Living it up at the Dead Sea

Saturday, October 8, 2005 | Dead Sea, Jordan (map)

Dead Sea: buoyancy like nowhere else. Sadly, my camera did not like its encounter with the mud.
A few American friends and I paid our favorite local taxi driver, Fawwaz, to drive us the 45 minutes or so from Amman to the Dead Sea (البحر الميّت) this afternoon for a dip.

The Dead Sea is famous for two things, the first being that it is the lowest point on earth. Because it's actually been a few hundred meters below sea level for millennia, the Dead Sea has no outflow to the nearby Red Sea. The water that trickles in from the Jordan River and from the region's scant rainfall hardly replenish what evaporates every day in the hot sun, so the so-called "sea" is really more of a dwindling lake.

The second reason it's famous is the salt—because the Dead Sea has no outflow, sediment from the river and salt that washed in eons ago from the Red Sea just continue to concentrate. Today the water is about eight times more salty than the ocean. It's actually only about 2/3 water and 1/3 salt, which makes it uninhabitable for most life forms—hence the name—though apparently there
are lots of microorganisms that live in it.

The salt also makes for some fun swimming thanks to the amazing buoyancy! We literally spent an hour or so flailing around in the water, floating easily with all our limbs above the surface at once—an extremely surreal experience. Also because of the high salt content, it is an extremely unpleasant experience to get a drop of the water on your tongue (it burns!) and an unspeakably painful experience to get a drop in your eye.

We also covered ourselves in the salty Dead Sea mud, which is famous (and outrageously expensive) in spas worldwide for its skin care properties. Scooping up the dark goop is easy enough, since the water is only about waist deep around the shore. Supposedly it's shallow enough that you could almost walk across, though you wouldn't want to—we were told that Israeli snipers and patrol boats are ever at the ready to make sure nobody wanders across.

While a mud mishap ended up gumming up my camera lens, I got a few good shots:

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