All the guidebooks will tell you to visit Masada at sunrise, but with only one evening to spend in Ein Bokek and following a week of restless nights, we opted not to set an alarm. I’m glad for it as I slept all the way till 6:30! We picked around at the buffet breakfast then had a relaxing morning swim at the pool before checking out and hitting the road. We arrived at Masada around 11AM, with the sun blazing overhead.
Masada was originally a mountaintop palace of King Herod that eventually became a fort and place of last resistance for the Jewish rebels when the Romans conquered Israel in about 72AD. Their small force held out for at least a year, far longer than anyone would’ve expected against legions of Romans. When the end was finally imminent they chose suicide over capture. Not a bad idea considering that the Romans weren’t the kindest of jailers, but still a brave sacrifice nonetheless.
The site is comprised of some pretty cool ruins with a great story, but the real question is how to get up there. Do you take the cable car? Do you take the Roman steps on the back side? Or do you take the infamous Snake Path? The Snake Path is said to take about an hour, winds back and forth up about 300 vertical meters and looks menacing from any angle. Jamie wasn’t feeling it but I was, so she opted for the scenic route overhead, while I dialed in some Phish on the iPod. Off we went our separate ways.
Immediately, I took a wrong turn and wound up at a construction site adding 10 minutes to the journey and starting me off lightly winded. As I ascended and got the blood pumping I could feel the dry breeze sucking the water from me as the sun delivered sweltering blows from above. I had one bottle of water in my hand, which I gently rationed along the way. I stopped briefly at a shaded rest station and felt my head pound and nausea well up in my stomach. From that vantage point it looked as if I’d barely covered any ground and the summit was lightyears away. I pressed on inspired by the greatest band of all time, and though I wished I was with Jamie above, I was actually having a lot of fun.
Did I mention that I’m a little bit afraid of heights? I think I did a few posts ago. At one point near the top the handrail disappeared and you can see a very, very long way down. This is what we call a no-fall zone. Or a one-fall zone – if you fall, it’s something you won’t live to do twice. Soon, I saw Jamie above waving down at me and taking pictures. It was time to put on a show and so I even jogged up some of the stairs and eked out a smile. I arrived at the top roughly 45 minutes after setting out and took advantage of the shaded cooling hut to sit and drink water. My tongue hung to the side like an old dog as the post adrenal lull overcame me.
Postcard views abound from every angle at Masada. King Herod had a good eye for real estate! We walked around the hilltop soaking up the history and even bird-dogged a fantastic guide giving a private tour. Masada has one of the few surviving synagogues from the second temple period; making it one of the oldest on earth. In a side room from the synagogue we saw a man writing a Torah! [The Torah is the most sacred text in Judaism. They are all written by hand, wrapped in scrolls and stored in an ark] He used a feather quill and an exacting touch to get each letter just right.
In another small sideroom, a boy was being Bar Mitzvah’d. The Rabbi was having trouble finding his place in the Torah. The father of the Bar Mitzvah was concerned that the Rabbi may choose the wrong place. Without missing a beat he replied, ” If I’m wrong, then that’s we have Yom Kippur for.” I love some good Rabbi humor!
We both downloaded via the cable car and seeing as how the cafeteria options were weak at best; we had a cliff bar, cookies and ice cream for lunch. My legs were pretty zapped from that hike and it was time to head back out on the road.