Waking up in a tent of 50 people in the middle of a desert at 0500 was quite a confusing experience. We all awoke early to begin a sunrise hike up Mount Masada next to the Dead Sea. Breakfast with the Bedouins was nice – all the food was what they ate traditionally in the desert. The tuna seemed out of place, but tuna is apparently a staple for Bedouin desert breakfast. The tour bus drove us through the early morning mountains and dropped us off at the valley of Masada when the sun was rising. We climbed the sand mounds and rock cut staircase up to the summit.
At the top of the mountain was the Masada Fortress. This was a very interesting complex of ancient brick palaces overlooking The Dead Sea. Our tour guide began telling us the story of Masada – a story I was vaguely familiar with as it was not quite part of the bible, but a true historic event that happened in the year 70, after the Romans conquered Jerusalem. This was the the fortress of the last remaining Jews rebelling against the Roman empire – and where they all committed suicide.
The view was very breathtaking, like overlooking the Grand Canyon. The Dead Sea shimmered, but it was very noticeable that the Dead Sea was shrinking in size as it was no longer directly bellow the mountain, but several hundred meters away.
After climbing down from the mountain we headed on a trip back to the Bedouin camp for camel riding! Everyone grouped up into pairs of twos as we each rode a camel with helmets on. The camels were fun to ride in the desert. They moved slowly in a line.
I pet the head of the camel behind me and I don’t know if it was trying to lick me or bite me.
Finally we left the desert and headed toward the city. Along the way the geography of the lands changed from very hilly mountains and sand to greenery and more level lands. I talked to one of the Israeli soldiers for a good time on this ride. We spoke mostly about the political divide between Palestine and Israel, and how Florida weather is like.
Along the way to Ashkelon where our hotel was at, we made two stops. The first stop was to get some food for lunch and also to buy snacks and stuff because all of the shops will be closed the next day in observance of the Sabbath. The small city was neat. I ate a schwarma. Some of the members ate pizza from a pizza hut, and tried to eat it at my table from the falafel place, but the owner of the sandwich place kicked them out because the pizza within their restaurant would make them appear not kosher.
The second stop we made was at a park. The Israeli soldier I had been speaking to told me we are entering a dangerous place. He got up and made an announcement that if a siren goes off at the park, it is a missile warning, and we are to find cover. I didn’t understand at first why we were entering a dangerous zone, but finally the tour guide pointed to a city in the horizon and said “That is Gaza”. He spoke about the creation of Gaza strip and the political tensions and grayness of it and Hamas. All of it felt surreal.
Finally we got back on the bus after staying by Gaza for nearly an hour and headed to our Holiday Inn Hotel In Ashkelon. The Hotel overlooks the Mediterranean sea.
Everyone took a nice hotel shower and got dressed up for Shabbat dinner. What a nice feeling to be clean after not showering from the Dead Sea and a night of sleeping in desert tent. Shabbat services were Reform and it was nice to go through the prayers with the group. Shabbat diner was a great buffet and afterwards we participated in an improv comedy show. I had some drinks in the hotel bar, and overheard some loud music playing from the ballroom upstairs. I asked my new Israeli friend for some phrases in Hebrew so I can get into the dance club upstairs. I walked upstairs the ballroom and said all the wrong phrases to the lady guarding the door. Instead of saying “Can I get in”, I think I said “Are you with someone?” and then quickly rephrased it to “Would you like to dance with me?” but she blushed and allowed me in. Inside the guarded room was just a bunch of old folks barely dancing. I walked out of the ballroom and into the elevator up 12 floors and dropped into a very cozy bed for a very long sleep.
Tomorrow we are going to party likes its the Last Night of Hannuka on New Years Eve!