Suitcase and World: Qumran & the Dead Sea.

Friday, March 1, 2013

Qumran & the Dead Sea.

From Masada, we headed back down along the highway that runs alongside the Dead Sea. It was about a 45 minute drive to Qumran. By now, the views of the Dead Sea, desert and oases were familiar sights but still amazing. I've been in Israel for a week now but I still mentally pinching myself that I am here. I am loving being in this country. As much as it is foreign to me, there's a part of me that feels very comfortable being here. I have to reflect more on that later.

More oasis views.

Uri parked the van and then proceeded to get us our entry tickets. We had arrived just a few minutes before the English language movie, introducing us to the site, started.

After the movie, we began our walk around the site. More ruins of homes, cisterns, baths and caves in the hillsides.

A bath.

A cistern.

Eventually, the path ended at an observation platform where we had a view of Cave #4. Don't know which scrolls were discovered there. Qumran turned out to be a relatively small site and must less impressive, ruins wise, than Masada. It took us just about 1/2 hour to make our way around.

The hole, in the hillside, is Cave #4.

Wider angle view of Cave #4 and the surrounding landscape.

Ruins of walls of residences.

Another view of the ruins of the residences.

The next thing on the itinerary was lunch and we would be eating in the restaurant at Qumran. To get to the restaurant, you have to walk through the souvenir shop. Ugh....there's no escaping the souvenir shop. Of course, like so many places in Israel, this one sold Dead Sea items. That part of the store was all run by Russians and most of the customers, who were in the store at the time, were also Russian. I came across a lot of Russian tourists in Jerusalem. Seems like Israel is a popular destination for them!

There was nothing in the souvenir shop that interested me. Actually, I've not found much in Israel that has interested in terms of something to bring home with me. Most of what I see here, except for the Judaica are items I've seen in other markets in Egypt, Jordan, Turkey and Morocco. A lot of stuff is treated as if it's unique to this part of the world but having traveled to India as often as I have, I can tell you that most of the stuff originates from there - I think they just slap a "Made in xxx" label to match whatever xxx country they are exporting the items to.

I wasn't really hungry but I knew I had to eat. I waited for Cathy and Mitch to finish their shopping and then we all headed over to the restaurant together. I ordered a chicken shawarma sandwich and a drink for 36 shekels. The sandwich was okay. The chicken had been cooked with curry flavored seasoning and it just didn't taste right. The three of us ended up sitting at the same table as Meera and Dr. Raj. I really enjoy their company - they are super friendly and he turned out to be an avid orchid collector (he has some 1,500 plants) and gardener so we had something in common that we could have a conversation about. Both of them have very open minds and love to travel which is something that I also share with them. Lunch was short, meal was not so good but the company was fantastic!

After lunch, we made our way to a beach resort by the Dead Sea. I don't remember what the place was called but the group rate to get in, whether or not you were swimming (which I was not planning on doing) was 50 shekels per person. We forked over our money to Uri and he got us our tickets. The resort had a restaurant, gift shop and changing rooms.

While those who were swimming got changed into their suits, Alina, Meera, Dr. Raj and I followed Uri down to the beach. Not your typical beach scene. Only one woman was wearing a bikini and there was not a man wearing a skimp Speedo to be seen anywhere. You know you're in the Middle East when you see women, fully clothed in a hijab and headscarf, are floating about in the water.

Not beach attire in any other part of the world except for the Middle East!

The four of us found lounge chairs to sit on. The air temperature was just right with clothes but I think it was a bit too cold to be swimming. Besides, I already did my Dead Sea float when I went to Jordan so I don't feel like I'm missing out on anything by not going this time around.

Soon, Cathy and Mitch appeared. She was dressed in cotton shorts and a cotton tank top. A bit odd for swimwear but she's self conscious about being fat. To be honest, I don't think she's fat at all so it's a self image thing....I understand.

Before we had arrived to the Dead Sea both Cathy and Mitch had told me that she has a fear of water which she was determined to try to conquer. She knew she could not sink in the Dead Sea so if there was a place that would be safe for her to be in the water, this would be it. I offered and she accepted for me to videotape her experience so I followed both of them down to the water. I stood on the edge and started filming as she got about knee deep into the water. She's slightly shorter than me. I continued to film as Mitch gently coaxed her into laying back. She struggled. She know idea how to float in the water. Uri came down to watch and shouted out some instructions to her. Eventually, she got on her back but she was still gripping pretty tightly onto Mitch's fingers. Slowly but surely, she let go. He continued to watch her for a bit before floating on his own. Her confidence picked up and it wasn't long before she started paddling on her own. I filmed bit more and then shut off the camera and headed back to my seat.

About the time that Cathy started to float, George also made his way into the water. From my seat, I watched all three of them floating about while chatting with Alina, Meera, and Dr. Raj.

At one point, I noticed Cathy was out of the water, applying mud to her arms and chest area. I immediately headed back down to the water with the camcorder. I started filming just as she was finishing getting the mud on her. She carefully got back in the water and this time, all on her own, she managed to get on her back and float. I was so happy for her! I filmed a bit more before heading back to my seat.

By the time I got back, both Uri and Alina had left and a short while later, both Meera and Dr. Raj left as well. I had to stay behind to watch after Cathy and Mitch's belongings. Soon, both were out of the water and cleaning themselves off under the shower. From the look on both their faces, I could tell this was an experience of a lifetime for them that they truly enjoyed. She was, as I had expected, over the moon about having been in the water though she told me that much of the time, she was terrified. I told her I would not have known that had she not told me because there was no look of fear on her face the entire time I was filming her....and that was the honest truth.

From the Dead Sea, we made our way back to Jerusalem where we had to say goodbye to Meera, Dr. Raj, Cathy and Mitch as they were at the end of their tour. It would also be Alina's last day. Then, it was off the Tel Aviv where I got dropped off first, at the Renaissance Hotel which I was happy to be reminded that it was located right on the beach!

I checked it and settled into my room. It was late afternoon and I wanted to check out the beach before it got dark. When I got on the elevator, there was an African American woman already there.....also with a dSLR camera in her hand. Turns out we both had the same idea - to get to the beach for a sunset view. Her name was Renee and she was traveling with a contingent from the school that she works at in Atlanta, GA. After a few attempts to find our way out to the beach, we bumped into a few of Renee's colleagues who had just come back from the beach so they pointed us in the right direction.

From the hotel's front entrance, we took a ramp walkway down to the promenade that fronts the beach. It was so nice to take in some fresh sea air. This is the Mediterranean Sea. By the time we had reached the beach, the sun was almost over the horizon, obscured by clouds. It was not a pretty sunset so I just took a couple of photos. We happened across this guy walking the tightrope and when he noticed Renee getting ready to take a photo of him, he struck this pose. A bit of show off if you ask me but then again, maybe he's a professional tightrope walker and this is just everyday practice for him. Who knows.

Definitely showing off for us!

The day was coming to a close and all of a sudden, I started to feel tired.  I was looking forward to a quiet night.

In any event, after having spent just a few minutes on the beach, we headed back to the hotel where Renee showed me pictures, on her camera, of her recent trips to London and Paris. Apparently, she travels at least two times a year and loves it. She recently took her 16 year old nephew to London and those were the photos she showed me. We chatted for a few more minutes before saying goodbye. It was a brief encounter but a very enjoyable one. She was so friendly.

Back in my room, I just settled in for the evening....a bit of blogging and a bit of TV before turning out the lights. Tomorrow is the Sabbath so there will not be a tour - it's free time. More importantly, I don't need to set an alarm; I can just get up anytime I feel like. Yay!!

So far, I'm really enjoying Tel Aviv - the weather is awesome and I love being by the sea and the beach.

Uri had recommended that I go and check out Old Jaffa - he says it's about a mile down the road from my hotel. I can actually see it from the balcony outside my room. So, unless something better comes along the way, my plan will be to walk along the promenade all the way to Old Jaffa and spend however long I want there. Other than Old Jaffa, I have no plans at the moment - tempted to just have a bit of a *down* day as I've been doing nothing but sightseeing for the past week.

So, it's goodnight from Tel Aviv!