Monday, July 05, 2004

This is Joel, a soldier that I befriended outside of Ein Gedi. He was waiting here for some of his military buddies to go and swim in the pools in the nature reserve. Soldiers are everywhere in Israel, and all the American tourists jockey to get their pictures taken with them. Especially the girls (ahem, Christiana and Micha!) But I did get to converse with this kid for about 20 minutes. Posted by Hello

On the way down from Ein Gedi - beautiful shot with the Dead Sea in the back. Posted by Hello

After a short hike we finally came to this. Pretty amazing that this kind of place exists in the middle of this unforgiving desert. We swam in the pools and, sweaty and dirty after hiking Masada, it was an unspeakable relief. Interesting factoid: It is believed that this spot actually used to be a large cave - you can see large rocks on the ground that crashed down from a crumbling ceiling. It's possible that this may have been the very cave where David hid from Saul for so long. Posted by Hello

Along the way we saw many of these - called ibex. There were several families of them with small babies, and we even saw a couple of large males butting heads and battling. We were pretty close to them - they didn't seem to care at all that we were there. Posted by Hello

After Masada we went to a nearby oasis/nature reserve called Ein Gedi. It was in this region that David hid from Saul, then the king of Israel. He evaded Saul for possibly 15 years, and in this desert oasis he likely penned many of the psalms. Posted by Hello

Steve the TG pontificating about what's what at Masada. You have to read up on Masada - I'm telling you guys - it's sick! Posted by Hello

Ruins from the city that was atop Masada. Posted by Hello

Me and my pops at the top of Masada with the desert and the Dead Sea in the background. Posted by Hello

My dad and Josie resting at the top of Masada, looking a bit fatigued and flushed, and understandably so. I was the first to the top out of the group (besides Steve the Tour Guide) at 33 minutes. Josie and my dad were 2 and 3 - go Brawers! It's really not the distance or the steepness of the climb that kills you, it's the heat. I think it was about 105 degrees that day.  Posted by Hello

On Day 2 in the Dead Sea region we hiked the desert fortress Masada. Masada is such a cool place historically and symbolically, I encourage everyone to read a bit about it. It was definitely one of my favorite sites. The short version is, it's a mountain where Herod built one of his palaces, and later it became the home of some 900 Jewish rebels, who killed themselves rather than be taken by the Roman army. As you can see from this photo, there is a narrow trail that snakes up the side of the mountain, and there is also a gondola car that takes you to the top in about 4 minutes. I took this shot about 3/4 of the way to the top...climbing the trail, naturally. Posted by Hello

Here I am frollicking in the Dead Sea...well as much as one can frollick in a hot pool of burning salt water. As you can probably tell, the Dead Sea experience wasn't really what I was hoping for. First of all, there was no mineral-rich mud to lather on one's self and renew and re-invogorate one's skin. I don't know if we just picked the non-muddy section or what. Secondly, after about five minutes, certain, uh, areas of the body begin to have a distinct burning sensation, which is not pleasant. And if you get the water in your eyes, which is nearly impossible not to do, you can forget about it - better look for some fresh water quick. Also, 70 degree water isn't exactly refreshing when you're in a 100 degree desert. So you can understand if I'm a little salty about my Dead Sea experience. (Sorry, couldn't resist.) But I do have to admit the unsinkable phenomenon was pretty cool. Everyone, no matter how much hummus he may have eaten, floats. Anyway, since we were staying in some oasis mega-resort, I spent most of the afternoon by the pool.  Posted by Hello

Here we are at Qumran, a site near the Dead Sea where lived a community of Jews around the 1st century AD known as the Essenes. They are also believed to have written the Dead Sea Scrolls, which were discovered in some caves nearby in the 1950's. Both the Essene community and the Dead Sea Scrolls are fascinating topics - read up on them in the Virtual Israel Library (follow the link on my sidebar.) Posted by Hello

This was starting the "third stage" of our trip - a couple of days in the Judean wilderness/Dead Sea area, which I found to be very beautiful. The landscape in this shot is exactly what you see for miles and miles - very craggy and dusty desert. We are actually in the West Bank in this shot - hence the fence that you see there, which keeps the bad guys out. Posted by Hello

Reality Check

More photos to come soon. But as an interlude, here's a quote from a good friend of mine who's currently traveling throughout Asia researching the financial situation there for his company, and reporting back to us:

You know the old saw about Americans being the most self-centered and arrogant people in the world? Turns out its true of just about everywhere I’ve been. France, England, China, Japan, India…everyone seems to think they’ve got the best culture in the world.

And they expect you—as a burger chomping, coke swilling, blue jeans wearing, non-football understanding American—to respect their exalted place in the world. Kind of refreshing actually. Everyone’s proud of where they come from. But enough of this chiding Americans for being arrogant. It’s a pretty common nationalistic fancy.

Just one man's opinion, but it is a fresh perspective on the "Arrogant American" stereotype.