Sara Westfall writes:
Our first weekend here in Israel has come and gone and although it was a short one, it was jam packed with fun and adventure. Myself and fourteen other people toured Masada, the Dead Sea, and Qumran…all on Saturday before 1pm. We left the kibbutz Friday afternoon for Jerusalem where we would catch our tour. Our taxi driver didn’t speak any English (and apparently not much Hebrew either) and didn’t know where our hostel was. After a lot of awkward moments and asking people on the street we finally found our hostel in the Armenian quarter next to the Jaffa Gate. Since our tour started at 3am, we decided to sleep on the roof with mattresses. The view was unbelievable. The Church of the Holy Sepulcher was no more than 3 or 4 blocks to our left and straight ahead was the Dome of the Rock. I can’t describe how awesome it was to fall asleep with the Dome all lit up straight ahead of me. When I woke up an hour later it was freezing cold. I turned on my back and looked up at the stars and managed to find the Big Dipper…hmm just like back home. It still blew my mind that was in this place that I had wanted to see since I was a child.
I wanted to stay there for days, but that would have to wait. We had other adventures to tackles that day. We boarded the bus at 3am and headed south. I fell asleep with the cool breeze blowing through the window. I woke up to very hot air blowing on my face. At first I thought, “Who turned off the air conditioning?” However, that was not the problem. We were now in the desert and not just any desert but one that was a part of a chain of deserts that stretches from North Africa to China. We arrived at Masada while it was still dark. I thought to myself, “No problem, we’ll be to the top by sunrise.” Ya right. That was the most arduous climb I’d ever been on and I was sure I was not going to make it. However I was determined to see the sunrise. As I got nearer to the top, the light started to grow over the hills beyond the Dead Sea. I found my last reserve of energy and picked up the pace, pleading with God to delay the sunrise until I got to the top and threatening the sun that it better not think about rising before I got there. It started to peek over the hills just I was getting to the top. I raced to a viewing point and it was the most breath taking thing I’d seen in a long time. I’m not a morning person, so I don’t see many sunrises (until this trip of course) and it was incredible to see the whole earth just light up and the big fiery ball climb up the sky. This was definitely something I had to do before I die and now I can cross it off the list. So I made it to the top before sunrise on the most grueling climb I’ve ever made. Masada and I had a staring contest and Masada blinked. We explored the ruins for a while and then an hour after I’d made that epic climb, I came right back down it. I bought a shirt in the gift shop that reads, “Masada: I came, I saw, I climbed.” I think I earned it.
Next we headed to the Dead Sea. I was really excited to be able to just sit in the water and float there. We put on our bathing suits, ran down to the beach, and treaded over hot sand and jagged rocks to get to the water. I pushed myself off the side of rocks and there I was: effortlessly floating on the water. Myself and a couple other girls floated next to each for a few minutes. However suddenly there was a change and a burning the likes of which I’d never felt before came over me. All the girls looked at each other and we knew we all felt the same pain. After trying to put up with it for several minutes, we all bolted for the beach and up the hill to the cool refreshing showers. I was disappointed, but at least I can now say I’ve been to the Dead Sea.
Lastly we headed for Qumran, the site where the Dead Sea Scrolls were found. We saw a short film about the site and went through a small museum. Then we headed outside to explore the ruins of the ancient site. I could’ve walked a ways up to the caves, but I was far too burned out at that point to make such a trek. I just enjoyed the views from afar, the hills in front of me and the sea behind me.
When we got back on the bus, our driver cut open a watermelon for us and it was the best watermelon I’d ever had. For an extra fee, we were taken back straight to the kibbutz. All in all, it was a pretty great one day weekend. However, I was very burned out and am just now recovering from it. But it’s a small price to pay to now be able to say I’ve seen the sunrise over Masada.