Dead Sea, Jordan

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Posted 2022-10-25 by Gail Clifford MDfollow

Eight women covered in mud laughing exaltingly in the bright Middle Eastern sun with the scent of saltwater wafting in each breeze and the feel of warm sand beneath our feet over 6,000 miles from home during our first visit to the Dead Sea. How in the world did we get here? And how can you have the same experience – or better now that we have handy tips for you to utilize?

During our 10-day press trip, courtesy of Visit Jordan and sponsored by IFWTWA, we spent a couple of nights at the fabulous Hilton on the Dead Sea, the Hilton Dead Sea Resort and Spa .

This multi-building, multi-restaurant multi-level, multi-pool complex included two elevators to reach the Dead Sea, located 400 meters below sea level and reportedly the lowest place on earth. It takes almost ten minutes to get from the back door of the hotel to step into the Dead Sea and is not handicapped accessible (despite the elevators, there are multiple sets of stairs in between).

With the world's lowest place comes the world's lowest roads. On the Jordanian side, that's Highway 65, at 393m (1,289ft) below sea level. On the Israeli side, it's Highway 90, a longer road, at 393m (1,290ft) deep.

We arrived directly from Aqaba, about a four-hour drive, yet were early for check-in so left our bags with the bell staff and were directed to the Bacchus restaurant, their on-site Italian eatery. With fresh from the oven pizza and a more typically American menu than we'd seen in a week, we feasted on steak and potatoes, bruschetta, four cheese pizza, and a variety of pasta and salad dishes.

By then, our rooms were ready, and we were able to check in, unpack, and don our bathing suits for our first visit to the Dead Sea. On your journey from the back door of the hotel, you'll pass the picturesque T-shaped water feature, several family pools on different levels and take two elevators and multiple stairs to reach the seaside. You'll feel like you're working off that meal with those 400 meters.

Pro Tip: Pick up a beach towel at the family pool. They don't make them available seaside.

Drop your belongings on a chaise – preferably one with an umbrella – and race into the Dead Sea. No need to worry about how cold it is. It's not. It's comfortable, like bath water. Lay back, even just a little, and feel your legs lift beneath you. Even the most solid of individuals, those who typically sink, not float, will enjoy the experience of 30 % salinity, about 6% more than the Great Salt Lake in Utah. Just do yourself a favor, don't go face first. You don't want to drink this water and even touching the vermilion border of your lip will cause a significant burning sensation.

Try to stand. It's not easy unless you're in the very shallow waters near the sand. We were able to manage to get ourselves upright and tried to bounce, like corks, to touch the bottom. Even chest deep in water, I couldn't do it. It's impossible to sink. Your body weight is lighter than the Dead Sea's saltwater density which increases your buoyancy. And I couldn't stay chest deep for long, the water pressed me back to waist deep and my body definitely wanted to be horizontal, not vertical. The further you walk into the water, the more you'll feel as though you're being "pushed" to float.

Wear your sunscreen, but don't worry too much about sunburn in the first half hour. The geography of the sea, the depth, makes the ozone layers filter more of the UV light so your risk of sunburn here is much lower than other places in the world.

Look to the west and view sandstone cliffs and Jordan's Moab Mountains.

Once you've floated sufficiently and captured your photos, return up the beach to the central station. To the right, you can pay attendants to rub the mud across your skin. But if you're there with friends, rub your own mud on, then have them help with your back. You can even make it a "train" of mud plasterers for most jovial effects.

Warning: Do not dunk your head in the Dead Sea. The salinity can drag your head down and your eyes will experience terrible, even excruciating burning.

Directions state to leave the mud until dry. It's not easy to stand around for that long, but with good friends making conversation, the time can fly by. We certainly didn't want to sit on the lounges with the mud in place.

Once your time is up, get thee to the showers and rinse the mud off. Don't go back into the Dead Sea to wash off, mostly because you don't want that saltwater touching your face. Your skin is likely to feel silky and smooth, courtesy of the high mineral content of the Dead Sea including sodium, potassium, chloride, magnesium, calcium, and bromide. It's what makes the Dead Sea the oldest natural spa on earth.

Warning: Don't shave within 24 hours of entering the Dead Sea. Shaving leaves your skin sensitive and open wounds will burn from the amount of salt in the Sea.

At dinner that night, we see the lights of Jericho and maybe even Jerusalem in the distance across the Sea and appreciate the panorama of Israel's Judean Desert.

Once you've had the initial experience, consider your surroundings. The Dead Sea is bordered on the east by Jordan and on the West by Israel. It's the lowest body of water on the planet. While the Dead Sea does contain some microbial life, the water is too salty for flora or fauna to survive in its waters.

The Dead Sea lies in the Jordan Rift Valley at 430.5 meters (1,412 ft) below sea level). It's actually a super salty lake, 304m (997 ft) deep, 50km (31 miles) long and 15km (9 miles) wide. One of the world's first health resorts for Herod the Great, it continues to welcome international visitors with a long stretch of beach devoted to hotels now referred to as the "Hotels Area."

Sadly, the Dead Sea is dying. It's receding from a recorded 1,050 km2 (410sq mi) in 1930 to today's surface area reportedly at 605 km2 (234 sq miles) with projects underway to save the area. The River Jordan is its main tributary, and, for a time, it's replenishing the area matched evaporation rates. But since the 1960s, with the diversion of the Jordan River to the Sea of Galilee (Lake Tiberius) and then in the 1970s, diversion of the Yarmouk River, the lower Jordan River's main tributary, evaporation exceeds replenishment at an alarming rate. Mineral mining on the opposite side of the Dead Sea increases the disruption. With the increased absorption of the salt into the base layer, the ground above can collapse without notice, leaving many sinkholes noticeable, I'm told, more on the Israel side of the Dead Sea.

The Mujib River, from the Wadi Mujib or Mujib Valley, is the other large water source for the Dead Sea. It continues to flow through after the adventures you experience in the Wadi Mujib leave you laughing and breathless, you could cry at the relative trickle of water that survives to the end of the trip to go into the Dead Sea.

There's not much rainfall in this region, maybe 100mm (4 inches) per year on the north side where we stayed and half that on the south side. It's a good reminder to conserve water.

The Hilton tells us it's safe to use their water for brushing our teeth but it's hard to break a week-long habit of using bottled water to brush.

From the Hilton Dead Sea Resort and Spa, we ate all our meals at one of their three restaurants, Spectrum, their buffet, 1312, their Lebanese restaurant, and Bacchus, their Italian restaurant. We made day trips to the Wadi Mujib Reserve (a must do if you go to the area and can swim) and Bethany on the Jordan, where John the Baptist baptized Jesus Christ. Both are moving and memorable in their own ways. If you're in the area, it's a wonderful place to stay.

You may find your only question: Do I go back in the water today? Or do I shave my legs? Theirs is a rare hotel in this region that has a bathtub, with a sliding door so you can look out over the Dead Sea. Choose wisely.

83177 - 2023-06-11 06:38:46


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