April 6, 2017
Dead Sea, Masada, sandstorm.
Most of our mornings in Jerusalem started off at a coffee shop, getting our hour of wifi for the day, and hoping and praying(to no avail) that our “coffee” that particular morning would be better than the watered-down espresso from the days before.
This morning Sarah and I tried out a new little bakery for our breakfast and coffee before meeting Joanna to walk to the main Jerusalem bus station together. We missed our bus to Ein Bokek by just a few minutes, meaning we had to wait in the bus station for an hour and a half before the next bus left. But thank goodness we live in Cyprus, where public transportation never fails to disappoint, so we’re accustomed to waiting, waiting, and waiting some more anytime we attempt to get anywhere.
So finally we were on our bus, headed for Ein Bokek. The ride was beautiful, filled with sweeping desert views and spotted with groups of wild camels. About an hour into the trip we came up on the Dead Sea and drove alongside it the rest of the trip until arriving at a beach in Ein Bokek. It was beautiful. The water was the purest turquoise color, surrounded by white sand, lined by even whiter salt.
After floating in the Dead Sea for a bit we rinsed off all the salt to the best of our ability, and began looking for a ride to Masada. All over Israel, taxi and sherut drivers flock around any touristy areas, seeking out clueless, tired, lost foreigners who will pay an excessive amount of money to drive them somewhere that would really only be about a 10 minute walk. Needless to say, this phenomena came in handy today. We knew we needed to get to Masada as quick as possible in order to get there before it closed at 5:00, so we jumped in the first sherut that came past, and we were conveniently on our way to Mt. Masada.
Our sherut driver was quite the character. Josh started up a conversation with this man, asking if he had a wife and family. His response wasn’t exactly what we expected. He excitedly told us, “Yes! I have 2 wives”. The conversation carried on with more questions, and we found out that he paid his wives’ fathers 2 camels, a pile of gold, and some shekels as a dowry to marry them. As if that’s not exotic enough, this man also has a black belt in karate and doesn’t like football. An arab who doesn’t like football?! Unreal.
So our black-belted, 2, 2-camel wives sherut driver got us safely to Mt. Masada, and as we pulled up to the start of the trail, he told us the hike to the top was at least 2 or 3 hours. Public access to the mountain closed in about an hour. We took this as a challenge.
Josh, Sarah, and I hit the trail running, literally. We made it about a quarter of the way up the trail with our 10+ lb. backpacks in tow until we couldn’t make it running anymore. The trail became pretty steep, full of long lengths of stairs and loose dirt right on the side of a high cliff-face. We kept moving though, because we were going to prove this black-belted, 2, 2-camel wives sherut driver wrong. We were going to make it up this mountain before it closed.
We reached the top in just under a half-hour, with shaking legs, and soaked in sweat. But we did it, even beating the trolley that took up most tourists. But the hike was so worth it. The views on the way up were indescribable. Desert filled the space as far as your eye could see. Below us was the Dead Sea, and on the opposite shores you could see the country of Jordan. Beyond Mt. Masada were more and more desert mountains and plateaus.
This was quite possibly the most beautiful place I’ve ever been. It left me speechless. On top of the Mountain, different Psalms kept running through my mind. I was reminded so much of the sovereignty of God in this vast and barren land. I was brought back to wonder and praise at just how huge and great our God is.
“That people may know, from the rising of the sun and from the west, that there is none besides me; I am the Lord, and there is no other. I form light and create darkness, I make well-being and create calamity, I am the Lord, who does all these things. ‘Shower, O heavens, from above, and let the clouds rain down righteousness; let the earth open, that salvation and righteousness may bear fruit; let the earth cause them both to sprout; I the Lord have created it.'” -Isaiah 45:6-8
Mt. Masada was amazing. I’d actually go as far as to say that it was probably my favorite part of the entire Israel trip, apart from being in the places where Jesus was.
We thought our day was over. We thought we were going to get a bus back to Jerusalem around 6 and be back in Jerusalem before 8. Little did we know that the most adventurous part of our day was still ahead of us.
On the walk down Masada, a small breeze started. It was nothing real big, and actually felt really refreshing after such a hot, sunny hike. By the time we got to the bottom, the breeze had picked up to a light wind and we joked around about what would happen if a sandstorm blew in, clearly not expecting that to be true.
We sat down at the bus stop(just a small bench with a little roof overtop), and slowly watched as several buses came, and most of the other people at the stop left. We kept waiting for our bus back to Jerusalem, which we already paid for and were promised would come before 7:45. We waited as the sun went down and the winds kept picking up. At first the winds were strong, but we could still walk around a little without being completely blown over, but there came a point when the sun had completely gone down, it was pitch black out, and the winds were so strong that we couldn’t even stand. We sat huddled on the little bench, using each other as human shields against the wind and blowing, stinging sand, and braced ourselves from being blown away into the desert.
This was a real, true desert sandstorm, and we were smack dab in the middle of it with essentially no protection apart from the light sweatshirts that we had brought along. It went on for hours, and the winds kept picking up until the gusts were around 90-100 mph and only a few minutes apart. We kept waiting for our bus, but began losing hope of it ever coming. We weren’t sure if a bus was even able to drive in a storm that strong. All the others that had been waiting with us up until that point were long gone.
Finally, FINALLY our bus came around 8:30. We walked onto the bus, with the biggest smiles and sighs of relief as the rest of the people on the bus looked at us and began laughing as we walked by. Once we sat down in the back of the bus we realized just how incredibly ridiculous we must’ve looked. Our hair, already stiff from the salt of the Dead Sea, was literally matted to our heads with random chunks sticking straight up. We looked like something straight out of a movie, and felt like it too.
WE SURVIVED A DESERT SANDSTORM.