Secrets of the Dead Sea (Qumran, Ein Gedi, Masada, and Jerusalem)

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Worst mosquitos ever!! I am camping about 20 meters from the Dead Sea, and can’t for the life of me figure out why there are so many mosquitos. Their appetite rivals the mosquitos in Alaska, and by the time I set up my tent I have bites on top of bites. Too scared to leave the tent I eat a cold meal of cucumbers and pita bread and fall asleep to the buzz around me.

Gethsemane Church, Mt. of Olives Jerusalem

Gethsemane Church, Mt. of Olives Jerusalem

I am pedaling the beaches of the dead sea again, this time on the Israel/Palestinian side. The northern beaches are long a flat and mostly fenced off by the Israeli military, fearing that Jordanians will swim across to the Zionist state. Border checks are ever so present, as it is illegal for almost all Palestinians to leave their home city! (Literally an open air prison). After being stopped and interrogated about why I am carrying a bag of tea with Arabic writing, I head south to the historic city of Masada, the last Jewish settlement during the second temple period.

Ancient Mountain city of Masada, this is the location where the Romans lay siege to the city

Ancient Mountain city of Masada, this is the location where the Romans lay siege to the city

The historic story of Masada as told by a recently sponsored archeological study: It is the middle of the first century C.E, Jerusalem is in flames and the temple has just been destroyed by the Romans. The Sicarii, one of the last groups of Jewish rebels, fled the holy city and relocated at the top of a nearby mountain city, Masada, built earlier by the Roman leader Herod the great. 30 km north of Masada, on the coast of the Dead Sea, lay the famous Roman Perfume factory of Ein Gedi. The Perfume produced in the factory during the time was world renown, and so famous that even Cleopatra had commissioned her own scent from the perfumer. It is hypothesized that 1/3 of the entire Roman Empire fortune came from the sale of Ein Gedi perfume! In an attempt to incur as much damage as possible to the Roman empire the Masada rebels burned down the factory and kidnapped the perfume maker . Rome then sends over 100,000 soldiers to attack the small city and return the perfumer. It takes the Roman’s several weeks to engineer a method of attack for the mountainous city of Masada. Completely surrounded and outnumbered, (the total rebel population at Masada was about 1,000), the Jews decided upon mass suicide. When the Romans breached the city walls in 73 CE there was no one left alive.

Salt beaches on the Dead Sea

Salt beaches on the Dead Sea

Hiking to the top of Masada, I spent several hours exploring the ancient city and returned to my bicycle to find a nice Bedouin admiring my “smock”. He invited me to dinner with the owner of the restaurant and I spent a nice evening listening to stories of the middle east and central Asia, (I am completely pumped on cycling through Georgia, Azerbaijan, and the Stans). After dinner, Gal, the owner, gave me two large grocery bags and told me to “loot” his buffet and restaurant. I ended up pedaling away from Masada with fresh pomegranates, grape fruit, curried potatoes, sweet rice, bread and humus. Thanks Gal! I pedaled to a local hangout on the dead sea, and soaked in hot springs and floated in the saturated waters of the sea. What a strange feeling being in the Dead Sea, I felt like I was the oil in a salad dressing mixture, never really able to mix with the water. When floating, I felt like I was sitting in a bean bag chair, or lying in a recliner chair. The beach had more salt than sand, and while walking to the deep sections of the sea I discovered islands of salt in the shallow waters near the shore. Cutting your feet on sharp salt rocks hurts!! The water was cool but lacked any sense of refreshment.  The hot springs were just as salty as the sea, but the warmth felt better on my skin. At 400 meters below sea level, I was too far from the sun to get burned. Without any fresh water to rinse off I was covered in a thin layer of salt for the next few days.
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=a816WO2UNoc&feature=youtu.be

Popular local hangout, Thermal pools near the Dead Sea.

Popular local hangout, Thermal pools near the Dead Sea.

I then pedaled to Qumran, the city where the dead sea scrolls were found, and slept near a large canyon. Later in the evening, a storm flew in and a flash flood began. I huddled in my sleeping bag for 45 minutes, during the biggest rain storm I have encountered while camping. During the down pour, it was as if I had pitched my tent under a waterfall! The next morning the road was washed out and traffic was halted for a few hours on the Dead Sea highway.

Palestinian girl loves my headscarf!

Palestinian girl loves my headscarf!

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Crosses carved into the stone during the Crusader period.

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A long step climb of over 1,500 meters brought me to Jerusalem. Arriving in the late afternoon I planned to sleep in the Jerusalem forest, but met some locals at a bike shop who invited me to stay with them. Jerusalem is a fantastic city and it is amazing to have so many district cultural districts in close proximity to one another. Tonight I walked through the Jewish Orthodox district only minutes after being in an Arabic neighborhood. In the 3 days I have been here I have visited almost all of the religious sites, from the Church of the Holy Sepulcher (Jesus’ Tomb) to the Western Wall (Jewish holiest of holies) to the Dome of the Rock (3rd holiest place for Muslims). Today I marveled at the Dead Sea scrolls in the Israel Museum and talked with the Curator about the difference/similarities between the scrolls found in the Dead Sea and those found in Nag Hamadi.

Tomb of  Jesus

Tomb of Jesus

Crucifixion site, this stone was repeatedly kissed, every 10 minutes a lady would wipe it clean with a rag and disinfectant

Crucifixion site, this stone was repeatedly kissed, every 10 minutes a lady would wipe it clean with a rag and disinfectant

I am now headed north to the Palestinian cities of Ramallah, Nablus, and Jenin before pedaling south to Bethlehem and Hebron.

11 thoughts on “Secrets of the Dead Sea (Qumran, Ein Gedi, Masada, and Jerusalem)

  1. Very interesting. You are the man. The salt pool video was great. Do you need a cycling companion to travel through the Stan’s with ?

    • Hey Greg, the dead sea was absolutely phenomenal!! You must make a trip when you have the time! As for the Stan’s there are too many visa regulations to make it a fun place to have a partner, some of the countries only issue transit visas meaning 5 days to cycle a 1000 km country. Keep in touch and send me some photos from Vietnam when you get around to it.

  2. I am finally caught up on all of your posts. The last few weeks have been very busy. I got promoted to general manager at the shop, and am also helping my friend start a chai business. The areas you have traveled through look beautiful, but definitely not ideal for biking, way to stay strong and keep pedaling on through with a good attitude. I love that the bread dough was taken from an actual bath tub. Wild! I am glad Baba is with you on this trip, he would have loved this adventure. Miss you J.

    Love, Baba Lu

    P.S. You gonna send that Rainbow sandal back to the factory? It’s supposed to have a lifetime guarantee!

    • Baba Lu!!!
      Thanks for keeping in touch! Glad that you are now the manager over there although with that title you have to take all the blame for a batch of tainted brownies! Not ideal in the western sense for cycle touring, but what an adventure! I am absolutely in love with the middle east and am awaiting my future return. Sending the rainbow sandal back costs more than a new pair of local leather sandals over here! Love you

  3. Julian- Your adventure just keeps getting more exciting by the day! I think you were meant to be middle eastern & not American, there must have been some miscommunication in the stars ;-)! Thinking of you from Maroubra Beach, New South Wales, Australia. -Sarah

    • Good to hear from you Sarah! I met an interesting English man who rode his bike from Bangkok to Darwin and I must say it sounds interesting. I hope that you will still be in Australia by the time I get to the East!!

      • Hi Julian! I just caught up on your incredible videos. Where do you find all the music for them? It’s all very well done! I’m loving Australia and hope to be here as long as my finances allow me to.

        I hope you return to full strength soon. I know you will! You always overcome anything put in front of you.

        Well wishes and positive vibes from Glebe, New South Wales, Australia

        -Sarah

      • Thanks Sarah! Music was easy to find in the middle east, everyone carried around a cigar usb drive to use in taxi’s and other vehicles. I hope you can stay in Oz for a while, how long do you think you have? I am back to full strength and just have to keep myself from drinking too much! Going to the snowy mountains of Albania now, I hope our paths cross overseas!
        Julian

      • Hi Julian,

        I also hope our paths will cross & believe they will. I have a year visa so I can be here (legally!) until early February 2015. I’m
        able to come and go outside the country freely within that time.

        After I leave Australia I would like to spend time traveling around the world for a little bit, maybe South East Asia, Africa, India and any other far corner of the world that seems intriguing! What a wonderful life!

        Enjoy the snowy mountains of Albania !
        Sarah

    • Adapted just in time to leave! I depart tomorrow to Bosnia, and am so sad to have left Jordan and Egypt. Take care my friend, hope that the plan to tour the States is still in full swing!

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