Evan Kaster is our Guest Blogger for Wednesday! It was a very, very long day…so we thank Evan for taking on the responsibility!
We woke up at 4 a.m. in the Bedouin tent on Wednesday morning. We got almost no sleep the night before in the tent! After having some hot tea at about 4:30 a.m., we got on the bus and took a 15 minute bus ride to the bottom of Masada. Along the way we saw a 250-member male infantry unit from the IDF doing an exercise that was very important, and part of what every unit does at the end of their basic training. They call it a "raid." We learned that it started at 5:00 p.m. the day before. This raid had them walking 70 kilometers and completing the raid at Masada! Altogether, it was a 14 hour walk through the desert! When we saw them, they were on their last few kilometers. We learned that if there were to be a war, this unit would be permitted to fight because they finished the most difficult raid. They had face paint on (just like we did the night before!) to camouflage themselves in the dark and carried their guns and equipment with them for the 14 hour walk. Their equipment included tents, water, and stretchers.
Our own climb up Masada took less than 7 minutes. Our guides said we were really, really fast! We went up what is known as the Roman Ramp. When we got to the top, it was still dark. We proceeded to the highest point on Masada, an ancient watchtower, to wait for the sun to rise. It was kind of chilly and a little windy, but the sky was clear and we looked down at the Dead Sea below us. Soon, the sky was a red-orange-pink color and the sun came up slowly over the Dead Sea. On Masada, we had a little ceremony and we each got a puzzle Israel shirt from Nir, Guy and Shachar. We then toured all over the mountain top. By this time, it was about 7:00 a.m. Some of the sites we took in were: possibly the oldest synagogue in the world, the Roman bath house, Herod's palace and the Roman food storehouses. The IDF soldiers that we had seen on the road were just making their final steps to the top of Masada at the end of their challenge raid. They were greeted by their families, friends, and members of the IDF for a little ceremony and celebration. They looked tired but were happy and looked as if they had a real feeling of accomplishment. They talked to us and told us about their long trip. We met a few non-Israeli soldiers (from Canada and South Africa) who are "lone soldiers" which means that they came without their families to serve in the IDF. I have been to Masada a couple of times before, but seeing the IDF ceremony was really amazing and made me think about life in Israel. It helped to connect me in a much different way.
We took the cable car down Masada to a lower level and had breakfast. Then we went to Nahal David which is in the Ein Geri reserve. It was really hot (it felt like 2000 degrees!!!). We enjoyed a nice walk with a waterfall in the middle of the desert. There were little animals there that we learned are related to elephants. Nir, Guy and Shachar told us stories next to the waterfall and we came back to the bus. Then, we went to the Dead Sea for some relaxation. We went down to the water and put mud on ourselves. We swam in the Dead Sea. It was soooo salty. We floated in the water which felt really thick and heavy. We couldn't stand up in the water at all. We had lunch there, and stopped to ride camels, and then continued toward Jerusalem.
We arrived at our hotel in Jerusalem which is really in the middle of the city! After much needed showers and a little rest, we met for a great dinner in Jerusalem. We then took a 30 minute walk all the way to Mamilla for a little shopping and we took a peek at the Old City walls. Before leaving Mamilla, we had some ice cream to finish off the long day. We were so tired!! We were looking forward to a good night's sleep!