An 8.00am start as usual saw us boarding the bus for Masada, King Herod’s winter palace. Driving through the desert provided us with fantastic views of stark landscapes with occasional crops of majestic date palms in various stages of growth. Shepherds and their sheep, goats and camels meandered across the hills dotted with simple Bedouin houses.
The complex of buildings atop the outcrop was much larger than I thought it was going to be. Tourists from all over the world filled the cable cars for the two minute glide up to the top. What a view! Herod certainly knew how to position a house! The ingenuity of the inhabitants was evident in the water cisterns and storage facilities that kept the community thriving. The two narratives of Masada, King Herod and then the rebels’ battle with the romans was explained simply and logically by our wonderful guide Azmi. Little snippets of information made the stories come alive.
The weather was fabulous and we were glad to be leaving the ruins by eleven o’clock to make the drive to Qumran for lunch in a very large cafeteria. It was beginning to get very hot up there. The cable car ride was very smooth with fantastic views.
After a tasty lunch of a falafel sandwich and a cold drink we drove ten minutes or so to the Dead Sea. It was an imposing sight driving along the body of sparkling water for such a long time as we made our way to Masada surprising everyone as to how big it was. Sadly though, Azmi told us that with global warming it is in danger of disappearing entirely in a couple of generations. The gradual receding of the water was plainly visible!
Another amazing place! Kalia Beach is a fantastic sight. At 418 metres below sea level, Kalia Beach is the northern most beach in the Dead Sea and offers visitors great views of the surrounding desert and loads of fun and laughs as you venture into the water. Holding onto the rope is the only safe way to get into the water to ensure that you don’t end up with your face in the water. It was delightful bobbing around in the refreshing water and chatting and laughing with friends with the sun shining from above.
After our dip, showers on the sand washed off the intense salt and we made our way up to the bar, the lowest bar in the world, to enjoy a drink, a couple of large Heinekens and a lemonade. The prices for the drinks weren’t low though by any means! Reggae music playing from the bar was perfect, camels sitting gracefully by the path and the hysterical experience of changing into our bathers, and then back into our clothes, in front of many, many strangers, helped make the whole experience a highlight of the trip.
A stop at the Monastery of St. George on the way back to Jerusalem through the Judean Desert, but still in the West Bank, was fascinating. In the middle of nowhere a magnificent collection of buildings was established by monks who sought solitude in the deep crevices of a large canyon. Hawkers tried to sell us jewellery and scarves as we got out of the bus to listen to another fascinating history from Azmi. They were disappointed when we left without making any purchases.
A half hour drive back through security and back into Jerusalem to our hotel for a couple of hours before we all went out to dinner at the Legacy Hotel, only a ten minute walk from the hotel. It also happened to be Sue’s birthday so we made it a memorable celebration. It was a great night with fabulous food and views over the city to match.
So tomorrow we check out of our comfortable and cosy hotel in Jerusalem and head towards Nazareth where we’ll be staying in a convent established by an order of French nuns in the mid nineteenth century. It’s promising to be another unforgettable experience.