Back in Australia now, so I thought I'd share details of our visit to Masada with Forum readers, because they probably know Oreet through her contributions to these pages..
That was actually why we asked her to be our guide for the day. I had read Oreet's posts for some months leading up to our trip and we decided she was just the person we'd like as our guide - down to earth, tell-it-like-it-is, easy to get on with and about the same age as us. We turned out to be right on all counts.
My friend Jenny was having her first visit to Israel. I had been the previous year, but had coincided with that freak heat-wave in June, so hadn't been able to travel around as much as I'd hoped.
Madasa was at the top of our 'must visit' list. We had both done our homework and read about its history and the siege, and we were so fascinated by it that we decided to splurge and have our own tour guide for the day, hence our approach to Oreet via email some weeks before.
She arranged to provide transport for us (we weren't confident enough to drive on the 'wrong' side of the road - we drive on the left in Australia), and met us just near our downtown apartment. Then we headed south.
What an amazing transformation it is, driving through the tunnel under Mt Scopus and emerging in the desert! As we drove, Oreet filled us in on historical and geographical details of the districts we passed through, and we arrived at Masada quite early - well before the large tour buses started to appear.
We went up in the cable car, having given the snake path walk all of two seconds consideration, and the view from the mountain top has to be seen to be believed! The only problem is that photographs just can't do it justice - they can't capture the vastness of it, the barrenness and the constantly changing desert colours.
The excavations have been so thorough that the different buildings have been identified, and it's easy to see how the palace living areas were arranged, along with the areas used for cultivation etc., even down to the little pigeon houses. There were plans and excavations showing the under-floor heating arrangements, but the thing we found most interesting (coming ourselves from an area where water conservation is all-important) was the water catchment and storage system, demonstrated by Oreet with the help of a scale-model and a jug of water! Whatever one thinks of King Herod (and he does defy the imagination somewhat) he certainly knew what he was doing in the construction department! Just digressing for a moment, we visited the Herod Exhibition at the Israel Museum a couple of days later, which put the whole thing into a nice perspective for us.
Looking down from the summit, it's also easy to see the remains of the sites of the Roman camps and the ramp which was constructed to give the army access for its final assault on the fortress.
The history of the siege gives the mountain-top an eerie feel, and the desolation of the surrounding area does make it a unique and, I think, extremely moving site. I was glad that there weren't vast numbers of other people there during our visit, so there were not too many distractions and intrusions on my thoughts.
We spent several hours on the mountain - enough to get the feel of the place but not, of course, long enough to explore every aspect of it - and then had a quick lunch at the visitor's centre before heading off to Ein Gedi.
What a contrast it is in the lovely Ein Gedi oasis, with its palm trees, walking trails and occasional little stream of running water. We walked for a while along the 'easy' trail ('easy' being a relative term, as we discovered), and were delighted to see wild ibex and some of the local birdlife.
Jenny was determined to float in the Dead Sea, so we made that our last stop for the day's tour. She hopped into her swimsuit in the changerooms provided and joined the group of giggling people splashing about on top of the water. I decided to be official archivist, which meant I stayed firmly on dry land and took photographs.
Jenny said it was great fun (although I find the saltiness gives the water an unpleasant feel), and the most difficult thing she discovered was how hard it was to stand up, with her feet and legs constantly pushed back up by the buoyancy of the water.
Al this was actually very tiring, and it was quite a relief to fall into the car again and be driven back to Jerusalem in surprisingly heavy late-afternoon traffic.
We couldn't have had a better day's touring and it was truly one of the real highlights of our visit to Israel.
We enjoyed ourselves enormously, learned a lot, laughed a lot, and were still smiling at the end of the day!
Thank you Oreet.
best wishes to all,
PS I hope to be back next year.