Jerusalem - West Bank - Dead Sea

Trip Start Feb 29, 2012
Trip End Mar 20, 2012

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Where I stayed
Royal Dead Sea
What I did
Dead Sea

Flag of Israel  , Southern District,
Friday, March 2, 2012

On a Friday we rented a car and headed East on the interstate towards Jerusalem. Our original plan was to stay the night in Jerusalem and then drive along the Dead Sea the following day.  When we arrived to town an hour later, the heavy rain had turned into thick wet snow.  Being a Friday afternoon in the Middle East, just about the whole town was closed for the weekend.  In Israel and Muslim communities the weekend days are Friday and Saturday.  Sunday-Thursday is the work week.  Never have I ever seen so many Amishish dressed Orthodox Jews in one area.  The majority of people we saw on the street were outfitted in the black suit, circular black hat, and brown goldilocks curls dropping down from just above their ear.  Most had the equivalent to a shower cap covering all of their hat (I need to figure out the technical term for it) that added a lot of volume and absurdity to the outfit.  Really wanted to take pictures but Cristina advised against it as they can be quite aggressive to outsiders.  That makes sense as any people of extreme religious beliefs are open minded and kind to strangers.  After parking and walking around a few minutes, we realized we were in a wet and frozen ghost town so we decided that we would see the sea today and Jerusalem tomorrow. 

Jerusalem is squeezed between the boarder of Israel and The West Bank.  Soon after getting on the interstate we realized we were driving right past Palestine.  The high concrete walls, triple barbed wire fences, and military checkpoints are what gave it away.  It was pretty crazy to look in at that from just across the border, Jerusalem is well kept and put together, the other side of the wall is in need of a lot of work.  Lots of new seemingly abandoned constructions were visible.  Probably seemed abandoned because after all, it was the weekend.

Not too far outside of Jerusalem in land that reminded me of Arizona we pulled off at a rest stop viewing point type thing that was labeled as sea level.  From this vantage point you could literally look down the road into a massive valley and all the way over to Jordan.  It was the kind of view that you get in an airplane, except we were standing at sea level on land.  It was pretty weird.  Off the road in the middle of the dirt, rocks, and sand were scattered "settlements" consisting of metal shacks and makeshift farms.  I imagine the Internet worked as well as the running water here.  Probably not the nicest way to live.  We saw a few people walking along the road, I suppose all the way into town for supplies, and they seemed to be of the poor Arab type wearing the red and white checkered head dress with normal clothes.  There were a few camels tied up at the shacks, which gave me a lot of joy to see.  Now it was starting to feel like the Middle East.

We came to an intersection where to the left was Jericho and the right was the road to Ein Gedi and the Dead Sea itself.  We went right and the road bumped right up along the coast.  It was a really cool drive and I recommend it to anyone.  Although at the time we were taking this drive into the sunset I did not realize we were going deeper and deeper into the West Bank.  The sun had gone down and we came up to a military checkpoint in the road.  The guns these guys have on display are not the joking kind.  An officer with blond hair and blue eyes carrying a gun as big as his leg stepped out into the street with his hand out as we approached the gate.  He asked us where we were going, looked in the car at both of us, and then told us to enjoy our vacation.  Had we been the towel wearing type I don't think he would have been so brief and friendly. 

Other than this checkpoint there was no sign of human life, other than the paved road we were driving on.  We had no hotel reservation and no real plan so the first place we came across we swung in to see about a room.  Basically just like Mary and Joseph except not pregnant or holy.  This town was a Kibbutz.  A Kibbutz is a self-sufficient community that has its own farm, corporation, school, parks, and grocery.  Its own population runs it all and everyone from farmer to CEO makes the same wage.  Russians must love these things.   They range in size but can be as small as a few families or as large as a few thousand inhabitants.  Anyway this place was very average looking and tried telling us that a room there for one night would cost $202.  The lobby looked more like a rec center’s reception room, scattered couches about and entirely too well lit to feel comfortable.  Since he was the only one working the building, he could not get up and show us what a $202 room looked like, but we imagined it nothing much better than the square plain lobby.  When we said we would head down the road to the next town for a room, he warned us that the road was flooded and cars could not pass.  We decided we don’t care about his opinion and continued heading south into the West Bank’s pitch black night.

To the kibbutz front desk guy’s credit, it had recently been raining a lot.  But we were in the middle of the desert and I don’t like to be told what I can’t do, especially when you’re trying to rip me off for $202 a night.  Not too far down the road we came across the flooding that we were warned about.  At this point I certainly wished the rental company had offered a Jeep Wrangler instead of the Hyundai whatever I was driving. 

There was a decent stretch of maybe 80 feet of brown churning water rushing from the mountain side on the right to the Dead Sea on the left.  The majority of the covering seemed like it was only a few inches deep but a few areas in the middle seemed to be sufficiently deep with a few large rocks creating the image of rapids.  We kinda looked at each other, figured we weren’t going to go back to the kibbutz anyway, and I punched the gas pedal.  It went basically how I expected it to:  water all over the windshield, a lot of unexpected potholes, a slight sensation of hydroplaning, and a lot of terrible noises from below the car.

We laughed after we got through it and got out to check that the tires still had air in them.  Then continued down the nice paved road making jokes about the guy at the front desk who said we could not pass the “flooding.”  After a minute a police car with his lights on came out of nowhere and quickly passed us.  Hard to know if he was in a rush because we have noticed that regardless of anything, the Israeli police are always driving with their lights on.  About 3 miles later we arrived at unexpected phase two of the valley flooding.  This one did not look as easy as the last one. 

There were many more large rocks to avoid, wider sections of fast moving water, and more water to cross in general.  However, there was a pickup truck presently crossing from the other direction, a bulldozer making passes, and the police car was already on the other side.  I have to reverse out of the way to let the pickup truck from the other side pass me and as I do, he rolls down his window.  He is pointing at something and yelling to me in Hebrew or Arabic about something up ahead.  My K-State hat and American accent asked the man if he could speak in English to which he kind of scrunched his face and managed to say “NUMBERS!” while pointing ahead.  I did just realize that there was an odd noise coming from somewhere when I backed the car up.  Cristina says “license plate” and sure enough, our first brown water rafting trip knocked a screw loose on the tag and we dragged it all the way to this point without losing it.  We were able to temporarily pop it into place.

At this point a second pick up truck has crossed from the other side and this one also stops to talk to us.  There are three or four men inside, all of the towel on head fashion.  You know the red and white checkered with black ring around their head to keep it on type?  They asked us Hebrew or Arabic to which we of course smiled and said “uh, English?”  The fact that we don’t know where we are, what we’re doing, and how to speak to anyone seems to make them all smile.  Bear in mind that the West Bank is a disputed area between Israel and Palestine and the Palestinian types are not as pro-America as their enemy Israelis.  That’s when I realized that I could be close to becoming the next internet sensation as my head is cut off in some cave in a middle eastern desert while they do who knows what with Cristina.  I’m obviously not generalizing or being paranoid.  This is when the driver gets out of his car and comes close to my window.  Now my imagination is really going and I prepare to slam on the gas and take whatever damage crossing the river will do to the small car.  As the guy walks over, we notice that he is not a man, but a bear-man, about 6’5 and as wide as your front door.  The Arab headpiece and lack of English is not helping his case either.  He tries to communicate something ahead, making fast pointing motions with his whole body.  I take it as my cue to assume he means just go for it, because after all, if we go for it and get stuck the bulldozer can push us through.  Or help destroy our rental car after we’re kidnapped.  Either way, I took the rental car insurance.  I say tu-da (Hebrew for thank you yes I am fluent) wave to the dude and we go ahead.  He smiles and waves back.  Same thing as last time, a little hydroplaning, terrible noises, and water everywhere.  The point is, we made it through.  There was a third crossing, but this one involved nothing not already mentioned. 

By the time we hit civilization again, we were out and on the south side of the West Bank in a town called Ein Boqeq.  There were lots of nice hotels and resorts to choose from and in the middle of it all, a McDonald’s.  We swung into three different hotels to see which one had the best offer.  Remember how I said Israel was not a cheap country?  The prices of the three hotels were between $280 and $403 USD per night.  They all were breakfast included but only the $280 option included a dinner buffet.  I wasn’t hungry but obviously if I’m paying that much to sleep I’m going to take whatever else I can get.  Forcing down some good food shouldn’t be a problem. 

Something I’ve never experienced anywhere in the world is a hotel lobby like those in Israel.  Everywhere else I have been the lobby is for checking in and out, speaking face to face with concierge, or arranging a taxi.  In Israel, in addition to all those things, the lobby is like a big lounge.  There were so many guests just hanging out socializing in the lobby.  Not just our hotel.  All the hotels I stopped at were crowded with strangers talking to each other and making it quite a loud area honestly.  The weird thing was there were no snacks, drinks, or music.  Just people talking to each other while their voices bounced off the walls, amplifying the commotion. 

In the morning we crushed the breakfast buffet and walked across the street to the beach.  It was not beach weather.  9:30AM, cloudy, windy, and 52 degrees Fahrenheit.  So while taking off my coat, jeans, and shoes at the shore, I couldn’t help but think about how pleasant the water temperature was going to be.  Also, by “beach” I mean small to medium sized rocks that feel awesome on your cold bare feet as you get into cold windy water.  There is a real weird and cool feel to the water of the Dead Sea, its like thin olive oil on your skin.  After wading in a ways I fell back into the water and to my surprise happened to land directly on top of an invisible air mattress.  The water is so salty that it literally feels like you are sitting on an underwater tube.  No need to move arms or legs to stay afloat, its all automatic and quite relaxing.  Of course how easy is it to relax in a 50 degree windy sea on a cloudy winter morning.

We ran back barefoot to the hotel, rinsed off the olive oil like water and hit the road again heading back up north through the West Bank.  By this time we figured the flooding would have calmed down and that bulldozer would have knocked out most of the license tag taking rocks (the license plate did fall off again while we were hotel shopping).  Somewhere along the road in the West Bank we pulled off the road and walked down to the shoreline.  I imagine this is what other planets might look like.  Behind us were desert cliffs that and scattered shrubs (think Arizona minus the Saguaro cactuses).  In front of us was a barren landscape of mud, sand, dirt, dead plants, and scattered sinkholes filled with green and brown sulfur pools.  Further in the view was super light blue water meeting what appeared to be a white sand beach as far as we could see.  On the other side of the water were the mountains of Jordan.  The white sand beach was actually just the opposite.  The Dead Sea loses about 3 feet of depth each year and for this reason the coastline is rapidly shrinking.  What is left is all that salt from the evaporated water.  The white sand looking stuff from a distance was actually very hard sharp salt.  It was hard enough to stand on and not even break a tiny piece off the tips. 

We spent the rest of the morning driving north on the coast towards Jerusalem, stopping whenever there was a cool view or something to take a closer look at.  When we came to a gas station at the highway junction leading to Jericho, we were surprised to see a camel tied up near one of the pumps.  What a camel needs at a gas station pump, I don’t know.  Maybe there is a secret about how they can make it in the desert so long without water.  Gasoline?  The owner guy of the camel was happy to make him sit for us and take our picture with it. 

The Dead Sea is really cool.  I absolutely recommend you to take a trip out there if you have not been.  Although probably better to go when you don’t want to wear a coat during the day.  Eventually it will be gone and just a piece of history. 
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Vina Paul on

Joel, that was all very interesting!! It would be exciting just to see all that area, and the pictures were sure nice to see. Thanks so much for sharing and take care of your self and Cristina.

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