Browsing Date

March 2009

Destinations, Middle East

The Dead Sea oohh laaa laahhh

March 5, 2009 • By

EVERYONE MUST VISIT THE DEAD SEA NOW.  It’s an incredible body of water that straddles itself between Jordan and Israel much below sea level at the lowest point on Earth.  If you can overcome the fierce smell of sulphur with the desire to have cotton-soft skin, then I promise the Dead Sea is the place to go.  There is something surreal about floating in the Dead Sea and feeling your wounds burn as you stare up at a beautiful sunrise or sunset.  It’s easy to allow this remarkable body of water to engulf your limbs.  The desert sand mountains that reach far into the sky make for a splendid backdrop. Arriving in Ein Gedi at noon, Jill and I decided to stay at the Ein Gedi Kibbutz.  I mentioned before that the Kibbutz is a place of community living.  In our particular Kibbutz, we looked out on a spectacular mountain range on one side and the Dead Sea the other.  It’s estimated that the Dead Sea will completely evaporate in the next 50 years.  It is only about 50 some km and the lack of water in Jordan and Israel is depleting the Sea’s natural resources.  I’m sure industry and humankind is not helping maters.  Plus, the pure make up of the Dead Sea, (the lowest point on Earth) creates an entirely different dynamic making it nearly impossible to restore the water levels.

After floating in the Dead Sea, Jill and I received some amazing spa treatments.  It wasn’t fancy but really if I am on the shores of the Dead Sea do I need the Four Seasons?  I think not.  I decided to get a bit crazy and go for the Dead Sea salt wrap and Swedish massage.  The wrap may have been the best experience of my life. At first, I thought the technician was scrubbing so hard she would be removing an entire layer of my skin then figured this was the process….scrub so hard the victim won’t have any skin left and a fresh new layer will emerge…in three years.  Thankfully, I came out of the process glowing and wishing my skin always looked this good.  My skin wrap/peel left me feeling so refreshed I didn’t even want to chance a massage but after 3 1/2 weeks of carrying a backpack I realized a massage was necessary.  I ducked into a parlor completely exposed to find Nadia the Russian goddess who ripped up my shoulders and said to me she had never seen a back as tight as mine in three years.  f she only had met my shoulders in NYC,these newly traveled shoulder were in fine shape compared to the stress of city living.

After returning from the spa, we dined on a Kibbutz dinner which consisted of freshly grown fruits and vegetables where of course I devoured their sampling of desserts.  I kept telling myself it was preparation for my climb to Massada but I am not really sure how I can justify the pralines and fudge sauce I devoured at breakfast.  I set the alarm early to watch the sunrise over the Dead Sea.  From Ein Gedi, we traveled few miles to Masada and the mountain top fortress Herod constructed.  It’s literally a city on top of a steep mountain. Atop Mt. Massada, Herod created a world ahead of his time but his greed and insecurity led to the suicide of many Jews who refused to let the Romans conquer them as slaves.  The views alone of the desert and the Dead Sea are powerful but when I climbed the Snake Path to the top of Mt. Massada and looked beyond the stones androck, I realized the magnitude of this ancient accomplishment.  The commanding views are nothing when I considered the struggles of the Jewish people who were just trying to establish a secure homeland for their people even in the time of Herod.

After a rest from climbing, Jill and I headed to Jerusalem about two hours from the Dead Sea.  Jerusalem on first sight is breathtaking.  It’s an ancient city that combines a blend of new and old and a unique mix of history and politics.  I’m not sure foreigners can even understand the power of this city.  Jill and I entered the Old City at the Jaffa(Yaffa) Gate, which looks like a market from afar.  Further down the cobble-stoned street, a city within a city emerges.  There is a massive wide open space that gives way to the Western Wall or Wailing Wall as it is often referred.  Hundreds of people journey to this one particular spot that Jews consider the most holy of places in the world.  To watch people pray at the wailing wall is one thing; but to maintain composure as people place notes of hope and love in between the stone layers is quite another.  I find the experience humbling even if you are not religious especially as I watched men dancing for joy and all Jews backing up to exit the wall as one would never turn their back on God.  It was truly one of those surreal moments where leaving the scene speechless speaks volumes.

Destinations, Middle East

On the Road Again

March 5, 2009 • By

In our Hertz rental car, Jill and I headed along the Mediterranean Sea to Akko(Acre), a mix of Arabs and Jews and some Greek Orthodox. Akko is another stoned ancient city complete with a mosque, old city walls, a citadel and a fish market. Even though we ate an entire buffet at 9 am, it was nearly 11 am and time to eat hummus. Israelis insist SAID is the best and the fuul/hummus pickle mixture did not disappoint.

With our bellies very full, we ventured to Rosh Hanikra the last stop in Israel on the Lebanese border(not an open border). It’s an incredibly gorgeous place where the sea crashes against the mountains carving out these amazing water caves. The process has been going on for thousands of years. We took a cable car to the bottom of the mountain and walked through some of the tunnels. Inside the caves, we moved quickly not sure if the intensity of the waves would drench us or blow us to the ground.

We followed the scenic route along the Lebanese border to Tiberias and the Sea of Galilee. The rains from the last few days turned the landscape bright green and lush. We drove a curvy path up and down the mountain tops passing cute little villages along the way. It was completely safe but there were several cities we drove through that showed signs of war, damage and the loss of life. Finally, we reached our destination in Tiberias steps away from the Sea of Galilee. To my disappointment, I learned the Kinneret(the sea) is actually a freshwater lake fed by the River Jordan and natural springs from surrounding hilltops. Tiberias contains some of the deepest roots to Christianity in Israel. People from all over the world flock to Tiberias, the place where Jesus lived most of his life. It is believed that Jesus walked on water and assembled the 12 apostles on the shores of the Sea of Galilee. A few miles away on a mountain overlooking the water, Jesus delivered his famous Sermon on the Mount giving Christians the Beatitudes (Blessed are the poor in spirit; Blessed are the Meek, etc).

Jill and I hired a local guide to learn more of the area’s history. To say we received a religious tour is one thing; to say we learned the freaky side of mysticism is quite another. Don’t get me wrong, I learned some interesting facts but I am still trying to figure out what exactly our guide Mordechai showed us. I definitely learned some crazy shit about rabbis and even more about seeing beyond the words. Jill described Mordechai best. He is a California hippie type who likely grew up secular but became orthodox or “religious” later in life. People refer to that conversion as baaltschuva. It seems to happen to many Americans and Europeans who visit Israel. When Mordechai was 5-years-old, his parents moved from California to Israel. (He has dual citizenship). At 30, he is studying to become a rabbi and if I must add looking for a religious wife to settle down with and live the simple life.

Back in the rain, we walked through the narrow alleyways of Zefat. It’s a city set high in the mountains in Northern Israel. During the British occupation, Arabs and Jews fought over the city forcing the British to draw a line separating the two groups. Today, Zefat serves as an artists colony but it’s also widely known as a place to study the mysticism of religion. Mordechai showed us some amazing underground caves where rabbis wrote and studied. Legend has it St. Peter studied in one of the caves for seven years. The tour consisted of more ancient religious haunts then actual historical sites. We heard story after story of people having dreams and later the dreams becoming reality like a Rabbi saving his congregation from an earthquake or a man putting a wedding ring on a dead person’s finger not buried deep enough underground “six feet under” and later the woman coming back from the dead to marry the prankster. When I didn’t think it could get worse, a man from a kaballah center cornered us at lunch and explained to us how to slaughter animals properly. He went on to show us a kaballah book that illustrates how emotion and science can change water. I was too busy inhaling my chicken pancake thing to care what he was saying but afterward Jill stated the obvious,”that whole slaughter thing was a little weird.”

Our tour ended at Mt. Meron, where thousands of people celebrated the death of a famous rabbi by the name of Moises Rabanow(no idea how to spell). It was a crazy scene with people dancing and rejoicing in the pouring rain. Jill tried to explain the praying that I witnessed by saying the people were covering their eyes to be closer to God. I thought the incessant bowing and hip flexion reminded me of a spirit exhuming a body in some horror flick. The women (since we were separated) literally had their heads smashed into their prayer books. On the other side, the men’s area for prayer, there were three-year-old boys receiving their first haircut. Picture many bald babes walking around pulling on their parents. This rite of passage is a joyous occasion for religious Jews. As this was a orthodox group, the men were donning their black hats and women dressed in long skirts and covered their hair.

Jill wouldn’t let me laugh and I fully appreciated the experience but it was nothing less than a bit of a freak show to the outside observer.