Friday, March 27, 2009

Highs, Lows and the Bloody Dead Sea

This morning I had to catch a Tour Bus at a much nicer hotel than mine, for the trip I'm about to describe, at 9:00am. So I planned to wake at 7:00 and leave my hotel at 8:00 (turns out the Inbal Hotel was only 15 minutes away, but I'm neurotic about getting lost or spending a half-hour shooting photos of stray cats, of which there seem to be many in Jerusalem, or some other diversion).

I had set my iPhone alarm for 6:50am, allowing for 10 minutes of snooze. All trip I've had my phone on Plane Mode, so as not to risk exorbitant data roaming charges, or even be tempted to make expensive phone calls. But I had to switch off Plane Mode for a moment the other day, so that the time would auto-adjust. Well, fortunately, even in Plane Mode, my iPhone knew to auto adjust for the time change in Israel, about which I was completely oblivious. Thank you iPhone for your higher intelligence. Left to my own, non-Apple devices, I probably would've missed the bus. (For those keeping track, I am now 8 hours ahead of Chicago, 10 ahead of the West Coast and 15 ahead of Hawaii, I think.)

So, about 3 minutes out of Jerusalem, we were in the desert on our way to Masada. You can learn more though the link to Wikipedia, but Masada is a mountain where in about 31 BC, King Herod built himself a couple of mountaintop palaces, but more compelling to tourism is the story of the story of the Jewish extremists who wound up on the mountain about 35 years after Herod, trying to outlast a Roman siege. The Jews committed mass suicide rather than become slaves, and Masada has become an Israeli Alamo. The story was fascinating, but more spectacular was the scenery, including numerous palace ruins that still exist. And the weather was absolutely beautiful.

I'm not a huge fan of tour buses, but this one was quite nice, with a good tour guide and some pleasant co-tourists. Though I'm glad I'm not doing my entire trip on a tour, I'm happy I did this one. A cabbie I rode with the other day, and who will take me to some destinations in Jerusalem tomorrow for a reasonable, agreed-upon rate, mentioned that he could have taken me to Masada & Dead Sea if I hadn't already booked the tour, but there is no way he could've provided the experience and information the organized tour did.

On the way to Masada, Marianne (the guide) informed us about a variety of historical events that happened in the lands that we were passing. I can't keep it all straight, but she mentioned Jesus, Moses, Joseph, the city of Jericho and its tumbling walls. She also pointed out that we had reached the lowest point on Earth, at 1200(?) feet below sea level, and made some bad puns about it, which I always appreciate.

After Masada, which only took about an hour to reach, the tour went to the nearby Ein Gedi Spa, from which one can float in the salty Dead Sea. Believe me, I'm all for ragged edges, but the place could be well-served to be bought and enhanced by Marriott. First was lunch in a cafeteria style restaurant with a sausage-shaped beef & lamb concoction. Barely digestable and perfectly forgettable. Then, before heading down to the sea itself (where no one actually swims, just floats due to some Poseidenous phenemenon I can't explain), you stop to put mud on yourself for some reason I also can't explain. Now if you're thinking of me in a bathing suit covered in mud, you may be feeling like I did after lunch. And no one told me that being covered in mud would invalidate me from being able to ride the makeshift tram (a tractor pulling an open trailer with benches; again, "Hello, Marriott?"), so I had to shlep about a mile.

But then came the fun part. First of all, the sea bottom and beach is comprised completely of salt crystals, so even walking a foot sans shoes hurts like hell. And being a non-swimmer and bit of a wuss, I was afraid to wade in too far. Fortunately, for I barely floated, maybe for a few seconds, but for the most part my ass was on the sea floor. I guess I defy natural phenomenon. And as Marianne had informed us, getting up from that position isn't easy (especially, for an agility-challenged fatso like me). Marianne had also told us not to get salt water in our eyes and mouth. Well, I didn't, at least not the first time I tried to stand, though I scraped my hand along the salt crystals. But then, as I gingerly tried to walk to shore on the crystals, I lost my balance, spun, and went down face first into the water, getting water in my mouth and eyes, and bloodying both my hands and knee on the crystals.

Moses parted the Red Sea; I turned the Dead Sea red.

Fortunately, a couple of tour bus mates helped get me up before I drowned. But blood was oozing pretty good from my hands & knee. After washing myself off, no major harm seems to have been done, but my left hand is pretty abrased (is that a word?). And I still don't know what the mud was for.

I know that people come from thousands of miles for this experience, but I think I would've been better off staying on the bus and reading my book.

But now I'm back at my hotel, after nightfall of the Jewish Sabbath, so I fear my dining options may be quite limited. But I may just stay in and watch TV; last night they had the episode of "24" that I had just seen on Monday, in English with Hebrew subtitles. But they also had an Odd Couple rerun in English, without the Hebrew subtitles. I guess Felix and Oscar don't need translation, but Jack Bauer's grunting exhortations do.

Overall, a good day, but just a bit worse for wear. But at least I didn't die in the Dead Sea; I don't think I could ever live that down.

1 comment:

WendySchmidt said...

Oh, Seth, that is the most hysterical Seth the Tourist story yet.

Sorry about your aunt. There was some cosmic meaning in you being at the Wailing Wall that day, a reason for it. I'm happy you got to see her one last time before you left, but very sad it all happened so quickly.

This is one trip I wish I was on. Do you think you'll go back? Can't wait to hear about your stay with your relatives, and whether the Arabs really are nicer. How's the falafel??