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Friday, 20 November 2009

Floating Weightless in the Dead Sea

Written by Rebecca Safier
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Floating Weightless in the Dead Sea, saltiest lakes in the world, lowest elevation of dry land in the world, the deepest hyper saline lake on Earth, Jordan Rift Basin, Jordan River, Visiting the Dead Sea, Dead Sea mud, travel Middle EastI stood under the white hot sun at the edge of the Dead Sea, hesitating to expose my sensitive skin to the waters of one of the saltiest lakes in the world. An overenthusiastic friend of mine had already run splashing into the water, only to stumble back a few minutes later groaning about intense burning sensations. She had taken off before hearing our tour guide’s warning to slowly submerge ourselves in the water so that we could get acclimated to it gradually and test our skin’s response. After her recklessness, the rest of us took our time. I gingerly took my first step into the salty aquamarine waters. My feet felt fine, and to my relief so did the rest of my body as I slowly walked deeper into the water.

 

Suddenly my feet swung up from under me, and I bobbed to the surface like a champagne cork in the incredibly buoyant water. The water was so dense it was challenging to stand up. It was mostly shallow and still as glass and I was not walking in sand, but shining white pieces of salt that I could pick up and let sprinkle through my fingertips. I gave myself up to the feeling of weightlessness and slowly floated away from shore. The sensation was unlike anything I had ever experienced before. I did not have to work to keep myself afloat—I couldn’t help but float and my body didn’t graze the salt beneath me even when the water was only a foot or so deep. In this valley, the lowest elevation of dry land on Earth, the natural forces of gravity and even time seemed more sluggish than usual. People floated by listlessly, barely making a ripple in the smooth water.

 

Floating Weightless in the Dead Sea, saltiest lakes in the world, lowest elevation of dry land in the world, the deepest hyper saline lake on Earth, Jordan Rift Basin, Jordan River, Visiting the Dead Sea, Dead Sea mud, travel Middle EastThe near-empty waters of the Dead Sea have a salt concentration that fluctuates around 31.5%, almost nine times greater than regular ocean water. Fish and visible plant life cannot survive in these waters, only bacteria and one type of algae. Fish that accidentally swim into the Dead Sea from surrounding freshwater streams are instantly coated with salt crystals and killed. The Dead Sea is fed by rivers and streams from surrounding mountains, but no rivers drain out of it. Water evaporates at a rapid rate in this hot desert basin, but leaves behind salt and minerals. The Sea became so salty at such a rapid rate that larger organisms were not able to adapt to the harsh conditions.

 

The Dead Sea rests between Israel (much of it bordering the Palestinian West Bank) and Jordan. Its shores are 1,385 feet below sea level, making it the lowest elevation of dry land in the world, and also the deepest hyper saline lake on Earth. It lies in the Jordan Rift Basin and its main tributary is the Jordan River. Recently, the diversion of waters from the Jordan River has caused the Dead Sea’s water levels to shrink rapidly. In May of 2009, Jordan announced its plan to convey seawater from the Red Sea to replenish the Dead Sea. Water delivery from this project is designated to begin in 2017. Meanwhile, experts continue to monitor water levels and engage in various conservation efforts, including reducing industrial activities and pollution in the surrounding areas and increasing the flow of its main tributary, the Jordan River. Even with the dwindling water levels, it is unlikely that the Dead Sea will entirely disappear.

 


 

Several hotels are located close to the Dead Sea both on the southwest side in Israel and on the Jordanian side. There is also a nearby nature reserve at Ein Gedi.

 

The Dead Sea has been a destination for visitors for thousands of years. It appears in the Bible as a place of refuge for King David. Herod the Great of Israel visited the Dead Sea for its healing powers. Its unique salt and minerals were used by ancient Egyptians in their balms for mummification, and they continue to be used today in cosmetics. The Sea is popular for its therapeutic and healing properties, and several companies supply Dead Sea salts for body and skin care products.

 

During my trip to the Dead Sea, my group and I slathered Dead Sea mud all over our skin, hoping to experience some of these celebrated therapeutic properties first-hand. It took some effort to get over my aversion to being covered in this somewhat foul-smelling mud, but after showering it off I could feel my skin glowing. It might have just been my appreciation of finally getting to bathe, but after the salt and mud massage my skin felt like it had been scrubbed fresh and clean of impurities.

 

Floating Weightless in the Dead Sea, saltiest lakes in the world, lowest elevation of dry land in the world, the deepest hyper saline lake on Earth, Jordan Rift Basin, Jordan River, Visiting the Dead Sea, Dead Sea mud, travel Middle East, Rebecca SafierVisiting the Dead Sea is an eerie experience, simultaneously calming and invigorating. I felt my normal sense of time float away with me under the hot Middle Eastern sun, in a twilight zone of white salt earth, still turquoise water, and an expanse of blue sky. The regular laws of nature seemed strangely suspended, tourists floating by reading newspapers, almost perched atop this water that seemed neither liquid nor solid. I felt weightless and calm, but also in awe of how different even the air felt in this lowest of places on Earth. I was finally roused from my trance when my skin started to prickle from the salty water. After scrubbing myself all over with Dead Sea mud and showering off the salt, dirt and minerals, I slowly reawakened to the modern world around me. My entire experience of Israel was marked by a strong awareness of its ancient history. At the Dead Sea I felt the presence of others who had ventured there thousands of years before me, basking in the sun, floating in the Sea, and marveling at the weightless atmosphere of this incomparable basin in the Earth.

©Rebecca Safier

Last modified on Sunday, 16 December 2012

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