Jordan River valley drive
After our Galilee adventures we began our drive south through the Jordan River valley. At the base of the lake we saw quite a few farms, especially bannana plantations under netting. As we drove south through the river plains the number of vegetable and other farms increased. Within about 30 minutes we were waved through a security checkpoint and were then driving through the West Bank. There were some farms bunched near the border, but they quickly dwindled as the landscape became increasingly dry.
Over the next two hours the landscape became more and more barren and dramatic.
The northern section of the Dead Sea is partially in the West Bank and there are a number of signs warning you to not stray from the road. This is a pity as there are several areas that would make great viewpoints. After being waved through another security checkpoint we were back in Israel proper again, and we were able to stop for some photographs of the beautiful Dead Sea.
click to see the full panorama on Flickr; you can see Jordan across the sea
We continued driving to the southern section of the Dead Sea and the resort town of Ein Bokek. As covered in our hotel post we stayed at Le Meridian, and in the late afternoon we all went down to their beach to float in the Dead Sea.
The water was bathtub warm, seemingly 90 degrees, and very shallow (never deeper than chest high). With the high salinity you definitely noticed any scratches as they quickly began to sting. The beach itself was a mix of sand and rocks, while the sea floor was made up of salt crystals. We definitely felt even more buoyant than our Cejar Lagoon experience in Chile.
We normally sink so it was nice to float without trying
these salt crystals make up the floor of the sea
After 45 minutes of floating in the water we got out and rinsed off in the freshwater showers up the beach, then made our way back to the hotel to clean up and go to dinner.
Two millenia ago Masada was a fortress on the top of a plateau with a commanding view over, and protecting trade routes along, the Dead Sea. Our plan for Sunday was to visit this site on our way to Jerusalem. Though the morning was quite a bit hazier than the day before, we hoped we’d still have some views from the top. There are two routes up: one, an hour-long hike up the switchback Snake Trail, or two, a 5 minute cable car ride to the top. In the interest of time and not killing my parents we chose the cable car.
The view from the top is spectacular, and you can see why it would make for a good fortress.
you can see part of the snake path in white
There are a number of partially-preserved ruins at the top including the remnants of palaces, storerooms, temples and water works.
It is truly amazing what people were able to carve out of pure stone.
The Romans eventually laid siege to the fortress. Not content to simply wait, they built a ramp up the western side in order to attack it… that’s commitment.
the hill leading up on the west side was built by thousands of slaves
Not wanting to be conquered, the rebellious Jews inside the fort eventually committed mass suicide, denying the Roman army new slaves. The Romans built on top of the conquered ruins, and later, monks built on top of those.
As the day progressed the number of tour groups increased, so we were thankful we started early. We took the cable car back down and headed toward Jerusalem for the final three days of our trip.