photo). It would have been awesome to hike it but we also wanted time at the top. We decided to ride up and hike down if there was time.
The views from the tram were incredible.
Higher and higher we went. You can see the Dead Sea straight ahead.
Up at the top you feel like you’re on the edge of the earth… which was so frightening for someone like me.
We were warned that there was lots to see at the top of Masada and we ended up taking the tram down so we could spend a majority of our time exploring the top.
It was a maze of ruins at the top, all open air. It was fun to imagine what it would have looked like as a fortress in its prime.
The views from every side were incredible.
This was taken in Harrods Palace at the most northern point.
Above you can get a sense of scale with the people in view. There were many school groups at Masada, and I imagine everyday tour groups and school groups liter the mountain. Alon said it was a common field trip activity.
After taking the tram back down to be back at the van on time, we piled in and headed on back north to the Ein Gedi Nature Reserve.
This reserve features many water falls and a short easy hike (as well as a much longer hike for people who want to make a full day out of it). The group split up and went at their own pace. Some people wore bathing suits and got into the water at each of the waterfalls.
Personally I was more interested in the wildlife. Signs around the entrance talk about what types of animals live in the area and I really wanted to see them all.
So I was quiet and on a hunt.
Come on animals… peak out!
The views were stunning and this truly was a waterfall oasis in the middle of this desert.
Here’s my uncle by the largest and final falls on our quick hike. We looped back and met up with the group where we continued on to our last destination: the Dead Sea!
Alon explained to us that when he was a teenager, the Dead Sea used to come up to the road, it was so high. In Alon’s lifetime, the water level has dropped dramatically. It’s a big issue in Israel.
We stopped on the road for some photos.
We arrived at our swimming spot, which is on the north end of the Dead Sea. I completely forgot to bring my waterproof camera (it was back at the hotel) so I didn’t get any shots of us in the water. Thankfully, my sister brought hers:
Here we all are floating together and using the mud to make masks. Check out more of As Her World Turns photos here. It was a lot of fun floating and very difficult to get your feet lowered without it spinning you around. Also, don’t get the water near your eyes! It burns!
After we finished up our floating, mud baths, and dried off we got in the fan and headed back to the Mamilla Mall where we had been picked up 10 hours earlier. The above photo shows the old war bunkers we drove by. This was one of the most fun days on the trip and I highly recommend Abraham Tours. Try to get Alon as a guide if you can.
Next up, we get back to Jerusalem where I venture off to explore the Old City by myself at night and we also end up having dinner next to a former Prime Minister. Pretty exciting!