The alarm clock brutally cut through my sleep. I needed few moments to realize where I am and what’s happening. The night was at its best, it was barely 3.30 a.m. and I was fighting so much with myself not to come back to bed. But as it turned out all the effort was worth it as there was an exciting day ahead of me, the day when I hiked the Masada fortress at the dawn and the day when I checked if it’s true people can’t drown in the Dead Sea.
The bus was full when we left Jerusalem at 4 in the morning for the Masada Sunrise Tour with Abraham Tours. Everyone used the 1,5 hour long ride to catch up on sleep. Once we arrived to the bottom of Masada mountain it was so dark you could see nothing around. Only the small flashlights dotes of people already climbing up could give a small impression of what’s waiting for me. And I was slightly terrified at that vision.
I’m not a great hiker. I enjoy it, the feel of the wind in my hair or the enormous space around me, the constant challenge of going up and up. But I’m never the first one to reach the top. I’m just going up in my own (slow) speed, stopping every few meters to enjoy the view, take a picture and think how amazing the world is. But since the hike to Masada started in the middle of the night, when all you could see around was the darkness, I could start my usual hiking routine only half a way up.
I must admit I knew nothing about Masada prior to my visit in Israel and I was really surprised how many people were there, trying to reach the top to admire the sunrise from the fortress. There were groups of young Israeli boys, really loud, almost pushing their way forward and running to be the first one up. There were also lots of random tourists, just like me, who were just curious of this mythical place. I don’t know how could I miss info on such an important landmark! The fortress on the top of the isolated mountain was built between 31 and 31 BC by Herod the Great. It first served as a palace for him but a little bit over 100 years later it was a scene of the tragic siege of Masada that eventually lead to the mass suicide of 960 Jews during the First Jewish-Roman War. Now the site can be found on the UNESCO World Heritage List.
To reach the top you need to hike the “Snake Path” – over 2 kilometers long trail that is mostly made of killing high stony steps. The fortress is located at the height of 400 meters and it takes between 60 to 90 minutes to get to the top. But before you have to deal with over 700 steps and believe me, it’s not an easy task! Somewhere along the way the light around me started changing, I didn’t need my headlamp anymore. I could finally look around and slowly I was seeing more and more from the surrounding world. And it was a breathtaking view! Masada stands at the edge of the Judean Desert, overlooking the Dead Sea and the mountains that are already in Jordan. The incredible rock formations everywhere around reminded me of the moon landscape. And all of these was eventually seen in the soft, orange light.
I didn’t want to hurry to the top and miss out the amazing scenery around. I was taking my time and let myself by amazed by the beauty of the place I found myself in. Suddenly there were no people around, I was surrounded by the perfect silence and stillness of the world. It was one of the moments when you look around and think that life is good. The thought of reaching the top so soon made me feel sad as I wanted this to last for as long as possible. When I was literally few steps away from the top the sun started to slowly peep out from behind the Jordanian mountains. I was staring speechless, cherishing every second of the unforgettable spectacle that nature has been playing right in front of my eyes. At this very moment I was actually glad I dragged myself out of bed at this horrible 3.30a.m.!
Reaching the top few minutes later was like stepping into the different world. It was bustling, busy with people and the magical moment I’ve just witnessed was already gone. Still the peak itself was an extremely interesting place with the remnants of the old fortress that made you imagine the greatness of the place all these centuries ago. The view around, not only towards the Dead Sea but also to the surrounding mountains was pretty spectacular too! After the crowd right at the beginning the rest of Masada was much calmer and it was easy to find a lonesome spot to admire the view and to think of the tragic events that took place right at this very place.
The tour I took didn’t end on Masada. After 40 minutes drive we stopped at Ein Gedi Nature Reserve – an oasis in the harsh Judean Desert. This place offered some nice hikes too, the most popular one being up to three waterfalls (it was possible to swim in one of them!). The scenery around was amazing too and the more you climbed up, the better views of the Dead Sea were rolling in front of your eyes. I wish there was a little bit more time to go all the way up to the top of the mountains but then I guess the view from there were similar to these in Masada.
The last stop of the day was at the Dead Sea. This lowest point on the Earth, located at 427 meters below the sea level, is especially famous for its extremely salty waters that make all the swimmers float calmly. Sadly, because of the early start of the day I forgot my swim suit but judging from the people around I could see it really is true you cannot drown there. Even if I didn’t play in the water I had a pretty relaxing time, taking rest after all the great hikes around. And yet again the scenery surrounding me was outstanding!
This day made me realize yet again that Israel is much more that we know about it. It’s more than conflicts, it’s more than religious sites. Israel is also an incredible nature that can be easily reached from Jerusalem and that is a perfect getaway from the difficult issues you deal with when visiting this amazing country. It was another of the big surprises that the Middle East trip has prepared for me and I just wish I could spend more time exploring the natural beauty of the country, this day at Masada and Dead Sea just made me more curious about it. But at least I have a reason to go back!
Do you like hiking? Are you more of a nature or city person?
Practical Info: Masada Sunrise, Ein Gedi and Dead Sea Tour departs from Jerusalem every Wednesday, Friday and Sunday. The price is 275 NIS per person. The entrance fee to Masada and Ein Gedi is 29 NIS each. There’s a cable car going up to the fortress but it starts operating at 8am so it’s only an option to go down. And my advice: wait for the sunrise just below the top, the experience then is so much better!
If you think of visiting Israel or just want to read more about the country take a look what else I wrote about it!
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