Israel Free Spirit
Bus 541

The Dead (I Can’t) Sea (Anything), Day 3

We vacated Kibbutz Almog like we were never there, like we robbed the place.

A quick hour trip on 541 with newly introduced commentary about passing landmarks by the guide team delivered the group to Masada, an ancient mountain top fortress in southern Israel’s Judean Desert. We packed all 50, and some others, into a glass cable car that carried us across the valley, air all around us, to the landing pad at the top of Masada. It was like taking the subway in NYC, just as packed, but twice as nerve racking.

Alex made a number of educational presentations on key landmarks at the top of Masada. We visited the remnants of an old temple where a man in a glass case currently resides and handwrites the Torah. This was odd, he was sitting in the case, focused on his critical task, while we snapped pictures as if we were at the zoo. The last thing we did at Masada was gathering the group on a long steel bridge overlooking the mountain range, shouting “ISRAEL!”. The echo carried for what seemed like a solid minute – pretty nifty.

Next stop, the Dead Sea. The tour guides joked on the bus that there should be no open wounds, no farting, no peeing and that dudes needed to wear condoms and women needed to use tampons. Funny thing is, the only joke in that sentence was the condoms part. Props to those who kept the water out of their mouths and eyes and wore water shoes – I did none of the above. Walking over the steamy bed of crystalized salt was like walking on “hot Legos”. Bar and I joked that the only memory/gift I would bring home to my parents from Israel is a bag of mud. “Hey mom, Israel was good. Here’s some mud.. and my laundry.”

On our way to the Betoin camp and camels, we had a solid hour layover at a strip mall where we filled up on Shawarma and gathered grocery store essentials like gum, fruit and some Gold Star for the night.

It was early evening when we arrived at the Betoin camp. We gathered in a tented area by a flat screen TV – the woman running the camel riding activity was herding us, talking down as if she were herding the camels – it was almost comical how mean she was. After a quick informational video, we saddled up, two to a camel and set off for a brief ride around the desert. The camel herders were these rugged dudes with weathered faces. They dragged 20-30 camels around and scrolled through Facebook on their phones the whole time. By the end of the short trek, each pair had a name for the camel. We heard Gretchen, Deloris, Bella.. ours was SportsChick37 #daretobedifferent.

We dismounted the camels and headed into the Betoin camp for a presentation by a senior Betoin who spoke not one word of English. Alex did his best to translate the story of these Judean nomads, while a second Betoin handed out samples of Betoin tea and coffee, both of which tasted amazing. I hope no one’s cup was full… (insider).

We loaded up 541 one last time for the day and headed to our second Kibbutz, closer to Jerusalem where we were greeted by an in-depth geopolitical update by Eylon Levy. This was a powerful presentation where he talked about the current state of politics and war in and around Israel and how history has dictated the present situation. He jetted off at the end, likely to cover the day’s automobile terror attack in Barcelona.

The kibbutz was nice enough to keep the dining hall open for us late that night, we ate at around 8:30pm. It was a small selection but it was delicious. That night, we began designing the group t-shirt that would eventually idolize Avraham from Tzfat. I wanted to have as many hands in on the design as possible, while also making it a surprise for the rest of the group. We drank adult beverages in the courtyard late into the night in front of room number 1, while some young kids partied in what seemed like an abandoned hostel nearby. Cats everywhere.

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– JS