If a float in the Dead Sea is not on your bucket list, I suggest you add it. Immersing yourself in this particular body of water allows you to experience the joy of the unexpected in a way you haven’t since you were five years old.
You go down to the Dead Sea knowing that you can float. You’ve seen the pictures of people showing off how well they can float, posing buoyantly and effortlessly reading a newspaper or a book.
But it still catches you by surprise.
We visited the Dead Sea in Ein Bokek, Israel. The city is spotted with resorts boasting exclusive access to the Sea, but we found a spot on its decent public beach.
It was 23 degrees Celsius (73 degrees Fahrenheit) and I waited until the mercury hit 25 degrees Celsius before wading in. I went in first, while Nellu took pictures. Immediately, you could tell the Dead Sea was a different kind of pond.
Right away, you notice the salt crystals resting on the water’s surface. It’s largely the salt that gives you the float. Wikipedia calls it a hypersaline lake—allegedly the deepest of the salty lakes—due to its 34 percent salinity.
But the water also has a greasy consistency, as if you mixed oil with sea water.
TheSea was cool but not cold as I got up the nerve to take the plunge. Then I did it. I sat fully in the water, and much to my delight, I popped right back up. I tried to stick my feet back down but they resisted. It was hilarious.
It took me moments to get comfortable with this new reality. First, I just bobbed along. Then I started trying out some fancier moves. You’d think I was training for the U.S. synchronized swimming team (minus the intense waterproof makeup) by the time we left.
We spent much of the day playing in the Dead Sea and it’s interesting to see this discovery scenario repeat itself over and over. A new tour bus pulls up, the cover-ups come off, and the more eager of the group wade in the water. Then, the Sea erupts with laughter as each new group—the Russians, the teenagers, the retirees, and even an out-of-place corporate trio—gets its float on for the first time.
A visit to the Dead Sea also gives you an excuse to play in the mud. Dead Sea mud, rich in minerals, is supposed to be good for your skin. Proponents of the mud claim it helps with everything from acne to wrinkles. We were there, so we tried it.
You’d think that you could just scoop the mud off the Sea floor and slather it on your skin. But this is difficult because can’t get your hand close to the ground, deep enough, to get the good stuff. Never fear, there are many stores nearby just waiting to sell you mud in a bag for a few dollars a pop. You cover yourself in the mud and go rinse off in the Sea, getting a double dose of goodness.
The one thing you must never do is put your face in the water. You may be tempted. You may have your eyes and mouth tightly closed. Don’t do it. I know this from experience.
Nellu and I took turns coating ourselves with mud and taking pictures. After letting the mud get dry and crusty on my skin, I floated back into the water. I was my stomach and I had mud on my face so I did what felt natural and stuck my face in the water. As I lowered my head into the oily substance, I could sense Nellu’s reaction from the shore. I couldn’t see him. He didn’t say it out loud. But I could feel him screaming in his head, “What are you doing!?!”
But it was too late. Immediately after my face hit the water, it began to burn. I ran, unable to fully open my eyes due to the searing pain, still partially covered with mud, to the fresh water showers nearby to wash out my eyes and mouth. It took just a couple of minutes to wash away the pain but please don’t try it. Learn from my mistake.
They say the Dead Sea and its minerals have therapeutic if not healing properties. I suspect for visitors, the psychological benefit of a childlike frolic in the Sea, is part of that therapy.