What a terrific (and long) day! The meeting time for today’s 11 hour excursion was 7 am which meant we set the alarm for 5 to wake up, get ready, head up to the buffet for breakfast, brush teeth again then hustle to the other end of the ship by 7. However, the day proved to be worth the early wake-up call!
Since Denny and I enjoy both hearing and interacting with the guide periodically, we like to sit fairly near the front of the bus. Today we sat in the second seat directly behind the guide and were very glad we did so, as there were some great discussions that took place throughout the tour. However, the day was not off to an auspicious beginning — maps of Israel were provided to each of the 27 people on the bus, and one of the maps was evidently used as a long-range missile directed at one of the two Australian girls behind us. Of course we couldn’t see what happened, but there were females somewhere behind us talking constantly over the guide to the extent that it was difficult to hear the guide — it was quite rude. The Australian girl tried to shush the talkers and got hit with a map for her trouble. This resulted in her making a loud comment about the appropriateness of throwing things.
The guide very nicely handled the situation and suggested those who wanted to talk should move back in the bus, since we were such a small group. The talkers continued for a bit, and two Italian ladies who spoke zero words of English, and therefore couldn’t understand all the information the guide was sharing, were also talking. By the time we reached the first stop things were a bit tense in the bus!
We traveled back through Jerusalem, stopping for a short panoramic overview of the city (whose buildings are all the same color, since they’re made of local stone) and some additional and fascinating historical information. Small groups were in evidence at this stop with a young lady off talking with a couple others as tears streamed down her face. On the way back to the bus she talked to the guide and explained she was neither Christian nor Jewish and didn’t appreciate the religious aspects of the tour (remember — we had just started the day). As it turned out, she and her family were Dutch, and she was the only one in their group of four who spoke even minimal English.
So, at this point, we have 2 Italians who speak no English, 4 Dutch who basically speak no English, someone who threw a map and at least two rude talkers. That’s 9 out of 27, or 33%, of the tour group creating challenges! It started out as a potential “zoo” but actually ended up just fine — except for the two Italian ladies who had to be tracked down several times, as they weren’t at the meeting places on time. The most challenging tracking job was at the Dead Sea when we were ready to head back to the ship, and they were no where to be found! Ah, well, despite the people challenges, the trip was great!
The bus stopped for a bio break at Qumran where the Dead Sea Scrolls were discovered in a cave by two Bedouins in 1947. The terrain in the Dead Sea area is incredibly monotonous, sand, hills and rocks all the same color. The only color break in this area, before you reach the Dead Sea, is the blue of the sky. It’s a dry, dusty place with almost no rainfall — just a once-a-year flood that lasts for up to 30 minutes, and that’s it!
As we left Qumran we began to see the Dead Sea with its brilliant blue colors. The water is receding from its shores by over a meter a year resulting in sink holes forming in some spots between the road and the Sea. The road was actually moved closer to the foothills and away from the water due to the sink holes. All along the edges of the Dead Sea is salt along the shoreline.
There’s a company located in the area that uses the minerals and mud from the water to make all kinds of hand, face and body creams as well as some cosmetics. We heard from a lady on a prior tour how wonderful these products are, so I made it a point to track some down.
Our next stop was the fortress of Masada where Jewish zealots (or early Zionists, as our guide suggested) held Roman armies at bay for almost three years. The fortress is built on a high hilltop in sight of the Dead Sea and is reached today by aerial tram. The zealots had space for 1,000 people in the fortress plus enough stores to feed them all for three years! A huge Roman army surrounded the foot of fortress but were unable to overpower the zealots for over two years. The Romans finally began building a huge ramp for their battering ram, created a hole in the fort’s wall, and set fire to the timbers they found there. The fire burned throughout the night with the wind blowing away from the fort, and the Romans thinking they’d failed. The wind changed partway through the night making it obvious to the zealots that the Romans would overrun them when daylight arrived.
Rather than face slavery, the men killed the women and children then each other until only ten remained. Those ten drew lots to determine which one would kill the final nine of them and then himself. There’s a very moving speech that we heard and that was given before the zealots reaffirmed their dedication to freedom by choosing death. The zealots did not destroy their remaining food and water supplies purposely before they died, as they wanted to send the Romans the message that the deaths were not from starvation due to the Romans’ siege but were because of a choice for freedom, not slavery.
As we left the fortress area and drove along the Dead Sea to the Lot Hotel (think Bible story of his wife here), we finally passed some greenery — date palms planted by a local kibbutz along with other crops. In Israel, because of the dryness of this land, they’ve perfected a number of ways to maximize the use of water. They have been using desalination and reverse osmosis for years as well as recycling and purifying human waste to be used in drip watering systems for growing their crops, like the date palms. Because the water is sent through hoses or pipes laid along the ground, it goes directly into the soil rather than evaporating in the heat. We saw numerous areas of crops, from cotton and grapes to persimmons and pomegranates, being watered this way.
By this time we were all starving after the morning’s early start, so it was a good thing we soon arrived at the Lot Hotel for lunch and a swim in the Dead Sea! Lunch was buffet style and included numerous salad options, breads, hot meats and some veggies along with a terrific dessert bar — all accompanied by our choice of a red or white local wine. Denny and I sat with a fascinating travel agent from New York and enjoyed our conversation so much we sat at lunch well past the time everyone else had left.
Since we were at a lovely hotel with its own private beach on the Dead Sea in addition to a huge, covered outdoor swimming pool and indoor spa, the three of us determined it was time to get ready to try out the Dead Sea. In order to receive a locker key, we were required to leave something in hock as a deposit with the attendant. Since we weren’t willing to leave our passport, ship’s card or other photo ID, we had to come up with something. I tried a bag of raw chocolate bars, but they wouldn’t accept that for some reason. However, they were willing to take one of my earrings in exchange for a key! So, I gave them one earring for my lock and the second for Denny’s lock. So bizarre.
It occurs to me that I haven’t mentioned anything about Israel’s weather. There’s not a lot to say — it’s dry and hot, period! We’re so glad we’re here in late September, as it’s normally in the high 90’s to low 100’s in the Summer months.
With all the heat we were ready to walk out past the large pool to the private beach and down to the Dead Sea. We left our sandals on for this walk, because the sand was the color and consistency of brown sugar and was tough on the feet. In the water there were two large umbrellas out in the water, since the sun was so hot. People appeared to be enjoying themselves floating around, so it was time to test out the buoyancy ourselves. The salt content is so high in the water that it would be almost impossible for someone to drown. However, that same salt will burn any small cuts and nicks as well as your eyes. Additionally, it is said that only pure gold can take being in the sea without beginning to blacken or disintegrate — yikes!
I waded in and tried floating. It’s a very unreal experience to have the water push you up, so you’re doing absolutely nothing to make yourself float — no arm movements, no kicking, you just float. When I was ready to stand up I tried turning over onto my stomach planning to then put my feet on the ground. That didn’t work well, as the water wouldn’t allow me to make that maneuver. Basically you have two options — try to stand perfectly vertical or float! It was great fun but was very hot from not only the sun but also the Sea being very warm.
There were outdoor showers under a large umbrella to wash the salt off, so we made use of them before walking back up to the hotel. The huge blue pool looked so inviting that I had to try that out briefly before we got dressed and waited for our group to assemble in the lobby. And, yes, I did get my earrings out of hock.
After a two-hour trip back to the ship and lots of great conversation at dinner, we’re ready for bed as soon as today’s blog is posted. The ship is currently experiencing a malfunction of one propeller which has delayed our departure from Israel by several hours already. Hopefully we’ll be underway shortly.
Tomorrow is a day at sea which we need to rest up from today’s great excursion!