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Tuesday, 24th December 2013

A long weekend

As a long year draws to a close I thought that it might be an opportune time to spend some a few moments reflecting on the last year.

It has been a while since my last musing, over 3 weeks in fact. Which is both rather usual and completely unplanned. I’ve intended to sit down for some time now and document recent adventures, over 2 weeks in fact. But the truth is that he recent times I’ve played the good host, and immediately after that I’ve played the headless chicken.

So let’s start from the beginning of this long weekend. At the start of the month┬áMr and Mrs Dougland came out to visit my good self in the Holy Land and of having them with me we intended to make the most of it. Unfortunately, having had nothing but 30 degree heat and almost cloudless skies for almost the entire that I’d been in Israel, I collected them from the airport, hopped in a cab and almost instantaneously the windscreen wipers came on.

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With day 1 we toured a little of Tel Aviv. Sadly temperatures had dropped away in the absence of the sun and with a storm rolling in we explored the sea front and headed into the ancient city of Jaffa – the city with the oldest continuously used port in the world.

Despite the cold and the wind, we managed to dodge the rain for most of the day. Eventually the rain got the better of us and forced us to dive into the loveliest of restaurants for an early dinner. The amazingly apologetic staff (for the weather) provided all sorts of local nibbles for us to try for free, that left us questioning whether the main course was such a wise idea.

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Day 2 saw us jump in the hire car and head to Jerusalem (locally pronounced Yerr-oos-a-lime). Knowing little of this place we simply wandered around a lot, finding ourselves in the mall and Jewish market, walking along the city wall, through the City of David, having a beer in a Holy chapel, being surrounded by riot police – you know, the usual Jerusalem stuff. Unfortunately the poor weather here, also limited the day somewhat.

Day 3 then, what with being Shabbat and with the whole country being otherwise closed we decided to head to a location that required nothing being open. With this in mind, we headed to the Dead Sea.

The Dead Sea being some distance away from the Mediterranean coast required driving around Jerusalem and through some disputed territories to get to the shores of the Dead Sea and the border with Jordan.

Rather worryingly coming out of the mountains of Jerusalem the road drops away. After 5, 10 minutes of coasting down this sizeable incline, 2 things crossed by mind. First, I didnt realise that Jerusalem was so high above sea level. Second, the hire company had given the 3 of us a tiny little Mazda 3, automatic, with an engine approximately the size of your fist and that getting back up this incline might later become a challenge.

Rounding the corner, we crossed a sign marking sea level as the road dropped much further away. At this point, we still seemed to be at the same elevation of the mountain range peaks. As the road dropped further away still, signs for 100 m and 200 m below sea level started to raised concern. Eventually at 400 m below sea level the road begin to level out and the sea could be seen. As is customary, at this point a police road block waved us down to stop for a “surprise inspection”. However, upon seeing 3 white faces in a very obvious hire car, the police decided that tourists were more hassle than it was worth and waved us straight through.

After a few poor attempts at photographing camels we came across a signpost for Jericho. “Excellent!” we thought. “We’ve heard of Jericho, and not just because of the wrestler and are in no rush let’s go”. So we turned off highway 1 and headed towards Jericho. After a kilometer we stopped in our tracks because of this sign:

Sign to Jericho

Not knowing the political situation. This sign caused us some concern. Especially in a car with Israeli plates. The other 2 would probably be fine, but I with Israeli visas all over my passport could find things a little more interesting.

Having not taken our brave pills that morning, we decided not to risk it and abandoned the idea of heading to Jericho. We later found out when we got back and checked the tour guides that Jericho is actually very safe for tourists. Deliberately so. The Palestinian Authority keeps Jericho safe for tourists as it remains one of their biggest sources of income. So it is perfectly safe for tourists, they just don’t tolerate Israelis so well.

After reaching the shores of the Dead Sea we headed South, noting the peculiar signs every 500 m that stated it was illegal for an Israeli to stand on the shores of the sea and face East toward Jordan after sunset. After half an hour we reached our destination, the National Park at Ein Gedi.

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Here, us big kids could have spent a long, long time.

The Ein Gedi valley is one of the few rivers that feeds the Dead Sea and after many years of erosion has created some spectacular views.

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Something that us big kids did not enjoy at all.

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Not one bit.

With the sun beginning to set, we thought we had better head down to the shore and get a quick swim in.

Without any exaggeration, swimming or rather floating in the Dead Sea is the single most surreal thing I have ever done. The water is so salty it is dangerous to put your face in it. It is also actually incredibly difficult to swim in because you simply cant keep your legs in the water. You cant even tread water because keeping your legs underneath you is near impossible.

Even in early December the water temperature was in the 20s and to be surrounded by such amazing scenery made it one of the most beautiful experiences of my life.

Dead Sea

The water is also so full of minerals that it lines your skin like oil. Turning your skin into that of a new born. An oil that doesnt wash off. And didnt wash off for a further 3 days.

All in all. A whirlwind tour of Israel. In a very short space of time we saw an awful lot and walked a really long way. It was a shame that the weather was so poor for the time they were here. But then, we’ve what has happened since they probably picked a good weekend. Sadly it chucked it down the entire way to the train station for them. It chucked it down on the way back from the train station. And it stopped raining literally as I reached the stairs to my building.

This of course got the attention of every woman in my office as they all suddenly turned maternal, frightened I was going to catch a cold and die. When I pointed out that it was still 25 degrees outside, I didnt have any goosebumps and that it was still warmer than some showers I’ve had in the past – it did nothing more reinforce their ideas that I’m insane and cant be trusted to judge temperature.

About Morgan Bye

Scientist, programmer and all around techie

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