I am typing this post sitting under the beautiful starry sky above Masada. We are staying at the Youth Hostel at the foot of Masada along the Dead Sea. More on that later…
Steve and I spent two delightful days with his cousin (second or second once removed – not sure which) Max on Kibbutz K’far Nasi. It was exactly what we needed after the total balagan (chaos/disaster) of Sunday’s break in and theft from our rental car. Arriving with our new luggage and Steve’s new mini wardrobe, we were made to feel totally welcome and all of our needs were catered to by Max. On Monday we took a driving tour to the northern corners of the Galil and along the border with Lebanon. We stopped by several viewpoints and visited the cemetery Tel Khai where Joseph Trumpledor is buried along with those who fought with him – the Shomrim. Max is a wealth of knowledge about the history of Israel and particularly his little corner of it and made an excellent tour guide. Pictures will be forthcoming of the fantastic views of the Hula Valley from far atop the Galil.
Our tiyul (tour) was followed with a very Israeli lunch of hummus, tahini, salad, cheeses and crackers. This was followed by a strictly enforced nap time – which with all the recent stress, we all needed. After our nap we chatted while Max got dinner prepared and then went for a short visit to the Kibbutz’s new pool. I was the only one who went swimming and it was very refreshing. Interestingly the water in the pool was salt not chlorine. Max joked that I was being marinated to be cooked for dinner and that I needed to be sure to stay in for at least half an hour. Dinner was delightful as was the after dinner discussion. Max is a wonderful conversationalist and had fun challenging me on many topics. He is quite amusing and witty in a dry and sarcastic way. I really enjoyed getting to know him and hope that this is not our only visit together. We talked about him coming to Seattle to visit us. Steve’s sister’s family will be visiting him next spring and then hopefully he will be able to come to see us all in Seattle. This morning we had another enjoyable meal together and a last conversation before Steve and I headed out to continue our discovery of Israel.
One topic we talked about a lot with Max was Steve’s family as Max is working on a family history. He shared his work so far with Steve on Monday night and then last night shared with me a real find! He had, from among his mother’s things, a copy of an article from the San Francisco Jewish Newspaper July 1947 about the arrival of Steve’s mother’s family from Shanghai. We had never seen this article before and it was a fascinating read. He also was able to provided copies of photos that Steve had never seen before of his mother as a baby and of other relatives. Max’s family went to England from Germany during the Shoah while Steve’s mother’s parents went to Shanghai along with another aunt and her husband. Putting all of the pieces back together and meeting up finally has been really rewarding.
Today we had a lot of fun driving from K’far Nasi to Masada. We started out by actually heading north to Kibbutz Ne’ot Mordechai which is where Naot/Teva shoes are manufactured. I was disappointed that they did not have a pair of the sandals that were stolen but did find two pairs for great prices and Steve found sandals and belts to replace items of his that were taken. We are saving up all the receipts as we have, thank God, found out that our homeowner’s insurance will cover our losses after a deductible.
After this stop we headed south along 90. We drove through Tiberias where there are many famous rabbis buried but it was too hectic to stop and we are a bit gun shy at parking anywhere with all our stuff in the car. We did stop at Kibbutz Kinneret which is apparently famous for its dates and its many date related products. We tasted many sauces and spreads and four or five types of dates. We bought chocolate date honey sauce, halvah date honey sauce, date syrup, date honey and honey sauce and some spices. We then continued south on 90 stopping for coffee, salad and wifi at an Aroma along the way. Soon we entered the West Bank and were waved through a check point without any questions or even looking at our passports. Steve was taken aback when he realized that there was a soldier with a rather large gun pointed at “us” (read everybody who comes through). The drive south was uneventful and we did not go through any other checkpoints. It was very barren and there were many abandoned buildings dotting the highway. There were also huge date tree “farms” and other agriculture alternating with huge barren stretches of rock and sand. We also went through a couple of nice little towns. As we got to the top of the Dead Sea there was a sign for an Ahava shop and a hotel and we turned off. We drove down this road that was lined with abandoned and partially demolished buildings but lined with new signs advertising a beach, a hotel, restaurants and other services. We got a bit nervous and turned back but as we were driving out a tour bus turned is so I guess if we drove far enough we might eventually have found the advertised amenities.
The Dead Sea valley is really unlike anything I have seen – somewhere between the surface of the moon and certain places in the US west though made of sand rather than rock. The surface of the water is reflective because of the salt content and the fact that the bottom of the sea is coated in salt. I really wanted to pull over and take pictures but Steve was nervous about this. I finally saw a place and just as I pulled over so did another car. We heralded each other and then talked about the need for more pullouts along the road. My fellow photographer was from Italy. I can’t wait to post the pictures next week so you can all see how amazingly beautiful and strange it all is. I also took some amazing pictures up close later when we drove to Ein Bodek and stopped right along the shore. Can’t wait to get in it tomorrow.
It is quite loud here at the Youth Hostel as there are at least two large groups of teens – one American and one Israeli – staying here. The Cheder Ochel (dining room) was total chaos when they showed up – particularly when they started singing happy birthday to one of their number. Steve was having a great time people watching but the manager of the dining room was not pleased with their behavior. He told us that the Israeli kids were crazy but the American ones were fine. We are hoping to not be climbing Masada in the morning with their rowdy company – though they might be considerably less noisy at 5 am!
Tomorrow, as just hinted at, we plan to climb Masada in time to be at the top for sunrise. We need to leave around 5 am for that to happen. It is about an hour hike at most according to the hostel worker to whom we spoke. We will return in time for breakfast – which will hopefully be tastier than dinner – and then head out to swim and play in the Dead Sea mud. I am sure that we will be back at Aroma in the early afternoon – which is when this will go live on the web. I think we should get Aroma sponsorship for our trip considering all the mentions they have gotten from us on Facebook and here. Between the good coffee – once you know how to order what you want – the huge salads that feed more than the two of us and the free Wi-Fi, I think Steve could stay there forever. Especially the one that is in the Mahane Yehuda Shuk – his other favorite place here in Jerusalem!
Signing off for now and hoping to upload this tomorrow. I so wish I could be posting pictures with this but will not be able to do that until I get home and B&H Photo delivers my new memory card reader. It should hopefully be there waiting for me on Monday.