floating in the dead sea and climbing masada at dawn

baptism en masse in the dead sea

my israeli friend enjoying the zero gravity feel - note the woman doing the dead man's float in the background

en route to masada, where the presence of war has made itself known for over 2000 years and counting...

caravanserai in the judean desert

our campsite. we actually moved the tent away from the cover and out into the open. in the evening we attended the sound and light show and fumbling our way back to our tent we heard a gurgling sound emanating from the darkness. as we approached we made out the form of the campground attendant, selame, reclining on the sand by our tent, smoking a hubbly bubbly. he had made a fire and had tea waiting for us. the sound of the hubbly bubbly moved around during the night as selame kept vigil, as did the trillions of stars that seemed to hover over our heads, our faces caressed by the desert night breeze.

we woke as the sky was turning shades of violet to climb masada

the site of masada - a vast network of buildings - was originally built by the roman emperor herod as a fortress on a dramatic plateau in the judean desert, overlooking the dead sea. 75 years after his death, a group of rebels escaped jerusalem during the jewish revolt against the romans in 66 bce. after the fall of jerusalem they were joined by a group of zealots who fled to masada, where they were able to survive for 3 years at the site which had been left well stocked by the romans with water and food. the roman soldiers tracked down the zealots, only to find the site, a natural fortress, impenetrable. with the aid of thousands of slaves, they began to build a ramp. 
when the ramp was completed, the romans brought up a battering ram to knock down the walls. determined not to let their woman and children fall into the hands of the romans, the leader of the zealots, eleazar ben ya'ir, made a dramatic and historic decision. he ordered his cohorts to cast lots to choose 10 men to kill the remainder of the group, almost a thousand men, woman and children, and set the citadel on fire. then they chose among themselves the one man who would kill the survivors....the last of whom would kill himself. when the romans finally broke through the wall, they found the destroyed city and the bodies. only two women survived to tell the heroic tale of the zealots. 

in 1963, the israeli archaeologist yigael yadin and his team began excavating the site. over the next years they uncovered the remains of magnificent buildings, a network of cisterns, an advanced plumbing system, swimming pools, baths, storehouses, and a synagogue - but the most powerful discovery was a mere 10 pieces of pottery, inscribed with the names of men.......among the ruins of this forlorn but majestic site they were able to unearth the 10 lots which had decided the fate of masada.


  1. Once again so much learning for me with this post. Wonderful pictures as well.

  2. amanda, these stories you tell us are so moving in the intensity that lives were lived. There were not as many people in the world then and their lives were raw and dramatic like nature itself....a powerful story indeed..........israel is such an enigma.....ancient stones beneath your feet that slowly reveal themselves....truly fascinating.......

  3. Travelling with you is such an illuminating experience! Thank you for teaching us so much.

  4. i always find myself holding my breathe when i read your posts amanda, such a storyteller you are. i want to thank you too for sharing, and enriching my life. wow!

    my dad lived in the middle east in the late 70's, i'd forgotten about his adventure in the dead sea, i have to go look up those photos now.

    safe travels dear,
    xxx lori

  5. Sister ~ I'm thinking about those 2 women who survived. Reminds me of the Rwandan genocide survivor Immaculee Ilibagiza, who wrote of her account titled "Left to Tell". Very sobering what our will to live can endure.

  6. I didn't try floating in the Dead Sea, but I remember climbing to Masada. It was too windy for the cable car, so there was only one way up. And down. But an amazing view, complete with the Byzantine church, built much later.
    Memory serves that the motto for the Tank Corps in the Israeli Army is "Masada shall not fall again."

  7. I am always fascinated by your stories and photos, Amanda, and appreciate the additional detail added by Bear.

    Your stories never fail to leave me hungry for more, and more... and more.


  8. Your photos are always wonderful and impressives !
    Bravo, i liked your beautiful post :))


  9. What an extraordinary blog. I love the photo of that sublime crevice, the raven and the woman doing the dead man's float.

    And your references to the hubbly bubbly. :)

  10. Stunning photos. And I've always wanted to float in the Dead Sea!

  11. Amanda, you are in your element. Your photos and travelogue allow us all to be right at your side. Thank you, thank you for sharing this amazing voyage with us.

  12. Fabulous images. Always a treat.

  13. I have been eagerly awaiting this post... I may be a Catholic Girl, but I have ALWAYS been MOVED by what happened at Masada. I guess it is the combination of Mountains, Passion, Faith.... have seen other photos from friends who have visted there...but I KNEW YOUR post would be amazing, heartfelt and glorious...and so it is.... I may never get to climb this mountain....but,I feel like I have (finally) been there.

    And...how wonderful to float in the Dead Sea.... gorgeous!!!!!!


    ♥ Robin ♥

  14. Wow. What a fascinating story. Can you imagine what the people were thinking as they watched the slaves building that ramp? I wonder how long it took.

    Thanks so much for sharing your travels. It is always an adventure to visit you.

  15. That is so fascinating. The story of Masada always sends shivers down my spine.

  16. amanda, i am absolutely staggered. i'm not even sure how to speak. i just read this aloud to robert. i feel about to cry and do not understand exactly why? that any group felt so determined to sacrifice themselves. how it must have been for each of them, men, women and children. my god, it is unfathomable.

    and there you are.


  17. I can almost feel that desert breeze Amanda..Beautiful images!!Hugs,Cat


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