by: Peter Fast, National Director, Bridges for Peace Canada
From the pen of Peter Fast, national director of Bridges for Peace Canada and the future CEO of Bridges for Peace International, comes the fourth installment of the Quirks of Israel. Join Peter on a journey through the wonderfully peculiar culture, traditions, heritage and daily life of this singular nation as he unpacks, introduces and celebrates the quirky aspects that make Israel so wonderfully unique.
When anyone visits Israel, they always end up at the Dead Sea—and for good reason. The Dead Sea is a wonder of the world. The amount of minerals and healing properties in the salty waters are incredible. Regular ocean water contains between 3 to 5% salt, whereas the Dead Sea waters have around 30%, which means that literally nothing can survive in the briny waters of the Dead Sea.
Due to the salt and other mineral content, the Dead Sea features an endless array of beautiful geological formations, crystallized salt pillars, incredible strata layers where the water level has reduced and breathtaking multicolored sand and mud.
The Dead Sea is also famous for floating and covering yourself in mud. However, a quick shower to get rid of the mud will reveal radiant, soft skin that’s been exfoliated and moisturized by the mineral-rich mud and water.
Over 2,000 years ago, the Empress Cleopatra banned anyone but her from bathing in the Dead Sea and treated this enormous body of salt water as her own personal spa. Today, you have a plethora of companies capitalizing on the Dead Sea’s beautifying properties, selling every imaginable beauty product from lip balm, hand soap, shampoo, foot cream, hand cream, exfoliation mud, deodorant and more.
It’s crucial to know that there’s a proper way to enter the Dead Sea. Never dive headfirst, cannonball or do a backflip. The water is so dense that you’ll do an awkward bounce. Also, the salt content is so high that getting it in your eyes will feel like a hydrochloric acid bath. I also recommend that you don’t shave the morning before your swim. In fact, any open cuts or sores will be cauterized with quite a bit of stinging. So, as long as you don’t cannonball, shave or enter the water with a flesh wound, you’ll be just fine.
But back to the proper way to enter the Dead Sea…Start by walking to the edge of the water carefully, bearing in mind that the rocks are slippery and that any number of mud sink holes lurking beneath the surface can suck you down side ways or cause serious instability. That’s why it’s important to take your time. Once you dip your toes in the water, most first-time Dead Sea bathers will give a giggle at the strange coolness of the water and the odd oily film. There is, of course, also the realization that you look like a giant infant trying to enter a bath for the first time.
Once you’re deep enough in the water—above your knees or around waist level is best—simply turn around, gently lower yourself and carefully sit back. It’s that easy. All that’s left is to allow the soothing arms of the Dead Sea to do its thing. You will naturally float. To move about, paddle gently with your hands, all the while ignoring any urges to scratch an itch on your face or rub your eyes. Float around with a smile on your face, read a newspaper, cover your body in mud and enjoy yourself. After about half an hour, you’ll probably want to paddle to the shore and go for a shower.
The Dead Sea’s salt content will dehydrate you, so bring a bottle of fresh water to drink—or wash your eyes if you get a drop of water in there and the agony is unbearable.
Follow my simple advice and you’ll have a grand time. Ignore it at your own peril.
Let me give you a practical example of what not to do. This happened years ago as I was leading a tour and we were about to embark on our swim in the Dead Sea. I had just finished explaining all the dos and don’ts of how to enter the water and spend your time floating. As the tour group embarked from the bus, one of the tour members—an eager and excited young man, who struggled to toe the line and pay attention when instructions were doled out—asked the driver to open the undercarriage of the bus so that he could get his snorkel and goggles.
I stared at him for a half second and then shook my head before patiently going through all the dos and don’ts one more time. I thought I had saved this poor young man from much pain and suffering, and patting myself on the shoulder, I made my way to the water’s edge alongside a few other tour members. Like experts we entered the water carefully, each one wading out up to the waist, and then gently sitting back. We floated together like a mighty fleet of warships, laughing, chatting, enjoying the sun and always hydrating with the water from our water bottles.
That’s when the unthinkable happened. My first warning of impending doom was the shouts of protest from my fellow floaters. Then I saw it myself. The eager and excited young man from the bus came bounding down the beach like an excited toddler, preparing for what he clearly envisioned as an impressive plunge into the briny waters. His dive into the Dead Sea started out spectacularly. At that point, his brain hadn’t calculated the danger he was in, nor had the acid begun penetrating his eyes.
Like an experienced Olympian, he stretched out his form, hurdled himself up in the air with the precision for the perfect dive—body like a plank, arms forward and hands like the tip of a spear, head in place and chest tight to receive the impact of the water like a bullet—to penetrate the murky depths and rise professionally from the surface to the ovation of his friends.
It did not pan out like that though.
He did a half bounce off the surface, emerging with horrid shrieks that scattered the groups of placid floaters. The poor young man was in agony, blinded and completely disoriented as two of our group members paddled frantically to his rescue with a bottle of water. Eventually, his shrieks of pain quieted to a whimper as the fresh water did its trick. The two saints who had saved his life from the acid bath towed him to shore where he collapsed in a defeated heap. The young man who had not heeded my warnings stared back at the water before him, worn out and in agony. For the rest of the afternoon, he watched the rest of us floating carefree in the briny waters. But he never set foot in the Dead Sea again.
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