They say don’t shave for 24 hours before you go in. But of course I didn’t listen. The stinging started immediately. But it was more irritating that painful, and outweighed by the sensation of lightness.
The world’s largest floatation tank — the Dead Sea — is also at the planet’s lowest point, some 1,300ft below sea level. It’s a decidedly odd sensation: to deliberately try to not float. No matter how hard you try, you can’t sink. While most seas are around 4% salt, here that level is around 30%. Your legs pop up from underneath you and if you lie on your back with your head on the surface, it’s like the salinity is your very own invisible lilo.
So I bobbed around admiring my feet, which, despite my best efforts, kept getting in the way of my view of Israel on the far bank. I dithered about taking my mobile phone in with me, but vanity got the better of me. I mean, you’re at the Dead Sea, you’ve got to take the obligatory floating selfie, haven’t you? With Herculean concentration, I managed to keep my phone dry, although I’m not sure I’d recommend following my lead.
However, before capturing my likeness in the water, I had to dress up. Well, not so much ‘dress up’ as slather myself in thick, gooey, sulphurous mud. It’s gathered from the banks of the sea by the lifeguard on duty, slopped into a bucket and then placed in sinks in front of mirrors by the shore.
It’s supposed to be good for the skin, so visitors coat themselves in the stuff, from head to toe. When it’s dried, you look like some Papua New Guinean highlander about to take part in a village ritual. Once mine was caked on, I got back into the water for another soak, until I got a mix of mud, suntan lotion and salt water in my eye. I blindly groped my way to the fresh water showers, about 20ft away. Then I flopped on a sun lounger to work on my tan. Water flows into the Dead Sea from the River Jordan but there’s no outlet, other than evaporation, which causes a salty haze that’s said to filter out harmful UVB rays. That’s not a green light, though, to ditch the suntan lotion.
Although we had approached from Aqaba — and after a progression north via Wadi Rum, Petra and Shobak, the Dead Sea was a natural addition to my itinerary — many people come from the capital, Amman, for the weekend. The gently sloping beach at the Crowne Plaza hotel was busy, but not packed, with locals, expats, Russians, Chinese and visitors from the Gulf States for whom 30C without humidity is a lot nicer than 50C with humidity.
Time for one last dip, before I had to move on. I tilted my head back and floated around for a few minutes, looking up at the sky, until the waves pushed me onto the shore and I found myself at the feet of a rotund local gentleman slathered head to toe in mud. “Welcome to Jordan,” he said, smiling, as if I’d drifted over from Israel.
Read more from our Digital Nomad in Aqaba here.