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Day 032: Masada & the Dead Sea

Posted by on 2016/06/20

Day 32         June 20             Masada & the Dead Sea

“Certainly, travel is more than the seeing of sights; it is a change that goes on, deep and permanent, in the ideas of living.” ~ Mary Ritter Beard

Daily Position:  N 31º 48’ 02” E 034º 39’ 32”
Status:   In port, Ashdod, Israel, port-side to
Weather:  Clear & hazy, 26 C, WSW 9 kts, calm

The Dead Sea

Jerusalem is spread out below me in a sea of layered memories, the Holy Land. The Dome of the Rock gleams in a piercing beam of morning sunlight. Cross-topped spires shed long shadows across densely packed cubes, each with a water tank and satellite dish. Flowers of red and purple waft their sweet fragrance aloft, coating the dewy air, a western-slope dampness that does not last.

Over the ridge goes my bus, a winding journey down, down, down into the Jordan Valley, bound for the Dead Sea. An aquamarine sign proudly proclaims Sea Level in white letters, English and Hebrew. And I continue down, ears popping, to a West Bank security checkpoint. A woman sporting chest-length braided hair and a tightly slung M-16 rifle gives the green light to enter Qumran National Park. At 430 meters (1,400 feet) below sea level, breathing is easy, the air dense and salty.

The best way to visit Masada is by funicular from the valley and back to sea level at the top. Here at King Herod’s well-stocked fortress, a small group of Sicarii rebels withstood a two-year siege before committing mass suicide in the year 73. I tour a spectacular bathhouse, colorful Roman mosaics covering the walls. Water was heated below, piped in, and steam would rise through vertical tubes to escape small holes throughout the room. Back in the sun, I peer into the valley at the outline of eight Roman camps from the siege, surrounded by chortling tiny ravens who flash iridescent black and desert tan feathers.

Lunch is a vinegared affair of hummus and saged wheat bread: crisp, thin outer crust, inside soft and moist. I trade street clothes for a swimsuit, and race painfully barefoot across crusty, burning salt crystals to the inland sea. My skin fights the brine, and feels covered in an oil that will not wash off. It is so hard to keep my feet down! Stray drops taste bitter on my tongue, and I guard my eyes. After an hour I wash off and, giggling at the experience, sip espresso. Nothing is the same after you’ve swum in the Dead Sea.

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