Tag Archives: Jordan

I’m Alive in the Dead Sea

No splashing. That’s the first rule when you immerse yourself in Dead Sea.  Even a tiny drop in your eyes or mouth burns fiercely.

A Dip in the salty Dead Sea
A Dip in the salty Dead Sea

I wasn’t worried; it was January and I’m a Floridian. Call me wimpy, but I don’t swim outside when the temperature hovers around 40 degrees.  Nonetheless, some do.

Empty beachfront at the Dead Sea
Empty beachfront at the Dead Sea

Israel’s Dead Sea isn’t really a sea; it’s a lake in the Negev desert, about 1,300 feet below sea level. That makes it the lowest point on Earth that’s not under water.

My first glimpse of the glass-like expanse came from Highway 90 (the world’s lowest road) as we drove beyond the Judean Mountains toward Masada. The water looked oddly colored through my camera viewfinder. In some places it appeared neon green and in others, electric blue. Undoubtedly, the water’s mineral content contributes to this psychedelic effect.

Masada, a UNESCO World Heritage Site
Masada, a UNESCO World Heritage Site

The bus drove on to the UNESCO World Heritage site, Masada, the ancient mountain top palace-fortress of Herod the Great. Back in 70 A.D. Jews fleeing persecution in Jerusalem joined fellow refugees there. The Romans made violent organized charges and attempted to takeover, but the Jews held out for two years. In the end, they chose suicide rather than be conquered. The site is considered a Jewish cultural icon.

Visitors at Masada
Visitors at Masada

Tourists enter the rather posh Masada Visitor Center and either hike or ride a cable car to the dramatic summit. (Watch the short introductory film first as it helps understanding.) Rising nearly 1,500 feet above the Dead Sea, the hazy views from the plateau seem endless and the 2,000-year-old ruins are impressive and well preserved. Stroll among some original enclosures and other areas and lookouts that have been restored.

Scenic view from Masada.
Scenic view from Masada.

 

On the ride back to Tel Aviv, my group stopped at a seaside resort. Only a few hardy folk felt like a dip, but everyone wanted to see the salty sea up close.

Salt Crystals in the Dead Sea
Salt Crystals in the Dead Sea

As I walked along the near empty beachfront, I passed crusty edges at the shoreline rimmed in white. These salt deposits were created when the water hit the shore and dried in the sun. The Negev gets about 330 sunny days a year, but this day was not one of them.

Nothing grows in the Dead Sea (hence the name) because the salinity is 8.6 times saltier than the ocean. The mineral content ranges around 30 percent compared to 3.5 percent in the Mediterranean.  That’s known as heavy water with high viscosity (love that wonderful word I learned in Anatomy and Physiology 101). The surface air is also heavy from mineral compounds in the evaporating water.

Applying therapeutic mud
Applying therapeutic mud

The area’s dark mud or clay is believed to have therapeutic qualities, along with a soak in the briny liquid. The usual procedure is to apply thick mud all over your skin and let it dry for 10 minutes. Then, slowly walk into the water and float on your back. Swimming is not a good idea because it creates a splash. No more than 20 minutes is recommended or you’ll become dehydrated.

 

 

 

Mud Treatment
Mud Treatment

I didn’t partake the treatment on my January trip to Israel, but as luck goes, I made a visit to Jordan five months later. (Jordan is clearly visible from Israel, on the opposite side of the bank.) In May, I whole-heartedly caked my arms, legs and face with mud, chuckled at myself and then sat and baked in the sun.

Laughing at yourself is part of the therapy.
Laughing at yourself is part of the therapy.

 

Feeling rather prune-like, I slithered off the edge of a low platform into the water. I could barely keep my feet down. They wanted to pop up, honestly demanded it, and so, I let them. Floating on my back took no effort because of the buoyant properties of the salt water. As a swimmer, the sensation was strangely different, laughably fun and totally liberating.

Floating in the Dead Sea
Floating in the Dead Sea

While in the water, I rubbed the mud off my skin, which then felt rather slimy, but in a good way.  My hands slid over my skin as if gliding over waxed paper. When I came out of the Sea, I could have recorded a commercial for baby soft skin. The experience brought to mind a costly spa treatment, but a free one you give yourself. Some medical experts say a dip helps those suffering with psoriasis and arthritis. Whether curative or not, who cares? I came alive in the Dead Sea.

 

Alive in the Dead Sea
Alive in the Dead Sea

If you go:

Israel: www.goisrael.com

Jordan: www.jordantours-travel.com

Riding Camels Here and There

 

Camel riding isn’t a popular means of transportation in the United States, but a method I’ve always wanted to try. As luck goes, I was blessed with two diverse opportunities within one month.

 

The first came when I traveled to Jordan and spent two nights in a Bedouin tent camp. The  desert at Wadi Rum reigns as an ideal location for a camel trek. Lawrence of Arabia described the landscape as, “red sands that stretch like seas between mountains of crimson sandstone. The rock monoliths sculpted by nature resemble the drippings of candle wax on a monumental scale.”

 

On the morning of my ride, owners in long flowing robes crossed the dunes and walked alongside their herd. The scene looked like it a sepia-tinted photograph from a history book, except the two Bedouin were talking on cell phones.  Okay, I thought — digital age dromedaries.

 

They cushed the camels (lowered to a kneeling position) and covered their basic saddles with blankets. Stirrups are not part of a camel’s gear, so one grips the tufts of hair atop the hump. To get on, I flung one leg over the beast, feeling my yoga class stretches coming into use. I casually shimmied my butt into place and hunkered down.

 

Suddenly, my camel erupted upward nearly tossing me off its back as it leaped to its fore-knees. Then, in a two-stage process, its back legs extended, and I was nearly catapulted forward over its head. I then found myself riding at the height that would guarantee a slam dunk into a basketball net.  Woo-hoo!

Desert camel riders in Jordan

The first few minutes gave me a bumpy, disconcerting ride, as my body jostled to and fro. But soon I began to adapt and enjoy the feel of the gentle compression of my camel’s hooves into the sandy sea. The view on camelback is spectacular, you’re about twice as high as when riding a horse and the desert scenery gorgeous.

 

Later in the month, I found myself at the Safari Wilderness Ranch in Central Florida. Believe it or not, I mounted a camel here for another ride. They use an easier method to get of on and off, but honestly it’s not as much fun nor as hair-raising as my original.  Polk County camel riders step up onto a platform at the dromedary’s height. Then, riders simply toss a foot over. The camel does not rise or descend. In Florida, the saddles had metal frames which guarantee a secure ride.

 

Once beyond the loading zone, the sensation of riding is identical, except the safari traverses grass instead of sand. While riding through Wilderness Park I saw zebras, lemurs, wart hogs, cattle, deer, antelope and Water Buffalo. Safari Wilderness Ranch is not a zoo or theme park. There are no crowds and no lines; it’s a natural adventure with guides who explain the herds of exotic game. Safari vehicles fitted with shade canopies offer an alternative tour.

 

I highly recommend a trip to Jordan; the country is safe, the people are friendly and the archeological ruins outstanding. A camel ride across the desert is a cherished memory, but I have to admit, a three-hour car ride gave me a similar, close encounter with the humped beasts.

 

Wilderness Ranch Zebras

 

 

If you go:

Safari Wilderness Ranch:

www.SafariWilderness.com

Tours in Jordan:  www.jordantours-travel.com/cms/