EIN GEDI, ISRAEL
Ein Gedi is in the southern part of Israel one hour from Jerusalem, west of the Dead Sea. The scenery changed almost immediately after leaving Jerusalem. High rock mountains and a temperature change from mild to hot and dry. Camels started appearing on the roadsides dressed in colorful headgear and saddles.
Ein Gedi displays the diversity of landscapes in Israel. For such a small country there are plenty of options of things to do: city life, sandy beach, desert landscape and historical areas are within a several mile radius of each other.
There aren’t many choices for hotels and restaurants in Ein Gedi. The rates are high everywhere in this area because the supply is low. We chose to stay at Ein Gedi Kibbutz & Spa which is minutes aways from the Dead Sea. Complimentary admission (normally $2O USD) to the Dead Sea Spa was included in the room rate .
Even though the Dead Sea lines this area, it is not safe to enter the water in most areas due to massive sink holes. Signs are posted along the highway warning people about the danger of pulling over and entering the sea.
This hotel owns the Dead Sea Spa, five kilometers from the property. As guest we received daily free admissions. This included use of the facilities, access to the Dead Sea beach area, large swimming pool and outdoor natural mud bath area. Most of the coastline is off limits to people because of sink holes. A tractor shuttle takes guest to and from the shore. The land looks dry but there are certain areas that sink right through. Think of walking through a field of land mines. The beach area at the Dead Sea Spa is open to the public ($20 per person) to visit and enjoy a safe area to enter the water. The tone is set from the beginning that the water is not as inviting as it seems.
The Dead Sea borders Israel, the West Bank and Jordan. The Dead Sea is not part of the ocean, it’s a lake at the lowest point on the earth. The saline content is 34% making it the saltiest body of water in the world. Plants and fish cannot survive or live in the water — hence the name dead sea.
Anyone can float in the Dead Sea. It’s a good thing because the bottom is a razor sharp bed of salt rocks. It’s impossible (and painful) to get in without shoes. There is a haze when looking at it from a distance and the water is dense. Since the water is full of sodium and other heavy minerals, it has an intimidating look. Human intuition kicked in and my gut told me not to stay in too long. A little cut on my thumb (I never knew existed) was burning in pain and something was telling me to get out. Think of being on the moon with sunshine and an ocean made of methane.
Another fun thing to do at the shorline is play in the mud. Small holes close to the shore were filled with thick clay to dig out and slather on your skin. This was a treat because I’ve actually paid for Dead Sea mud treatments – $$$$. I wasted no time covering my entire body and face with mud. Once I stepped in the sea to rinse off, my skin started burning like fire. First thing I did was submerge myself underwater to get the mud off my skin immediately. When I came up for air I can’t describe the excessive burning and strange feeling of my skin being coated. Not to mention the salt in my eyes blinded me for about 7 minutes. It’s no wonder I didn’t see one person submerged in the sea or even getting their face wet. Instead people were using the showers provided with fresh water to rinse off.
Nahal David is a beautiful waterfall in the Ein Gedi Nature reserve. It’s located in a very dry mountainous area. Strangely, a fresh water supply and several small waterfalls including a large waterfall named after King David are within the rock mountains.
The hike is uphill in the open sun has many stops to cool off in fresh water. We spent two hours hiking and relaxing by the water. I was bummed out because I didn’t see any of the wildlife living there. The word Ein Gedi in Hebrew means spring and goat-kid. A heavy population of mountain goats call this place home.
Speaking of animals, the Hyrax is native to Ein Gedi. This is a first time ever seeing this animal in my life. In the parking lot of the hotel is where I spotted the first one. He was the size of a large rabbit and so cute. He had the legs of a rabbit, ears of a rodent, body of a badger and a nose like a dog.
This is one of the most bizarre little creatures I’ve ever seen. Later that day I saw another, then another and then a cluster of them around dusk. It was then I hoped they weren’t dangerous because they were everywhere.
After a few clicks on Google, I learned a lot about them. A hyrax lounges in the sun and shade 95% of the day. They are vegetarians and eat mostly leaves. They live in caves and holes in the rock mountians. Where there is one, there are at least 10-80 more close by. At the resort their homes were inside of tree trunks and under the wooden patios. They are even mentioned in the Old Testament!
The hotel grounds have a beautiful botanical garden throughout the property and mini zoo. I’m wary visiting zoos in the first place. I’m against animals being held against their will for entertainment purposes. The only exception is a cage free environment and the animals seemed to be relaxed and well taken care of.
This mini zoo was very depressing. A pair of turtles were mating the entire time we were there. I videotaped them for about two minutes and downloaded it on Youtube. I felt bad when I realized the lady turtle wasn’t having a good time. She seemed bored – poor thing. The rest of the animals didn’t seem too happy either. One of the meerkats genuinely looked depressed. The thing that really bothered me was the lonely monkey in the back of the zoo, in a cage. He looked so lonely and sad. When will people learn that animals have the same exact feeling as people? They need each other to relate to when they are in those environments. Can you imagine living in solitary confinement the rest of your life? As soon as I saw him back there I ran away and left the entire zoo.
This entire trip I have chosen to avoid thinking about the racial tensions between Israelis and Muslims and the horrible wars going on in the neighboring countries. I love Israel so much and I love the beautiful things I’ve seen so I choose to keep those in the forefront. Especially with the American presidential election going on, seeing friends post their political views on social media and hearing the anger on both sides watching CNN. It’s less stressful to just think positive and block the rest out.
Two days after staying on lush botanical garden grounds with high speed internet and complimentary spa access, we moved to a hostel. This is my first experience at a hostel. Most of the hostels in America require a foreign passport and aren’t very desirable to stay in. There is only one hostel in Masada and it is the Masada Hostel. The rates dropped by $100.00 per night but so did the amenities. Masada Hostel is immaculately clean, it has a sterile feel to it. Our first impression was it looked like a hospital or hospice. The great thing is the location is next to the National Park.
This is the first time I have stayed in a hostel so I expected the worse. It wasn’t nearly as bad. On the other hand, it isn’t a place to spend the day or in a room to get comfortable in. Let’s just say it had a very psychiatric feel to it.
A hand written dinner ticket to presened at the dining room. A room with tables set up like a school cafeteria. The food is served buffet style with entrees suitable for all ages and very basic. Spaghetti, (previously frozen) chicken schnitzel, roasted potatoes, (previously frozen) ground beef/lamb kebabs in gravy sauce topped with onions and hummus station. Nothing stood out but at the end of the day with no other options, it looked good .
Masada hostel is next Masada National Park. People hike or ride a cable car to a huge fortress on top of the mountain on the eastern edge of the Judaean Desert, overlooking the Dead Sea. The ruins of a luxurious palace are still somewhat in tact. Most people hike up the steep shadeless mountain for the sunrise but taking the funicular during business hours was well worth it. Especially when the temperatures reach 109 degrees Fahrenheit by the afternoon. Watching people hike up and down the steep hill was a pleasure while riding up.
The castle/fortress is over 2,000 years old and the some of the foundations are still in place minus the ceilings. Thankfully there were clouds because there weren’t very many shaded areas in a large area of ruins. Surprisingly, bathrooms and water stations were available at the top of the mountain. This castle was taken over in a violent war from the Romans. All of this history is probably more interesting if you’re standing on the ruins. After about an hour I was ready to leave myself.
ROSH PINNA, ISRAEL
Next stop on the road trip through northern Israel is Rosh Pina, Israel. To get here we had to drive through the West Bank. I’ve only heard of the West Bank via CNN News when missiles were launched from there into Israel ten years ago. A police presence with checkpoints were placed along the way. The rental car company had warned us not to pull off into the West Bank or go there. It reminded me of the time we rented a car in San Diego and were warned not to drive it into Tijuana, except missiles and war weren’t involved.
Israeli law prohibits Israeli citizens from entering the West Bank. If [Israeli citizen] entered for any reason, they must leave immediately (unless they are military, police, etc). The highway along the West Bank is under Israeli law. Seeing the border to another country was exciting. Big red highway size signs are posted at certain exits leading off the highway. These large signs are alerting drivers they are leaving Israeli territory, you can’t miss them.
Driving through dry desert landscaping and heat was similar to Nevada. The temperature was boiling hot like a dry desert heat. We stopped at a falafel place to eat lunch and an Israeli soldier ordered and sat down to eat at the table behind me.
I went to take a picture of him using my selfie mode and holding the camera over my shoulder. Later when I looked at the picture I noticed his automatic weapon as pointed at my back (unknowingly (or not) to him). Their cartridges are supposidly in their pockets but this is the first time I have ever had a gun pointed at me. Exciting, but a little scary.
Rosh Pina is a town that is known for its rich history and art galleries.
This place reminded me of the suburbs in America. Very upscale but also very quiet with outlet malls and high end restaurants. There weren’t many locals that spoke English so it was difficult at times ordering food and asking questions without the language barrier in the way.
We stayed at a unique place named after the owner, Miki. It was listed as a bed and breakfast but it was like a hotel. Places like Miki’s are called zimmers. Separate rooms are built around the house with private entrances and kitchens. At Miki’s there are three rooms attached and two rooms unattached to his home. Each of us had our own private patio area. His wife told us originally this was their backyard. In our room was a door blocked by a chair. When I asked where the door led to she said the “bomb shelter”. Rosh Pina was one of the areas hit when Hezbollah (Islamist militant group) launched over 220 rockets into Israel in July 2006. Since then the area has been safe and her bomb shelter is now used for storage. The shelter can fit up to 15 people.
Rosh Pina is a few miles from the famous Sea of Galilee. Christians believe [John 21:11] Jesus performed a miracle at Sea of Galilee. The shoreline was mostly rocks and impossible to lay a towel on and sunbathe.
Sea of Galilee is along the path Jesus walked from Nazareth (his hometown) ending in Mount of Beatitudes in Northern Israel. Historical ruins and sacred sites are all along the route. I had no interest in walking the forty mile trail. There are tour companies that offer “Jesus Trail” tour but the path is free to anyone who walks the trail.
Akko Israeli was my favorite stop in northern Israel. It is also spelled as Acre but the road signs in Israel spell it as Akko. Even though it’s north the city is still on the coastline. Akko is a mixed city of Jewish, Muslims, Christians and Baha’is.
I had to look up what the Baha’is religion was. I had never heard of it until I came to Israel. This was important to know because Akko is the holiest city of the Bahá’í Faith. They believe in the unity of God, religion and humanity. Instantly I became attracted to their beliefs. Anything that is positive and makes sense is always welcome in my brain. But back to Akko.
Saturday is the Jewish day of rest so most things are closed in town. We drove an hour from Rosh Pinna to Akko on Saturday. A famous Turkish Bazaar in the Old City area of Akko is open and busy on Saturdays. There are so many great places to eat and shop here. This is the place to try middle eastern dishes made from scratch.
Acre’s Old City has been designated by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site.
The best thing we found was a dessert called Kanafeh. This is a warm dessert made of mild white cheese with thin phyllo dough on the top and bottom and covered in sweet sugar syrup. I’m not a fan of warm desserts but this was incredible.
We read about the “best hummus in Israel” was at this market. We looked all over only to find out it was closed on Saturdays. We found a place that had a line out of the door so we waited in it knowing it was going to be great. We acted as a team. Doug waited in the dining room line and I waited in the carry out line. Neither one seemed to be moving either.
This is where I learned that Israeli people have a method of cutting lines. Two people at two different times cut me in line. A man and his wife made their way beside me, then cut me. After cutting in front of me he put his hands on his hips to block me from getting around. As my blood was boiling (literally, it was hot outside), a child (around 8 years old) came and cut both of us and rested her head in her arms on the counter upfront like she was tired, then ordered. It was crazy. The good news is, I wasn’t the only one going through this. This was happening (when the line moved forward) to people ahead and behind me as well.
Same story in Doug’s line. A man and his entire family pulled up in a car, double parked, got out and cut the entire dining room line. When the police came to give him a ticket he ran to the car and had his wife and kids holding the spot in line they stole. Their plan was foiled when people started confronting them after they tried to barge into the front door. Needless to say, Doug got his seat first so I left my spot after thirty minutes and we were seated indoors. I didn’t even want the hummus at this point but it was fun (in a twisted way) battling the lines.
We tried these mini pizzas made fresh in an oven and topped with cheese. The bread was the best I’ve had.
Fresh lemonade stands and a fresh sugar cane juice stand were great to drink on a hot day.
Halva, Persian nut bars, fresh roasted coffee beans, baklava and dates were everywhere. All of these were freshly made.
Hookahs are vey popular in Israel. Hookahs can be found at most markets. You can’t miss them, they are colorful and plentiful. Prices range from $15-$50 (USD). Flavored tobacco is used in the hookah, this is the original vaporized way of smoking. Hookahs date back to the 7th century AD in the middle east.
Next stop is the hometown of Jesus. . . Nazareth.