Monday, November 22, 2010

Dead Sea and Judean Desert

November 21, 2010

This weekend we went on our second overnight trip. Last time we went to the Carmel Mountains, and this time we went to the Dead Sea and the Judean Desert. It was amazing! I am currently sore in every muscle of my body, but I had a really great time.

We left our apartments Friday morning, and drove to a rappelling/rock climbing site in between here and Jerusalem. We hiked up to the base of the climbing/rappelling site, and then walked up to the top. I wasn’t nervous as we were walking up, but then when we were standing on the top, harnesses and helmets on, I started to get really nervous. But I did it, and it was pretty fun. I wish I could have done it a couple more times, because I would have liked to experiment with speed and how I held the rope when I was more comfortable, but it was still fun. Although, when I got down, I found out that my carabineer wasn’t locked – oops! Oh well, I didn’t die, so that’s excellent.

After rappelling we went to the Dead Sea!!! We were supposed to go to this fancy spa place, but they lied about the hours and wouldn’t let us in (assholes!) so we went to a funny public beach instead. Being in the water was so incredibly amazing. I had tried to imagine what it would be like, but nothing can really come close to the real thing. The floating was incredible. You can’t get your head under, no matter how hard you try, and it’s amazing to look out and see everyone’s shoulders above the water, no matter how deep they are. Also, it tastes DISGUSTING and burns like hellfires if it gets in your eyes. But so worth it. After messing around for a while, we all started holding on to each other’s feet, and made a huge chain of people going around in a circle. Everyone else at the beach was watching us, and the lifeguard used his megaphone to yell “NICE JOB” (in Hebrew) at us. Everyone was jealous. It was really easy to propel ourselves because due to some science thing or another, one arm stroke propels you really far; I felt like a boat just sliding along the surface of the water. The other coolest thing was that your hands and feet don’t get wrinkly, no matter how long you stay in, because the saline level is the same as our blood, or something awesome like that. Also, the water has a super oily feel, so our skin felt like dolphin skin under the water. I, of course, really loved that fact, and just kept yelling “This is what dolphins feel like!” to anyone who would listen. It was sort of the best hour of my life. Absolutely amazing and addicting. I want to go back.

After the Dead Sea we went to where we spent the night in a Bedouin tent on the mountains overlooking the Sea. The view was absolutely incredible, and the place was nice. While Benji was cooking with the most enthusiasm anyone has ever had for cooking, we had a Shabbat service thing in our half of the tent. The other half was populated by people from Western Europe and South Africa, many of whom were Jews for Jesus. We, obviously, found this extremely hilarious. Anyway, while we were singing Shabbat-y songs, this guy came over with colorful gauzy flags he had invented, and offered to let us dance with them. We jumped all over it, and made him dance in the middle of our circle with them first. He asked for “English Christian songs” and we were like “…uh…” So we sang “Hallelujah” (the Leonard Cohen version) and then went back to Shabbat-y songs. It was SO HILARIOUS. The only thing that was kind of weird was that they were having a service before we did, and they asked us to keep it quiet, and we were very respectful of that. But when we were having our service, they came over to our side of the tent and watched us. It felt a little bit like being in a fishbowl or a circus, but then there were dancing flags, so it was okay.

The next morning we woke up at 6 (SIX AM. WHAT) and ate breakfast while we watched the sun rise over the Dead Sea. Then we set off for our 7-hour hike in the desert. It was purported to be a super steep uphill and then pretty flat for the rest of it. It turned out to be a challenging but doable uphill, plus about 2 full hours of super tricky downhill. But the views were incredible and I had a lot of fun. We ended up in shallow springs where I got to sit in the water and cool off, which was the best thing that had ever happened to me.

The hike ended at a McDonalds, and the whole hike we were like “We just have to make it to McDonalds!” Hannah and I promised ourselves chocolate shakes, and let me tell you, that thought really sustained me through the more demanding/physically perilous parts of the hike. We were all rushing into the McDonalds, and Benji was like “How often do you guys actually go to McDonalds?” We all said “NEVER!” but damn, were we happy to see it. And also its bathroom. And let me tell you, after 2.5 months in Israel and 7 hours in the Judean desert, nothing tastes more like America than a chocolate shake and French fries from Mickey Dees. It was beautiful. Also, the standardization is incredible – it tasted 100% exactly the same as in the states.

Then we all piled back into the cars and drove home. By the time we got there, we were all so dead, all we could do was order pizza, shove it in our faces, and go to bed super early. But it was a great trip.

On the hike, we talked about the Dead Sea, how it’s disappearing at an astonishing rate (1 meter a year!) and what the possible solutions are. There is the Red Sea/Dead Sea option, where they propose channeling water from the Red Sea into the Dead Sea, but first desalinating it and providing some of it to Jordan and Israel, who both desperately need it. The other option is taking water from the Mediterranean and bringing it into the Galilee, which would then flow down into the Dead Sea. Both of these options aren’t addressing the problem, which is both that the geography and climate of the land is changing, and that the factories that harvest the minerals and materials from the Sea are purposely speeding up evaporation to get what they want. No new water really comes into the Sea, so when it evaporates, it’s pretty much gone forever.

We talked about how getting rid of this factory would be destroying a huge number of jobs, as well as revenue for the state of Israel. For those reasons, closing the factories has been completely taken off the table. It seems to me that they need to decide what their priorities are – having a Dead Sea that will remain as great as it is now, or having a Dead Sea factory and an inferior Dead Sea. Obviously there need to be more jobs in the area and something to replace the factory work if they want to keep the Dead Sea going. I feel like forcing the factories to operate naturally, without speeding evaporation is an option that should at least be explored – I know it would decrease output, but is probably better than closing the factories completely.

I was also thinking about how hard we try to freeze geology and climates the way they are when we settle on/near them. The geography of this region, split by two tectonic plates, is changing, and the Dead Sea should, naturally, be shrinking slowly. In a couple thousand years, it would be completely gone, most likely. I know it’s an amazing place, and I certainly loved being there, but I have to wonder if desperately trying to hold on to something that geologically should be fleeting is the right thing to do. Oh, humanity. We don’t handle change well.

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