No rest for the wicked, as 5:45am came quickly. Not only were we intending to drive 2/3 the length of Israel, but we wanted to summit Masada and float in the Dead Sea along the way. We said our goodbyes to Netanya, loaded up the family sedan and made tracks south.
After about 2.5 hours, we rounded Hwy 90 and got our first glimpse of Masada. This would be my third time to hike the Snake Path, and was truly hoping Caleb could make it up. It's 3.2km and a vertical rise of 1300 hundred feet with a combination of stone steps and jagged rock paths. From the bottom, you watch 90% of the people load up in the cable car for the four minute ride to the top. The other 10% begin their assault on the hillside and slowly disappear into the landscape (as seen here).
After the "here i am at the beginning" pictures (notice the cable car station above Caleb and Dad), we made tracks.
Now, upon purchasing the tickets, my father asked the woman at the window how long the trip SHOULD take. She responded with "one hour." On the sign leading out, it says the average time is :45 minutes. Clearly, she tacked on :15 minutes for the senior citizen discount, but we had some idea of how long we would be on the side of the mountain.
Like most hikes, the first 1/4 - 1/2 mile are spent skipping, whistling and feeling generally merry. Then, things start to happen: a small rock gets in your shoe, a little voice in your head says 'look up,' or a group of vultures start to circle overhead. It's usually at this point, where you realize the cable car patrons fly right over you as you climb. You can almost here them say "SUCKERS!" from the car.
But, you don't let that stop you. 1/4 mile. stop. eat an Oreo. sip water. 1/4 mile. stop. eat some Bounty bar. sip water. 1/8 mile. stop. try to eat an Oreo. try to drink water. 1/8 mile. stop. screw the oreo and water, pray for mercy.
After 72 minutes, we reached the top. Not going to lie - it felt good. Really good. Who cares if the family we swore we would beat made it up 20 minutes faster. We didn't. We came, we saw, we conquered. Caleb put it best in this little clip that rivals Armstrongs landing on the moon.
Once on top, it was business as usual. Grab a brochure, walk the path, learn some history and take in the views. One thing became more and more clear, however. I say it now and will say it forever, PLEASE put me down if i ever agree to go on a tour with an official tour group on an official tour bus. I don't want to get into specifics, but I don't want matching hats, matching scarves, and matching t-shirts all to follow a man holding a stick in the air with a balloon on it and saying things like "People, right his way. People. People."
Armed with a brochure and a good imagination, I think we made our own good tour guides. For example - Here we are looking over the Eastern wall. Across the valley is the Dead Sea. Over there is some other stuff. Ok, keep moving people.
Our favorite room was the Southern Cistern. From the brochure it looked like a great place to get out of the sun - what we didn't realize is the climb down (and therefore climb back) was on a set of stairs that was purely inhumane. The payoff was worth it. The room swallowed Caleb and we were both amazed how something that size was so perfectly in tact under all that earth.
When we had enough, we made our way to the cable car for our trip down - and for the record - NO shame in riding down - we earned it dammit and we were going to enjoy it. But, a few words about cable car strategy. You want a window view, so you maneuver to get to a good spot - Caleb secured prime real estate - that is until the last few people got on. A woman, whose name we will never know, but whose face has been burned into our memories, got on the car and literally pushed caleb backwards to get his spot. Since i was not a Boy Scout, i had no previous obligations to be nice to old people, so i grabbed caleb and swung him back around in front of the old bat. Her husband was on my right side and was in dire need of a shower - where you use actual soap. Sadly, I only have this photo to identify the woman - IF you recognize her from this angle, please feel free to email me. If she is related to you, then I am only marginally sorry.
After Masada, we drove up the coast to En Gedi for a quick 15 minute swim in the Dead Sea. It's a pretty simple activity. Get out of car, risk life and limb entering water, and then float. You don't do anything in the water because you CAN'T do anything in the water. You are a cork in the water and to try and swim or put your head under would be futile. We didn't stay in long, but the smile on Caleb's face told me we had generated one more lifelong memory. I neglected to clean the lens of the camera i was using, so the pictures and video are blurry - this is the best i could do - right after this was taken, i got a mouthful of salty water and the only thing i could do about it was eat more chocolate in the car.
We are no safely in our hotel in Eilat. Tomorrow morning is scuba diving in the Red Sea. It all sounds surreal and a bit like the Amazing Race, but we are having a blast and the time seems to be ticking by way too fast.