You’re not allowed to leave Israel without a visit to the Dead Sea. It’s not actually a law but it might as well be.
Passport control should ask every visitor that question as they arrive. “How long is your stay? Are you carrying any fruits or vegetables? Have you arranged to visit the Dead Sea yet?” It’s practically required. There was no way we were leaving Israel without taking a dip in one of the world’s most famous bodies of water.
We booked two nights at a hotel in Jerusalem and after spending the first day exploring the city, we rented a car and drove east into the desert. The Dead Sea is 1,388 feet, or 423 meters, below sea level making it Earth’s lowest elevation on land. It’s also saltier than the margaritas at your favorite Mexican restaurant. The percentage of salt is about 34%, which is ten times higher than that of the ocean.
The Dead Sea is neither dead nor a sea.
It is a lake, and it is not dead. There no fish in it, but the salty water teems with bacteria and microbial fungi. The mud is known worldwide for improving skin, rheumatic pains, and relaxing muscles.
We visited Masada first thinking that the Dead Sea would be a refreshing conclusion to a fairly hot and dusty day.
We arrived in the early afternoon to the section of the Dead Sea that is loaded with resorts. Acting as if we were honored guest of one of the hotels, we strolled onto the salt-lined beach and prepared ourselves for a much-needed swim after a long day of exploring ancient ruins. Barefooted, we stepped into the water and quickly realized two things. The first was that the water was very warm and was not going to have that cooling off effect that we had hoped for. The second was realized a split second later after first few steps.
The floor of the Dead Sea is hardened, crusted, solidified salt that feels almost exactly like walking on Legos. Oh, the PAIN!
My feet are fairly callused, a genetic gift from my father, so it took me a couple of seconds longer to realize how sharp the “sea” floor was, but Mimi was frozen. Preforming my chivalric duty, I turned around and grabbed her flip-flops. After she was properly shielded from the painful bottom we walked out far enough, until the water was deep enough, to allow us to just sit in the water and relax. Well, kind of relax.
The salt helps you find every cut on your body.
It burned like crazy. I mean reeeeeeally bad! Don’t shave for at least three days before getting into the Dead Sea. If pouring salt onto the wound is supposed to be as bad as the expression implies, imagine completely immersing yourself in salt. Yeah, it’s like that.
No Life Vests Required.
You float so easily in the Dead Sea, it seems it would be impossible to sink. It can be very relaxing to float because it takes no effort whatsoever to stay floating. It took a real effort to sink below the water line and it was an effort that I instantly regretted. In hind-sight it seems obvious but when the saltwater from your head flows down into your face as gravity intended, it gets into your eyes. Water that salty only has one effect on your eyes and it’s to make them burn like you’ve been pepper sprayed. Don’t try to wipe your eyes with your hands either because they’re salty too. The only thing you can do is to close your eyes as tightly as you can and wait until the water had drained from your face completely.
After effortlessly floating for a while and enjoying the peace of the still water, we decided it was time to hit the road and get back to Jerusalem.
We were a little surprised at how the salt water leaves what feels like an almost slimy coating over your skin. It’s not a gross slimy feeling though. It’s almost like you’ve been dipped in olive oil and it’s left a filmy residue all over your skin. There are showers all along the edge of the water graciously provided by the resorts which are essential. If you try to dry off with a towel first, it doesn’t remove the salt from your skin and this causes your skin to dry out very quickly. That’s when things get itchy. Always rinse off as thoroughly as you can before toweling off. Your body will thank you for it.
Even though it wasn’t what we expected we have no regrets. It was painful in a way at first but once you stop resisting your natural instinct to swim and just allow yourself to float, it can be an amazing experience. The Dead Sea forces you to relax. Resistance is futile.