Day 3: Sunrise on Masada, A Goat, A Float

I’m writing this from the rooftop bar of our hostel in Jerusalem: it is 5pm, Gabriel is fast asleep in the dorm, and it is scorchingly hot outside. No, Mother – I am not drinking alone; it is just nicer out here.

This time last year, when looking forward to the end of school years and the early days of freedom, I expected that I would be deaf from the loud music, goggly-eyed from excessive late nights and be revelling in blurred memories (because I have bad eyesight, Mother). I did not think that I would be getting up at 2am to hike; the last time I “hiked”, or did any proper exercise, was two years ago when the Aunt decided that we should do a rainforest trek shortly after knee surgery.

(This turned out to be a very good idea, because I never laughed so much before, and I got to see Tarzan)

In short, I expected to be face-down on the sitting room floor (not recalling any past events) at 3am rather than up Masada – an ancient fortress on the top of a cliff in the Judean Desert.

Masada is not just a complex ancient fortress, but equally, a symbol of violence, war and self-sacrifice. Built by King Herod the Great between 37–31 BC, the fortress would become known for the mass suicide 960 Sicarii Rebels (Jewish Zealots) in 73 or 74 CE.

The Sicarii opposed the Roman occupation of Judea, hence why they were rebels. In 70 CE, the Romans destroyed the Second Temple (which the Western Wall belonged to), prompting the Sicarii to flee and settle on Masada. Yet the rebels may not be so innocent after all, as it is reported that they raided nearby Jewish villages on Passover, massacring 700 women and children.

Anyway, the Roman governor laid siege to Masada three years later, surrounding the rock and then building a ramp up to the fortress itself. (more on this later) However, when the Romans finally entered Masada, they found that 960 of the Sicarii rebels were dead, more inclined to commit mass suicide than be forced into slavery. Only two women and five children lived to tell the tale.

Notably, Judaism prohibits suicide. Historians suggest that the Rebels had actually selected 10 men to kill the rest in turn, until there was only one of these ten men standing, who killed himself. Everything was destroyed except from the food in order to show the Romans that the rebels had had the ability to live, but rather, had chosen to die

Instead of exulting with joy over the death of their enemies, the Romans saluted them, admiring their mental strength, their courage, their determination not to be reduced to slavery. Some regard Masada as a place of reference, heroism and the fight against oppression; others see it as a warning against extremism.

This was what we would be hiking up to at 3am. The German man at the restaurant last night had told us that the hike was easy; it was not. It was hardly trekking on hands and knees, but the terrain is rugged and stony and the path is long and steep; it’s also very humid and stuffy, even before the sun had risen.

The sheer height and struggle of the hike, even at 3am before the sun had risen, puts into perspective just how difficult the climb of the Romans to Masada must have been. At that time, no path had been set through the rock; a few months had been spent building a steep ramp up the rock, and soldiers would have had to clamber up the ramp in full armour.

Here are a few photos of us going up:

There is a cable car. It is not open at 3am.

The moon was still up when we got to the top:

The hike was worth it though, and I shall now spam you with lots of pictures of an extremely beautiful sunrise:

The other side is also very pretty; there’s even a music stage and seats set up out there on the desert:

We walked down some steps to get to the. Northern Palace, where we found some of the remaining columns of the palace:

And here I got a nice pic of Gabe: (he just woke up, by the way)

This blow is probably my favourite picture; it gets in the Sunrise and the fortress itself; the photo is unedited – these were the colours and the lights at the time:

I like these shadow-y photos too, mainly because you can’t see the red of my face after climbing up:

Ein Gedi, a small nature reserve that has waterfalls and goats, was the next stop along the way. It also happens to be one of the villages that the Sicarii Rebels raided when fleeing to Masada. We were pretty exhausted by the time we had reached the reserve and so lay in some shade for a bit, whilst some goats passed by. Livin’ the dream.

Within a few hours we had gone from very high to very low – the lowest point on Earth: the Dead Sea. The surface of the Dead Sea is 423 metres below sea level and is about 9x saltier than the normal ocean; this absurdly high salt content allows us to float. And really float – like zero gravity.

In fact, I found it very difficult or impossible to stand or to tread water or to swim because every time my feet would get pushed back up.

There are very few areas that you can swim within the Dead Sea because of the number of sink holes that surround it; our bus driver pulled over by a full sized house that had almost sunk completely into the mud. The beach isn’t sand; it’s just hot, sticky mud, which so many cake themselves in and use as an exfoliant.

Here are some photos of a lot of legs:

This area of the Dead Sea is actually in Palestine, but is currently under Israeli control. On the drive back, we passed the Wall of the West Bank itself:

And the tiredness of all this is what brought me to the rooftop bar of Abraham Hostel, whilst Gabe, who had fallen asleep at every moment we sat down, crashed on his bed.

Dinner was at Tmol Shilshom – a cafe in a bookshop that also does really interesting milkshakes. The New Zealand girl and the Belgian guy we met last night told us to go.

WWe then took Daphna’s advice and visited the very lively market nearby.

That’s all folks ;) x

P.S. An added extra about the Church of the Holy Sepulchre:

See the ladder resting on the second storey of the Church? That has been there for decades; the power struggle between the Armenian, the Catholic and Greek Orthodox religions are so strong that they cannot even agree on what to do with the random ladder that was once placed there. When someone decided to move it, the Church ordered it to be returned as all three dominant religions claim power over it…. ;)

Show your support

Clapping shows how much you appreciated Sophie Blitz’s story.