The Dead Sea

Well, it’s been two days, a busy two days. Where to begin.

The team. Polarizing filter, 1/100 sec, f/14, iso 200, 30 mm

Yesterday. We—Fatimah (studying in Germany to become a teacher), Julie (studying history in Germany), Anil (just finished a PhD in neuro science in Perth), and Sonia (undergrad in International Development, works in business in the UK)—headed off from the hostel at 7:30 am to find a car rental agency. After some walking and confusion—how about 50% of my time here is spent—we found a small rental shop. Anil signed on as the driver to save the insurance premium they wanted to charge me for being under 21, and I gave them my credit card as collateral.

Our gutless Fiat

Once we finally got the car we spent some time trying to figure out how to get out of the city and to the Dead Sea without passing through the West Bank. Finally we concluded that it is divided into two parts, and there is a road the runs through the two sides (of the West Bank) from Jerusalem to the Dead Sea, which is supposedly still Israeli territory.

Wow, I interrupt this transmission to bring you a description of the call to prayer echoing from rooftop to rooftop. It started with one minaret, and then one by one more and more join in. A cacophony of wailing and conflicting sounds hash it out over the city, echoing. There is an absolute lack of unity in the sound, and the result is an overwhelming bombardment.

I should mention the car we rented, a Fiat. It was the most gutless vehicle I’ve ever driven, it had to work pretty hard to make it up the hills, and I felt like I was eternally gearing down. Israeli drivers are… much more aggressive than Canadians, and they love their horns. They seem to abide by the funnel concept where if you want to get anywhere you have to shove yourself in front of the other cars, cutting them off. To wait in a cue would be ridiculous. I had a dump truck decide it wanted to change lanes and just start moving over into my lane without any warning, forcing me into the next lane.

Starting out on the upward trek. Polarizing filter, 1/80 sec, f/16, iso 100, 39 mm

After about an hour and a half of driving we arrived at the base of Masada (after passing along the Dead Sea). We paid inside the massive tourist complex that guards the base before heading off for the walk up to long winding path to the top of Herod’s fortress, and the site of the Israeli army’s swearing in ceremonies. I should mention the heat. It is quite dry which is nice, but very all encompassing—there is no respite from it. As we walked we watched as the cable car whisked generous paying passengers to the top, high above our heads. The trek up the mountain took us about and hour, and we were pretty warm by the time we reached the top.

Quite the path. Polarizing filter, 1/80 sec, f/13, iso 100, 18 mm

It was a pretty impressive fortress, all ruins now of course. I find myself less interested by ruins themselves, and more absorbed with the views of nature, and anything that is large and impressive. Around the edge of the complex (it spans a large pinnacle of rock top) there are plenty of impressive views of the barren landscape that surround the legend. There were some Travel Network Group photographers with pretty impressive DSLR video rigs and audio equipment that I was quite jealous of.

Check out that rig. 1/200 sec, f/14, iso 100, 90 mm

We walked for a while, taking in the views and talking about the history. After a bit we split up and I ended up wandering with Sonia. We’ve had some pretty interesting conversations over the last couple days. We talked about races and genetics, peace and conflict, and much more. After some time we found the rest of our group and started the trek down.

Downward. Polarizing filter, 1/80 sec, f/18, iso 200, 18 mm

We first drove to Mineral Beach as Lonely Planet boasts it to be the best, but when we saw the 50 shekel price tag on the entrance fee, we decided to head back to the much less attractive but free Ein Gedi beach. It wasn’t much of a beach at all, but a steep rocky slope. As we walked towards the water I noticed a sort of tacky ugly white line along the water, I’m not sure what I though it was but I was quite shocked to learn that it was solid salt formation when we got closer.

Fatimah enjoying the salt. 1/80 sec, f/10, iso 100 55 mm

I didn’t really have a whole lot of expectations for the Dead Sea, quite frankly it was beyond my comprehension, and I couldn’t even really imagine what it was going to be like as I’ve never floated in my life. In fact, I sink at 4 m/s. It surpassed all my absent dreams. It was quite unreal, and definitely a worth while experience. It’s just like being a big water noodle that simply floats around can’t sink. I couldn’t swim on my stomach and use my feet to kick as they would float too high out of the water. It was bizarre to lay on my back with my full body breaching the surface of the water. If you’re not careful, however, you’ll roll over like an unbalanced noodle and it stings like hell to get and eye full of salt, not to mention it doesn’t taste so hot. I quite enjoyed it (not the salt in the face). Anyone who says the Dead Sea isn’t that exciting, I guess it’s just personal taste but I think it’s a pretty awesome experience, at least once.

Floating Anil. Pentax Optio

Salt formations. 1/200 sec, f/14, iso 100, 53 mm

It’s so cool! Polarizing filter? 1/80 sec, f/10, iso 100, 55 mmThe Dead Sea, it’s quite pretty. Polarizing filter, 1/80 sec, f/13, iso 100, 55 mm

After floating, taking pictures, showering, and sitting on the rocks and salt we headed back to find some food (we hadn’t eaten all day). It was around 5:30 by then. After passing through Jerusalem we spent some time trying to find Abu Shukari where Lonely Planet claims the best hummus in the country is. We had all sorts of different kinds of hummus, which just means different topping on the hummus dish. They were good, though I guess I don’t have an Israeli palette because I wouldn’t call it the best.

Unfortunately the wind was howling and shaking the camera a little, so it didn’t turn out as I had hoped with the long exposure. 10 sec, f/16, iso 100, 130 mm

Trying to make the most use of our car rental we decided to drive up to the top of the Mount of Olives and take in the view overlooking the old city. I should mention we first filled up for gas, $2 a litre! I thought we had it rough in Canada. I guess the geopolitics in the region make getting fuel into Israel an expensive ordeal. It took us quite some time to get to the Mount of Olives doing several circles and trying various streets. At one point we realized we were driving the wrong day down a one way street after we found a line of cars coming towards us with nowhere to turn around. I swear there was no sign warning that the street was changing from two to one way. We also found ourselves in the Muslim residential area where we clearly were not welcome as people kept telling us to leave. On our way back on a fairly steep, narrow street (due to two lines of parked cars on either side of the street) we ran into quite the traffic jam. Of course everyone began laying on their horns, which really doesn’t help anything and it quite obnoxious from our perspective. A guy coming the other way in a spotless BMW was boxed in and couldn’t go any further down the street, both lanes of traffic were completely jammed up. He got out and started yelling at us in Hebrew. After a while I yelled back at him to inform him that I didn’t speak Hebrew, after he figured that out he stopped, realizing it was fruitless. Finally we were able to inch ahead, and after a few more stops, more horns and yelling we got out and back onto a wider street. Finally, we found our way to the top of the Mount of Olives. Gorgeous. What a fantastic view, I can’t get over this city. I was able to take a few photos, but it was cool and we were all pretty tired. It was about 11:30 pm by then. Some Arabs came over to welcome us. They were blasting music from their car and happily dancing around. We drove in a giant circle before we found our way back town to park the car and head to the hostel. We stopped by the Western Wall, and then got lost again on our way back to the hostel. Finally, we arrived.

Today I pulled myself reluctantly out of bed to rush off to the line for the Temple mount for 7:00 with Anil before the line was outside the city. After waiting for a few minutes we discovered that it wasn’t open Friday or Saturday. We went and took the car back, and then went to get some hummus and falafel for breakfast. After that we headed for the Israel Museum.

It’s official, I’m just not that into museums. I was quite sleepy, and I got museum syndrome—sore feet. It always seems to happen! There was a few cool things though, definitely the huge model of the old city and the second temple was pretty awesome. We went on a guided tour for a bit, but after a while I wandered off and found myself in the modern art gallery, which I loved. I could’ve spent hours there just taking in each piece. There was several Picasso’s, which was pretty cool, and a lot of other great stuff. I didn’t realize I liked art galleries so much.

This is the model of the old city. Pretty spectacular. Polarizing filter, 1/160 sec, f/13, iso 100, 18 mm


The minarets are calling out to the world again. It always starts with one, and then others join in the echo and till they are in full cacophony. It’s quite the experience, especially sitting on the roof gazing out at the lit up city. “I feel like there’s a religion yelling match going on” Sonia quips in her Irish accent. Too true. “It’s just so ominous, it just surrounds you, it’s crazy” say and American guy sitting with us. “I don’t know I think it sets the mood” says Anil.

This afternoon I had a fantastic conversation about literature with Sonia on the roof. Later I went out with her and Anil to watch a procession of monks on the trail of the Via Delarosa—the path Christ was forced to walk as he carried his cross to where he was to be crucified. We say an ankle bone with a nail through it today at the museum, the only evidence of crucifixion that has been found apparently. There was quite a crowd, hundreds of people following these monks. After a while we lost them, and decided to go to the supermarket to get some food for dinner. We collaborated, and had a fantastic dinner overlooking this ancient and rich city.

A delicious meal with a delicious view. 1/100 sec, f/14, iso 100, 18 mm

It’s been a fulfilling two days, so great to have people to share it with.