Dead Sea Area - Wednesday, December 10, 2003

On arrival into Tel Aviv, at the rude hour of 5:30 AM, we began our travels through the Holyland. We took a cab ride to M's cousin Patty and her husband David's house, said hello and went to sleep immediately. After catching up on some much needed rest we hung out with them and their 3 kids (Ben, Noa, and Eshlee) and 3 dogs (Mocha, Jesse, and Tessa the 12 week old puppy).

Our two days in Ramat Hasharon with the family were relaxing, especially after the previous crazy week of visiting b-schools and interviewing. It was great to catch up! We also did some shopping because Dave's backpack was still missing after our flight to London. We think that it was stuck in a snow bank at JFK. The airlines provided us with some money to pick up some toiletries and a few essential clothing items.

M had spent a year here during 1988-89 in a youth program to learn more about Israel, Hebrew and life in the country. She had many good ideas before we arrived, but Patty & David really helped fill in the gaps with some great insight. Armed with a rental car and our completed itinerary, we set off for the Dead Sea. Our plan was to visit Masada, float and play in mud at the Dead Sea, and do some hiking in the Ein Gedi nature reserve.

The weather was sunny, the hiking fantastic, and playing in the mud and floating the Dead Sea very surreal. Our visit to Masada was chock-full of history, and we were rewarded with a great view of the Dead Sea basin. After the 35 minute hike straight up the snake path, we toured the ruins for two hours. It's amazing how intact the ruins, pools, cisterns, and mosaics remain. Masada was Herod's royal citadel and later the last outpost of Zealots during the Jewish Revolt in 70 CE. The citadel was a site of the most dramatic and symbolic act in Jewish history, where rebels chose mass suicide rather than submit to Roman capture. Israeli soldiers are sworn in at this historic site.

The hiking in the Ein Gedi Reserve was also a great way to see the area and visit some beautiful waterfalls and natural springs that cascade out of the wadis (valleys). We also saw many Ibex which are small deer-like animals with really tall horns. In addition, all over the rock and root formations we saw small Marmot type creatures which would screech a warning to each other when we showed up in their territory.

Next, we headed down to the shores of the Dead Sea, which is the lowest point on earth 1,320 ft. below sea level and the saltiest and most mineral-laden body of water in the world. It is rather odd to float like a cork in what is essentially a big lake. Everything including rocks and driftwood along the shoreline was coated with dried salt. We scooped up some mineral-rich mud from the beach and slathered it all over ourselves. Our skin was baby-soft after the rinse off! We also soaked in the thermo-mineral springs, renowned for their healing powers, along with throngs of retirees.

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