The first thing I noticed as we headed south was that we were going downhill, continually. As we did, the grass on the hills slowly morphed into sand and rock. The Dead Sea is the lowest elevation on earth at 1,385 feet below sea level
Our first stop was in Qumran, where the Dead Sea Scrolls were found. One of the first questions one asks here is how peopled survived in an arid land like this, given that the water in the Dead Sea is undrinkable? The answer: cisterns.Those who lived here created an ingenious system of channels to capture and direct the rainwater coming down from the mountains into large cisterns where it was stored until needed.
We trekked up the path along the spring, up and up around the rocks, at each level finding a new waterfall collecting into a pool surrounded by steep rock walls. We stopped at one of the higher pools, sat down, took off our shoes and dangled our feet in the water. Cool place. I can see why David came here.
After lunching at En Gedi, we drove further down the coast to my favorite stop of the day, Massada.
Massada has to be seen to be believed. It’s a palace/fortress built by Herod the Great on top of a mountain with steep, sheer faces on all sides. When I first saw it, I wondered how anyone could get up there, much less build anything on top of it.
Massada is where Jewish rebels made their last stand against the Roman military in 73 A.D., eventually killing their own wives and children and committing suicide rather than be taken alive by the Romans. The spin here in Israel, as you might expect, is that they were heroes. I’ll let you decide that one.
Our last stop of the day was at a Dead Sea beach for a swim. The water is so salty you cannot put your head under water or get the water in your eyes, nose, ears or mouth, yet you would have thought it was a beach anywhere else in the world. There is a park, and people were barbecuing and laying out in the sun.
As we approached the beach I said, “Let me get this straight. We are going to a beach on a sea you can’t swim in?”
You don’t swim in the Dead Sea, you float. Just getting in is a challenge because there is no sand on the beach, just rocks. You don’t jump in; you walk in backwards, sit down and lean back and … float. I put my hands and feet out of the water at the same time and was not even close to sinking. I could stand straight up without my feet hitting the bottom, without treading water, and the water pushed me up to where my shoulders and chest were out of the water. It was a bizarre, wonderful experience.