There are three prominent methods of transportation in Israel – buses, taxis, and sheruits. The first two operate as expected, but the latter is a hybrid. They are minivans, seating on average twelve people, that you can wave down anywhere and get off anywhere. But they drive bus routes and charge bus fees. In Tel Aviv, at the very least, sheruits are the most affordable and effect way to get around.
Yesterday morning I rushed out of my hostel at 5:35am to wave down the #16 sheruit to the central bus station. From which I was looking to find another sheruit headed for Jerusalem. I needed to be there [Jerusalem] before 7:00am, and with the same hurried fashion that has styled all my travels, I happened upon my destination with just moments to spare.
The goal of the day was to visit Ein Gedi – a waterfall reserve in the Jordanian desert that blossomed with life near the Dead Sea. I love waterfalls. And knew that, even with the dwindling time I had left in Israel, I would swim under that pure falling spring water. In Jerusalem, I was able to find a bus that would start my day early with a drive to Masada, from there to Ein Gedi, and then back again. And all for a fair price – not great, but fair.
It was an old minivan that waited for me in Jerusalem. One that made my thighs sweat from holding them too close to my stomach by the seat in front of me. The driver hurried each of his customers into the van with an urgency that suggested we were wasting his time – regardless of him having been a bit late. But my lack of rest combined with the intense heat and humidity allowed me to drift off, not to sleep, into delirium. And that fortunately made the ride unnoticeable.
Never before had I heard of Masada, but there I was. The 400-meter high military fort built atop a desert plateau that looks out over the Dead Sea. The fortress was fortified by Alexander Jannaeus in the first century BCE and is considered a symbol of hope by Jews due to, long ago, a Roman siege on the city being fought off for two years by Jewish rebels – after which they chose death over slavery. However, if you want a proper history lesson, a bit of research on your own part would prove much more informative than any I’d produce.
Masada was a dead city. One where history does no more than crumble behind signs that read “DO NOT TOUCH”. The views are magnificent – drawing me in as close to the sheer cliffs as I dared go. But besides that, the place was lifeless.
The sites and cities I always admire and think beautiful are those that have been built on top of what’s old. Athens, Rome, New York, Jerusalem – places where preservation is not mistaken for suffocation. And counter to the goal of preserving such a historic site as Masada, its protectors doom it to a long period of rot.
It frustrates me to see such a place so restricted. The reason being that those who “preserve” a place as such forget how history is truly preserved. In time the last chips of paint will fade and peel, and the last column will crumble. That is inevitable. It is stories and legends that truly preserve history.
Humans only preserve physical history out of selfish interests – hoping to keep a time, event, or object alive through its tangible form. Whereas stories are sharing, legends are passed down. They include in them both heritage and pride. And at the end of the day, when historians are piecing together the puzzle pieces of our existence, it is repeatedly found that the stories have outlived the relics.
Not too far off from Masada is a place that exists in a brilliant contrast. In size it is only but a freckle on the tanned map of the Jordanian desert. But within that freckle exists more life than its homeland combined. It is Ein Gedi.
From the desert road it appears as no more than a flood drain with a slight abundance of vegetation. Though as you begin the hike the brush gets thicker, and the faintest sound of trickling water teases your ear.
Never before had I been at an oasis. A place where, in the inhabitable expanse of the desert, both birds, beasts, and beings seek refuge. Its mineral springs support the tiny ecosystem with fresh water. And cascade down the landscape into small pools where all walks alive sit, swim, and live.
It was 111 degrees this day. And in reaction to such weather I extended my stay in the cool pools as long as possible. Breathing in that warm, and thick, of air is like suffocation – not allowing you to feel your breath, or swallow. This made my walk to the top waterfall only possible with the promising reward of such a luxury waiting. However, just like those before me who must have stumbled upon this oasis, too soon was it time to return to the desert.
While driving back to Jerusalem I asked the bus driver to stop. And jumped out of the bus. About a kilometer or two off I’d spotted a beach area of the Dead Sea, and I wanted to get a video of myself rolling on top of that water. So with a look that suggested nothing more than “stupid American”, the bus driver drove off, and I began walking.
Within about twenty minutes I had reached the beach. Keep in mind, these beach areas are equipped with lockers, showers, cafes, and such, so in no way had I just walked into the wild. And after finally getting my last swim in the salty seawater, [42% salt to be exact!] I wrote in my journal while snacking on a hummus plate – waiting for the next bus back to Jerusalem.