A Float in the Dead Sea
I remember as a kid hearing about the Dead Sea, and how you could lie back in it and read a newspaper as your body is so buoyant in the super-salty water. Those who have been along on my odyssey for a while may remember I had a swim in Siwa Lake, Egypt, where the water is so salty the newspaper trick would definitely have worked. Now in Jordan, I had the opportunity for a float in the Dead Sea, so I could find out which is the floatiest of the two. It was also a chance to visit the lowest place on earth.
I drove north up the Jordan Valley Highway to Swemeh, located in the north-east corner of the Dead Sea, which in all honesty is really a lake. A cluster of hotels has been built along the coast, to cater for tourists keen to experience a dip in the Dead Sea, or those from northern Europe who just want to soak up Jordan’s plentiful sunshine.
One afternoon, I took the courtesy minibus from the hotel down the dirt track to the ‘beach’. The Dead Sea coast is rather a barren place, and there is no beach as such; it’s more like loamy sand and pebbles. In an effort to make the place look more inviting, the hotel had scooped out a few excavator buckets of sand from the nearby Jordan River bed and spread it out. Add a few umbrellas and voila! You have a resort beach! Well, sort of…
In addition to being the lowest place on earth, the Dead Sea boasts some other cool stats. Ordinary old seawater is about 3% salt, whereas the Dead Seawater is 31%. That’s a little over ten times more salty my friends. In fact you couldn’t jam any more salt into the water if you tried; it’s at saturation point which is why you get salt crystals forming on the bottom. All that salt makes a litre of Dead Seawater weigh around 1.24kg, whilst your ordinary seawater tips in at about 1.05kg.
Many claim that immersing yourself in the Dead Sea has therapeutic benefits, and apparently mud from the lake is good for the skin too. The hotel staff had thoughtfully collected some for those who were keen to do a little smearing.
Dumping my gear on one of the empty sun lounges, I headed for the water. The hotel had roped off a swimming pool-sized area with floats, and there were a few punters wading and bobbing around. I went to the outside of the area, and waded in.
From first step the water felt noticeably different, and as I got deeper, the floatiness of the Sea was striking. When I reached waist-depth, I leant forward. My feet instantly left the bottom, and were lofted straight to the surface. It was impossible to complete a breast-stroke frog-kick, as my legs were lying on the top of the water. In fact, the only way to make any progress at all was to dog paddle with my arms.
I rolled onto my back, and at least half of me was completely out of the water. By pushing my arms underwater, and moving them like a squid, I managed a bit of forward progress. Enjoying the relative coolness of the water in the warm afternoon sun, and the sensation of being super-buoyant, I made my way further offshore.
Knowing I was well out of my depth, I tried taking an upright seated position, and there I sat without effort. I then assumed the ‘pin drop’ stance; standing up straight with my arms by my sides. I literally stood there in the water, with the surface at my mid-chest. It was ace.
The water was pretty clear, but had a strange look to it, like undiluted lime cordial – you know – sort of shimmery. The Dead Sea was definitely the floatier of my two hyper-saline swimming spots.
The hotel lifeguard saw me way out beyond the designated swimming area and gestured for me to come in. I’m not sure what he was concerned about; the water was so floaty you couldn’t have drowned if you tried.
Being an experienced super-salt water swimmer, I rinsed off after my dip with some fresh water I had brought for the task. Then I decided to go for a walk along the shoreline. I headed west, and before too long bumped into a multiple-roll tangle of razor wire. It was then I realised I had reached the no man’s land before the Jordan-Israeli border. I turned to see the same lifeguard waving vigorously at me to come back. The poor bastard spent the entire duration of my trip to the beach terrified for my wellbeing.
The Dead Sea was definitely worth a visit, and I really enjoyed my swim. As a location for a week-long beachside holiday? Well, perhaps not. But if you find yourself in Jordan, or Israel for that matter, make sure you check it out.
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4 thoughts on “A Float in the Dead Sea”
What happens if you drop an igneous rock into the Dead Sea?
I dunno Changa…what does happen when you drop an igneous rock into the Dead Sea?
It gets wet.
I can’t believe I walked right into that one. I was just about to ring Ben from CSU