18 November 2013


After touring Masada and looking out upon the beauty that was the Dead Sea, we were able to enter the lowest place on earth and experience the Dead Sea and all its glory first hand. The sea’s shoreline is more than 400 meters below sea level and the sea floor itself has a depth beyond 300 meters. Trying to touch the sea bottom, however – even in the shallows – is quite a feat.

Standard ocean salt content ranges around 3 percent by volume, while the Dead Sea’s salt content rises above 30 percent, making the sea one of the world’s saltiest water bodies and a location where reportedly no living organism can survive.

If you look closely, in the center of the photo you can see the spa, which used to sit at the water's edge

Walking out to the sea from the shoreline, which once rested upon the edge of this spa, we had to be on alert for salt crystals mixing in with the sand. Since we were not smart enough to pack swimwear, we had to buy some in the spa gift shop and were advised to also ensure we had comfortable plastic flip flops. The sandals were required to protect our feet as the sea floor, unlike typical sandy bottoms, was covered in jagged salt crystals that could easily scrape any soft surface, including toes and soles.

A view of the salt bottom through the clear water

Walking into the water was a bit of a challenge, first due to the slick salty bottom and second, due to the thicker water. Many adults walked like toddlers learning to take their first steps as we all took caution not to fall (especially if one of us insisted on carrying a not-cheap camera to capture some of the fun).

Baby steps

Once out in the water, it was almost a game to learn how to float. Those who frequently swim (and we know that does not include me) automatically assume a swimmer’s position and wait to see what will happen to their bodies. Water foreigners like myself lift one leg at a time, scared of falling to the sea floor even though we have been told that everyone floats, including a 250-pound man sitting in a chair reading a newspaper like it’s no big deal.

We were strictly advised to be sure that our faces did not touch the water and, in the event that our eyes endured a splash of salt, we were given specific contamination wash instructions. Knowing that my face could not touch the water made me slightly freak out when attempting to float on my stomach and my freaking out did not help me keep my balance.

So what is it like to swim in the Dead Sea? The only words I can use to summarize the experience would be completely unreal.

As we took our first steps, we felt the thick, smooth water against our legs and the slick salt crystals as we slid across the rough terrain. Our arms were out wide, aiding our balance efforts and we took one slow, deliberate step in front of the other.

The water was warm and completely placid, only shaking when a body disturbed the peace. When the water was waist deep, we attempted the unthinkable. Paul began by lifting both legs and allowing his feet to pop above the surface, giggling as he did so. I gave a nervous smirk as I cautiously did the same. I, too, giggled.

We were floating without any of our own effort. We couldn’t help but laugh. Then, I realized we were not the only ones laughing. In the middle of nowhere, in a placid water body in between canyons and mountains, there was a deafening yet completely serene silence that was only broken by faint laughter – lots of laughter, from every direction. We had found the happiest place on earth.

Once more comfortable in the water, we decided to try a few different positions. Paul curled into a ball; I threw my arms up with my feet out flat. Paul stood up and then flopped on his stomach with his neck arched to the sky and his feet bobbing behind him.

I twice attempted to float on my belly but my flip flops caught water between the sandals and my feet and my unsteadiness and fear of face planting only made me flop around like a drowning toddler. It wasn’t pretty but it made Paul laugh.

Before we knew it, we had gone deeper toward the sea’s center…out into the land of the untouchable. For the first time, I was not terrified to be in an area where I could not touch the bottom. Paul, as desperately as he tried, also could not touch the bottom. He stood straight in the water, closed his eyes and grunted as he tried with all his might to touch the bottom. He started laughing, “I’m just bobbing like a cork out here! I can’t touch!”

I could have stayed out there for hours but, knowing that we had a limited amount of time and a friend waiting on the shore, we decided to wade our way back, but not without taking a piece of the sea with us.

A short tractor ride away we found an adult’s playground – a trough filled with Dead Sea mud and shower stations flooding sulfur and salt water.

Though I have thought about what it would be like to take a mud bath, I have never actually placed myself in a tub full of mud. I hadn’t scooped mud into my hands and rubbed it all over my body for any reason over the age of 5. However, this was Dead Sea mud. If I was going to do it, I was going to do it here.

I walked over to the basin, filled with mud, minerals and brown water, stepped my feet into squishy, gushy mud and placed one hand inside. A texture person, the first thing I did was physically examine the goods. Wet and squishy, yes, but not as gross as I had figured. I took a scoop, rubbed it on and away I went. The next thing I knew, I had mud on every exposed area I could reach.

After brining in the sea, I baked in the sun and then rinsed off under a salt water shower. I have been asked if the salt dried my skin and the answer is no. The salt water left a near oily film on the skin and after the mud, my skin has never been so amazing. I stocked up on Dead Sea supplies but that's another story.

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