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Dead Sea brings laughter and pain


Wading in the oily, salty Dead Sea solicits childish giggles at first. But after a while, it starts to feel like you're bathing in Dettol.

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While the sensation of floating in the lake, which is around a third salt, is infamous, the experience’s remarkable ability to make adults behave like children is far less documented.

Joyful squeals, laughter and the sounds of rocks being thrown are all heard as I bathe in the Jordanian side of the lake (its other banks border Israel and West Bank).

“You can’t sink, as hard as you try,” a pilot celebrating his 40th birthday yells as he ignores all advice and puts his face in the water, trying to dive.

“Look, I can sit like Buddha!” says a woman, with head and shoulders bobbing.

The salty water can cause your eyes great pain and apparently, though I don’t put my lips under, tastes foul.

The unique and remarkable feeling of weightlessness the Dead Sea offers eventually gives way to a burn in every tiny skin abrasion you didn’t know you had.

Some bathers seem to bear the sting better than others. A woman who had shaved her legs in preparation for donning her swimsuit starts to regret it.

The Dead Sea is the earth’s lowest point on dry land (its shores are 429m below sea level; its seabed, at 304m, even deeper). With almost 10 times as many salts as there are in the ocean, including magnesium, potassium, calcium chloride and bromide, it has offered healing properties for thousands of years.

Today, seaside resort hotels line both shores of the lake and are frequented by travellers looking to soak up the supposed health benefits. For drop-in visitors like us, there’s still plenty of free Dead Sea mud to smother ourselves in, as well as cosmetics promising rejuvenating minerals to buy.

I spend more than my budget could probably stand on skin products at the airport, where I was told they were cheaper. But later, when I get home, I wonder whether the Dead Sea oiliness of one of the products is what I want every day.

Tourists bob about in the buoyant water. Photo: Christian Haugen / flickr

Tourists bob about in the buoyant water. Photo: Christian Haugen / flickr

I feel lucky to be bobbing in the sea, which feels more like some type of space oil than terrestrial waters.

Looking across the vast blue also offers a lesson in geopolitics. The lights of Jericho in the West Bank and Jerusalem twinkle at night and telcos start sending texts warning customers of call charges in Israel, the West Bank and Gaza.

I’m reminded of the ongoing turbulence in this region, and I think of all the history that has happened in and around these waters (the sea appears in the Bible under different names).

The Dead Sea has been shrinking one metre per year due to evaporation and a declining Jordan River, its main tributary.

Last year the Jordanian and Israeli governments signed a deal to replenish the sea with Red Sea brine. There are also plans to increase the flow from the Jordan River.

I hope these unique waters are maintained. The ability for tourists to bob about in childish glee depends on it.

Getting there: A number of airlines fly from Sydney to Amman – about an hour’s drive to The Dead Sea – through connecting destinations. Qantas flies from Sydney and Melbourne to Dubai and onward to Amman with partner airline Emirates. Their fares in November start from $A1585 return.

Staying there: The five-star Kempinski Hotel Ishtar has served Hollywood stars, royalty and US vice-presidents. A superior room at the end of November starts from $A250 per night.

Playing there: Kempinski has its own guest access to the Dead Sea. It’s infinity pool, with a bar and marvellous views across the lake, is a must-experience. There are nine pools to choose from if the salt of the real thing gets too much, and you can eat at any of its three restaurants.

The writer was a guest of Kempinski, Qantas, Emirates and Visit Jordan.


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