The Dead Sea is famous for being so salty that it makes you float. It is also where the biggest, most widely propagated myths on this earth were founded, period, no matter if you believe in Horus and Isis, the Qur’an, the Old Testament, or the New.
I went there from Jerusalem very early one Shabbas morning with three other reporters -- we were there on a press trip sponsored by the Israel Board of Tourism.
Luckily we found a driver who’d operate a vehicle on the religious weekly day of rest. My new friends and I had been up partying all the night before with the locals, which involved all kinds of tawdry behavior they’d kill me for recounting (sorry). For my part, the beastly cramps that plague every one of my menstrual cycles starting to erupt through my system.
At the edge of the part of the sea that’s open to the public, we paid our admission fee to a friendly, beach-fried gentleman in a shack and dragged some chairs to the craggy, crusty coast.
Some parts of the Dead Sea are apparently gorgeous, with a natural landscape of serene white salt crystal formations like something in a Björk video. This part wasn’t like that. It looked like a thin moat of battery acid lined the shore, and from there the water was a little murky, heavy, thick, dark. From afar, however, it shimmered in the sun as large bodies of water do, and in it, the somewhat foreboding salt lake became blissful, silky, and pillowy and decently warm.
You can’t help having fun in there. Your foot touches bottom and goes squish—not from scary gross unknown fish dung tangled up in seaweed harboring leeches (as is what I imagine of all other lakes), but from soft, gray-black mud that’s so full of detoxifying salt and minerals that it’s sold around the world in all kinds of fancy spas. Then you realize that every one of your movements is naturally accelerated and propelled, thanks to the water -- it’s like zero gravity, which is the ultimate support system. You float completely effortlessly, and it’s a total relief on your physical body to not have to position and lug itself around.
I frolicked for a bit and then got out, thinking I’d pass out in the sun for a while. The guy from the shack was talking up my friend. Next thing I knew, he’d hustled both of us with a big plastic bucket full of ultra-concentrated, black, bottom-of-the-sea goo harvested from right where we were standing, which he’d rubbed all over us. Though he wasn’t gropey or molesty, he wasn’t too concerned with such piddling things as personal boundaries. He told us to sit out on the rocky beach to bake in all the mineral goodness.
While drying, my friend shot me in a series of Swamp Thing glamour portraits along a gross section of the beach.
Then we got in the water and rinsed off the mud back to whence it came. After this, my body felt amazing. My muscles, tense from over-exhaustion and travel, felt elastic and springy; my hangover was long gone; and my cramps, which usually have me lying in bed for days wailing in pain and popping prescription anti-inflammatories, were gone -- and, as it turned out, stayed that way for a couple more cycles.
The Dead Sea is one of those inarguably fantastic destinations -- like, there’s not one single person who would visit it and go, “Well, this is just stupid.” And it has has science on its side -- being so far below sea level has atmospheric pressure benefits, including reduced UV rays, and the water’s chemistry is unparalleled in therapeutic quality.
Ancient Egyptians used it in their mummy juice too, which is pretty cool. No matter where along the circle you find yourself, from strict believer in God to strict believer in Science, the Dead Sea is a special, magical place.
And it is slowly evaporating, so try to get there within the next thousand years if you can, before it’s all gone.