Good news folks! We did NOT relax this weekend! Instead, we made the journey southeast towards the Southern end of the Dead Sea. This area holds a lot of potential for exploring and enjoying the outdoors with many trails (Matt: Oh those were trails?), the Dead Sea, bird watching, and the VERY cool mountain top fortress of Massada.
To start the weekend, we decided to set off on foot and explore the hills and valleys outside the town of Arad. The road to Arad services the Western entrance to Massada so we figured we could make a weekend of it by hiking Friday, camping, and seeing Masada on Saturday. During the week, I researched some hiking options in the area while Matt probed his co-workers for the local beta. We settled on some trails that boasted wildflowers and deep canyons in Tse’elim River. We packed our bags for camping and set off!
After a about 2 hours of driving, we arrived at Kfar Hanokdim, a Bedouin tent camp, where we planned to spend the night. Since we had not yet scoped out the safety of “throwing down” at the various free campgrounds, we opted to stay somewhere established and feel out the area for future trips (note: the free camping looked totally fine in this area). When we arrived at Kfar Hanokdim, we confirmed with the reception that we could camp there and that there was no need for reservations, excellent! (Hmm, the photo doesn’t really do the place justice….but maybe you can tell its a little camp with some tents and trees and such….)
The next….ohhhhh….hour or so was quite comical! We read online that there can be car break-ins at the trailheads so we wanted to be responsible about where we left our car. Our FIRST plan was to pack our bags at the camp (to avoid lookiloos seeing out camping stuff in the car) and then drive a little ways to the trail head. So we packed our bags and set off driving down a dirt road towards the trail head. The trail was rocky and a little rough and we didn’t see anyone….sooooo we thought maybe it would be better to leave the car at the camp and hike from there! So we turned around and drove back to the camp and parked the car. We suited up and headed back down the road…..oh wait, pause, we had to get back into the car for SUNSCREEN. Okay, now we’re OFF! About 400m down the road, Matt confirms, “You have the map right?!”…..I respond, “THE MAP!? No, it was with the books that you took”…..Matt, “no, I don’t have the map”…..I respond, “well I don’t have the map!” Since Matt was completely pack-muled up with our bag and his camera, I begrudgingly agreed to go back to the car to look for the map since I thought I was the one to have it last…… So I wog (walk/jog) back to the car and search the car – NO MAP! sigghhh….. Just as I was about to shut the car and walk back to him to explain the situation, he popped up from behind the car and….OH, had the map in his pocket (insert Matt with sad, sorry puppy face). So we have the map! At this point, he also proclaimed that we SHOULD drive the car down the road because he just saw 3 cars full of families and small children driving down the road. ALRIGHT, now we are driving down the road…again….slow and steady. A little ways down, we pause while the cars of children unload for a quick play break (we were basically following them as the judges of “safe”….so we casually waited to see if they continued on, and they did! So we kept driving too and eventually came to a parking area full of cars and families, score! OKAY….its noon! Lets start hiking in the desert!
The trail signs/markers in Israel are just different combinations of colors painted on rocks. There is no shortage of painted rocks….but there is a shortage of any idea where they go and if it’s actually the painted combination you want. So we asked the folks at the trailhead which trail is which in reference to our map and set off (we actually needed to take the GREEN trail despite our map showing BLUE trail…oh Israel). As we set off, we saw some lumps on the hillsides ahead….could it be?! CAMELS! I have a feeling I’ll look back at this and laugh as it appears camel are the Israeli equivalent to sheep….but whatever, its cool to see them! They looked really far away but soon enough, they were just above us on the hill, so cool!
Trying to stay on track, we forgo admiring the camels for hours and continue along the trail….until it turned a corner and started going down the canyon with an iron ladder. Now, I can handle ladders…..but combine it with a dizzying fear of heights and a steep canyon wall…..I couldn’t do it. Matt coaxed…and I tried approaching it SEVERAL times….but just couldn’t do it (insert Kelley with sad, sorry puppy face). After a few moments of marriage counseling….we agreed to set off in another direction I was more comfortable with.
Lucky for us, this gave us an UP CLOSE encounter with the camels! They are the biggest, goofiest looking animals ever!
To continue the “active portion” of the tour, we decided to set out down a river bed and see if it may provide an alternative entrance to the valley. It didn’t but we proceeded down a ways and enjoyed a wide variety of wildflowers, beautiful views, and a neat grotto where we enjoyed our lunch.
We got some more camel views and made our way back to Kfar Hanokdim for the night!
Now starts the next comical interlude of the day! We arrived back at the camp and from the impression earlier, they had a general area where people tent camped with their own tents and it was no big deal….so we paid our money and she called for a young man to show us to the camping area. An eager young man comes around the corner and kindly asks, “do you have a car? Its much easier to get there by car”…… Matt and I exchange curious looks and agree that we do have a car and we can in fact all fit inside. So we get in the car and he’s directing us down a dirt road around some buildings…where are we going?!…… we eventually come around a corner and there’s another parking lot with cars (sigh of relief)….turns out he just had us drive to the other end of the camp. The sun has set at this point and he has us follow him up a little hill and he starts poking around some BIG tents. (HUH!?) He kindly excuses his confusion because, “we don’t really get campers that often”….. so instead of having to throw down in our tents, we actually got to stay in a large tent with electricity!
It felt a little silly, but whatever, the price was right and we had access to showers, water, and places to hang out. We opted out of the exorbitantly high priced dinner for a few boxes of completely awful, almost tear inducing “macaroni and cheese”. (Matt: It was truly terrible… almost ruined Mac N’ Cheese for me…) Live and learn…(the picture of Matt is BEFORE we ate the “macaroni and cheese”….or whatever awful imitation of the sacred Blue Box it was). Also not pictured, this is an amusingly popular destination for families with small children. We were surrounded by little ones running around in packs, herded by groups of parents enjoying an evening of organized chaos away from home.
We had a lovely nights sleep and woke up to about a million birds “singing” us awake…..well we have to appreciate their dedication to us getting on the road early to enjoy the next local attraction, Massada!
Massada is REALLY OLD – like King Harod old —- yeah, I didn’t really know who that was either — but we’re talking 70BCE….OLD! He made quite the “vacation home” for himself up on a really high mountain in the middle of the desert and managed to find very creative ways to get water, build massive cisterns, temples, walls, gates….a whole city on the top of a rock! AMAZING! It had a rather sad end after the Romans tried to reclaim the fortress from Jewish zealots – then it went dormant for several centuries with only brief, unsuccessful, attempts at inhabitation since. It is now listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site – well worth a visit if you’re in the area 🙂
“The fortress of Massada was built in the year 30 BCE by King Herod, whose architectural feats have left their mark throughout the country. At the beginning of the great revolt against Rome in the year 68 BCE, the site was conquered by a group of Jewish zealots, and Massada became their last stronghold. In the year 72 the Romans besieged Massada and succeeded in reaching the steep fortress after constructing a huge earthen ramp on its western side. In the year 73, the 960 Jewish zealots living at the top of Massada chose to commit suicide rather than to fall into the hands of the Romans alive. Their deeds left behind a saga of courage, heroism, and martyrdom.”
The Romans built this giant dirt ramp as their attack route! Needless to say it took them a long time and it was not a sneak attack….the Jews saw them coming for quite some time. They apparently constructed a giant wood attack fortress at the top – launching rocks and fire into Masada. They also had many base camps surrounding Masada, which you can still see the remains of from above.
This is a view from the top – its impressively HIGH and very well preserved!
Giant water cistern on top were able to get enough water to sustain life AND have lavish pools/baths!
The holes you see in the side of the mountain are the entrances to the many cisterns. They constructed canals through the desert to capture rain water and reroute it into the giant cisterns! People and pack animals would then haul the water up shorter paths to the top.
We made our way home, enjoyed a few more road-side camels….and look forward to enjoying this wonderful place more with visitors!
AH! I almost forgot the ibex!! We saw these on our hike down from Massada….VERY COOL!