I toured Masada in the 1990’s

Masada and the Snake Path

The desert is hellish, dry and hot. Not somewhere I’d want to to go again. But in younger, healthier days, I toured this unbelievable historical site. The stories surrounding the fortress, and the infamy of what happened there is not the focus of this post. Although they are great stories, and have inspired generations of people around the world. this story is all about me.

Picture a younger, more impetuous, Steve. One who was invincible, overconfident, and dangerously stupid. First, a bit about the tour. A group of sailors set out from Haifa for a two day tour. We spent the first day in Jerusalem, I got to visit “the manger” in Bethlehem, the Garden of gethsemane, and the Church of the Holy Sepulcher. We spent the night in Tel Aviv, then floated in the Dead Sea, visited a revitalizing spa, and toured Masada before returning to Haifa.

The Dead sea is incredibly salty, enough that you can float on the water. I don’t recommend trying to pee in the Dead Sea, don’t ask why, just trust me! But all that desert heat and salt water dehydrated our tour group. Fortunately, the next stop was the spa. Dead Sea mud is supposed to rejuvenate your body, and I can attest to that. By the time we reached the Masada tourist center we were all brimming with twenty-something energy.

The tour included a cable car ride up to the mountaintop, a tour guide to highlight the history, myths, and mysteries about the palace and rebel stronghold. All of that was fascinating. Again, I’m setting the scene for my near death experience. Here it comes.

After the tour, we were given the choice to ride the cable car back down (about a half an hour wait), or we could take the snake path down the mountain immediately. The tour guide told us it would be about the same amount of time to get back the the tourist center and the bus back to Haifa either way. The hook for me was the authenticity of walking down the only route to the palace before the modern, tourist-friendly cable car was installed.

You guessed it, I took the path less traveled by… I was doing well for a while, too. There are a lot of switchbacks on this path, you can see them clearly in the photo above. At about the third one from the top, I lost my footing. I’d already seen an older shipmate in our group wipe out higher on the path. I didn’t have time to process the merits of falling, but I was sure I didn’t want to walk the rest of the way down the mountain bloody.

My split-second decision instead? RUN! The rocks were loose and sharp between the path, but I was close enough to the turn to leap down to the next section. I figured I’d catch myself after the hair-pin turn and go back to my leisurely pace. I was wrong. Once I’d built up momentum, the path was just steep enough to keep me running.

So I ran down Masada. Then jogged up the gulch beside it, passing tourists from lots of different countries along the way (Canada and Norway stand out for some reason), and reached the tourist center in less than fifteen minutes. Fortunately, the center sold bottles of cold water. Authenticity has seldom been as important to me since this event. I needed the whole ride back to Haifa to recover. Ah, memories that last a lifetime. 🙂

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