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The Red Sea to the Dead Sea

Monday 27th – Ashdod, Israel

Only the second ship tour I’d booked on, I was heading for the Dead Sea and Masada. Luckily my poker buddies were on the same tour. It’s nice to know a few people on the bus, even if I do my own thing for the majority of the time.

Two hours later we arrived at the Dead Sea – some 1400 ft below sea level – the lowest point on earth. For the last 30 minutes the landscape changed dramatically as we entered the Negev Desert and all signs of life disappeared. The Dead Sea is located in three countries – Israel, Jordan and Egypt.

What did surprise me were the number of resorts and hotels along the shore. We had the use of facilities at the Lot Hotel – towels and lockers. Then we could walk out to the beach and, enter the sea and float. The way into the water was treacherous to anyone who didn’t have the appropriate footwear. I did because I had done the research. Sadly many of my fellow floaters hadn’t read the memo. The terrain was sharp and salty.

Once in the water, the 32% salt content made it almost impossible to drown. It was like having a float underneath me. An amazing experience. Apparently there are healing powers from being in the Dead Sea, but I came out with exactly the same issues. The temperature had risen from 14°C, 57°F to 28°C, 82°F as we descended to the Dead Sea. I could see why the hotels were located there. A great spot for tourism.

We were treated to a buffet lunch at the hotel which wasn’t to everybody’s liking. Some of my poker buddies popped across the road to McDonald’s.

Next stop was the fort of Masada, 8 miles away. Masada actually means fort. We were still in the desert and in order to get to the fort, which is located high up on the mountaintop, we had to ride a cable car. Before getting in the cable car, there was a seven minute video presentation and somehow I managed to get estranged from my group and ended up watching it with a bunch of Japanese tourists. I looked around the small auditorium for my people and wondered how they’d suddenly shrunk.

Each cable car took 80 people for the three minute ascent. I wasn’t overly enamoured by our midget Hebrew guide, so I decided to go freestyle. It’s a massive area and I walked around and explored the whole site. At one point, I found a spot with nobody around. It was eerily silent, which was quite appropriate bearing in mind the history of Masada.

Masada was built by Herod the Great from 37 to 31 BC. The Siege of Masada took place a century later when a force of 5,000 Romans (led by Peter O’Toole) attacked the fort. Those living in Masada numbered less than 1,000 and many were women and children. Rather than become slaves, their leader, Eleazar convinced the people of Masada to commit suicide. He was quite convincing by all accounts. The men killed their wives and children first. Then they drew lots to determine which ten would put the other men to death. They drew lots again and one of the ten was to kill the remaining nine, before committing suicide. I like the fairness of how this worked. No favouritism. Only two women and five children survived – by hiding. 960 died in what is regarded as the biggest mass suicide in ancient history. Strictly speaking it wasn’t suicide – just the last man did that, but it’s in the Guinness Book of World Records, so I’m not going to split hairs.

I feel I have to provide an update to the false boobs claim on Sharon (Steve). They are not false. Despite seemingly being in the wrong position on the torso, the other night Sharon was wearing a dress – a low-cut dress. They are real and not strapped on. When Sharon/Steve leans back, one goes east, and the other goes west. I’ve never seen anything quite like it. Sharon and Ian could star in their own reality TV series.

Tuesday 28th – Haifa

Our second stop in Israel was Haifa and I had nothing planned as my cold had increased in intensity. I had no expectations of Haifa therefore it couldn’t disappoint me. I finally went ashore late morning and what a pleasant surprise it was. High on the hill were some very impressive gardens worthy of exploration. The city also provided a good workout for the thighs.

Next stop Cyprus

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