I remember when I was little, I had an illustrated book that talked about floating in the Dead Sea. I had no idea where that was, but I knew that I simply had to do that someday. Years and years later, I called my Israeli friend, Dan (well, he goes by his Hebrew name, Simcha, but I've known him since we were 16 and he lived in New Jersey, so he will always be Dan to me) and asked him if I could come visit. He instantly agreed and then launched into all of the things we could do. No sooner were the words "Dead Sea" out of his mouth that I yelped, drawings of children floating in the sea came rushing back to me. Adult me had Jerusalem in my head, I had completely forgotten about the Dead Sea. But now it had launched to the top of my Israel travel list. I wanted to see this place, the lowest spot on Earth (the ground part, obviously), 1,400 ft (420 m) below sea level, and nearly ten times as salty as the oceans.
As you may have read in my Petra blog, we decided to stop over at the Sea on our way to Jordan. We left Tel Aviv via bus and had a stop over in Jerusalem, where we transferred buses to go to Tzomet metzoke drago, the bus stop that had (according to Dan) the best access to the water. Between Jerusalem and Tzomet metzoke dragot, the journey is almost entirely through the West Bank. The bus did not stop until we reached the check point at Tzomet metzoke dragot, which is just outside of the West Bank. Several very bored young Israeli soldiers with their machine guns talked with the bus driver while we hopped off, crossed the road and headed down the hill towards the water.
The "beach" was vast, so even though there were maybe 20 other people nearby, we had a large swath all to ourselves. As we settled onto the stony ground, we admired the scenery. On our side of the Sea were mountains that hugged the shore. On the other side was Jordan, and in-between was clear, turquoise water that blended in perfectly with the hazy horizon.
Never one to sit on the beach even when my seat isn't hard rock, I practically ran to the bath-warm water. Dan was a bit more hesitant, as he had one hell of a blister on his foot and was worried about the salt. I myself had a cut on my knee from a little tumble I had taken after the pub one night, but fear of pain wasn't going to stop me from copying that children's drawing! And, thankfully, the salt did not hurt my knee at all. This was curious but who was I to question it! And double thankfully, Dan's blister held strong and we were both able to enjoy the water.
Or, at least, he did at first. Aaaaand then he realized his passport was still in his pants pocket. His brand new passport, that had come just days earlier. He quickly ran right back out of the water and to our things, where he did not return from for quite some time as he tried to salvage the document. I, meanwhile, shuffled back and forth between the water and the beach, especially when the military began to hold exercises. The Jordanians are an ally of Israel, and they hold joint Air Force drills over the Dead Sea. They flew low over us, with their engines reverberating off of the mountains on either side of the Sea. I've heard Air Force engines before, but never so close to me nor with those accompanying echoes. It was quite interesting. And then it was back to the water.
I so wish I had taken a picture of the mud that greets you as you enter the Sea. I've never seen or felt anything quite like it before. Dan told me that it was famous in the spa industry for masks and whatnot, which should reveal how much I know about the spa world. I would believe it though. It was moist. Very moist and smooth, it was incredibly satisfying to simply run my fingers through the silt. Dan, meanwhile, was busy covering his face and body with the mud, so I followed suit. And then I floated. Oh my goodness, I floated. It was so cool. I can't even come up with an insightful or poetic way of describing it. It was just cool.
I mostly stuck to floating near the shore, in order to continue to fiddle with the mud at the bottom. My body was on top of the water, while my fingers were digging around the (I cannot overemphasize how much) satisfying mud below.
Also, I am aware of how...uh, double-entendre this post has become and I swear it was not intentional but also I don't know how else to word it because I loved the mud, y'all.
Anyways, as my fingers worked their way through the bottom of the Sea, they kept turning up salt cubes of various sizes. I took about 20 pieces total, keeping about five for myself but the rest were given to friends as souvenirs that were free for me and actually interesting to them! Dan only took a few, as he had been to the Sea many times and already had a collection of fine looking salt, so he only took the "good" pieces. I, meanwhile, was not picky and just gave the "bad" pieces away (I'm totally kidding, I gave the good pieces to my friends...though I did keep the best piece...).
A few hundred feet back from the shore was a small...well, oasis is the best word I can use to describe it. It was a tiny spring, surrounded by lushness in an otherwise mostly barren landscape. I did not get a photo of the pool itself, but here is the view from its waters. While the Sea itself had been quite warm, the pool was much cooler and a nice refresher from the hot desert air.
There is a small hippie community nearby (that's how Dan knew to come to this beach, he used to live among them), so the small pool was full of naked, smiling folks, including an old, very weathered, very tan woman who Dan said has been there as long as he can remember. She was sweet but it was also clear that the woman had taken one (or ten) too many sugar cubes to the tongue back in the day. As I sat among the group and their smiles, taking in the moment, I reflected on how different their life was from the rat-race I often find myself in. Just living in the desert, taking daily dips in the Dead Sea and this little spring. In my late teens, this was an ideal lifestyle for me. I did well in university, but I was a hippie at heart back then. While I do not want to live that life now, it was a fun "in an alternative timeline" experience.
Too soon, it was time to head back up to the bus stop and continue onwards. The bus stop was just past the bored soldiers at the check-point. Unfortunately, we did not have cell service where we were, so we had no idea when the next bus was going to come. While we waited, I stared longingly at the Sea below us. I would much rather have been floating there than sitting bored on our lone bench, but I also did not want to miss a bus that apparently rarely came. I also had to pee, which would have been much easier in the water than the open desert. While our bus did not come for a long time, there were many other vehicles and I finally had to just accept that they would see me squatting so I just ran into the desert and did it.
While we sat and waited, Dan had his passport out and was trying to get the air to dry it. In the moment, this was not a fantastic experience, as we were about to use the passport the next day in Jordan. Looking back on it, knowing that he got in and out of Jordan without any issue, it was bloody hilarious.
Finally, the bus came two hours later. We hopped on and headed off, hugging the shore of the Sea as we headed south towards our destination of Eilat. As we drove on, I noticed that there were several what appeared to be abandoned resorts, though they are still in operation apparently. I asked Dan about this, and he said that the Dead Sea is shrinking. Upon Googling, I was hit with some alarming facts - it has been shrinking at a rate of over three feet (one meter) annually. This is due to both Israel and Jordan extracting the water and the minerals (though both countries seem adamant that its the other country's fault). Ah, geopolitics.