Day 6, our second day in Ein Gedi, was possibly the most memorable of our entire honeymoon. It was the day we visited the Dead Sea, and undertook our now-infamous sunrise hike at Masada. An alternative title for this post might be: “the time I almost divorced my husband because we nearly died on our honeymoon”.
Setting Out (Very Early)
If you’re not familiar, Masada is an ancient fortification on the top of an isolated rock plateau in the Southern District of Israel. Its name is a rough translation/anglicised version of the word for “fortress” in Hebrew. Our friends at Lonely Planet have an amazing guide to Masada and the Dead Sea available here, if you want to know more.
Rowan miraculously awoke early enough to get us out the door in time long before sunrise. The national park was about 15 minutes’ drive from Ein Gedi. We found it no problem (thank you again, GPS!) even though it was dark and eerily quiet. There were a couple of tour groups milling around the entrance (almost exclusively American), but we seemed to be the only ones heading up solo. We paid our 56 shekels to enter, and made our way in just as it was starting to get light.
I asked Rowan where we were headed. This was the moment that things started to turn. My dear husband pointed at the sheer fucking cliff-face immediately in front of us, and said “Up there!” so nonchalantly that I was sure that he was kidding.
He was not.
The Truth About A Sunrise Hike at Masada
Rowan had been harping on about doing a sunrise hike at Masada for months. Even though I’m not a sunrise hike kind of girl, I had acquiesced, with a view to having a wifely favour that I could call in as necessary. He had also reassured me endlessly that it wasn’t going to be a big deal, it wouldn’t take us all that long, and we’d be back at the luxury hotel having breakfast before we knew it.
Now: whatever dodgy tourist website told him that this was a hike for “all fitness levels”? It fucking lied. I was quite sure that we would die. We were basically rock-climbing, with only our bodies for equipment. There were stairs cut into the side of the mountain, and in places they came up to my thigh. It failed every health and safety standard you can imagine. (I was beginning to suspect that maybe public liability insurance just wasn’t a thing in Israel – if you fell off a rock or a rock fell on you and you died, well that’s just your fucking problem.)
To say that we were woefully underprepared would be an understatement. Rowan had his hiking boots on – lucky him – but he was in jeans and a button-up shirt. I was wearing Volleys, for Christ’s sake, and a pair of tights. We’d brought a single 200mL water bottle, and half a bunch of grapes for sustenance.
I cursed my new husband under my breath the whole way. (Okay, maybe not always under my breath.) We were never going to make it to the top before the sun did. Nevertheless, we did find a nice possie to watch it rise, from about 2/3 of the way up the
And this became the site of my favourite honeymoon selfie, hands down. I think it sums us up pretty well.
Even though I hated him, Rowan convinced me to carry on to the top, by telling me that we were “nearly there” every thirty seconds. We felt much better about the state of our physical fitness when we realised that everyone is pooped by the time they reach the summit – even the smug fit types with their fancy backpacks and their practical hiking gear.
We – Eventually – Made It
What was the reward for our efforts? We poked around the many, many piles of rocks. We looked out at some beautiful views of more rocks. We ate grapes at a lookout, sitting on a rock. Totally worth it, don’t you think?
Those Israeli jokesters even had the audacity to put disabled access signs all over the place. Ha ha bloody ha!
Fine, I’ll stop being a sour puss.
Sheree’s History Lesson: Masada Edition
The views were every bit as stunning as the panoramic photographs had made them out to be. And, it turns out, there were some interesting ruins and relics about the place. (Not that I could concede this point to Rowan. He might get the wrong idea about my proclivity for sunrise hikes if I enjoyed it too much!)
Apparently, yonks ago, a bunch of dudes decided that they were sick of hanging out with the Romans, so they ran away to live on the top of this mountain. You know, to be closer to God and all that. The Romans got all butt-hurt about being friendzoned like that, so they spent a couple of years building a giant ramp to get up to the top with their siege weapons and ask these dudes what for (#needy). Only, when they got up there, the dudes were all dead – they’d killed themselves, rather than going back to hanging out with the Romans at a normal altitude. I guess they figured God would let them into heaven anyway, given the lengths they’d gone to, to get closer to him and all.
*Note: this version is much more succinct than the one Rowan made me sit through.
By this point, our tummies were grumbling, and our hotel breakfast was due to kick off any minute. We were ready to call it a day on our sunrise hike at Masada. We quickly determined that the best course of action would be to take the cable car for the return journey. Its speed was one consideration, but mostly we strongly suspected that attempting to hike back down this behemoth would likely result in serious injury or death for both of us. We received some more traditional Israeli customer service, paying our 56 shekels for two one-way tickets. (Seriously, they charge you to get in, they charge you to get out, bloody hell…)
The ride down was actually great fun. It took just over three minutes, and the views were stunning. We were just slightly impressed with ourselves, actually, looking out over what we had somehow managed to climb that morning. We got to talking to another couple who had actually been married at the top of the mountain (crazy kids!). As soon as the car stopped, we jumped off, put the blinkers on through the gift shop, and got back on the road to the hotel as quickly as our exhausted legs would let us.
Refuel and Recharge
We didn’t even stop at the room on our way to breakfast. We stormed straight into the restaurant and demolished a truly embarrassing amount of food. This extreme hiking business is really hungry work! My favourite was the spinach shakshuka. Rowan loved the almond-cinnamon scroll. We both sampled at least seven different types of cheese. (Have you seen my Ultimate Guide to Eating in Israel?)
The belly full of food plus the 4AM wake-up call was a lethal combo. We crawled back into the hotel room for an immediate nap.
Once we’d recuperated and showered, we decided to reward ourselves…
The Dead Sea (Ein Gedi Sea of Spa)
Entry to the Dead Sea was via the Ein Gedi Sea of Spa, and free for us as guests of the hotel. We jumped straight onto the tractor shuttle that took us down to the shore.
I can say, unequivocally, that this is literally the most fun I have ever had at a beach. We slathered ourselves with the mineral-rich mud, scooped freely by hand from a patch near the courtesy showers. Then we carefully picked our way through the jagged lumps of slat, making our way into the water. The Dead Sea water is super salty which makes it super dense. You don’t swim so much as… float. I’m not kidding! The only thing I can liken it to is floating in wine like a cork. Rowan even took his book in with him and laid back (like he was on a lilo!) to read for a while.
Of all the things that we did in Israel, this is the first one that I will recommend to absolutely everyone. Nothing compares to the water, the weather is a dream, and your skin will never be the same again. The only asterisk would be a suggestion to bring some kind of bug repellent. The little buggers bit us every chance they could while we were laying out on the sand.
Ein Gedi Sea of Spa Itself
We took the tractor back to the spa building, with a view to checking out their pool and grabbing a snack. Rowan ordered himself a hot dog and this is when we finally learned – having been in Israel almost a week already – that it’s not kosher to combine meat and cheese! Suddenly so many things made sense! Of course, we really only encountered this in Ein Gedi and other more regional areas. Tel Avivians really don’t give a shit, on the whole.
We had the briefest of opportunities to splash around in the pool before they booted us out at exactly 5PM. Israel is pretty lax on opening times, to be sure, but they take closing times very seriously indeed. Yet another quirk of the culture that gave us endless entertainment!
A Quiet Evening
We drove back to the hotel, sitting on towels, and had another quick shower. You wouldn’t believe how much salt you take with you, even when you rinse off straight away! Realising that two buffet meals within 24 hours was about our limit, we decided to head down to the hotel bar for dinner, instead of back to their dining room. We had a great meal around dusk, paired with a couple of mojitos and a couple more arak oranges. We developed quite a taste for arak oranges, actually, and talked about how much we’d miss them when we got home!
For the second night in a row, we hit the sack pretty early. Over dinner, we’d decided to maximise our time with the hire car the next day, by road tripping up north to Tiberias and the Sea of Galilee. We figured we’d need to be very well rested and relaxed before spending a full day navigating Israeli traffic…!