Last night the time changed in Israel. We gained an hour of sleep, and we will gain another hour when the time changes in Indy. Whoohoo- who knew you could double dip on gaining time back? Glad for that extra hour of sleep, as we are to meet up front at 6am sharp! Time to become acquainted with the Ramon Crater* in a very up close and personal way. We piled into a group of 4X4 vehicles, complete with guides, for our sunrise jeep tour. With the heavy rains last night, all roads in this area are closed. But our tour operator got special permission to take our group into the crater.
They moved a car so we could proceed through.
We are descending quickly into the crater. Some gum helps with the ear popping.
At a random moment, our driver exits the pavement and we begin off-roading. Whew- this is fun. Bumpity-bump we go, over the rutted, rocky terrain. We arrive at the river bed and have to stop. 363 days out of the year, this spot is nothing but rock and dust. Today, we are lucky to see a river in the desert. It is actually pretty exciting, as we understand how important this water is to the people living here.
Our driver served as the guide for this expedition. He pointed out a desert plant and gave us a fascinating demonstration of its useful properties. He learned much of his information from Bedouins, who have strong traditions/knowledge of medicinal plants. I don't know the plant's complete name, but it is a type of saltwort.
Here he uses a mortar and pestle to grind the plant. You can see the bush next to his knee.
He explains that the stems have a "straw" like hole in them with a filament that drinks up water. It has no trouble surviving in the harsh desert conditions.
Once the plant is well ground, he demonstrates how it becomes soapy when rubbed between his palms.
He lets us know that this is one of the best diamond cleaners out there, and would anyone like to have their diamond cleaned? One brave group member handed him her gorgeous ring. Here we can see him rinsing the ring after having rubbed it well with the soapy plant matter. Gotta say- it really did shine. Very effective science demonstration. And I was kind of tickled with the way this photo turned out. By no skill of my own, the water was captured cascading onto the ring. SCORE iPhone 11 Pro!
Back in our jeeps, as there is a lot more to explore! Aya and I couldn't resist this opportunity to take a pic of each other!
Ordinarily, we would be driving along the riverbed. Not today. I don't remember exactly how we got to the other side, but I do remember letting out a walloping "woohoo" at one point, while hoping the back seat passengers weren't getting beat up too badly.
This area up ahead looks SO steep. Are we seriously headed up there? Why, of course- yes! Actually, looking at the photo- it does not do it justice.
It was much steeper in real life. Seriously. Not a fish story..
We went first, then had the fun vantage point of watching the other vehicles make their ascent.
The views were excellent up top.
Our guide gave us a lot of detail about this "crater"*
It is actually not a crater at all, but rather a giant sinkhole. And in the shape of a heart, at that! This area has so many layers of rock. Sandstone, limestone, and Flintstone. Yes, Flinstone. Now you go try and listen to a guy talk about Flinstone and not start singing "Flinstones, meet the Flintstones-they're a modern stone-age family". Talk about a song getting stuck in the head. This one fairly deeply implanted itself. I don't think I will ever hear the word "Flintstone" again without laughing. I am laughing right now...
Anyway- back to the crater/not a crater. This area used to be covered by ocean. Fast forward a couple hundred million years, and the waters receded, leaving a large hump in this area. Because the deeper levels of soil/earth were softer than those up top, a depression occurred. The softer levels gave way and sank, while the stronger, upper layers formed the rim of this depression in the earth. Well, at least that's my understanding. You will have to go yourself if you want a more detailed explanation. Anyway, I am happy about what occurred here. I like being here. It is kind of other worldly, remote, and special. And to top it all off, we are standing on a layer of loose granite. You can pick it up! (and take a piece home).
Granite- get your granite countertops. Two for one- today's special!
This place looks like a great spot for a group photo! Nevermind our 6am/no shower hairdos.
And our guide gave us an especially fun gift- this 360 photo
That was so much fun. I would do it all over again! But our stomachs are growling. It is 8am. Time to head back to the hotel to enjoy a nice buffet breakfast. Just about anything you could want was on this buffet. My plate is not necessarily representative of the bounty of offerings. I tried to cut back a bit with this meal. We had been eating like kings. And not my usual level of exercise. Feeling somewhat weighted down these days.
I just needed a bit more activity. So, I became the official mimosa maker. Here are a few in the group enjoying my special deliveries.
We were supposed to leave the resort at 9am, but because of the roads being flooded and closed, we would be delayed an hour. That's fine- gives us a little more time to shower and pack.
10am-Aya is sitting off to the side on a couch looking concerned. Phone to ear. She regrets to inform us, but the road is still closed. We would be "stuck" here awhile longer.
No problem. This place is awesome. We fan out like flies around the resort grounds. Most end up at the pool for some relaxation and conversation. As for me- I take this opportunity for a solo photography outing. Taking in all of the sites and capturing those that call to me. I was in my element, enjoying the freedom and my new iPhone camera.
And a few more...
Found my yoga buddy and we played around with a few fun poses. He is an instructor. Lucky for me, as he helped me achieve crow pose without
doing a faceplant. I have yet to replicate this at home...
The wild Ibex here are plentiful. This guy decided to visit one of the rooms-perhaps find something good to eat...
Seeing there was nothing there for him, he left via the wall and joined his family for a stroll.
Meanwhile, back at the pool...
A few last shots before we head out~
I don't think anyone in our group minded being "stuck" at the Bereshit hotel for 3 hours. I'd call that a bonus!
I know that behind the scenes though, it was wreaking a bit of havoc. We were expected at Masada in time to hike the trail with our tour guide. And speaking of our tour guide, we were to have picked her up hours ago. Time to switch it up again. Here is Aya, on the phone once more- working out all of the new details as we begin the normally 2hr drive northeast towards Masada. Except with the roads being closed, we are taking a longer, alternate route which others have told Aya is open and passable. Who knew that a flood would be our biggest obstacle while in Israel?
Along the way, we stop for a break at a shopping plaza, where our lunch would be brought to us in sacks, to eat while traveling- since we no longer had time to stop for lunch. A brief restroom break, then back on the bus, where a sweet lady handed us our lunch bags. Then the bus started rolling. Wait- the sandwich lady didn't get off! That's because our lunch lady was our new tour guide- Sigal! I just now looked up the meaning of the name Sigal. It means violet; treasure. How perfect. She is our treasure. Pretty sure we all soon realized what a treasure we had in Sigal. Sweet, with a contagious positivity about her. Yeah- I will hang with this type of lady for a few days.
We enjoy our sack lunches of various pita sandwiches and fries, then settle in for the ride to Masada. One of our group members REALLY wants to see a camel. Every time someone sees one off the side of the road, they yell "camel". But for some reason, he misses it every time, though poised with camera in hand-ready to capture the special moment when he finally sees one. So- we had to have a better system. From now on- if you see a camel, say where it is. "Camel on right!" "Camel left- on hill! That did the trick. He finally saw his camel. But not quickly enough to get a picture. But I got one, although quite grainy due to the bus movement and the great distance between us and the herd. This is greatly cropped to bring them close up~
For a long time, we drive through desert landscape, but now things are beginning to look different. We are still in the desert, but this area is becoming much more mountainous. The road becomes winding and we climb, twist, and turn along this jagged pathway. To our great excitement, the Dead Sea is now visible in the distance!
In short time, we arrive at Masada.
To some of the group's disappointment, we would not be able to climb Masada. The paths closed at 2pm. All visitors after 2pm would need to use the cable car to reach the top. I know many in our group breathed a sigh of relief, knowing that the hike was cancelled. I was a little bummed, however~ but the disappointment quickly faded, as soon we were gliding up, up, up in the large gondola.
Such a smooth ride, and with great views. In no time, we were at the top and we began our tour, with Sigal as our guide.
Because we arrived at Masada late, our tour went pretty quickly. But Sigal packed a ton of information into our visit. Long story short, Masada is a large plateau atop an even larger mountain. Around 35 BCE, King Herod built himself a nice little vacation home up here. He was a fancy guy and liked fancy palaces. Complete with bath houses, pools, and multi-level porticos from which to take in the incredible views. It is good to be the king!
This fairy tale-like part is easy for me to remember. What is less clear is how nearly 1000 Jewish "Zealots" made their way up here and why the Roman armies surrounded Masada, resulting in the suicide deaths of all residing up top. Well, not exactly suicide, as that was not permitted by Jewish law. The zealots drew "lots" to determine who would die/in what order, then proceeded to systematically kill each other, so as not to die at the hands of the Romans. The last man standing did have to take his own life. But two women and their five children survived by hiding in a cistern while the compound burned by fire, which the zealots had intentionally set. These woman shared their story with Josephus, who chronicled it for history.
Here is Inca Ron (thus named on our Peru trip, having faced his fear of heights and scaled some very high and narrow paths!), taking a daring step toward the rail to take in the view.
The bath house, which at one time was surely quite luxurious.
And the cistern, where the survivors were reportedly able to escape their deaths.
And one last view of the glorious sunset we were all able to witness.
That was awesome. Way better than the lame stories we learned in Sunday school. I would visit Masada again. Mental note- arrive early in order to be allowed to hike up either the Snake Path or the Roman Ramp.
It's starting to get dark and we need to get to our hotel at the Dead Sea in time for a quick dip, before it is too late to see what we are doing. We check in to Herod's Hotel, reportedly the best hotel at the Dead Sea. Would this be a palace? Well, maybe back in the day. It is very nice, but has a bit of a 1960's cruise ship kind of feel to it.
What we did appreciate was the hotel's easy access to their clean stretch of beach, where we could enter the Dead Sea. But first, the mud. Our hotel kindly provided us with a packet of mud, and we got busy spreading it on our skin. The Dead Sea water is over 34% salt, making it some of the saltiest water in the world. Allowing us to float. But not without a bit of burn! Thus, the mud. It closes your pores and protects your skin from the extreme saltiness.
The mud dissolves while you are in the water, but its protection remains. Areas of skin that I did not apply mud to, soon began to sting a bit. Here we are floating, trying not to drift apart, so as to stay in the photograph!
Did you know the Dead Sea is the lowest elevation on earth?
We enjoyed a nice group dinner and took a walk outside.
Those Dead Sea waters are super relaxing. They sure know how to knock a guy out...
Another fun day in the books.
Can't wait to see what tomorrow has in store.