The next day we first stopped at Qumran, the place where the Dead Sea Scrolls were found. The site was used by a sect that was really, really into bathing. We saw the actual scrolls the previous day, of course, in the museum. This was just more ruins. It was very hot out there, at least 100. I hate to say it, but it was basically too hot to care about ruins, especially when you hate your tour guide. He was bossy and uninformative and apparently very concerned about being sued if someone fell.

Ruins at Qumran.

Ruins at Qumran.

Next we stopped at a kibbutz that makes products from the Dead Sea minerals, called Ahava. I would have liked to see the factory in operation, but the place we stopped was just a gift shop.

Crazy salt sculptures at the Avada shop.

Crazy salt sculptures at the Avada shop.

From there we went to Masada–a fortress made by Herod, way, way up on an unpromising hill. It was built there because it would be so easy to defend. But it didn’t work; in the end the people there were besieged and killed themselves rather than become enslaved. Whoops. Still, it is a very impressive site. Amazing that people were able to live there and even retain their obsession with bathing and saunas and such. It’s also funny because it’s way, way up on a hill and yet it’s only at approximately sea level. I am still not clear on what they ate up there besides pigeons and fruit. It was noonish when we visited, which seems like the worst possible time to be somewhere so bloody hot, but I’m not in charge.

Masada. It really was a marvel.

Masada. It really was a marvel.

After lunch in the cafeteria, we went to the Dead Sea. This is really quite an experience, not one I’d call entirely pleasant, but an experience! First of all, the shore of the sea has receded very far from the “resort” where we parked and changed and such. There’s a “train”–some seats pulled by a tractor–that goes to and from the shore every 15 minutes. Also, Israel could take a few cues from Scandinavia on how to design public bath-type infrastructure. The “resort” had dirty bathrooms with wet, grimy floors. Third, I wish someone had told me before we left for this trip how sharp the “sand” at the shore is. It’s salt crystals. Duh, right? But it hadn’t occurred to me. I would have bought some shower shoes or sandals if I’d known.

But! It is really a strange place. Even the Husband, who always always sinks, floats there. It’s impossible not to float. It’s hard to stop floating; your legs just drift back to the surface whenever you stop standing on them. It really is saltier than salt. Sweat drips in your eyes, but don’t you dare try to wipe it away, because your hands are covered in something much worse than sweat. There were fresh-water showers on the shore, but the water in those was so hot–even hotter than the water of the sea, which was almost too hot to get into—that it was hardly worth it. Also, the water burns men’s junk. Not women’s, apparently, so that’s one more check for internal gonads (and having tougher skin in one’s nether regions). We laughed as a set of three guys waded in and successively discovered that fact. Hee hee. The Husband found a hat floating in the water and kept it, because he is strange.

Back in Jerusalem we said goodbye to our traveling companions and got ready for our dinner with Iris. This was one of the highlights of the trip, a meal with a real Israeli in her home, though getting there was an adventure. The cabdriver we flagged down couldn’t understand me or read English (I’d written the address, as recommended), but he zoomed off confidently. Then he pulled over and asked a stranger to read the address I’d written. Then he called someone to find out where the street was. I had to talk to the person for a minute. Eep! We did find it, though, and in fact it felt like we were going the right way the whole time.

Iris was immediately wonderful. Her “sister” Tami was there too, and over a very long and excellent dinner of many courses we discussed everything from American TV to politics. That day, or maybe the day before, someone had burnt a house in the West Bank and a little child was killed. They said that as Israelis they wouldn’t go to the Old City the next day, out of respect. But oh, did we talk about everything. Israelis (or at least these two) like us think their government is crazy, and want peace. They support the Palestinians but also, of course, are pro-Israel. They know much more about American television than we do.