I had the ultimate beauty treatment in the Dead Sea. I smeared myself in Dead Sea mud and stood in the baking heat while it hardened on my skin. Then I gingerly walked across rocks and into the world’s saltiest body of water. I floated on my back for a while, bobbing like a cork, hoping the water would just wash away all the mud I had slathered on myself from head to toe.
Floating on the Dead Sea is great fun but it didn’t do much to clean off the mud. Finally I stood shoulder deep in the water and scrubbed myself with vigor. Eventually a fresh water shower on the shore finished the job, although my bathing suit will probably never return to its original color.
I went to Israel for seven days with a group of 22 students from the high school in Hong Kong where I was an English teacher. One day we visited the Dead Sea. It’s called the Dead Sea because nothing lives in it-no animals, no fish and no plants. It’s just way too salty- ten times saltier than the ocean in fact. The Dead Sea is deadly to all living creatures save we hardy humans who can somehow survive in it. However if you enter the Dead Sea with any cuts or scrapes beware and be prepared for pain. That salty water stings! A tiny hangnail caused me untold grief as I stuck my hand in the water.
The mud of the Dead Sea is supposed to have magical restorative power because of all the minerals it contains. The people who try to sell you packages of the stuff assure you it will clear up your acne or eczema, erase your wrinkles, improve your blood circulation and moisturize your skin. I had hoped my Dead Sea beauty treatment would miraculously make me look so youthful my husband might not even recognize me when I returned home. The mud wasn’t that miraculous; although a man in a pottery shop in Jerusalem a few days after my Dead Sea swim refused to believe I was nearly 60. Maybe the mud did work!
The one great thing about our travel group slathering ourselves with mud is that it allowed us to swim in the Dead Sea incognito. Most of the students I traveled with were Asian. A large group of Korean, Chinese and Singaporean teens can cause quite a stir on the streets of an Israeli city. People stopped to stare at them, point at them or even give a polite Oriental bow. My students were gracious about receiving the attention even though it did become tiring after a few days. However for an hour or so at the Dead Sea no one knew they were Asian because they were covered in mud.
The Dead Sea is at the lowest elevation on earth and it is shrinking like crazy. In the last hundred years its water level has dropped by almost 80 feet and the sea itself has shrunk to less than a third of its former size. The Jordan River which feeds the Dead Sea is having its water diverted for drinking and irrigation and that’s why the Dead Sea is getting smaller and smaller. Our guide pointed out dangerous sinkholes that had been created by the shrinking sea. If it continues to decrease in size as anticipated, it may disappear altogether. I’m glad I got to swim in the Dead Sea when I did. That experience may not be possible in the future because, the Dead Sea may indeed be dead!
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