Ze final entry! After a rest stop back in Jerusalem, we headed a little South, into the Negev Desert. Now THIS was more like what I was expecting to see in Israel, the standard desertscape. Not that there weren't a few unexpected sights along the way...
The open road.
It was a gorgeous day driving along the Dead Sea shoreline, which, as I'd come to observe, is rare. All the desert dust and humidity often kicked up a lot of murky haze on many of the other days.
Can't resist a panorama here and there!
In addition to tanks being moved along the highway (we later learned, unsurprisingly, that there was a military movement in the Gaza strip a few days afterward), we saw plenty of tour buses.
I saw a cool desert mud formation and made my dad stop the car.
The first sight we headed towards was the Masada fortress, a ruinous citadel perched on a dizzying 1,300-foot mesa. You can hike up to it, but thankfully we took the airtram.
My dad & I on one of the fortress walls
To give you an idea of how high and isolated this fortress is...of course that's intentional, being so difficult to reach made the fortress that much more safe.
SO glad we did not hike up.
My dad peering down one of the many sheer cliff faces.
Masada, as I came to learn, is immensely famous and cherished by Israelis as a symbol of Israeli spirit...
During the First Jewish-Roman War of 72 CE, the Roman army marched against many Jewish settlements and managed to destroy numerous temples, including the one in Jerusalem. Many Jewish rebels fled for Masada, which, due to its geography, had proven unconquerable during past seiges. But the Romans were both patient and vast in number, and they surrounded the plateau and began building a huge ramp up the lowest side of the mesa to reach it...it took several months of course, but it was clearly only a matter of time before they would overtake the fortress and the citadel would fall---every last citizen would either be enslaved or killed, and there was no escape. As the ramp neared completion, Masada's head commanders gravely decided that it was either unspeakable horrors at the hands of the Roman slavers----or death. Judaism does not look favorably upon suicide, so Jewish soldiers drew lots, and ten unfortunates were assigned to kill every man, woman, and child of Masada, including their own families, and the last man standing would eventually destroy himself. When the Romans overtook the fortress, they found the entire population slaughtered but for two woman and five children, who had hidden in one of the city's cisterns (hence how much of the story, including an inspiring speech by Elazar ben Ya'ir, one of the city's leaders, is known today). The lots drawn by the ten soldiers are actually on display at the Masada museum...can you imagine being the archaeologist who found those??
View through a window of a Jewish bathhouse in the fortress.
Masada makes you feel really high up, except that the Dead Sea (in the background) is actually one of the lowest points on Earth, next to Death Valley in California. Go figure.
Walking around the fortress perimeter. It really is a wonder how they built this thing on the cliff faces---I can't imagine how many people fell to their deaths in its construction.
One of the fortress's draws is a huge cavernous cistern that you can walk right down into. There are actually many other monster underground cisterns like this in Israel (we saw another in Jerusalem), but this one is particularly beautiful because it's one of the few that actually has a little daylight creeping in.
That's me down there, by the way.
My dad. I always think of Indiana Jones when I look at this shot.
Some local wildlife.
What a view...
Mud layers in one of the cliff faces.
Onward we drove, passing this salt pillar commonly known as "Lot's wife," after the Bible story.
Some mushroomy looking desert landscape.
My dad wanted to take me to see a naturally formed crater in the middle of the Negev, and to get there we had to drive our little rental over several miles of dirt road, to get to this INSANE hill loaded with switchbacks. I count four in this photo, but I think there must have been six or seven total.
Eventaully the road got too rough and we had to park and walk, which made me nervous because it was almost sundown and there were no park authorities or other tourists around...bad luck if one of us should fall into the crater or trip on a rock and break an ankle or something!! And the landscape leading to the crater was a LOT more like the kind of scenery I was expecting when I arrived in Israel. Flat, rocky dirt.
I adore this shot. What a moonscape, huh?
This particular crater ("Hamachtesh Hakatan" as it's called), is actually the SMALLEST of three naturally-formed craters in the Negev Desert. Kind of looks like the Great Valley in The Land Before Time, only not quite as verdant. And it lacks dinosaurs.
A sign to remind you that you are still in the Middle East.
We also hit up the Dead Sea, which is growing popular among tourists as a getaway spot for rejuvination and medicinal spas. The water is 8x saltier than the ocean, so basically nothing can live or grow in it...hence the name.
The seafloor is white because, well, it's salt.
I forgot my swimsuit, so I had to buy one at a beach kiosk. Luckily it fit. And only $8. Back home you can't even find half a bikini for that amount...I think the last swimsuit I bought in CA was $70.
I know what you're thinking..."GROSS, why would you go into such salty, greasy water?" Because it's fun!! The water is so salty it's hard not to float. Relaxing just a little sends all your body parts bobbing to the surface. My dad demonstrates.
I wouldn't recommend this place for kids, because splashing around sucks a lot if you get the water in your mouth. It tastes HORRIBLE, like bitter, salty bitterness.
Here's an idea of how incredibly bouyant you are in the Dead Sea. I was on my back, HOLDING UP MY DSLR CAMERA, and could still take this shot of my feet without sinking.
Flecks of salt. The sea floor is one big salt bed, it's kind of weird.
My dad holding a chunk or salt he picked up off the seafloor.
Ahh, relaxation. To get to this point you have to ignore the stinging. See, one thing you discover upon entering the water is every single nick or cut you have on your body, because they BURN, BABY, BURN!
The salt also makes you feel all greasy when you get out...that's why beach showers rock!
We headed up the natural springs of Ein Gedi after our dip in the Dead Sea, and found lots of wild ibex herds roaming around.
The trail leading to one of the freshwater pools at Nahal David, a creek-carved canyon.
A little further up Nahal David. Not a very strenuous hike, luckily.
Shulamit Falls, the prize at the end of trail.
My dad and I at Shulamit Falls.
Don't get me wrong...we're still in the Negev Desert here. But you wouldn't know it by looking at this shot.
Of course I went in! Nothing like a natural waterfall to rinse off all the sweat and remaining salt from the Dead Sea!
A view of the Dead Sea from Nahal David. Doesn't look quite as green and greasy from here, does it?
My dad loves this shot of us, he was so glad to be able to share Ein Gedi with me, especially because (I think), my mom loved it so much when she went 25 years ago.
I gave my dad my camera at one point so I could get my head wet and he took this picture of me looking kind of silly and playing with a strip of bamboo bark.
Ibex wandering the canyon trails above us.
As dusk fell and all us tourists were shooed out of the park grounds by employees, oodles of hyrax started appearing. There were impressively bold, too.
Now I like animals, and I think I have a pretty good grasp on zoology, but I have to admit I've never heard of hyrax before this trip. Awfully cute little buggers, though.
You don't need to see any more hyrax, I just really love this shot. It's one of my favorites, like the moonscape shot.
A Bedouin camel that I shot out the window of the car as we drove back to Jerusalem.
And that concludes all my favorite pictures from the trip! I'll leave you with a final, unillustrated story:
I usually never run into any trouble when I fly. I'm waved through all security checkpoints with no problems, as I probably resemble a wholesome, all-American college kid. Even when I travel with Matt and we're standing right next to each other (obviously together) in line, he's often singled out to strip off as much has he decently can and empty all his pockets, while I'm simultaneously welcomed politely through the gate, regardless of whether I'm carrying liquid hand sanitizer or not. It's rather humorous, actually.
In the Tel Aviv airport when I was leaving, a security agent was making her rounds down the queue of people waiting to enter security asking a list of standard security questions (standard for Israel travel). Simple things like, "What is your last name?" (to determine if you are of Hebrew/Israeli heritage and therefore more trustworthy), "Why were you visiting?" "Where did you stay?"
When she came to me, I told her I was a tourist on my way home. I was traveling alone, which I will admit is a teensy bit more suspicious than having a companion, but I'd had no troubles entering the country by myself from America, and I expected no troubles leaving. How naive of me.The security agent was primarily interested in whatever souvenirs I'd bought when I acknowledged that I had indeed bought souvenirs. Of COURSE I bought souvenirs, I'm a tourist. She instructed me to head to a checkpoint where agents promptly opened ALL my bags and boxes, both checked and carry-on. And it wasn't like sloppy half-a**ed American security where they just rifle through your stuff. They unpacked every single thing, unfolding clothes, unzipping plastic bags, the whole nine yards. Apparently they had to make sure I wasn't unknowingly sold explosives or some chemical agents or whatever. It took a solid hour, and they wound up confiscating my hair iron for the laughable reason that "it didn't work" (of course it didn't, the voltage is different in Middle Eastern circuits, stupids!). They sent the iron home on a later flight because regulations stated that it shouldn't be on the same flight as me, and I noticed when I arrived home that my luggage had been opened AGAIN...an outer zipper was unclasped and I was missing a hairclip.
Despite all that, I guess I still made it out easily; my father is usually stopped and taken to interrogation rooms because he's HIGHLY suspicious: a non-Israeli male traveling by himself!