Today we dragged the kids out of bed and got an early start to the desert. Getting out of Jerusalem was thankfully uneventful. As we headed east we passed by Maale Adumim, where Sami, Moshe, Mati and Maayan used to live. It looks quite different from how it did 14 years ago, when Sami and Sima hung the border for infant Mati's room in the not quite yet finished apartment, and the area was just being built and was way out in the boonies with no good road. Now the main highway goes right into the community and it is incredibly built up. We continued on past a couple of checkpoints, but despite our best efforts to get questioned (eagerly looking out the open windows) no one wanted to talk to us. I guess it's not very suspicious to travel in a minivan full of kids with Eldan car rental stickers all over it.
We made it to Masada by 8:30 and we all took the cable car up from the beautiful new-to-us visitors center. Up top, we went to the synagogue to do our morning davening. It was a powerful and very hot experience. After davening, we walked down to the North palace and through the bathhouse and storerooms, all the while suffering from the heat. Then Mike, Donna, Noah and Eitan took the snake path down, while Sima, Naomi, and Ilana took the cable car. Only one person fell on the snake path, but we won't say who. After a few refreshing drinks, we headed to Ein Gedi.
Ein Gedi is an oasis where two streams come together in the middle of the Judean desert. We hiked a trail called Nahal Arugot, which follows one of the streams up the mountain to a waterfall. We saw a few ibexes (or goats, or something like that) on the way up to the hike. The hike started off dry and hot as we walked over to the wadi, but then we got to the stream. The first part of the stream was warm and filled with long strings of algae -- Naomi kept picking them up and calling them mermaid hair. We then came to an area were water was literally gushing out of two rocks and into the stream at about chest level. Totally cool. The kids loved putting their heads into the spurting water, and watching the snails that lived on the rocks just below the water. We walked up the water and reached a shallow pool that was fed by a very small waterfall, where Naomi, Eitan and Ilana "swam" for a while. Then we continued along the side of the water, up and down the gorge and over some rough terrain. Ilana was a little mountain goat, but it got to be a bit much so we turned back before we hit the waterfall. This time when we reached the pool we were so hot (the temps were about 100F) we all jumped in the pool fully dressed to cool off, and we were bascially dry by the time we reached the car.
Next we headed across the road to a public beach on the Dead Sea. Mike told Eitan to stick a finger in and taste it - Eitan spit, gagged, spit some more and was not happy. He gladly accepted the open bottle of fresh water that Mike offered him. The kids each stuck a foot in the water and had enough. The water stung their various scabs and blisters and they screamed until we were able to get them washed off with fresh water (though they didn't seem to disturb the peaceful bathers in the sea). We think we have the loudest kids in Israel.
Our trip back to Jerusalem took about 45 minutes, and once we were in Jerusalem it took about 45 minutes to get back to the hotel. Too many one way streets and streets that you can't turn onto and streets that curve in the opposite direction of the way you want to go. During the long trip, Naomi and Eitan were going at it in the back and he punched her in the mouth and her other front tooth fell out! She was so happy -- all's well that ends well. The only other adventure of the day was that while Naomi and Ilana were showering Naomi tried to wash out Ilana's hair with a glass and dropped it, cutting her own ankle in the process. Fortunately the hotel has a medic (who is also the parking garage attendant) who came to look at it and took off the nice butterfly bandages that Donna and Sima had put on the cut and replaced it with a huge piece of cotton held by a big white bandage wrapped around her leg. End result -- the cut was not serious. After a nice Italian dinner at a restaurant near the hotel and filled with Americans we are all ready to hit the sack.