Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Would You Hike This Mountain?

           My birthday in Israel started out great. We spent the night before in a gorgeous resort by the Dead Sea.  
View from our hotel looking at the Dead Sea and across to Jordan.

We woke up early, in order to get to the mountain fortress of Masada by 8:00 am. There is a tram that takes two-minutes to get to the top.
Masada in the middle of the desert.
Snake trail up Masada - Who in their right mind wants to hike this?
From our group, 16 brave souls decided to hike the winding snake path to the top, instead. I had hiked before, and was looking forward to hiking up with my fourteen year old sons.
One of them ran ahead, and the other one turned back from the heat. So much for family time. After a quick group photo at the bottom of the trail, our group took off a few minutes after 8:00.
Someone from out of town called our group from New Mexico, 'a hearty people.'

           The first thing I noticed was that the temperature at 8am, was every bit as hot as when we had  hiked later in the day, on previous trips, feeling like 100 degrees. Someone pointed out that it was the fifty percent humidity that made it feel like 100 degrees, but either way is was oppressively hot.

Already behind, this was the last time I saw our hiking group.
            Our group took off quickly, and I was not sure what happened. It seemed like the day before I was in great shape for hiking, then, on the anniversary of my birth, it seemed like I had aged an entire 365 days! I was huffing and puffing, sweating and gasping for air. What happened to being below sea level, where the oxygen is plentiful? My hometown is a mile high and the air is thin, where our lungs never have enough oxygen. I thought I would be leaping up the mountain like the local ibex, with the infusion of oxygen. This did not happen. There was not a tree or ledge for any shade at all, just the giant rock mountain, the blazing sun, and the high humidity coming up for the Dead Sea. Praying as I walked slowly up, I remembered the verse from Psalm 121:5 “the Lord stands beside you as your protective shade.” 
Some in our group finished the sweltering hike in thirty minutes. I dragged up the rear at fifty minutes. Wasn’t that a fitting time for my thirty-fifth (or so) birthday?
            At the top, all I wanted to do was sit in the scarce shade, chug water and take deep breaths. 

Not much shade on top of the mountain.
           The rest of our, apparently super fit group, toured around with our Israeli guide looking at the enormous palace fortress Herod the Great built in 37 BCE. With three tiers, it had storehouses, gardens, bathhouses, vivid wall paintings and colorful stone floors. It had 29 rooms to store food, liquids and weapons enough to last for years. It also had a water cistern that required descending 64 steps to reach the water. Masada was made famous in 70 AD when the Romans destroyed Jerusalem, and Jewish zealots fled the city to hide out on the top of this seemingly impenetrable fortress. 960 men, women and children lived on top of Masada and held out against the Roman army for two years, before deciding to commit mass suicide, rather than become slaves of Rome. Masada represents courage and freedom to the people of Israel today. Thankfully, we were able to take the tram down, when we were finished at the top.
The massive palace fortress Herod built on top is impressive.

            Driving out in the barren Judean desert, it is surprising to see the oasis of green that is En Gedi. Meaning ‘the spring of the goat’, En Gedi is made up of four fresh water springs that erupt from the desert hills. 

David hid from King Saul at the oasis of En Gedi.
This creates fertile ground for plants and animals, the most popular is the ibex, a small antelope.

Ibex at En Gedi.
 It is a hike to reach the top waterfall, but with some shade, and stopping to cool off in the smaller waterfalls along the route, it is not an agonizing hike.
Stopping to cool off at the first waterfall.
            It is easy to imagine David hiding out from King Saul in the caves of En Gedi. There were plenty of caves to hide in, plenty of shade and fresh water. Was this where David penned the words from Psalm 91:1? “Those who live in the shelter of the Most High will find rest in the shadow of the Almighty.” It would have been, and continues to be today, a refreshing reprieve from the heat of the desert.
Four fresh water springs pour out from the rocks.

Refreshing after the desert heat.

            After lunch we started our ascent up to Jerusalem, the City of the Great King. We have enjoyed every day in Israel so far, but we have been anticipating going up to Jerusalem, to what some say is the center of the world. Some believe this is where everything started, that the Garden of Eden was located where Jerusalem stands today. Certainly all eyes continue to be on this city of such religious, political and cultural importance.
Tomorrow in Jerusalem!

To read about the food we ate in Israel, click here.

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