Israel Day One - Jerusalem and the Dead Sea

Very early this morning, we met our fabulous guide, Daniel, in the port city of Haifa. We drove for about two hours to the city of Jerusalem. Jerusalem is divided into many parts.  First, there is the new city and the old city.  The old city is entirely contained within very high, thick walls. Inside the old city, it is divided into the Jewish Quarter, the Muslim Quarter, the Christian Quarter, and the Armenian Quarter. We started our day in the Jewish Quarter and walked through the old streets.

We headed to the Western Wall, or as it is sometimes called, the Wailing Wall.  This wall is the holiest place to the Jewish people.  It is part of the site of an ancient temple.  Because we were here on a Thursday, there were many Bar Mitzvahs happening while we were there.  Bar Mitzvahs are held only on Mondays and Thursdays.  It was great to see all of the children and families celebrating.


People come here to pray, and to place written notes in the cracks of the walls. Men and women have to visit separate areas, so we split up to get a closer look. Afterwards, we walked through the Muslim Quarter markets and bought a Jerusalem bagel.  They are huge and served with a local spice that is delicious.


From here, we continued on to the Via Dolorosa…where Jesus walked on his way to crucifixion. We saw the amazing Church of the Holy Sepulchre. People come from all over the world to see the anointing stone and Jesus' tomb.


From here, we walked back through the Muslim markets...


The land disputes here are very complicated with no easy answers.  For example, we noticed this singular Jewish residence in the Muslim Quarter.  You can see that it is completely fenced with barbed wire and there is a 24 hour guard with a machine gun.  Even within Jerusalem, tensions between the religious groups can run very high.


After Jerusalem, we headed south towards the Dead Sea.


All along the way, there are Muslim villages and then a little further, Jewish villages.  In the port ciry of Haifa, people of all different beliefs live and work together, but in many other places, things are very separate.  We drove in and out of the highly contested West Bank during our travels today.  We saw Bedoin camps in the desert….


…and finally made it to the Dead Sea. It is so much bigger than we expected.  Jordan is just on the other side.


We had a quick lunch, and then headed down to the water and mud.  It really wasn't anything like we had imagined it would be, but we decided to just go with it.  Violet and I headed to the women's changing room and were surprised to find a hut with a dirt floor and a seagrass mat.  We had heard there were showers and changing facilities, but a room where you just get naked in front of fifty other people wasn't really what we had pictured.  But, we stripped down and got changed into our bathing suits and headed outside. The salt content is more than ten times that of the ocean.  And the entire bottom is the squishiest, blackest mud.  You literally sink down into it when you step in.  We waded out a bit and just kind of stood there for a while.  The water was a little cold, and after all the warnings we read about not getting your face wet or water in your eyes, it takes a little reckless faith to just fall backwards and trust that you will float.  But, we did fall backwards and float.  It was an incredibly weird sensation.  Like levitating.  People cover themselves with the mud from the bottom.  It's used in spas all over the world. We stayed a while and just soaked up the atmosphere.  Then, off to the communal outdoor shower and back on the road. 


The mud felt soooo creepy!

Driving out, we saw a herd of camels on the side of the road…


…and a major goat crossing.


This barbed wire fence is the border with Jordan. 


On our way back to Haifa, we were in and out of the West Bank. While leaving the Palestinian territory, we had to go through a checkpoint back to the Israeli territory and the guard did not like our passports, or our guide's indentification.  It was a little freaky for a minute, but they let us through. We had a long drive back to Haifa.  All in all, probably about five hours of driving in our 12 + hour day.  

Tomorrow, we meet Daniel again early for another incredibly packed day.  It has been an unforgettable visit already and we are excited for more!

© Knstrong 2013