Journal Entry # 59 - Road Entry#49 (Jerusalem, Israel – Avishag’s Flat - 10:05pm (Local) - February 9, 2011)

During the middle of the night, I woke up around 4am and took a leak. On my way to the bathroom, I saw a Taglit group all barely moving themselves and their bags to the bus. They were on a early morning ascent of Masada. At the time, I wasn’t jealous of their journey; but now I look back and wonder how amazing their morning must have been. Our group woke up around 7:30am and had breakfast before a morning Camel Trek in the desert. Our trek wasn’t very far, just for 20-30 minutes next to the tents on a bunch of camels. It wasn’t as glorious as it sounds. Camel riding isn’t for the weary. Some of the girls shrieked when the camels stood up and lowered as they rise and descend over 8 feet. I found them to magnificent creatures. The Bedouins sometimes race them in the desert for money or for the right to own a camel (like racing cars for pink slips). Many camels are a sign of wealth among Bedouins and they are the usual method of payment for a father when trying to marry his son off to a female.

The camel ride was painful for most of the males amongst the group. Some even said they had soreness and chafing after only 20 minutes. One of the girls mentioned that riding one was better than riding her boyfriend.

We hopped right into the bus after the camels to make our way to Masada. We ascended Masada via the Roman ramp on the southwest side of the compound. Masada was a strategic military base and winter home for kings and rulers over many years in the region. It is most famous for the fact that when the Romans finally conquered the peak, the Jews that were defending and leaving there killed themselves by mass suicide instead of falling under Roman control. Not as many people died as in Gamal, but the story was popularized over time.

Ran led us on an entire tour of Masada once we hiked up the Roman ramp. He gave us all the pertinent information of the construction of Masada, the kings that lived there for many years, and the story fo the suicide. We took dozens of photos and shared a large group picture on the balcony of where the main bedroom existed. It has a magnificent view of the Dead Sea and the desert to the north.

Once the tour was finished up top, we descended the mount by taking the Snake Path on the east side. Our bus was driving from the west to the east to meet us. It took us 45 minutes to walk down the path – whereas the Roman ramp up took only 15 minutes. Along the way down the Snake Path, I showed Roxy my ski-slope technique so that impact on our knees wouldn’t be as severe.

There is a museum at the bottom of Masada, and we took 20 minutes to rest and have some free time before boarding the bus off to the Ein Gedi Dead Sea Spa. There is where we would be eating lunch, relaxing in the water, and getting the famous Dead Sea mud treatment.

I went with Hannah, Ron, Johnny, Nettie, Sarah, Anna, and Josh to the sea first. We took some pictures initially before walking into the salty water. There was sand away from the water – but as soon as you got close to the tide, the floor was crystallized with salt and felt as if you were walking on extremely coarse sandpaper.

But once you got in far enough, all you had to do was lie back as if you were falling into a lazy-boy arm chair. The water grabs your body and allows you to lounge around. It is truly amazing. I swam around while lying on my back and on my stomach, making sure I didn’t get my face and eyes wet. The salt water begins to sting or burn any wound or sensitive part of your body (i.e. Rash or just sensitive skin). The 8 of us had a lot of fun lounging around and then caught the tram back to the mud treatment area, where the rest of the group was just getting the mud on their body. The majority of them ate lunch first, then put on the mud, and then went into the sea. We did the opposite and met them halfway. The mud was fun! We lathered all up and then played some “mud ninja” as well. Matan was there to take some pictures because he didn’t have a bathing suit. The 8 of us rinsed off in the hot, sulfuric showers next to the mud. Then we made our way inside to change and eat lunch before catching the bus to Sde Boker.

Sde Boker is the location of David Ben Gurion’s grave site and kibbutz. He joined the kibbutz after serving as the countries founder, president, and prime minister. He is basically the ‘Thomas Jefferson’ of Israel. There is a university in Sde Boker, along with the kibbutz, and many other things. Sde Boker is also next to a natural wildlife preserve called Ein Ovdat and an Israeli Defense Force training facility. Some people, Ben Gurion included, believe that Sde Boker can be an important, expansive, and major city of southern Israel.

It took us almost two hours to drive from the Dead Sea to Sde Boker, but once we settled in I decided it was time for me to unpack, repack, upload my photos, and recharge all my batteries since I was without my main bag for a day and a half. I almost missed dinner because of it. I walked with Max, Ian, and Noah to the dinner location that was 500 meters away from the guest house area where we were staying. Once we got into the dining hall, there was a large mural of Ben Gurion and Max said that he looked like a “little koala man” which I found amusing. David Ben Gurion, in his later years of life, had a “Friar Tuck” style haircut and all-white hair.

I wasn’t even that hungry for some reason. So I just ate a bit of veggies, hummus, and bread. From there we went back to the guest house area before our evening program with the soldiers that had been setting something up for the past couple of days.

The IDF members divided the 40 of us into 3 groups. The groups were sent to different locations for different activities. Our group was sent to the fun, improvisational room first. Here is where we played a game explained by Erez. It was a combination of Comedy Sports and “Who’s Line is it Anyway”. The twist was that during the middle of the improve scene, Erez would make one of the characters say a phrase in Hebrew without knowing what it meant (and only the audience knowing). We all had fun with it before the next station with Ron and Oria. Here is where we learned more about the IDF and were allowed to ask any question about it. They answered all of the questions honestly and straightforwardly.

The final station was the mock “boot camp” area where Dan and Lee whipped us into basic training mode. They treated us like they were treated on their first days of being in the IDF. They made us work as a team, communicate as a team, march in unison, run, and do push-ups as a unit. It was grueling for everyone and helped us appreciate what they had to go through right out of high school at 18.

The evening program ended with the soldiers speaking one last time to the whole group and thanking us for participating. We shared the same sentiment. It was very interesting.

The final occurrence of the evening was the night hours with some wine, beer, and games in the guest rooms. Everyone was having a good, fun, and somewhat intoxicated experience together. I had some wine. I went to talk with Oria for an hour and a half overlooking the desert and where a river used to run through the valley of Sde Boker. The moon was bright and full. It was a good night. We went to be around 2:45am in our respective rooms.