Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Gone Swimmin' in the Dead Sea

As you may or may not know, I had the opportunity this summer to go on a birthright trip to Israel with my sister and 40 other young Jewish folks from all over the country. I was in Israel for almost 2 weeks and I still cannot believe that I haven't yet written one blog post about it. Shame on me. But that is all going to change now, and here is my first post about the trip: my experience swimming in the Dead Sea.
I have to admit, going to the Dead Sea was one of the things I was most looking forward to on my trip to Israel. Of course it's not the most cultural or religious experience that one can have in the state of Israel, but being able to literally float on a body of water is certainly one of the most intriguing and unique experiences anyone can ever have, and so I was definitely excited about the prospect of visiting the Dead Sea.

By the time we arrived at the shores of the Dead Sea, the sun was blazing in the sky and we were all hot, sweaty, and exhausted from our sunrise hike up Masada.
(here is me passed out at the top of Masada, exhausted. It's only 7am and we'd already been up for a couple of hours!)

But after a week of sweating our butts off in the Israeli sun, I was invigorated at the thought of taking a refreshing dip in the Dead Sea. I was so excited about it, that I was actually the first one of our group to head out to explore.
I tip-toed into the sea, careful not to cut my foot on the ragged salty shoreline. As soon as I reached the water though, I turned around and gave a startled look to my friend Greg. He had been to the Dead Sea before, and had not warned me about what I was about to encounter.
Refreshing, it was not! Having a background in chemistry, I probably should have known that a body of water with such a high salt content would retain a lot more heat than your average ocean, but to be honest, the thought never even occurred to me.  In my mind, I pictured myself floating on top of something resembling the Mediterranean or Andaman Sea, turquoise blue, cool, and comfortable. Kind of like my experience in Thailand - but more buoyant and with a lot more Jews....
But swimming in the Dead Sea was an entirely new experience - probably unlike almost anything you can find anywhere else in the world. The water was hot; like bath-tub hot or even a cup of coffee hot, and it was anything but refreshing. I imagine that swimming in the Dead Sea would be really nice in say January or February, but certainly not in the middle of July.

If I had taken a closer look at the shoreline, I might have been able to guess all of this, it doesn't exactly look refreshing, but I was so excited about going for a swim that I completely missed the obvious clues. After all, the name "Dead" Sea doesn't exactly sound inviting!
I quickly got over my initial shock at the temperature of the water, and kept on chuggin' into the sea. Once I reached about waist high, I started to experiment with floating on the water.
Although I've known about the phenomenon of the Dead Sea since elementary school, I don't think anyone could have ever prepared me for the actual sensation of floating on the water. It's absolutely incredible - and I had fun for a good 10 minutes just enjoying the novelty of it.

The most bizarre experience of all was that once we got out to a depth of about 4 1/2 feet, my friends and I were no longer able to touch the bottom of the sea at all! We were too buoyant to reach our feet all the way to the bottom, despite the fact that we were almost a foot taller than the water was deep. So we just "stood" there, completely erect, shoulders and heads bobbing above the water and marvelling at our own buoyancy.

Once all of the novelty wore off, I was able to take stock in my surroundings. Not only was the water exceptionally warm, but it was so thick with minerals that it actually had an almost syrupy consistency. It literally felt like swimming in a vat of warm baby oil.  My skin was soft and slimy and I became acutely aware of a couple cuts and scrapes on my body that were now stinging from the exposure to all of the salt.

After about 10 or 15 minutes, we made our way back to the shore and into the shade of an umbrella. Our skin was feeling nice and smooth, and we were just hanging out chatting about our individual experiences and perceptions. All of the sudden, somebody walked out with a vat of Dead Sea mud and set it down next to our table. So of course, we began to cover ourselves head-to-toe in the world famous  mud.

The mud was warm and slimy and we all enjoyed giving ourselves our own personal spa treatments. We covered our entire bodies - including our hair - and then walked around in the sun for a while until it all became dry and crusty, to make sure that our skin had absorbed all of the nutrients. 
We couldn't actually go into the sea to rinse off because (1) it's not very refreshing and (2) you can't put your face into the water because the high mineral content will make your eyes burn, so we headed to the outdoor showers to get cleaned up. The mud was everywhere and it turned out to be no easy task to get the mud out of my hair. (such is the price for beauty!)

Finally, after we had scrubbed ourselves clean, it was time for that refreshing dip I had been anticipating all day. I turned my back on the bleak shores of the Dead Sea
and headed for a refreshing dip in a chlorinated swimming pool! Now, I know what you're thinking... "WHAT!? You were at the Dead Sea for what could possibly be the only time in your life and you spent the afternoon at a swimming pool!???" And let me tell you, I was thinking exactly the same thing.

Except for the fact that the Sea was so uncomfortably hot that I couldn't take floating in it for more than 10 minutes at a time. And let's not forget that we were in the middle of the Israeli desert in July - the heat was brutal! The pool was just calling my name! 

And so I spent the rest of the afternoon splitting my time between the cool and refreshing pool and the uncomfortably hot, but nutrient-rich Dead Sea. I have to say, after spending all of that time in the water and covered in the mud, my skin was radiant. My legs were smooth and soft, my hair was silky and shiny, and my cuticles (which are typically dry and unattractive) were visibly healthier and moisturized. The Dead Sea definitely lives up to the hype, and if I lived any closer to it, I would probably go by once a week to keep my skin soft and youthful.

If you are considering a dip in the Dead Sea though, here are a couple of tips:

1) If you have any open cuts, they will sting when you're in the water so avoid picking scabs or biting your nails in the days leading up to your big swim
2) Don't shave your legs for a couple of days before you go into the sea (it will also sting!)
3) Do NOT dive into the water, you absolutely want to avoid getting the water in your eyes if at all possible
4) Don't wear any silver jewelry into the sea, it will tarnish
5) Consider wearing an old swim suit into the water, and definitely rinse your suit out thoroughly after swimming
6) Do NOT pee in the water!!

Other than that, feel free to enjoy the Dead Sea in any way you wish! I certainly did!!