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Monday, May 3, 2010

The Sea of Salt

The drive from Eilat (which we reluctantly left -- could've spent a little longer there) to the Dead Sea/Ein Gedi region was somewhere between 2.5 and 3 hours.  So we decided to prepare ourselves for the long journey by dining at ... that's right, Achlah! :)  While driving somewhere the previous day and getting slightly lost, I had seen it out of the corner of my eye.  I figured at that point that it must be a chain.  When we ate at the one in Eilat, I asked for a business card only to discover that they have a total of 3 locations in Israel -- the third is in Petach Tikvah which we won't be hitting.  Next time ;)

Anyway after the morning snorkeling, the aquarium, and then all that food with all that yummy laffa BREAD, lo and behold, on the drive north I began to feel very verrrrrry sleepy.   I had to pull over at Kibbutz Lotan for a carbo-load-induced nap.  After that I continued on, but we didn't get to our guest house (Bet Sarah -- part of the Israeli Youth Hostel Association and really excellent!!!) till right around sunset.  I pulled over on the way to photograph humongous mounds of salt (they of course mine salt from the Dead Sea).  We also sadly since we were running late had to pass up Sodom (which is still a real place, but I suspect much less action than in Biblical days) and just got a passing glance at Eshet Lot (remember Lot's wife who turned into a pillar of salt?  Well, this would absolutely be the place to do it!)  Our guest house digs were actually quite lovely and located very close to the Ein Gedi Nature Reserve.  Once again we passed out from exhaustion ... and awoke fairly early in the morning.

That next morning, we had what I think has most qualified for Top Israeli Breakfast so far.  This means an incredible extravaganza of all products dairy -- cottage cheese, yogurt, sour cream or something like it, something like feta cheese, etc. -- as well as all different kinds of salads, including those featuring eggplant, amazing breads, fried eggs, and herring!  My mother really enjoyed the herring but regretted it later in the day when she was very, verrrrrrrrrry, thirsty ;)

From there we went to start the day at Ein Gedi Nature Reserve (  Ein Gedi is an oasis in the Judean desert right near the Dead Sea.  It has a remarkable number of types of wildlife unique to that area ... we were looking out for the ibex but instead found lots and lots of adorable rock hyrax, which I will be boring you with photos of.


I did a hike to David's waterfall -- actually it's a series of waterfalls with these amazing pools you can swim in, only I couldn't both carry my camera and go bathing as my mom was not able to hike this path.  The camera won.  Good thing I did this hike early, because there was a ridiculous number of school groups touring the area and the day was only going to get hotter!  I would totally recommend spending more time in this place.

It's close to Massada and Qumran where the Dead Sea Scrolls were written by the Essenes (more on that later).  There is also a kibbutz around there that apparently has an amazing botanical garden worth seeing.  (Next time).  We also saw an archeologic site of an excavated temple from the 2nd century, one of the oldest in Israel.  It had great mosaic floors with designs.

From there we went to Massada ( which is the site of a massive rebellion/siege that took place about 2000 years ago during the Judeo-Roman war -- when it appeared the Jews were going to lose, they committed suicide rather than surrender.  The IDF (Israeli army) often take their vows at that site -- proof, I suppose, that they're really serious.  In any case, it has been excavated over the years and was a whole town and series of buildings, amazing archeology much like some of the sites in Turkey like Ephesus I would say.  Maybe not quite as spectacular but on the same scale.  And it's a fortress with incredible views and a MASSIVE hike up called the Snake Trail which I would have very much liked to do but once again my mom couldn't so we took the very efficient cable car which takes 3 minutes instead.

Next stop was Ein Bokek, which I would not recommend bothering with.  Too overtouristy with some nasty people manning the beach.  This is the place where everyone takes the photos of taking a dip in the Dead Sea while reading a newspaper and staying afloat with no problem.  That and applying Dead Sea Mud to treat whatever ails them.  I just waded in a little bit and found that a wound I had on my left foot started burning like hell.  So I aborted the attempt to heal myself, because I don't like the "no pain, no gain" type of healing all that much (see my blog on the healer from Bali to see what I mean by that)...

We then went back to Ein Gedi beach, but realized that though this beach was a LOT nicer, we had really kind of run out of time if we were going to make it to Jerusalem by 6pm, which was the original goal ... So we ditched it and I will go back to it next time.  And then we went to the Ahava factory outlet store (they made dead sea mineral products but turn out to be still ridiculously expensive at the factory outlet, so no purchases made).  At least there was an interesting exhibition of art made from salt.

And then I drove to Jerusalem which takes about an hour from there, passing through a town called Ma'aleh Adumim to buy gas once again.  Did I mention gas costs oodles!!?  We spent another $60 or so on that tank.  And I was going to drop off the car at the Eldan outpost in central Jerusalem, only ... I missed a turn on my Google map directions and got unbelievably lost in Jerusalem with godawful traffic and people honking their horns behind me.  Awful stress.  I called our host there, Noa, who tried hard to direct me but was limited due to the fact that she doesn't drive and nearly all the streets turned out to be one way streets!  We managed to pass through two very religious neighborhoods (we were definitely in Ma'alot Dafna and I think Mea She'arim) where we saw more penguins ... and then we passed the huge menorah of the Knesset

and a gorgeous rose garden, so it was a bit of an impromptu driving tour but one under great stress ... and we finally got to my host at 6:45 pm.  Eldan had closed at 6.  Luckily we found a place to park overnight and Eldan was cool about returning the car early in the morning the next day, but boy, I was never so thrilled to return a car!!!  More to come on Jerusalem.

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