Day 2: Masada, En Gedi, and the Dead Sea

So it's our first day traveling around in Israel and we get our wakeup call bright and early at 6:30AM. Since we're traveling with a tour group, our entire schedule from 6:30AM till dinner time is planned. Now, when I say "planned" I don't mean in the drill-sargeant kind of way. Basically think of "someone's-thought-of-every-detail-and-I-don't-have-to-think-about-anything" kind of way :). It's fantastic!

After our wakeup call, I headed to our balcony that overlooked the Dead Sea and saw this view:

Isn't that AMAZING?! And what resort area wouldn't be official without a McDonalds. Good night. They're everywhere.

Our first stop was to a famous site called Masada. Every guide and local will tell you that a visit to Israel is not complete without seeing Masada. Masada is an ancient fortress, built by King Herod the Great in roughly 35 BC. It sits on top of a 1,300 ft. high rock plateau. That in and of itself is crazy to think how someone could build an entire retreat settlement on top of a plateau in the desert. Come to find out the Jews were able to make it a place of complete sustainability for themselves while they sought refuge from the Romans. Unfortunately after three years of battle, the Romans were able to figure out a way to charge the fortress only giving the Jews the option of suicide or becoming slaves. All but 2 women and 3 children committed suicide as they decided it was better to die with honor than to live as a slave to the Romans.

Here is a view from the cable car we're in and headed up to the top of the 1,300 ft. cliff. Notice you can't even see the cables they extend so far up to the top of that large landing building at the top. The entire site of Masada is located on top of this Plateau and you have to go to the top in order to see it.

Here's a view from the top, overlooking the Dead Sea. Notice that in the bottom right hand corner you can see a little bit of the ledge that I'm standing at. That's a steep cliff, friends.

The below picture is a pile of Roman canon balls that the Romans used to attack the Jews and break through their fortress. Each one is roughly 2-4 feet in diameter.

Here's the three of use standing next to one of the walls that the Romans tried to attack.

Herod was known for his architecture and all the cities/buildings he built during his reign. This is original stucco to the building and is still in-tact today. Keep in mind, this was built 2,000 years ago, but wasn't uncovered till the 1960's (which is why it's still in such great condition). 

This is an angle shot from the side of the three tiers of Herod's palace. Impressive to think of the slaves that had to build this thing. It must have taken talent, skill, and hard work. I can't even imagine how something this magnificent was built back then. 

This by far is one of the most impressive sites I've ever seen and a great way to start off our trip!

Our second stop for the day was an En Gedi, which is a beautiful green oasis in the middle of the dessert. David was there while hiding from King Saul and where he also wrote two Psalms (57 & 91). This is our first experience of seeing the scriptures "come to life" while reading them in the spots where they were written.

The hike up to the cave where David was hiding is a bit of a chore, but well worth it. On our way we saw a few rock badgers as well as the tree they believe was used to create the crown of thorns for Christ.

The final spot where we ended was breathtaking. A large waterfall is now there because the top of the cave no longer exists. Literally the water is coming straight out of the rocks of the dessert. It puts a whole new meaning on Christ's reference to himself as "Living Water". Water is gold in this region and you will die if you don't have it.

Our hike back down had beautiful views of the Dead Sea in the distance.

Once back at the hotel, we had a few hours to spare till dinner time, so bought some body mud and headed out to the Dead Sea for what all tourists are there to do: Later up with mud and then rinse off and float in the sea. But careful... you drink 1 cup of Dead Sea water and you will end up just like it... dead. And plus, that water BURNS in your eyes (don't ask me, ask JT).

You always hear of people floating in the Dead Sea, but until you experience it for yourself, you can't imagine what it's like. Literally, you'll flap around like a fish out of water trying to put your feet back down underneath you. It's hilarious. I'm sure all the locals thought we Americans were loud and obnoxious. Oh well. It was worth it!

Dinner was a wonderful Mediterranean buffet with more food than you can imagine. And the salads are so great! Since we're still adjusting to the time change, it's an early night to bed and an early start tomorrow. We'll have 4 sites to visit tomorrow before we end up on the Mediterranean coast.