We thought we’d say a quick goodbye to Jerusalem. Bright-eyed and bushy-tailed, we headed out early to go pick up our car. The Israeli Budget franchise had different plans for us. No cars were available for pick up, and with pouring rain preventing us from leaving that tiny waiting room, we settled in for a long morning.
Snacks and juice were provided, and we whipped out the cards for a round of gin.
Luckily we were third in line for a car, so we sat down and watched as the other tourists went through the same stages of emotion we had: surprise, outrage, and resignation. After four hours, we finally were handed keys, set the GPS direction to Ein Gedi, and drove off!
After desert views and winding roads that took us way below sea level, we stopped at the Dead Sea oasis of Ein Gedi late in the afternoon. The Dead Sea’s, or Sea of Salt’s, surface is approximately 1,400 feet below sea level, making it the lowest elevation on land.
With half an hour until the beach closed, we quickly overpaid for our visit, rode the tractor to the beach, shimmied out of our clothes, and ran into the water. And by ran, I mean waddle tentatively to try and avoid cutting open our feet on the coarse salt ground.
By the time we got in buoyed both by excitement and extremely high salt concentrations, we were given the two-minute warning to get out. We managed to snap a few pictures and wrangle our clothes back on. A piece of advice: wash off in the shower no matter how cold it is. The salt seeps into your skin everywhere and it made for an incredibly uncomfortable two-hour drive to Eilat.
After Claire graciously let me shower first, we finished the day in the border city of Eilat, just north of Egypt and east of Jordan. An early morning start, we had two tours booked, one to Egypt and one to Jordan.
A quick visit to Egypt
The tour to Egypt took us to the Sinai Peninsula, another religiously-significant place. The Sinai Mountains are mentioned many times by the Bible and the Quran as the place where Moses received the Ten Commandments from God.
Saint Catherine’s Monastery is the main tourist attraction of the area. Sitting at about the same elevation of Denver, 5,000 feet, the monastery is considered the oldest working Christian monastery in the world, though another monastery across the Red Sea claims the same title.
A Greek Orthodox church, it houses the world’s oldest continually operating library. Unfortunately for us, the library is closed on Fridays. The infamous burning bush is located in the monastery, still alive from the time that Moses visited it. The bush that burned without being consumed, it was here where Moses was appointed by God to lead the Israelites out of Egypt.
Traveling in Egypt
A quick note on the experience of traveling through Egypt. While we just saw a snippet of the country, we got the full security treatment. Stopped at least seven times by men with guns, we had to show our passports several times after the border crossing.
At the time, we all disregarded these beefed-up security measures as we had experienced a certain level of police presence in Israel. It did seem a little excessive, so we made some light-hearted comments about it.
When we woke up the next day, we found out there was a terrorist attack that same day at the pyramids in Egypt. A homemade roadside bomb blew up when a tourist bus passed. Four people were killed and 11 were injured.
It was a slap-in-the-face reminder that terrorism is alive and well. Those checkpoints were in place for the safety of everyone. The reality is that many people around the world live in fear, fear of the unknown, fear of terror, fear of bombs blowing up when you’re walking down the street. I count my blessings that I’m not living in that kind of fear every day of my life.