Taken with A Pinch of Salt
The Dead Sea is one of the strangest places on the planet. It is a salt lake located in a depression at the lowest place on earth, over 400m below sea level, which is bordered by Israel and the West Bank to the west and Jordan to the East. Visiting the Dead Sea in Jordan was an essential part of our itinerary on our journey through this fascinating country.
The area has an odd microclimate – it’s 10⁰C warmer at the coast than in the rest of the country. And the Dead Sea really is dead. At around 35% salinity it can’t support any life. Any unfortunate fish that happens to swim in there from the river Jordan lasts but moments. There is no activity on the water either – you don’t see any boats or water sports. The water is so saline it basically destroys machinery. The only thing you can really do there is bathe. And bathing in the Dead Sea is undoubtedly an experience.
The north end of the sea is mainly comprised of resort hotels of varying degrees of poshness, which have private beaches where you can do all sorts of spa type stuff, and the rest is rather beautiful coastline. We travelled along the shore on the Jordanian side on our way to the rose red city of Petra.
There is a pillar of salt, considered by locals to be Lot’s wife from the biblical story.
We decided to stay at a resort for just one night. The hotels on the north coast in Jordan are fairly self-contained and you are pretty much tied to the activities and restaurants there. For example, it was difficult for us to find somewhere to eat at establishments outside the resort and outside restaurants are more likely to cater to tourists. Our hotel had its own beach located about a two minute drive via a free shuttle bus (if you were lazy) or a ten minute walk from the swimming pools. Initially we wondered why there were pools when the purpose of our visit was to swim in the sea but it became clear later when we bathed.
Eternal Youth and Beauty?
Dead Sea mud apparently contains all sorts of minerals that are supposed to do wonders for your skin. And, like the Blue Lagoon in Iceland, you can buy a plethora of products containing miraculous mud at hugely inflated prices that are guaranteed to help you achieve eternal beauty. Or something. We headed down to the beach and caked ourselves in free mud from a bucket by the water’s edge before heading into the sea.
When visiting the Dead Sea in Jordan we absolutely had to bathe. It is impossible to sink in the Dead Sea. You walk in and keep walking. And then, when the water is about at chest height, you take another step and realise that you should be able to touch the sandy floor, but you can’t, yet the water is still at chest height.
It is also impossible to swim in the Dead Sea. When trying to do a simple breast-stroke you are so buoyant that your bottom kind of flips up, pushing your face into the water, which is a really bad idea because if you get any water in your eyes it stings like crazy. You know that feeling when you’ve been chopping chillies and forget to wash your hands and then brush your eye? That burning agony? Well, it’s ten times worse if you splash Dead Sea water in your eye. The water feels oily and hurts like hell.
The easiest way to bathe is simply to float in a sitting position. It’s very comfortable. If you want to move around, sculling gently seemed to produce the required propulsion. We didn’t take pictures of ourselves reading books or anything but it really would be perfectly possible.
When you emerge from the sea you really need to shower off quickly and get all the salt off your skin and bathing suits. Any fabric splashed with water becomes stiff as a board and encrusted with salt. Fresh water showers are located on the beaches, not far from the shore, so that you can clean up quickly.
We’re not convinced that the mud did endow us with eternal beauty but bathing was an most definitely an interesting experience.
Natural Beauty of the Dead Sea
What was truly beautiful was the salt-encrusted shoreline.
We did wonder whether Dead Sea salt was edible as most sea salt can be used for seasoning and preserving. However, the merest (accidental) taste of Dead Sea salty water will confirm beyond any doubt that in its basic form it tastes revolting. The mineral composition is very different to standard sea salt, and tastes extremely bitter, so processing is needed to remove these in order to ensure safe – and tastier – use for human consumption.