Traveling with the Rockets: Day seven

August 15, 2011 | Features, UToday
By Brian DeBenedictis

Assistant Sports Information Director Brian DeBenedictis is writing about the women’s basketball team’s trip to Israel.

The wireless Internet situation in our four hotels on this trip have posed quite a challenge to say the least and once again limited me to a little over three hours of sleep last evening in Jerusalem. As a result, I had a pretty tough time getting out of bed and was unable to get a training session in. And my wife can attest that I’m not always in a good mood when I don’t get to train. Instead, I made my way downstairs in our hotel to still another huge buffet breakfast. I have to pat myself on the back though as I have not stuffed my face in the mornings like I sometimes do. I went with Coco Puffs, fresh fruit and coffee for a third consecutive day — good stuff!

Women's basketball players Riley McCormick and Yolanda Richardson rode a camel in a Bedouin Village.

Women's basketball players Riley McCormick and Yolanda Richardson rode a camel in a Bedouin Village.

I was dragging a little bit this morning because of the little sleep and had to pick up the pace following a solid breakfast to repack my bags, take a quick shower, and be on the bus for an 8 a.m. departure to the Masada National Park.

Our group left right on time (as usual) and set out for the 90-minute drive to the desert. Did you know that the rock of Masada towers almost 1,000 feet above the Dead Sea, and it has been called the most spectacular archeological site in Israel?

A little history for you on Masada: It was on this mesa in 43 BC that Herod the Great seized an existing fortress and used it as a retreat from his potentially rebellious subjects — pretty solid info!

While on the tour, we visited the magnificent three-tiered palace, a Roman bathhouse and a huge water cistern hewn in the rock. Visitors can ascend to the summit by foot via a Roman ramp or by a cable car. Our group took the easy road and went with the cable car. The temperature was a toasty 104 degrees, but we were provided with a cool breeze (for the most part) and a spectacular view from the summit. It was pretty hot, but a dry heat — ha-ha-ha!

After the two-hour tour, we made our way to a hotel overlooking the Dead Sea for lunch — another buffet. I just want to clarify something here for a moment: The food has been good, but I have a tough time with portion control. I had some rice, chicken tenders, pita with hummus, cooked carrots and cabbage. I thought I did all right with the portion control, but then came dessert. The hotel offered an entire table full of cheesecakes, pies, cookies and ice cream. I couldn’t decide my first trip through the line so I had to go with two pieces on the second trip. I went with the chocolate cheesecake and the apple pie — so tasty!

We had about three hours of free time following lunch to spend at the hotel pool or in the tropical blue Dead Sea. Did you know that the Dead Sea is situated some 1,300 feet below sea level and is the lowest point on the face of the globe? In Hebrew, the Dead Sea is called the Salt Sea and in Arabic the Stinking Sea.

A little more food for thought regarding the Dead Sea: It is the most saline body of water on the face of the Earth and contains no life of any sort — hence the name the Dead Sea. You can’t slide anything past me!

It wasn’t that I didn’t believe that I would float in the Dead Sea, but I had to see it first hand to truly believe it. And see it I did. It was unbelievable. I couldn’t fathom how blue the water was and how warm it was. I would go as far as to say that that water was warmer than when I take a shower — pretty crazy!

After having a chance to relax for a little bit, we returned to the bus and traveled for about 90 minutes to a Bedouin Village. For those who don’t know, Bedouins are Arabs and nomad herdsmen who dress in flowing robes. Many of them live in tents and possess camels, donkeys and goats. We began our one-hour tour with some traditional hot tea and coffee in one of their tents. And yes, we drank hot drinks in the middle of the desert with temperatures in the triple digits. There was a short but informative explanation about their history at the outset before we had the opportunity to ride a camel or donkey. Assistant Coach Todd Mitmesser and I named our camel Omar. It was a fun, fun ride!

Following our trip around the village, we were treated with a traditional Bedouin dinner consisting of pita with hummus as the appetizer with rice, red and green peppers, chicken wings, some sort of beef and onions for the main entrée; it was not too bad. I remember coming in for tonight’s dinner and wasn’t sure what to expect, but I think it turned out to be just fine. For dessert, the village offered a very juicy plumb — delicious and a healthy way to wrap up a meal!

We then said our goodbyes to the village and got back into the bus for a two-hour drive back to Tel Aviv and the Dan Panorama Hotel, where we will spend our final three nights.

Tomorrow on the agenda, our group will begin the day at the Ayalon Institute and the Palmach Museum before wrapping up the day at the Maccabi Stadium and the Neve Tzedek.

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