Day 15: Masada, Ein Gedi Spa at Dead Sea

Trip Start May 14, 2008
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17
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Trip End Jun 17, 2008


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Flag of Israel  , Dead Sea Region,
Friday, May 30, 2008

At 4:40 AM, it's DARK! Other than the front desk clerk, no one else is in the hotel lobby.  At this time of day, it can only be Zabu who walks in a few minutes after us. We meet and I am immediately curious about this man.  He appears to be in his 60's, a little more than 5 feet tall with quite a long grey beard, dressed in loose cotton pants and long sleeved shirt.  He knows the front desk clerk and walks behind the public area and emerges with a thermos of coffee.  He confirms that we have drinking water with us. We're off!

We drive to Masada with only Zabu and our car headlights to guide us.  It is so dark, that you would not have a clue that there were mountains around us.  We park the car and walk up to the entrance to the national park.  We show our national park pass as Zabu chats with the attendants.  Does Zabu know everyone?

There is now an inkling of light so we can see the ground as we proceed towards the Snake Path, which winds its way up to the top of Masada.  Zabu asks if we have been to Masada and if we know the story.  We say yes, and he says then that he will focus on those areas that we would not normally read about, the water system, the physical geography and what it was like living there.  It's agreed, that will be perfect.   

Zabu sets the pace, pausing every now and then for commentary and I'm sure also to give us a chance to rest.  As the day is dawning, we begin to take photos.  A young couple, walk very quickly past us.  Up ahead of us, we see a few other people.  Far behind us are many small groups.  We pause to watch the sunrise over the Jordan mountains and revel in being here at this moment.  We take photos, of course!  Zabu encourages us to move on as it will be getting hot soon. We catch up to the young couple who passed us and the woman is breathing heavily for air.  We continue at our steady pace.  Step by step we make it to the top!  YEA!   I had gotten a little bit winded, but not much.  Zabu, who we find out is 67 years old and from Iran, didn't get out of breath at all.  He said we are the oldest and fastest clients he has taken up the Snake Path. I'm thinking that he is just complimenting us, but Harvey thinks the comment is genuine because he said it several times.  In any case, I'd like to believe it!  I am going to be sure to tell Courtenay, my web trainer, who has been working with me for six months on a high altitude hiking and conditioning program (you know in Miami Beach, you need to be creative to train for high altitude hiking!).There are 813 steps on the snake path trail.  It is such an incredible feeling to actually enjoy the uphill hike rather than feel like I am panting and stressing myself as I would have previously.   It feels so good!  I smile and laugh, fulfilling today's intention and the goals of the previous six months of training.

Once we walk past the gate at Masada, we see several tour groups that had come up the Ramp Path, which we understand only takes about 15-20 minutes to walk. They're on a timetable with who know how many stops in the day.  Zabu guides us around and through the groups, so we make good time getting to the places he wants to be sure to show us.  We see the three levels of Herod's Palace and briefly observe a bar/bat mitzvah service that is just ending.  We view a scale model of Masada and Zabu pours a pitcher of water over it as a demonstration of how the water system works.  Then we see the cisterns, and other water catching features. The ingenuity of the water system is truly a sight to see and to realize that there was also a swimming pool on the top of Masada is amazing.   Of course, we had to see the bathhouse.  I didn't keep track of everything we saw, there was so much! We're resting in the shade, and now I agree to have some of that coffee! We sit at the entrance to Masada, just resting and listening to the young teenagers' comments.
 
A few groups of Birthright youngsters pass by.  Here are a couple of the best lines we overheard:
1.      Just cut the crap.  Tell me in two sentences what the significance of Masada is.
2.      They don't train girls from Westchester for this. (Harvey informs her that this is the reason he chose a Jersey girl!)

It's now about 8:30 AM, when the cable car starts to run.  Zabu asks us to show our park pass to an attendant and it is determined that it doesn't cover the cable car ride down.  So, we purchase the tickets and we're in line for the first returning cable car of the day!  This is a great way to descend, providing another view of the terrain and Masada.  It was a 50 minute or so hike up and a 2 minute or so ride down!

We hop into our car and Zabu shows us around the Kibbutz Ein Gedi botanical garden.  This garden is one of the reasons that I had wanted to stay here.  We recognize many of the species that are prolific in the hot tropics of Miami. Many of the succulents and cactus we are also familiar with from our Fairchild Tropical Garden in Miami. However, if you are into plants and gardens, this is the place to see an extraordinary collection of unusual plants in beautiful arrangements.  Also, at this time of year, it is a great opportunity to see a lot of succulents and cactus in full bloom!  There is this really unusual one, I can't remember the name, that has a sack; Zabu opens the sack and shows us how the wind takes the seeds.  I feel like a kid watching with wonder!  Zabu explains some unusual growth habits of some of the plants, and I enjoy listening to that trivia, but can't remember now what it was.    We would highly recommend Zabu, if you are interested in this type of Masada experience.  He can be reached on email through his son Dany at dlevyim@netvision.net.il<mailto:dlevyim@netvision.net.il> or you can call Zabu on his cell at 0523-87-5022.  

Zabu joins us for breakfast and then he is off to give another tour of the botanical garden!  We take a nap.  A luscious deep sleep!  Our Masada hike seems like a dream.  

When we wake up, it is lunch time.  We open the door from our room, and it is like walking into a furnace. We decide on a light lunch, we couldn't face the temptation of a full buffet lunch at the Kibbutz, so we drive over to a small restaurant behind the gas station at Ein Gedi.  They have a salad bar that hit the spot.

Now we're into total relaxation and begin to think about going to the Ein Gedi Spa, whose admission fee is included with our hotel.  We talk about whether we should bring the cameras, but given the salt, water and possible damage, we decide to leave them in our room.  A waterproof film camera would have been absolutely perfect and I'm sorry that I had not brought a few along for this spa experience! At the entrance, we show our hotel spa voucher, receive a towel and locker key and proceed to the changing rooms.  We decide to go to the Dead Sea first and then do the mud baths.  The Dead Sea level has lowered dramatically over the years, so the shore line is now a long walk from the spa.  We opt for the open air trolley that ferries sun baked guests back and forth.  As we wait for the trolley, we watch people in the mud baths cover each other.  A man in a bright yellow swim suit is covered from head to toe in mud and looks like an alien.  After putting on the mud, they are standing under showers and washing it all off.  What is it with us humans - we do the craziest things!  I wish I had one of those disposable cameras!

The trolley lets us off a short distance from the Dead Sea.  There is a boardwalk, but you still have to walk over to the water itself.  Those people who are going barefoot into the water are walking gingerly because of the hot uneven surface.  We're glad that we are wearing our Keen waterproof sandals.  We put our towels on a beach chair under a shaded canopy, note the life guard, and make our way to the water. They say you can't get sunburned because of the ultra violet light below sea level.  I don't know if that's true.  But our trusty Sundayafternoons.com hats more than prove their worth again today, as they shade us from the sun and no worries about them because I can rinse them out later.  I just lie down, face up, put my hat over part of my face, and float! I just let every muscle in my body relax, just let go, and feel totally supported and totally enjoy the sensation of the slow undulation of the sea, and totally enjoy feeling the water on my skin, and totally enjoy hearing some excited chatter from others in the distance as I just let myself be.  Yes, totally.  So this is what it feels to be a human "be"ing.   Of course we met some people and chat most of the time.  These are two guys from the Midwest who came for a conference in Tel Aviv.  A small group of conventioneers had taken the day off for a daytrip to the spa. We are so glad that we only have a three minute drive back to the Kibbutz.
 
After some time, we make our way back on the trolley to the mud baths.  We become the ones that others watch now as they wait for the trolley!   You reach into this container of grey mud and spread it all over your legs, arms, chest, and face. We spread the mud on each other's backs.  Laughing and just cracking up with others who are doing the same, we make our way over to the showers that supposedly have some minerals.  As people leave, we each get our turn at them.  Somehow, the showers stay on for them.  We can't figure out how to keep them running without holding the handle.  No worries, this is just like being a kid again!  What else can we do?  Let's try the swimming pool!  To get through the entrance, you pass under an automatic shower that senses a person.  We are already wet, so no worries.  Others figure out a way to pass through without getting wet. What's the point, anyway? Aren't they going into the swimming pool?  There is one other dunking we could have done inside the main spa building that offers another special water.  There is a sign listing all the minerals in it.  But we are cooked.  So back to the kibbutz.  In our room, we float into dreamland with another nap.

After dinner at the Kibbutz dining room, we walk back to our room.  The heat of the day has passed and a warm wind blew.  We put our heads on the pillow and end a perfect day.

Click here for today's photos!
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