Wednesday, January 20, 2010

The Dead Sea and Jericho

After Masada, our van driver took us back up the west coast of the Dead Sea to a northern beach known as Kalia Beach. This is one of many private beach areas that have sprung up along the Dead Sea as interest has grown in the therapeutic effects of the water and its mud. I read somewhere that most of this privatization is illegal, yet the government does nothing about it.

The water is 33.7% salt and nothing can live in the Dead Sea. Because of the salt content, it is almost impossible for someone to sink. One can simply sit in the water (see top photo). My dad and I didn't go for a swim, but we did put our feet in. The water seemed pretty much the same as ocean water to me, except perhaps a bit more viscous.

Most of the other people from our group went into the water. In certain patches, you can find a deposit of the famous mud, which people then rub on their skin, as you see above. We were told that you then leave it on for 20 minutes and allow it to dry in the sun, and then wash it off again in the water. I was skeptical but interested, so I tried it on my feet for something to do. I was quite surprised that my feet actually did feel refreshed.

After the stop at the beach, we got back in the van and headed for Jericho, the lowest city in the world (in terms of meters below sea level). We crossed through a Palestinian check point and entered into the West Bank and our first stop in Jericho was the sycamore tree which Zacchaeus climbed up in order to see Christ (see above). Scientific testing of the tree has confirmed that it is indeed 2000 years old.

Afterwards, we were taken to a big, gaudy tourist trap for lunch and souvenir buying. With our free time, my dad and I went over to an archaeological site on a big mound, which is sifting through what was the historic center of the oldest continuously inhabited city on the planet. Again, however, since the material is so old, it was really next to impossible for non-experts like us to make out anything of what we were seeing. It was also interesting to note how poor the site was as compared to its counterparts that are run by the Israelis.

Overlooking the site is the Mount of Temptations, the site on which Christ fasted for 40 days and 40 nights at the beginning of His ministry. Behind me, in the photo above, you can see the Orthodox Monastery of the Temptation. In recent years, a cable car was built from Jericho up to the side of the mountain, but it's main purpose was to access a cafe with a view; easier access to the monastery is just a side benefit. Unfortunately, however, the monastery was closed when we were there and we had very little time anyway.

Our van driver took us by Hisham's Palace, an 8th century palace complex in Jericho dating from the time of the first Muslim rulers (see photo above), on the way back to Jerusalem. The final stop was the top of the Mount of Olives, from which we had a beautiful panoramic view of Jerusalem at night.

For more photos from the fourth day, click here.

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