Three Nights at the Lowest Place on Earth
Out of the Blue
Some weeks ago, an old friend with whom I had not spoken phoned me when I was napping. Not recognizing the phone number, I did not go out of my way to stretch across and get the mobile phone. When I woke, I called that number back, not knowing who would be on the other line. She sounded delighted to hear from me and actually thanked me for still being where I was.
My friend Rae who is an academic, pays monthly into a fund called “Knowledge Fund [Keren Yeda].” This fund then goes to subsidize a short vacation at a top quality hotel in a number of vacation spots in Israel. The academic member of the organization pays around $100 but anyone accompanying him/her pays a much higher rate. My friend invited me to join her as her traveling companion. We talked about possible destinations and agreed that we would both prefer the north of the country. She told me that she was awaiting approval or rejection of her application to go. In short, she was as clear as mud and uncertain so I put it entirely out of my mind.
A week and one day before the seminar, Rae phoned me on Saturday night, to tell me that her application was approved and that we would be going December 2. I told her I had to ask for vacation at work, which I did the following day and I got permission. I was not overly thrilled, as this seminar would take place at the Dead Sea and the thought of being with a friend I had not seen in years raised some concerns. Furthermore, she was not very clear in her communication and I thought to myself that it’s not like traveling abroad; I am still in the country and can always go home at any time if it is too much for me.
Buses – the bane of my existence!
Rae said we should meet at 11 AM at the Central Bus Station on Sunday, Dec. 2 and I agreed. I thought that although riding buses is the bane of my existence, it might not be too bad with a friend. We both set out at 10 AM from our respective homes. I got there at 10:45 and tried to phone her mobile, only to get a recording that the device is unavailable. The Central Bus Station in Jerusalem is a shopping mall I thought that perhaps she was en route and forgot to turn it on, so I sat down somewhere and tried every few minutes. I began to worry and think that maybe I was confused and it was for another day! I went upstairs to the level with the ticket booths and the buses and figured she would have to arrive there at some point. Indeed, Rae appeared and I wove to her, more than a little relieved. I put my frustration aside and after we greeted one another, we went out to the bus platform.
We stepped out to where the buses are actually boarded. People were squeezing onto a bus to ride standing up, which is against the rules for inter city transport. Rae assured me the next bus would arrive in just a few minutes. Well, a bus arrived, alright but not ours or any from Egged. Some chartered bus pulled into our platform, the driver got off and some minutes later he pulled out of the platform. He then began a back and forth dance, pulling in and out, while other divers honked at him for blocking their paths. Finally, he called to a group of soldiers who hopped on. These young men threw their packs onto the hold at the bottom of the bus and this less than stellar driver began to pull out again only this time one of the packs fell out of the hold, onto the pavement. I yelled out that one of the bags had fallen. A soldier ran out and put it back in; while he was crouching, the driver began to shut the door to the hold. Seeing this, I told the driver that he was closing the door on the soldier. This driver from some circus act then winked at me! I told him “Wink at your mother.” You will not believe this but he again pulled INTO the platform, almost hitting a young woman, got off the bus, stuck his face in mine and said “I wish for you that your mother will be where mine is,” and he pointed to the ground.
The bus we needed consequently pulled into the next platform over and the driver did not even notify us that his bus was the one we were waiting for. We boarded, Rae paid for both of us and we found two seats together. I insisted on taking my packed bag aboard, so as not to risk a passenger accidentally taking it, which would mean that, among other things, I would not have my medications with me.
The ride was bearable and we talked most of the way, which was nice, considering the long period we were out of touch.
Smell of Sulfur
As the bus descended towards the hotel area of the Dead Sea, it first reached Ein Gedi. As soon as we entered that zone, the strong smell of sulfur was unmistakable.
We finally arrived at our destination and to get to our hotel we had to backtrack a few steps and then climb up a hill to the Le Meridien hotel. Halfway uphill a cart came by and I flagged it down. We hopped on board and rode the rest of the way to the entrance.
Check in and Registration
The Seminar organizers set up two tables. Rae went over and gave them her name, after which they gave her a tag with electronic room keys.
Rae and I were hungry, thirsty and very tired! Behind the tables for registration, there were some light refreshments set up. The only beverages were sugary soft drinks, already in small glasses and several serving platters with assorted cookies. We drank and drank and scarfed down a bunch of cookies I would otherwise not go near.
The room we were assigned was roomy and comfortable. The first thing I noticed was that there was one large mattress and that I had absolutely NO intention of sleeping on it with Rae or any other woman. I phoned the front desk and they told us to go down and ask for another room. We were assigned another room on another floor. There were two beds that could be separated but the room was a bit smaller than the previous one. We settled in and talked a bit and when the time came, went down for the coffee break and orientation that was on the schedule.
We then went for dinner in the restaurant. This place was beautiful and spacious. There were many different stations. To begin with, there was an unrivaled salad bar! There were individual fresh cut vegetables, ready made salads, cooked salads and a variety of dressings. There were various stations for different cooked food, a bread station and a dessert bar. We were sooooo hungry, we ate with our eyes and gorged ourselves until we couldn’t eat anymore. After all, we hadn’t eaten anything but cookies, cakes, soft drinks and coffee up until that point.
Breakfast was another feast. The waiters constantly made the rounds among the tables, pouring and refilling filtered coffee, there were instant coffee packets and a machine that dispensed different coffees from powders mixed with boiling water.
Honestly, I have to wonder what goes through people’s minds at hotels. Why eat more than you can handle? I quickly took only what I wanted to eat and for the most part, didn’t take dessert, as I would at home. In any case, I was true to myself and ate what I wanted and no more. Rae kept telling me to take more food and dessert but really, eating myself silly is not my idea of having a good time.
I asked the hotel if and when they had hours for separate swimming for women. The only time was for one hour each morning, at 07:00. Honestly, I didn’t have THAT strong an urge to go swimming for me to awaken that early and get it together.
At one point I insisted that Rae go to the sulfur pool and other pools at the spa. I offered to accompany her and sit on the lounge if she insisted but preferred to stay in the room and have a nice, unhurried shower and rest. She took my advice and felt better for it. The hip she had broken just months earlier caused her significant pain and discomfort and the sulfur and Jacuzzi gave her some relief.
The lectured were re-digested rhetoric with lots of slogans and cliches that have been circulated to death. Fortunately I did not have to attend, as I was Rae’s guest but she did have to go to most of them.
One lecturer was this small, thin, woman with a ton of makeup, hair dyed black and blown out to make her skinny face look a bit fuller. Her nose was the work of some plastic surgeon, her voice annoying AND she blasted us with a microphone. This woman entertained herself by talking at us for over 2 1/2 hours! At some point Rae and I left the room and went to dinner.
There is not much to do at the Dead Sea and so the hotels have entertainment. Each night at 21:00, after the restaurant closed, there was a live show. The first night we found 2 chairs and watched an African circus. The men were very black, ripped and extremely acrobatic.
That was the only night we could get in. Rae was very slow in getting ready and never wanted to try to get there early so the second night there wasn’t even standing room and standing outside the hall did not appeal to me. By the third night, I didn’t even want to try to get in.
There was live entertainment near the bar every night and though I did not dance, I enjoyed the music. Watching some people dance, I have to wonder if they see what I see because if they do, they should either get lessons, see a doctor or sit down or all three. I’m sorry but some are so ungainly, uncoordinated and clumsy. My former husband, who had won prizes in dance contests, used to say they had the heebie geebies and trust me, some really look like their having seizures on the dance floor. Some had rhythm and were less painful to watch. I know I’m critical but I am a dancer and before I broke my leg would dance for hours if the music, atmosphere and company were conducive to it.
The Last Day
On the last day we had breakfast and went to pack our bags and check out. Rae kept insisting there were vans and mini buses back to Jerusalem and that we were not going to take a regular bus. We asked the concierge and he said there were none. Rae stubbornly insisted that she knows there are. When a Gemini is in a state of insistence others would be wise to remain silent, so I didn’t argue.
We took the cart down to the road and began walking. I was short on temper and insisted we just go straight to the bus stop. A couple of vans came by but the prices they wanted to charge were not to Rae’s liking, who insisted they not charge more than the bus. Eventually a bus came that had set out from Eilat. This bus was full with just a couple of empty seats. We sat on two seats at the very end of the bus where the seats are in a row, like a bench. I was completely miserable the entire time.
I won’t write more about the bus trip because nothing about it was good.
We arrived at the Jerusalem Central Bus Station from which I took a taxi home. I had endured enough. My dog, Pnina, was brought to me later that evening and we were both happy to be together again in our home.
Would I go again? Yes but not with just anybody.