Wednesday, February 29, 2012

The Dead Sea

I have been saving, perhaps, the best for last.

Not that the food wasn't exquisite, the company divine, Petra amazing, or Istanbul awe-inspiring...but, for me, possibly the highlight of the trip was floating in the Dead Sea.

After a week of spending time in the driest place imaginable (minus the day of torrential downpour...but even then, there was a notable lack of humidity in the air to someone who was born and raised in the Mid-Atlantic), I was unprepared for the oasis of the Dead Sea.

We left the city mid-afternoon and drove the hour or so south. We all optimistically packed bathing suits and towels, although the weather in Amman was in the upper fifties. There was still substantial cloud cover, but as we moved further out of the city sprawl, the sun came out and baked the hills of sand and rock that edged up on either side of the road.

And then, suddenly, it was green. The dusty spans dotted with olive trees and stubby trees, rows upon rows of brilliant green crops, and, I kid you not, men with head scarves herding crowds of sheep and goats through the fields. I had stepped out of the modern city of Amman into the Old Testament. In fact, much of this area is considered "Holy Land" in many religions, and is the backdrop for much of the Bible. 

The Dead Sea on the Jordanian side is a lush span of absolutely beautiful resorts. It will cost you a pretty penny to use their coveted shore-space for an afternoon if you don't have a reservation (35JD each), but it's worth it.

The oddest thing was that the temperatures in and around the Dead Sea were about 20 degrees warmer than in the city. The entire body of water sits in what looks like a giant bowl, cradled on one side by Jordan, and on the other side by Israel. Drinking in the sudden 75-degree weather, the day after Christmas, we hastily changed in the wooden stalls down by the shore line, took our hotel-issued clear plastic wading shoes, and tentatively stuck our feet into the water.

The tiny little beachfront area of the Marriott resort where we'd purchased day passes was crowded with European tourists all covered in the famous Dead Sea mud. The water came into the shoreline with an unexpectedly strong current, and it surprised me as I waded out on the slippery rocks. There was a sudden drop, and then nothing beneath my feet - but I was floating. Floating because it was actually impossible to do anything but.

The Dead Sea is 8.6 times saltier than the ocean. I had read about the buoyancy, heard anecdotes, but had no idea that water could hold you so upright so firmly. I couldn't straighten my legs for anything; instead, the water folded me gently into a sort of V and bobbed me along. 

Beware the current, however, and beware the shoreline: I looked down into the depths of the water which was pure bottle-green in places, and saw what appeared to be giant mushrooms of brilliant white coral below. It's not coral. I learned this the hard way - so caught up was I in floating along, that I didn't realize how close to the shore the current was pushing me, and I crashed into one of the pieces of "coral." Which are actually large deposits of salt. And when you crash into them with the current, you might accidentally scraped your thigh. On a block of salt. It was not a pleasant feeling.

Also not pleasant - do NOT, under any circumstances, get the water in or around your eyes, nose, ears, or mouth. A wave splashed up over me as I hit the salt rock, and a few drops landed in my mouth and up my nose. The burning was immediate and intense. A few splishes on the tongue feel like acid. And if you have a single blister, cut, or scrape on your body, you will feel the anguishing burn as though someone were pouring hydrogen peroxide directly into the wound.

Floating as easily as you do, however, means you can swim for what feels like miles. We went further out into the Dead Sea than I think I've been in any ocean, with no threat of wild life or drowning. Even a sharp current can't pull you underneath, because the salt will push you back up. Nothing lives in the Dead Sea - no sharks, jelly fish, eels, nothing. 

But you can't go too far out, first of all because the Dead Sea is a pretty large body of water, and also because if you go too far you will require a passport to swim back as you'll find yourself in Israeli territory. 

Other things to note: it is advisable to shower as soon as possible after swimming in the Dead Sea. Why? Because that salt first begins to itch as it dries on your skin...and then burn. Horrifically.

We did schmear ourselves with the famous Dead Sea mud, which is, in no exaggeration, amazing stuff. My skin felt smooth, soft, and hydrated, even after the burn of the salt from the sea. I bought packets of the stuff, scented with delicate oils, for all of the females in my life and gifted them with the explanation that I have "discovered" the fountain of youth. If you want an immediate fix, visit your nearest Whole Foods or health food market. Almost certainly they will have some sort of Dead Sea product, and almost certainly you will love it.

In closing for this post: the visuals....

Marriott Dead Sea Resort, pool

That's the Israeli coast in the background. Don't swim to it.

The red flag indicates swimming is inadvisable due to strong currents. We ignored the flag. Please notice the strong currents, visible here in the water. Oops.

Handy stall where you can pick up your plastic wading shoes.

Sunset, Dead Sea

Lights on Israeli coast. I forget which city this is. 

Dead Sea scrape on my leg, 3 days after occurrence and much-healed. That thing hurt.

Next, and final Jordan post: final thoughts. Two months later. Just in time to gear up for Crazy Sexy Spring which shall involve Lee's wedding, Snap's second trimester of pregnancy, another half marathon, a trip to New York to see "Book of Mormon," and a trip to the Dominican Republic. I don't like to sit still for too long.

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