Jordan: Floating away

I didn’t really know what to expect. Would we just be driven to a beach and deposited at the water’s edge? I was visiting the Dead Sea for the first time.

Legend has it that the Dead Sea is a result of the biblical curse from the time of Sodom and Gomorrah. The sea used to be fresh water but was turned salty and undrinkable, in fact hostile to all life, by the anger of God.

Legend has it that this is Lot's wife, turned into a pillar of salt after looking back at the judgement on Sodom

Legend has it that this is Lot’s wife, turned into a pillar of salt after looking back at the judgement on Sodom

Lot’s family was given a chance to leave before the judgement happened. In their departure from Sodom, they were told not to look back at all. Lot’s wife did, and in doing so was turned into a pillar of salt. We pulled over into a lay by for our first close up look at the sea and the salt collecting at the edge where the water had evaporated. Overlooking this lay by is a pillar, looking rather like a very tall woman which is reputed to be Lot’s wife as a pillar of salt. It’s easy to see how this legend developed as the rock does look rather like the shape of a person, but what a person – so tall!

Salt collects at the water's edge

Salt collects at the water’s edge

The Dead Sea is quite large and it probably took around an hour to drive the length of it towards the north end, where we pulled into a resort as day residents. ‘Just walk down’ were our instructions so, having located the changing rooms and prepared, we did just that. The water park and swimming pools gave way to a path through the grass and finally to a muddy grassy track as we neared the sea. There were big concrete containers with mud in them and some rudimentary showers. We put towels to one side and paddled cautiously into the water. Shaving my legs the day before was something I instantly regretted as the salt found them. I looked down to my feet. The water is almost greasy, so thick is it with salt and minerals. Once in the sea, it’s true, you can float very easily. So easily, in fact that it’s actually quite hard to get your feet to the bottom to stand up again. At one point I ended up unceremoniously doggy paddling to shallow water to get to my hands and knees and get to my feet again, all the while trying desperately not to splash for fear of getting the heavy liquid into my eyes.

Our guide had given us good advice on the benefits of the mineral rich mud to be found in the shallow waters. Rather than use the mud in the concrete containers he had told us to dig our own. This we dutifully did and then baked by the side of the sea to allow the mud to dry before showering it off. It’s true – my skin was wonderfully soft after the treatment! My legs were streaked with razor marks – classy!

The Dead Sea is around 420m below sea level and used to be fed by water from the River

The Dead Sea

The Dead Sea

Jordan, at the northern end, however Israel has built a dam further up the river which has reduced the inflow of water, causing levels of water in the sea itself to drop. However, there is a project underway to bring in water from the Red Sea to top up the levels so that it doesn’t disappear completely.

When I visited the Dead Sea I did so as part of the itinerary on an organised tour. However, for the independent traveller, tours can easily be arranged from Amman for the day, even combining it with another site, for example, a visit to Bethany beyond the Jordan and the baptism site of Jesus. It’s only about 45 minutes to an hour outside Amman and it’s certainly an experience which is unlike any other.

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