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Ponies In The Holy Land: Picspam Part 4

Little Sister Pony really wanted to see Masada and the Dead Sea. We went on a tour for this, since I was too busy arranging field work to manage to figure out how to do it on our own. It turned out to be a pretty good deal, though. We got the bus ride, a guide to show us around, and an afternoon at the Ein Gedi spa.

First of all, a few notes. The camera was having some issues that day, so there aren't as many pictures as I'd like. Also, there are no pictures at all following Little Sister Pony's dip in the Dead Sea. After she went in, I went in, and then my hands were too wet, salty, and muddy for picture-taking.

Also, according to our guide, it rains only two days out of the year at Masada. We went on one of them! But we stuck out the tour anyway, and we got to see the dry riverbeds fill up with flash flooding. We even saw a waterfall!

The Dead Sea is the lowest place on Earth. Getting there from Jerusalem is exciting. Jerusalem is in the mountains, and so you go down, down, and down, and your ears pop from the pressure change. And you really start getting into Serious Desert:

Seen this way, the Dead Sea is beautiful, though somewhat improbable, and kind of unearthly.

You could take forty minutes to hike up Masada, but the tour company doesn't have time for that. They take you up by cable car, which is fun in its own way.

Here's part of the fortress complex at Masada. Apparently, IDF soldiers swear an oath up here, "Never another Masada." The buildings are partially reconstructed from original materials and using original techniques; in order to be precise, the archaeologists who did this painted black lines to show where the original construction ends and the reconstruction begins.

After Masada, the bus takes you to the Ein Gedi spa, which is run by the Ein Gedi kibbutz. There's a restaurant in the spa, which is a complete ripoff; overpriced, and not particularly good. But the spa facilities are fun. You change into your bathing suit and flip-flops, and you go first to the sulfur hot spring pools. They smell funny, but the water is warm, and you can float around in it. You should only stay in for 10 minutes, though, because the water really is warm -- about 105 Fahrenheit. Pregnant women shouldn't go in at all; Little Sister Pony says this is to avoid boiling the fetus. You have your choice of single-sex or co-ed pools.

After the sulfur pool, you go to the shuttle. The Dead Sea is evaporating. Thirty years ago, the spa was built right at the shore; now, it's a couple of kilometers away, so they drive you down in a shuttle tram.

The Dead Sea "beach" is like no other beach I've ever seen. There's no sand; only salt flats. You have to wear your flip-flops here, or else the salt will cut your feet and sting. Behind you are the most extraordinary mountains.

Then you get to the Dead Sea itself. The water is clear because nothing lives in it. It's about 80 Fahrenheit; cool, but you get used to it really quickly. There are plastic beach chairs available to sit on or put your stuff on. Little Sister Pony went in first, while I guarded the stuff and took a picture. The camera was misbehaving, but I did get a shot of people floating. One of them might be Little Sister Pony, but I'm not sure. She was pretty far out by this point.

After Little Sister Pony had floated for a while, she came back to sit with the stuff, and I went in. You wade in up to your chest. Then you kind of lean back, spread out your arms, lift your feet, and bloomp! you're floating! It's wild; kind of like being a cork. You cannot sink. You also can't swim; it turns out that you need a little sink in order to get the resistance necessary to swim. Anyway, going tummy down is a bad idea because the salt water will get in your eyes. Far better to float on your back and paddle around that way, or tread water upright, splashing around happily and giggling.

After floating in the Dead Sea, the shuttle will drop you off at the Mud Station. Dead Sea mud is supposed to be very good for your skin. So you flip-flop over to the mud bins, which are filled with black, slimy, salty-smelling mud, and you do what you've always wanted to do ever since you were really little. You smear gooey mud all over your body and gloop it on your sister's back until you're both covered in black mud. Everyone on the tour laughs at themselves, because at this point, we're all strangers, but half-naked and covered in goop, and all vanity melts away. You stand around and chat for a while, flapping your arms to let the mud dry a little and soak in all the Dead Sea goodness, and then you wash it off.

With sulfur showers.

Yes! Warm, evil-smelling showers that sting just a little as they wash off the mud. Then you run under the cold freshwater showers, and you're clean again, and glowing and tingling all over. Then you flip-flop back to the spa building, ready to get on the bus back to Jerusalem. I bought a package of Dead Sea bath salts, but they're vanilla scented, as opposed to sulfur.

We did all this on Shabbat, and we got back to Jerusalem slightly before all the shops and restaurants opened up again. We still needed dinner, though, and Little Sister Pony thought she saw an Italian place that was open. The problem is that she has no sense of direction, so we wandered a little trying to find it. Along the way, we ran into this guy from Boston who had just arrived in Jerusalem for a business trip. He'd checked into his hotel (he has a real job, so he can afford a real hotel), and was also trying to find a place to eat. So we invited him along, and we wound up in a nice Italian restaurant just kind of chatting and telling him about all the fun things to do in Jerusalem. And then we showed him a fantastic little hole-in-the-wall hummus place that a friend had taken us to on Thursday, and then we parted company. It was one of those wonderful, fleeting experiences that you only ever have while traveling.

Finally, a last picture. We went to Yad Vashem, which was an entirely worthwhile experience. You can't take pictures in the museum, but this is the view you get once you leave the exhibit; in a way, it's the final exhibit in the story of how the Jews of Europe were persecuted, murdered, and finally fled to the Land of Israel:

It was a wonderful trip, and I'm especially glad that Little Sister Pony came with me for this one.


( 20 comments — Leave a comment )
May. 12th, 2011 02:46 am (UTC)
I'm not sure if I'm jealous of your Dead Sea float/mud bath/sulfur shower experience or not. But it sounds like you and LSP managed quite a bit during your stay. Thank you for sharing all this. Very interesting.
May. 12th, 2011 12:26 pm (UTC)
The float and mud bath and sulfur showers were fun! Well, the float and the mud bath were fun. The sulfur shower would have been more fun if I hadn't been so concerned about it washing my contact lenses out of my eyes. But the freshwater shower was good. It's definitely an experience to have while you're there.
May. 12th, 2011 03:26 am (UTC)
It's pretty awesome to be able to say you swam in the Dead Sea.
May. 12th, 2011 12:26 pm (UTC)
Dogpaddled, at least. And splashed up a big, fun, salty storm.
May. 12th, 2011 02:02 pm (UTC)
Dogpaddling is swimming! ...mostly. Awesome either way. I didn't realize there were issues with swimming there. I guess I figured it would be like being in the ocean.. only without the tides.
May. 13th, 2011 02:44 am (UTC)
It's like no other body of water I've ever splashed around in. The water is so saturated with salt that it's kind of thick and oily, and it clings to your skin. It's weird, but fascinating weird.
May. 12th, 2011 08:38 am (UTC)
Thank you for sharing! Jerusalem and Tel Aviv both look like beautiful cities. What an incredible sense of history there must be in Jerusalem.

The Dead Sea swim and mud bath sound like fun!
May. 12th, 2011 12:29 pm (UTC)
They are both beautiful in their own ways. Having stayed in Jerusalem, maybe next time I'll stay in Tel Aviv, just to experience the difference.

Jerusalem certainly has lots of layers. We'd be walking, especially near the old city, and look at the map and have conversations like this:

FP: Oh, I see where we are. We came down this road, and we're at [incredibly ancient historical monument].
LSP: You mean . . . the [incredibly ancient historical monument]?
FP: Yup.
Pony Sisters: We're in Jerusalem! Wheeeee!
May. 12th, 2011 11:28 am (UTC)
Sounds like a fascinating trip, FP. And I never knew you needed resistance to swim. That seems symbolic.
May. 12th, 2011 12:31 pm (UTC)
I guess it is kind of symbolic. The desert just lends itself to symbolism, I suppose. But it's kind of weird once you're actually in the water to realize that you can neither sink nor swim properly. You can dogpaddle, though, and I think some people managed to get a modified backstroke going.
May. 12th, 2011 12:27 pm (UTC)
Wow. Just, wow.
May. 12th, 2011 12:37 pm (UTC)
It was a pretty "wow" trip, for both of us.
May. 12th, 2011 10:19 pm (UTC)
what a great trip. I've always wanted to go to Israel. Floating in the Dead Sea sounds fun.
May. 13th, 2011 02:47 am (UTC)
The Dead Sea was wild! It's like no other seashore or lake shore I've ever been at. If you go to Israel (and you should go, and in the springtime before it gets really hot), definitely get down to the Dead Sea. You'd enjoy it there, I think.
May. 13th, 2011 02:41 am (UTC)
Cool pics! Looks like a great trip. And traveling with your sister sure mde i even more fun. Welcome back! :-)
May. 13th, 2011 02:48 am (UTC)
Having Little Sister Pony along was a great thing. Not only did I get to spend a week with my sister, which doesn't happen often, but I got to share the trip with someone, and I had an excellent fashion consultant to help me buy my pretty clothes.
May. 13th, 2011 10:13 am (UTC)
Just read this last bit. I am working my way backwards. This sounds fantastic. I love how traveling can give you really alien experiences that are amazing. That spa sounds so cool.
May. 13th, 2011 01:48 pm (UTC)
The Dead Sea was probably one of the most alien experiences I've ever had. It's just that weird of a place. But unique! No other place on Earth quite like it, and I got to go there!
May. 15th, 2011 11:41 pm (UTC)
Wow! That looks absolutely amazing! Im not sure if I could have handled the cable cars, but I definitely would have loved to float in the Dead Sea. Amazing!
May. 16th, 2011 01:25 pm (UTC)
The cable car takes about three or four minutes, and it's pretty crowded. If you don't want to look, all you have to do is stand in the middle of the pack.

Floating in the Dead Sea is a wacky, wild experience, and I'm glad Little Sister Pony encouraged me to just spend the money on the tour instead of giving up on the idea when I didn't have time to arrange a trip on our own.
( 20 comments — Leave a comment )