Day 14: Fort Belvoir, Beit She'an, Qumram
Trip Start May 14, 2008
42Trip End Jun 17, 2008
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Anyway, the restaurant at Vered Hagalil was a relaxing spot with good friendly service, much appreciated after a day of touring! On the patio outside the restaurant there was high speed free internet access for our laptop
As we are checking out, Harvey starts complaining that the bill is too high, that there must be errors and so on. This is before he looked at the bill. When the clerk looks at him, Harvey says that since we are in Israel he wants to act like an Israeli. This starts a whole conversation about how they are used to these issues - but usually clients start questioning after seeing the bill. The funny thing is that there actually turned out to be a small error. They had charged wine from another cabin to our bill for the previous night's dinner. They cheerfully corrected this. Before departing the area, we find a spot where you can park and walk to the Lake
Now, in earnest, we start on our journey to the next sea, the Dead Sea. As we drive southeast, the colors of the landscape change from brown and green, with occasional bright purple, white, and red bougainvillea, to a palette of beige and brown, with a spot of green from a bush or tree that somehow manages to live here. Our first stop along the way is Fort Belvoir or Kochav Hayarden National Park, a very impressive Crusader fortress. We get to use our National Parks pass again! The views from here are expansive and you can easily understand why this location was chosen for strategic importance. We walk around the dry moat and into one of the rooms within the fortress and meet up with a group of men all with cameras who had asked two friends to pose in a spot with dramatic lighting. Harvey & I join them in the photo shoot! It turns out they are part of a group of about 20 men from Moshav Faran in the Arava Valley south of here who are doing some touring and hiking. We strike up a conversation with Danny Hadas, who offers photography workshops. He gives me an annual calendar with his photos for each month and they are beautiful images of the area around their Moshav. If anyone is interested in a photo workshop or shooting with Danny, he can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
We were not prepared for the sheer drama of Bet She'an National Park! The 8,000 seat Roman amphitheater is supposed to be the best preserved in Israel and the baths, and other excavations are truly impressive. We feel transported back in time, only brought back to current time by the occasional roar of military jets overhead. We get a light lunch at the concession snack bar and spend several hours walking through the site. Just incredible.
Time is moving along, so we think we should as well. We had checked with the reception desk at Vered Hagalil and they confirmed that driving on route 90 through the West Bank was a safe and direct route to the Dead Sea. We drive up to the checkpoint with some anxiety, but there is no other car ahead of us and we quickly pass through
We meet the tour buses at Qumran National Park, where the Dead Sea scrolls were discovered. The parking lot is full of buses and the tourists are swarming around the visitor's center. We have arrived! Using our national park pass (I love saying that), we enter the facility and go to the movie. You know by now that if one exists for a site, we're going to (try to) find it! Then we pass through the gates and walk up away from the center, with the hope of being able to walk to one of the caves where the scrolls were discovered. I chicken out as the terrain gets rough and there are warning signs; Harvey continues for awhile longer and you can see the photos of him departing and thank goodness, coming back! The people who lived in this area, the Essenes, were an ascetic sect and had a rough life. We found their ritual baths. What is it about humans that no matter what date range or civilization, there is some form of group bathing and cleansing? It's always interesting to see how it is done
It's late afternoon and we continue on route 90 to Ein Gedi. We pass through the final checkpoint and exit the West Bank. We both admit we were a bit anxious. We continue on, and see our first view of the Dead Sea! Along the road, Harvey notices these large boulders that are standing like sentinels over the Dead Sea and exclaims that this is where we had stopped to take some photos thirty seven years ago! At first, I don't recognize them because they are covered with graffiti, but yes, that is them! Seeing those boulders is like a touchstone for us, triggering memories. We have this snapshot that we took with Jacque and Nicole, where we are peeking out from behind these boulders! We met Jacque and Nicole on a four hour jeep tour out of Eilat thirty seven years ago. After the tour, they knocked on our hotel door and invited us to drive with them to Jerusalem. We spent a whirlwind day driving from Eilat to Jerusalem, exploring a dirt back road and driving up to a military base, hiking into Ein Gedi, taking the cable car up to Masada, and then they were really nice and stayed with us until we found a hotel in Jerusalem. That started a relationship that has lasted to this day. At the time, we thought they had the absolute perfect marriage and they became our role model. They were both dentists and were in practice together
It is about dinner time when we arrive at Kibbutz Ein Gedi where we will be spending the next three nights. I call Zabu, our guide for our sunrise hike up Masada and agree upon meeting at the lobby at 4:40 AM! He asks if we drink coffee and I say yes, thinking that the caffeine might be good early in the morning. After we get off the phone, I remember that coffee usually makes we want to go to the bathroom and there couldn't possibly be any facilities along the way, so I decide that I will forgo any drinking or eating of anything in the morning until I know that I will have access to a bathroom. I sometimes fret about these things. We arrange for a wake up call, put our heads on the pillow and promptly fall asleep!
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