My time in Jerusalem was undoubtedly the highlight of my trip – walking through the Old City mixing with Ethiopian monks, Hasidic Jews and Palestinian shoppers all in such a small space. The city itself is a microcosm of the cultural make-up of the rest of urban Israel, however I wasn’t to find that out for a few days since my next destinations were distinctly lacking in people especially when compared to navigating the crammed streets and souks of the region’s historical capital.
To get the bus to Masada (and anywhere in Israel) a knowledge of the Hebrew alphabet is essential otherwise you will have no idea of the bus’s direction even if you know the number. All the bus stations (and some supermarkets) in Israel also have a high level of security with baggage scanners which while at first can seem ominous or a hassle actually make the country remarkably safe to travel through and these constant checks eventually become a routine part of daily life.
Masada, the rock plateau and fortification, besieged for months by the Romans, a siege that resulted in the mass “suicide” of the roughly 900 people trapped on the plateau to avoid a life of slavery. Since Jewish law forbids suicide, the killers where chosen by lots so that only one individual had to kill himself. This harrowing story combined with the amazing geography of the fortress make it one of the most visited sites in this country.
I wanted to hike up to the top of Masada to see sunrise (and also therefore avoid the insane morning/midday/afternoon heat) and since I can’t drive I had to stay at the very overpriced hostel at its base. Dinner there cost more than my budget would allow me to spend and since Masada is in the middle of nowhere I unfortunately woke up at the ridiculous time of 4am to start my climb on a very empty stomach. The walk up the snake trail began in the dark alongside a surprising number of fellow slightly unhinged individuals. After around half an hour of climbing, it began to get steeper and as I drained my first water bottle and started deliriously fantasising about breakfast foods, calling the ascent to the plateau enjoyable would be as far from the truth as possible. There was after all a reason the Romans spent a ridiculous amount of time and manpower building a ramp up the other site of the plateau.
However all these grumbles are completely irrelevant. The seemingly never-ending steps did in fact come to an end and the view is breath-taking, unforgettable, string of other cliché words etc. Slowly watching the sun rise over Jordan and the Dead Sea whilst sitting knackered on the edge of a fortified plateau (health and safety completely forgotten) associated with one of the most tragic sieges in history was worth every drop of sweat.
After exploring the ruins of the palace complexes, ritual baths and caves on the plateau and admiring the view over the multiple playing-card shaped Roman military camps and the surprisingly mediocre ramp that surrounded Masada, the siren call of food back at the hostel proved to great and I hoofed it back down the path. Having both not eaten for close to 24 hours and having just completed a pretty strenuous climbs I may have eaten two trays of breakfast food in a state of hunger that meant I was beyond caring whether the chocolate mousse touched the herring! Continue reading