The Lowest Depths on Earth
It was over a hot cup of coffee when my good friend, Bree, invited me and two other friends on a trip to the ancient country of Jordan. Yes– the Lost City of Petra. Desert landscape. Ancient history. The Holy Land. Intricate architecture. And of course, the Dead Sea. I was buzzing! Since Bree has a strong history of picking out stunning resorts for us in Dubai, I knew I’d be stupid not to go. I agreed as fast as words could escape my lips. A few weeks later, all four of us were boarding the plane en route to the capital city of Amman.
When we touched down in Queen Alia International Airport, it was just after midnight. The adrenaline of a new land kept us from feeling too tired as we stood in line waiting for a visa stamp. It cost me 40 Jordanian dinars, which is about $56. Nothing! A quick taxi ride later and we reached our cute hotel; our stay in Jordan began in what many call the “earthy side” of Amman, in other words, the agricultural outskirts. It was a cool, early November morning when we picked up our rental car and hit the King’s Highway. Despite the royal name, this highway has no real connection to kings–aside from grand panoramic views of the Dead Sea. Hold still because those pictures are coming…
Honor the Desert Code
Pretty much the only way to explore the Dead Sea is with a car; there’s no public transport, no gas stations, no accommodations– the only real chance of anything is getting stranded with surly, unforgiving armed border control.
The land surrounding us, called the Moab Mountains, is surprisingly barren in November. Obviously, I knew it was desert landscape, but I expected at least some vegetation. I later learned, after speaking with a native, that if you catch this land at the right season, you’ll find the previously-parched soil covered in an abundance of red tomatoes and glossy eggplants. That’s a sight I’d love to see.
Is that…? Wait, it is! It’s Israel-Palestine across the Dead Sea
I’m shamelessly admitting my ignorance: I had no idea how close the Dead Sea Highway was to the Israel-Palestinian territories. I looked out over the Dead Sea and saw, just as plain as day, the cliffs of Judea on the West Bank!
That realization quickly gave the land a feeling of antiquity but also a very real feeling of tension, particularly as we passed cautious-eyed, heavily-armed police at the border posts. My heart was pooounding! And as many know, the Dead Sea splits up disputed (religious) soil, in which I noticed first-hand, extends a great amount of pressure in this region. Because of this, keep your passport, driver’s license, and rental car contract handy due to random police checks.
You Gotta Get Low Low Low
Quite literally, it’s the lowest point on Earth: 1400 feet below sea level. And just when you think it can’t get any lower, the retreating shoreline makes it less accessible from the cliffs (where your car is parked). To my surprise, there isn’t a designated parking lot or easy area to stop and jump out of your car. With no defined walking trail down to the sea, you just kind of eyeball “the best-looking spot” and go from there.
Bob Like a Cork
No one knows agony like the poor soul who shaves before a dip in the Dead Sea. Total rookie mistake! Did I experience something like this? You’ll never know. I won’t tell. Mmm–maybe. I discovered every open cut I never knew I had.
On top of that, the salt water that makes it into your mouth will burn like fieriest hot sauce. It doesn’t even taste salty, like you’d expect with ocean water. It’s about nine times saltier than ocean water; it’s on a level entirely of its own. In fact, contrary to popular belief, it’s not even the saltiest body of water! The salinity has nothing to do with it being in the lowest point on earth; it’s all about how quickly it evaporates. It’ll keep you bobbingly buoyant (<–I know that’s dumb) about like a cork. So, good luck swimming a few strokes. You can’t!
Apply Mud and Relax–Unless You’re Jack
The beach we found off the highway had a mud pot by the sea’s edge, so we could self-administer a full-body application of stinky mud. I have no idea why it stunk so bad. Jack, on the other hand, met an overly friendly, mildly creepy, Jordanian man who graciously walked up to him and started rubbing mud on his bareback. Us girls giggled and cheered the stranger on.
“Don’t miss that spot right there!”
The stranger smiled. He knew no English.
It didn’t matter how many times Jack yelled, “Hallas!” in Arabic, meaning “enough!”– that guy was gonna keep on rubbin’. Afterwards, as all strange men do, he jumped into the Dead Sea and started chanting what sounded like war-songs in Arabic. Guess Jack’s charm wore off?
Check out my GoPro video of the floating action & the entire awkward mud-moment!
What’s more, the Egyptians used Dead Sea mud in their mummification process. That’s kind of how we felt afterwards, too! We let it bake on our skin for twenty minutes then washed it off. It left my face feeling so tight and tingly that I might as well have been a mummy.
Dead Sea mud is famously luxurious for skin. Its hyper-salty waters is rich in minerals, like calcium and magnesium, known for many health benefits. We didn’t visit any expensive spas that day; we felt we could apply our own mud treatments and splash in our own salt baths.
The Dead Sea is this majestic, mysterious-looking lake of turquoise waters. And really, I could go on and on about it, but instead, I’ll just let my pictures do the talking.
I regret not wearing some type of water shoes. Not only were the stones slippery, but they were sharp as razors! Hence, the salt water burning my cuts.
On top of that, I really studied the water. I was fascinated by how oily the salt looked below the surface. You could actually catch waves of salt going by, which I know sounds weird, but it’s true. And that leads me to my next beginner mistake: I was coated in an uncomfortable, itchy crust that is best dealt with by a freshwater shower. If you don’t want a bad case of the “itchies” or a blazing hot rash, rinse off with fresh water ASAP! Bree, who had clearly done better research than I, easily spotted a natural hot spring only a couple yards from where we parked the car. Because I was wearing my black burkini, I couldn’t easily change out of the world’s saltiest bathing suit, so I convinced myself: meh, I’ll be fine–I mean, it’s just salt.
*Three hours later*
Damn, this is salt water’s itching like fire. It feels like something is stinging my body!
I eventually check underneath my burkini and notice that my skin broke out in a serious rash from my neck down to my thighs, which pleasantly lasted all night. For these reasons, I know why many travelers opt for Dead Sea resorts: for access to immediate showers.
The Dead Sea is Dying
Isn’t that the saddest news? Something I read in my Lonely Planet: Jordan Travel Guide ebook was that it’s deemed a “terminal lake” because of nearby farmers using it for intensive irrigation and high temperatures evaporating the fresh water more quickly than it’s replenished. Frankly, its recession is truly something to lament. Think of the future generations who may not get to experience a natural marvel like this. Truly a shame.
But since I can’t end all teary-eyed like this, I did care enough about the issue to research how Jordan will fix the problem, and according to my Lonely Planet ebook, one of the solutions is called the “Red Sea– Dead Sea Water Conveyance” project. It is a planned pipeline that will run from the Red Sea to the Dead Sea, providing portable water to Jordan, Israel, and Palestinian territories. This will bring water with a high concentration of salt to stabilize the Dead Sea water. I hope this reverses the issue.
If you dig my blog posts, then you’ll really appreciate this archaeological blog on Petra: How to Spend a Day in Petra: Inside Jordan’s Striking City of Stone. Click to read my next travel blog! (Don’t be afraid to comment, either!)