VISITING DEAD SEA & JERICHO: This is the continuation of my previous post on visiting Jerusalem.
We visited Dead Sea and Jericho on the same day as Hebron and Bethlehem, which was the part of a whole package deal we got from the private taxi we hired. This day-trip cost us about 1200 NIS with a driver who spoke excellent English and gave us all the good and necessary information on every site. That was one exhausting day as I remember now, but definitely a productive one as far as enjoying all the sites that we wanted to see.
TIME OF TRAVEL: We flew to Tel-Aviv on the first week of January, 2012 from Brussels. Out of the 4 days we stayed there, we took one day out to visit some cities in West Bank. Dead Sea and Jericho were a bit colder than Hebron and Bethlehem may be because we went there late afternoon or may be because they are by the water. But overall it was a sunny day to enjoy some outdoor activities.
OUR HOTEL: We stayed in Hotel Addar in East Jerusalem, which is about 10 minutes of walk from the Damascus Gate or Jaffa gate of Old Jerusalem boundary and about 7/8 minutes of walk from Garden Tomb. Location was very nice and close to some local markets and shops. The hotel had free Wi-Fi and free good breakfast. It wasn’t all that luxurious and spacious hotel but the customer service was great. It is far from Tel-Aviv Int’l Airport (if I can remember correctly it took us about little more than 45 minutes) but our hotel arranged a taxi pick-up from the airport for a reasonable price.
EATING & SHOPPING: We had our lunch in a local street-side restaurant in Bethlehem before leaving the city. Different kinds of salad, hummus, shredded meat, pocket breads, and falafel are something you will see in almost every traditional Palestinian restaurant. I have tried falafel before in many places but nothing comes even close to the ones in Palestine.
When you are in any beach of Dead Sea, don’t forget to pick up some Dead Sea cosmetics, like black mud, bath salt, cream, lotion, musk, face wash, and other good stuff. They are not very expensive and sometimes you get good deals like if you buy two items you get one for free.
PLACES WE’VE VISITED: After leaving Bethlehem, our next destination was Dead Sea – Kalia Beach. The drive on Highway-1 was absolutely bold and beautiful. The sun wasn’t too strong in the late afternoon, which filled the mountains and desert with warm glow. While on Highway-1, it was unique to see few Bedouin settlements on rugged mountains near Dead Sea, camels decorated in gorgeous cloaks, and marvelous long stretch of painted desert on both sides of the road.
1) DEAD SEA (KALIA BEACH): We reached Kalia Beach around 3-3:30 pm. It was a fantastic spot to enjoy Dead Sea. You have to pay 47 NIS entrance fee if you want to go swimming (rather floating) in the water. Our taxi driver spoke to the ticketing guy and told that we were there just to take some pictures and spend few minutes near water; so we just got in for free. We weren’t prepared to go swimming. So, we stayed mostly on the beach taking some pictures, putting some Dead Sea mud on our hands and legs, looking at Jordan on the other side, and watching others float on their backs in the lake. This is truly a beautiful oasis in the middle of the desert and a must-see place in Israel/Palestine.
Talking about lake, yes, Dead Sea is not actually a sea; it is the deepest landlocked salty lake in the world. Interestingly, it is also the lowest point on earth at 423 meters below sea level. It is called Dead Sea because no sea creature can survive in this water, except some single cell bacteria. For safety purposes, don’t try to swim in the water…people actually die every year when they try to go for regular swimming in Dead Sea. For the high concentration of salt here, you can literally float on your back without sinking. Another fun fact is that, Dead Sea is also known as Nature’s spa. The minerals of this water can treat diseases like psoriasis and osteoarthritis. The mud is also used as natural musk. It feels very slippery when you touch the water, it leaves whole bunch of salts and minerals on your hands or body after drying…pretty cool. We saw people covered with mud all over their body on the beach…well, sure, why not use nature’s free musk when in vacation?
2) JERICHO: Located in West Bank, Jericho is supposedly the OLDEST inhabited town in the world and the most excavated site in Palestine after Jerusalem. This is really a beautiful rich oasis (258 meters/846 ft. below sea level) of greenery in a desert landscape near Dead Sea in Jordan Valley. We couldn’t visit another historical place of Jericho, Hisham’s Palace, properly since it was way too dark by then. But we did stop and managed to take some pictures of the old ruins of the palace. Another famous site here which we didn’t go is Tell-es-Sultana where you can see ruins that date back to 9000 BC. This is where the earliest settlement was located and is just a couple of km from the current city.
a) FAMOUS SYCAMORE FIG TREE of JERICHO: This is a 2000 year old fig tree which has been standing there since the time of Jesus (pbuh). The story goes that a corrupted tax-collector name Zakariyah, who was a very short man, climbed this tree to see Jesus when he was coming to Jericho from Egypt on his way to Jerusalem. Thanks to our driver who told us about the history, otherwise one can just pass-by this tree without knowing the history behind it. Coincidentally, this biblical story was told at my daughter’s school just before the Christmas break which she could recollect and confirm the driver’s version. It was my 6 years-old who remembered that the tax-collector’s name was Zakariyah.One way to recognize it is that the tree is surrounded by a metal fence, but I didn’t see any board or anything with any information.
b) MOUNT of TEMPTATION: This is another biblical site and a well-known place for Muslims, Christians, and Jews. Jesus (pbuh) spent 40 days and 40 nights fasting, meditating, and fighting Satan in a cave of this mountain. The cave, which is now a monastery, can be accessed by cable car. Cable car service closes around 5/6 pm; so, we couldn’t go up to the mountain. But the summit of the mount (360 meters above sea level) offers a spectacular 360 degree view of the town along with nearby hills, Dead Sea, and Jordan Valley.
c) TOMB of MOSES in NABI MUSA MOSQUE and MAQAM: Tomb of Moses is not really in Jericho, rather about 20-25 minutes’ drive from there. The mosque, on the site of the tomb, was constructed in 1270 A.D. By the time we reached there, it was already very dark and there was no visitor in the mosque. The care-takers were kind enough to open the door for us and let us in for a short visit. The mosque was simple inside but I loved the big inner courtyard which we passed to go to the other side of the mosque to see tomb of Moses. The tomb was covered with beautiful velvet sheet with nice Arabic calligraphy and designs.