We began this 9th day of our pilgrimage with Mass in the beautiful Chapel of Notre Dame right inside our hotel. After showing everyone his socks with the crossed keys of St. Peter, Father John Harth gave a wonderful homily with advice on how to prepare for our journey to Masada today. He said that we had just visited the tomb and Masada is a wasteland. Think about the fact that Jesus had just died, and the angst that the apostles were now experiencing. Just stop at the cross and wait for the next day.
So this day would be very different than all the others, since we were not visiting any holy places. Following Mass we boarded our busses and drove for 90 minutes to reach Masada. On the way, we were able to see the caves in the cliffs of Qumran, where the Dead Sea Scrolls were discovered in 1946.
Masada is an ancient fortress in southern Israel's Judean Desert. It's on a massive plateau overlooking the Dead Sea. A cable car and a long winding path climb up to the fortification built around 30 B.C. Among the ruins are King Herod's Palace, which sprawls over 3 terraces, and a Roman bath house with mosaic floors. Most fascinating was the system of aquaducts that collected rainwater from the entire plateau and filled the large cisterns. We took the cable car, which could hold 80 passengers, to the top. Our guides Mahar and Mahar explained the history the fortress and gave us so many interesting details about its structures. We returned by cable car to the bottom and traveled on to the Dead Sea.
We had lunch at a cafeteria on the edge of the sea, and then changed in to swim suits to experience the water. The Dead Sea is really a salt lake whose banks are more than 1,400 feet below sea level, making it the lowest point on dry land in the world. It's famously hypersaline water (40% salt) makes floating easy, and its mineral rich black mud is used for therapeutic treatments at the area resorts.
The water was very clear and we were able to see the bottom clearly. Water shoes were absolutely necessary to wade into the water, since you were walking on very sharp salt crystals. Once the water was up to your knees, you could float very easily. It was actually difficult to try to stand up. We were told by our guides that we had to be very careful not to splash or get the water in our eyes or mouth, since it would burn.
After almost two hours, we changed back into our clothes and returned to the hotel. Unfortunately, one of our busses broke down on the way back, so they had a small delay for dinner, but arrived back safely.
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