Due to scheduling snafus and the fluidity of our schedule in general, we were able to drive back toward Masada this morning and climb the beast in much better weather (only in the 70s this time around). To do so, we left the hotel in Jerusalem right around 5:30 AM and made our way southeast for about an hour and a half into the Judaean Desert where Herod the Great's solitary fortress stands.
When we climbed the mountain in Petra, Jordan, a few days earlier, I was all about it, raring to go, let's get to the top. With Masada though, it seemed like I forgot to fill the tank before embarking up the Snake Path cut into the rock plateau's eastern face. I was huffing and puffing and sucking back water before I'd even made it halfway up, and I fell behind the pack almost instantly. Even needed to pull out the iPod and throw on some motivational tunes to make it, but we got there.
We had a replacement tour guide today, as Yair was engaged in some business elsewhere. Roman was at the helm for our morning trek up Masada. He showed us the three-tiered palace on the plateau's north face and, behind that, the snazzy bath house — all this constructed, I'd imagine, to Herod's specifications/wishes. I found it slightly humorous that, as Roman explained, there is no evidence to suggest that Herod ever even visited Masada. He was a paranoid fellow, prone to magnificent shows of grandiosity and sucking up to both the Romans — as he was their client king of Judea — and the Jewish people.
Masada is most famous for the tale of the siege that took place there near the end of the 1st Century A.D. Under the control of Jewish rebels, the fortress came under attack by the Romans (whom this group of Jews had previously flushed from the mountaintop). The Roman attackers built an assault ramp and infiltrated the Jewish camp using a battering ram. Before this was accomplished however, the Jews, realizing that they would be defeated and forced into slavery, committed mass suicide. All of this must be taken with a grain of salt, though, as it was recorded by Titus Flavius Josephus, a 1st-century Roman scholar and historian who was not present during the alleged events.
Post-Masada was a trip to Jerusalem's Mahane Yehuda Market, an open-air marketplace often called The Shuk, though I do not know why. Fresh fruit, fish, meat, and souvenir-like items (namely, novelty kippahs, jewelry, t-shirts, and the like) were up for sale. I decided just to grab a bag full of candy, though, and a burger at a quaint little joint.
Tomorrow morning we go full circle and return to Tel Aviv for one last night before most of us shove off for the good ole USA. The farewell post is forthcoming.