|St George monastery|
There are real fortresses in the desert too. Seven. Always seven. Scattered yet connected. Herodium. Hyrcania. Machaerus (where John the Baptist was beheaded). Dok (on the Mount of Temptation). Alexandrion. Kypros. And, most famous of all, Masada. Yes, yes, I know they’re scattered between three lands…ah, how I hate politics.
I want to go to Qumran, to see the caves where the Dead Sea Scrolls were found. What else lies hidden? I wonder, I wonder. I wondered this in Egypt too as I walked over sand and rock…what magic lies hidden under our feet; what lost knowledge; what secrets? It takes so little time for things to become hidden. Here on Exmoor if you leave something out for a season it will become covered in moss; it will quietly fade into the landscape. Maybe that’s why I like deserts – it’s harder to hide, harder to become hidden. In the desert you have to hide, actively. You have to find caves.How many other secrets are there, caved in, forgotten, in and around Qumran? All over the world?
|The caves at Qumran|
We went down to the water, to the sea. The Dead Sea. The Sea of Salt. Actually a lake bordering Jordan to the east and Israel and the West Bank to the west. It’s 423 metres (1,388 feet) below sea levels, the lowest place on the Earth’s surface. 8.6 percent saltier than the ocean. Okay enough facts.Salt. Salt purifies. It’s been used down through the ages to preserve food and to purify water, to cleanse wounds, to keep away evil spirits. Virtually every ancient tradition purifies bodies and souls with salt.
It was a surreal experience. The spa at Ein Gedi (simple, basic, really rather refreshing) was closing for the day so we had the beach to ourselves. You have to wear shoes – the salt crustations are so sharp. You have to walk carefully, slowly, with consideration. The water feels thick, it slides over your skin as if considering it. You lie back – carefully again – if you get the water in your eyes it stings like seven shades of hell; if you swallow it, you feel sick to the core. And it holds you. You lie, supported, in water, between the sky above and the earth below. Suspended. Purified. Yeah, I want to go back. :)
An afterword.The Dead Sea is in trouble. It’s been shrinking, quite rapidly, in recent decades. One metre every year. The spa we visited was originally built on the shoreline - now it's a tractor ride away. Sinkholes are appearing along the western shore. Israel and Jordan are working together to find a solution but it’s not simple. You can’t just import sea water from elsewhere as it would upset the delicate balance of the water. They hope to release water from the River Jordan and slowly lift the levels.
It’s an incredible place - the world's largest spa, you could say - and it’s up for inclusion in the new Seven Wonders of the World (ah, that magical seven again!). I’m going to vote for it (the competition is tough but this place is just so, well, strange)…you could too…click here.