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.