A must-do experience for anyone visiting Israel or Jordan is a swim in the Dead Sea.
I was on an all-day tour of major sites near Jerusalem when I made my visit to one of the many Dead Sea resorts, Kalia Beach. It was a Saturday afternoon and it was hot, which meant that the resort was swarming with people. At 1,385 feet below sea level, the Dead Sea is the lowest point on dry land on the planet but that’s not what the vast sea is known for, it’s all about the salt.
The Dead Sea is unique because it is eight times saltier than the ocean, thanks to the unique geography of the area. This high salt content means that life is absent from the sea, but it also means people can float without any effort.
The tour guide deposited us at the gates to the resort and paid the entrance fees as we made our way to the hectic changing area. No room for modesty, I quickly changed, grabbed a towel and made my way to the beach area. Warning signs in a variety of languages dotted the path leading to the beach, a definite first for me.
The beach area was packed with people, a hodge podge of Israelis and tourists from all over the world lined the shore in their all too tiny European style swim wear. I really didn’t care about lounging in the sun, I was there for the water experience.
As it turns out, I probably should have read the warning signs a little more carefully before attempting to get in the water, particularly the bit about using a jetty to enter the sea. Not having read this, I decided to just walk into the water directly from the shore, a seemingly simple feat that turned out to be a sticky mess.
In addition to the water, the Dead Sea is known for the health benefits of its famous mud. Millions of people around the world spend big bucks for cosmetics made with this supposed miracle mud. This same mud, while curative when applied to the face, made it impossible to walk around. The mud had the consistency of tar and within a few feet I was actually stuck in the mud, the water barely up to my shins. As I tried to free one leg at a time I fell in, butt first. Luckily I didn’t get any water in my eyes or take out an innocent Russian tourist in my mad thrashing around the waters. After a few minutes, I freed myself and managed to stagger my way into the deeper part of the swimming area.
The first thing I noticed was how hard it was to actually stand up. The water made me so buoyant that it took more effort to stand in the water than to just lay back and float. I knew what to expect going into it, but was not prepared for the total ease the high salt content afforded the floating. It was like floating in space, I could lean back and stretch and never worry about sinking into the water.
Given the salt, swimmers are advised not to spend a lot of time in the water at one time, so after 10 minutes I floated and trudged my way back to the beach. I repeated this several times throughout the brief beach break, the experience like a drug calling me back for more.
At the end of the stay, I used the outdoor shower to clean off the gooey mud and layers of salt before heading to the bar for the largest bottle of water I could buy. The combination of the heat and salt had made me woozy.
We packed up into our van and sped off to the next stop of the tour, leaving Kalia Beach and the thousands of tourists in the distance. Swimming in the Dead Sea is as touristy as it gets, but it’s popular for a reason. The feeling of freedom one obtains from floating is unlike anything else I have ever experienced. It is this sensation that undoubtedly has been drawing people to this spot for millennia.