There’s hot — and then there’s Masada hot.
Like, so hot, I saw my forearms instantly sweat for the first time.
Masada, Hebrew for fortress, sits more than 1,300 feet above ground on an isolated cliff at the western end of the Judean Desert overlooking the Dead Sea.
The desert temperatures reach and exceed 100 degrees, worsened by the fact there is zero shade. This was the closest thing I saw to a tree. Ominous, right?
My group cheated a bit and took a cable car up to the top.
Many climb the popular “Snake Path” — one of the most iconic hikes in Israel. It gets its name because it winds all the way up. Up, up, up the entire 1,300 feet.
Those who endure the hike get quite the reward at the top: amazing views across the Dead Sea and the Moab Mountains of Jordan.
At the top, I unexpectedly ran into my wife, Jackie, who worked much of the trip in her role as Public Relations Manager for the Jewish Federation of Cincinnati. Her job was to document the trip and shepherd an Israeli freelance crew, as well as some reporters, who were there covering the massive visit of 500 Cincinnatians.
After a quick hello, she went back to work and my group went back to sightseeing. In our matching Indiana Jones hats. Obviously.
You can walk around, touch, and simply exist among the ruins that predate Christ. Herod the Great built palaces for himself on the mountain and fortified Masada between 37 and 31 BC. The desert climate has preserved many pieces of the ancient architecture.
Just behind me in the photo below is Herod’s royal balcony.
Even 2,000-year-old paintings and mosaic floors are still around — giving us a glimpse at the once grand and royal interiors.
Masada is also home to some of the best kept examples of Roman bathhouses in the world, including pillars to support the floor so fire underneath could create steam. Insta-sauna.
Masada is especially significant to Jews. The Siege of Masada by troops of the Roman Empire toward the end of the First Jewish–Roman War ended in mass suicide by the rebels. Nearly the entire group of Sicarii people, a splinter group of the Tribe of Judah, opted out as the Romans closed in on them. In the late 1920s, author Yitzhak Lamdan wrote a poem about Masada which helped reignite interest in the mountain. In the 1930s, Jewish youth movements made Masada a hiking destination.
Next, it was off to the Dead Sea for a dip. But certainly not to cool off.
The Dead Sea is a very hot, very salty body of water bordered by Jordan to the east and Israel and Palestine to the west. Its shore sits more than 1,400 feet below sea level. That makes it Earth’s lowest elevation on land.
The Dead Sea’s salinity measures more than 34% — almost 10 times more salty than the ocean. It gets its name because plants nor animals can live in it.
The density also allows you to automatically float without any effort.
It was one of the world’s first health resorts, used by Herod, and has long been the supplier of a wide variety of products including cosmetics.
The Dead Sea’s black mud is said to improve your skin’s natural processes — often relaxing muscles and easing pains.
So, when in the Dead Sea, right?
Our day also included a stop at the spot believed to be where Jesus was baptized by John the Baptist. It is an incredibly peaceful, calm spot along the “mighty” Jordan River.
According to the Gospels, after the baptism of Jesus, the water of the Jordan River became holy and all the waters that flow along the baptism site were purified, reviving the souls of people at every place and time.
The baptism of Jesus marks the beginning of his public ministry, as described in the books of Matthew, Mark, and Luke.
As we were leaving, I noticed this padlock on one of the fences near the water.
For me, it was another example of how greatly significant and meaningful all these places are to so many people. From the Wailing Wall to the baptismal site — you certainly take something special away — but there’s also a pull to leave a piece of yourself behind.