We’ve all see the TV footage. A presenter floats, feet pointing skyward, on a vivid blue sea. Cold drink in hand, barren hills in the background, they deliver a perfectly composed piece to camera while the buoyancy of the Dead Sea holds them steady on the surface of the water. It seems exotic and exciting, but what is swimming in the Dead Sea really like?
It’s possible to visit the Dead Sea from two countries. Israel has half the coastline and many places to bathe, but my Dead Sea experience took place on the exotic slopes of the opposite shore, in the kingdom of Jordan.
The approach to the Dead Sea from Amman takes you through bare, rocky mountains before you start your descent to sea level – and beyond. A signpost marks the point where you cross the dividing line and enter the bowels of the earth. Every metre you descend from this spot is a vivid reminder of how far below sea level the Dead Sea really is.
There are multitudes of plush resorts strung out along the shoreline, but we headed for one of the public spots, Amman Beach. Here, anyone who can pay the entrance fee can access swimming pools, changing rooms, showers, and steps down to the beach itself. The first thing that’s noticeable is the dark golden sand and blue sea; the second is the ring of white along the shoreline. Salt crystals cling to the wet sand, unlike anything I had ever seen before, and a vivid reminder of why this place is special.
We were warned before our visit that we shouldn’t swim in the sea if we had any cuts on our bodies, and shaving that morning was not advised. Of course, we all ignored the instructions, but we soon found out why we had been warned. Obvious though it sounds, the Dead Sea is REALLY salty. Although I thought I was fine, I soon found every single scratch as the salt stung my skin. If you have serious cuts, you will really know about it.
The buoyancy of the sea is not a myth. It’s a strange feeling, like swimming in water which is thicker than usual, a little bit more treacly than you were expecting. Swimming requires more effort as the water holds you back, and floating, while easy, is an odd sensation as the buoyancy holds you further out of the water than you are used to. We floated on our backs, ankles crossed and hands behind our heads as though we were lounging on a sofa; but we also floated vertically, arms stretched out in a T position like avenging angels, and felt ourselves lift out of the water almost to our waists. It was one of the strangest feelings I can ever remember.
One of our group decided to taste the water, and quickly spluttered and spat it out with a look of horror on her face. Taking a tiny drop on my finger and licking it off, my reaction was not much more restrained – it tasted almost like pure salt. The taste burned on my tongue for quite some time, and made me much more cautious about splashing anyone or getting water anywhere near my eyes.
We spent quite some time playing around in the water and enjoying this once-in-a-lifetime experience. Finally, we dragged ourselves back up the beach for a shower and a dip in the clean water of the swimming pool, before heading off for a shower and a change. Afterwards, heading south along the main road, we stopped at one of the many shops selling products made from the Dead Sea salt and mud and bought souvenirs to take home. It was an experience that completely lived up to my imagination.
The Dead Sea’s level is rapidly falling – the sea has already divided into two, and you can clearly see the old shoreline compared to the new. It would be a tragedy if it were to shrink further, but need for water further up the Jordan valley is limiting the supply of water feeding the sea. Let’s hope that this destruction stops before it’s too late, as this is still a magical location, and definitely worthy of a place on any bucket list.
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