Well, I didn’t manage to get pictures of the hotel.  Oh well.  It was a morning that went too quickly.  This hotel caters to a larger population of tourists from Asia, and the dinner & breakfast options reflected that.  While dinner was not very good, breakfast was much more enjoyable, and then it was off and running.  We drove south again, to the base of the Dead Sea.  The west coast of the Dead Sea was pretty interesting.  The water level is dropping rather markedly – up to a meter a year – and that exposes a lot of additional beachlands.  But because there are underground freshwater springs that meet the saltwater here, the land is unstable and prone to caving in.  It makes for a very eerie landscape at times.

We got off the bus at Masada, the site of the final stand of Jewish rebels against Roman forces in 70-73 AD.  Rather than making our way up the Snake Path, we were able to get on cable cars for the journey.  After a car arrived, we waited a few extra moments while they loaded two very cool looking stone benches into the car.  We all piled on and in just a couple of moments were at the top of Masada.
I hadn’t pictured Masada being as large as it is.  There was a lot of room up there, and both the Romans who first developed the mountaintop into a defensive site and the Jews who actually used it as such had some room to grow food, collect water, house animals, and generally wait out a rather long siege.  It was really windy though, on our particular day at the top.  Our guides told us it usually isn’t, but that was kind of hard to believe!
We made it back down via cable car and departed to the ruins of Qumran.  The wind was really whipping up down at ground level, so much so that we had to take momentary shelter from a dust storm.  Our guide informed us that Masada had just closed due to the high winds and the danger to the cable cars.  It was then that our tour host mentioned that she realized that the stone benches they loaded into the car were to weight it down so that it didn’t blow around so much.  I thanked her for telling us *after* the fact!  That’s an experienced tour operator, I suppose!
The wind didn’t last very long, though there were dark clouds massing to the west and south of us.  We toured Qumran and I was reminded once again that ruins all look alike.  I could take a gazillion pictures, and there’s that temptation to do so.  But I know from experience that those pictures are invariably the most boring (at least to me).  So I tried to stick with photos that had our group in them.  Qumran was also larger than I had envisioned, and that’s without taking into account the cliffside caves that were used for storage and perhaps for living areas as well.  
We had lunch in the cafeteria at Qumran.  There must be a lot of Germans who visit the Holy Land, because schnitzel is invariably one of the menu options.  I had a schnitzel pita, which was fine, and then we were off to the Dead Sea for a bathing stop.
The Dead Sea is mineral-heavy.  Not just salt, but other minerals as well that lend it an oily consistency and cause people to float effortlessly.  I had no interest in getting in, and was only too happy to utilize my telephoto lens to get photos of others in the group enjoying the floating sensation or experimenting with rubbing the grey mud on their skin.  It was a pretty busy little stretch of beach.  A sign at a bar above the main beach proclaimed “The Lowest Bar in the World -418 Meters”.  On our way out I bought beers for the guys (the ladies were pretty anxious to get cleaned off and dressed again).  I opted for absinthe instead of beer.  Not the flavor I expected (or the color – it was light blue rather than green), so I’ll have to try a better quality brand at some point in the future.  As it was, it tasted strongly of aniseed, and resembed the arak liquor I had tried the day before.
Our last stop was at the Jordan River.  We stopped at the traditional place associated with John the Baptist’s ministry, though there is another location further north that our tour host thinks is closer to accuracy.  This site was nice though, and not very busy when we arrived.  The other side of the river was the nation of Jordan, and there was a bored soldier busy texting on his phone, automatic rifle slung over his shoulder.  Jordan and Israel are on good terms, so there didn’t appear to be much worry about an Israeli invasion at this river crossing.
We went down to the waters’ edge and I reaffired the baptism of each of the group members.  A simple and uncomplicated moment, but beautiful in its simplicity as well.  It struck me again how blessed I am.  To be in this place, due to the enthusiasm of these people.  To be the one in their pictures, that they’ll show to their friends and family back home.  I don’t deserve any of this, but what a blessing to be there all the same, applying the water and reminding them of their cleansing in baptism.  
Then it was a 90-minute drive north to the western shore of the Sea of Galilee and our hotel in the coast city of Tiberias.  There was a bit of rain that started as we were leaving the Jordan River and that we followed for a few miles before outrunning it.  We arrived at our hotel around 5:00 PM.  Definitely not as nice as our place in Jericho, but still comfortable enough.  Dinner was much better as well.  Afterwards, I wandered out with a few members of the group to walk a few blocks and explore a bit.  Tiberias seems like a much newer, more Western, more affluent city than many we’ve seen thus far.  Western-style stores and strip malls dotted the street.  
Then it was back to the hotel and bed!

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