in the desert

The phone rang at 4:45AM and I shot out of bed and grabbed the receiver. The person on the line said something in Hebrew and hung up.

It took me a minute to realize that I was in Israel, in the desert, and that the phone the phone call was my wakeup call. I rolled out of bed, washed my face, laced up my sneakers, and hit the door. I met my driver, Niso, in the hotel lobby and we were on the road by 5:15.

It was still dark outside, and the surface of the dead sea, smooth as glass, reflected the lights of the hotel district. There are no towns out here in the desert – just the dead sea, a couple of beach access points, a kibbutz, and a small hotel district. In between locations, there are miles and miles of space- desert, rocks, mountains, and long roads leading away from Jerusalem and deeper into the desert.

We were driving down one of those long roads, headed towards Masada, an old fortification, built on a plateau just a few miles from the dead sea. We arrived at the trail head and started our hike in the dark. The ruins of Masada are only about 100 feet above sea level, but remember that we are at the dead sea, which is the lowest piece of dry land on earth – 1300 feet below sea level.
The hike was a killer – my lungs were burning and my calf muscles were twitching, but it was worth it – the view was stunning and we were able to watch the sun rise over the dead sea. The day before, I had floated in the super-salty water of the dead sea, and covered myself with the dark mud from its shores (it’s meant to be good for your skin). The water was so salty that it burned your skin, and so buoyant that I couldn’t submerge myself past my collarbone to wash the mud off my neck.

Anyway, the view from Masada was awesome – I took some snapshots of the Dead Sea and the surrounding area (you can see Jordan on the far side of the sea), I toured the ruins, and then hiked back down the mountain.
We then drove to meet with Adam, who lead us on a short hike, culminating in a repel down a 60 foot cliff – very cool.
That afternoon, we took a Landover through the Negev desert, hiked to a small oasis in the middle of nowhere, and had a wine tasting at a local winery / bed and breakfast.
It’s now 10:30PM and I’m finally about to sleep– it’s been a long day, by anyone’s standards. Tomorrow, we will visit the Machtesh Ramon, the largest erosion crater in the world.

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