Dead Sea Road Trip: Blissfulness meets dread
I had four days left in Israel, so I decided to rent a car for a Dead Sea road trip, a destination that had long been on my bucket list. Soon after leaving Tel Aviv I remember seeing a social media post by a fellow travel blogger, Abby Hockman, who was looking for other bloggers interested in hanging out. I sent Abby a message, and in a matter of minutes, confirmed her interest in accompanying me on this Dead Sea road trip. I love it when a plan comes together. I picked up Abby in Jerusalem and off we went toward the Judaean Desert, en route to the Dead Sea.
The Judaean Desert lies near the West Bank and is east of Jerusalem. It is a long descent below sea level to the Dead Sea. It stretches from northeastern Negev to the east of Beit El, and is marked by terraces with escarpments. Along the way, we stopped at a scenic overlook of sorts where a sign said “Sea Level.” Of Interest, the downward slope would descend another 1400′, to the lowest point on earth. This Dead Sea road trip would also mark the first time I had ever flown my drown below sea level.
Before continuing, we took in the hilly barren landscape that looked like crusty sand dunes from another planet. As we turned into a parking lot I spotted a sculpture of a camel. I stopped to take a picture of it when behind me an Arab-looking man in a barely audible voice said, “Five Shekels to take a photo.” I thought that was an odd request to photograph a sculpture, when just at that moment Abby said, “It’s real!” “What?” I said “The camel, it’s not a sculpture, it’s real!” She exclaimed. That camel had not flinched the entire time, I would have bet money it was a sculpture. Just then, the camel adjusted position.
With no Shekel coins in our possession, we moved on. Abby walked around a bit while I got my drone out to take some aerial photos and capture some video footage. The area is flanked by Palestine and Jordan, so the thought crossed my mind about the drone being shot down by flying over their respective airspace, but the landscape and area devoid of authority had me thinking it worth the risk. Soon, we hopped back in the car and headed down the hill right to the Dead Sea. Highway 65 runs north and south along the salty lake and is quite scenic. We didn’t drive far before Abby pointed out that the recreation area in front of us was where she had been a few days prior. I had no idea that she had already visited the Dead Sea, but was happy to have someone with me who seemed to have some idea of the protocol.
We meandered down a dirt road to a parking lot, to an area that clearly looked to cater to tourists. This was not what I had in mind, but I let Abby sort of lead the way as I enjoyed the adventure of this Dead Sea road trip. At the entrance we had to pay a whopping 65 Shekels or so, about $18 USD, which seemed like a lot to pay to swim in the salty lake. I thought for a moment there would be some amenities included, but there wasn’t really. Except for some public changing areas, outdoor fresh water showers and a cantina (pay as you go), everything in Isreal is just on the expensive side.
Abby and I parted ways for a moment to change into our swimsuits, then we slowly walked down to the water. We had to walk slowly as the muddy ground was quite slippery. We found a couple of vacant chairs to place our belongings and then we oozed our way into the water. As we walk from a few inches of water, to a few feet, I stubbed my toe on a rock and cut it pretty badly. I tried to ignore it and was somewhat successful. Surprisingly it didn’t sting that much given the salinity levels. It was now time to “float.” I let my body sink into the dense water and was absolutely astonished. The displacement of my body was so minimal that I would not characterize the activity as floating, but rather levitating on the surface.
The two of us were giggling and carrying on as if we were kids. The sensation was so remarkable that it took getting used to. A popular photo you’ll often see are people reading the newspaper while in the water, that’s because you can nearly sit on the surface with little chance of the paper getting wet.
After having some fun floating, we noticed many people covering themselves with the Dead Sea mud. I could have done without this ritual, but as they say, “When in Rome.” Abby and I took to the shore, each grabbing a handful of mud and rubbing it all over our bodies. We noticed many people actually put the mud on their face and in their hair, so we both decided that we had gone this far, why not go all the way. Sufficiently mudded, we took photos while the mud caked to our skin in the warm afternoon sun. We both began to feel a burning sensation and decided to get back in the lake and clean ourselves off.
I had heard that you absolutely do not want to put your face in the water, and Abby reaffirmed this to me. “Duly noted,” I thought. While I was not going to put my face in the water, I did not see any harm in dunking my head backwards to wash out the bulk of the mud from my hair before a fresh water shower. Moments after doing so, something happened. Apparently, some of the saltwater and residual fine granule mud made its way down my forehead and into my eyes. In a split second I could not see, nor could I open my eyes. Panic set in! Thankfully, Abby saw what was happening and helped me to shore. From there she used her entire liter of precious drinking water to try and flush out my eyes.
At this point I was able to open my eyes, if only a little, but the sand and salt were wreaking havoc on both comfort and clarity. I could barely open my eyes, and when I did, I could hardly see to walk. I made my way to a fresh water shower, but the damage had been done. I then walked to the bathroom where I thoroughly washed my hands and removed my contacts. Still there was no relief. We made our way to the car where I had some eye drops. I flushed my eyes out, but the pain and debris persisted. At least I could see better. We waited a spell while the car’s air conditioning cooled us down and I rested my eyes. Finally the pain had subsided, but the comfort level would not return for days. For two days I would wake in the mornings with literal sand in my eyes, not the figurative stuff!
Abby and I finally continued our Dead Sea road trip by continuing south for a while until I discovered a road we could turn down. Here, I broke out the drone for some awesome photos/video of the lake and her rugged shoreline. A bit later we were back on the road continuing south, some parts were quite close to the water and provided some stunning sights. Up ahead we saw what looked like a military guard post and with great trepidation of the unknown we slowed dramatically while considering what that crossing might be. I decided to just continue onward. At first we thought it might have been the border of Jordan, but later ascertained this stretch of road is closed after sunset, likely as a protective measure as it leads to the historic site of Masada. We both had every intention of visiting Masada, but the afternoon hours were waning. Instead, we stopped on a hill overlooking the Dead Sea. The views were even more spectacular from this side of the lake and the water even looked much clearer and more blue than the side on which we had been floating.
I again took out my drone for a bit of aerial photos and footage. After capturing what I wanted, we took a stroll down the hill toward the water. Once we reached the waters edge we could see the shore was dramatically different from the muddy side we had been at earlier in the day. The beach was full of pebbles of all sizes and the water was quite clear, so much so that a few feet past the edge of the water I noticed a strange anomaly. Something was bubbling up from the bottom toward the glassy surface. I ran my hand through it and even punched a finger into the hole in which the opaque fluid was emanating. I called Abby over to have a look and she too washed her hand through the cloud of mystery. As we took our hands out of the water we both noticed that they looked oily. I took my other hand and rubbed them together. It appeared that our hands were covered in some sort of oil—mineral or petroleum, we had no idea. We tried to remove the oil from our hands with some sandy rocks from the beach, but it didn’t appear to help. Furthermore, our hands didn’t even want to dry. By the time we made it back to the car, our hands looked to have a powdering white film and were dried in the sense of needing some moisturizer.
It was getting close to sunset and we knew we had to exit that guard gate we had passed through, so we concluded our Dead Sea road trip by driving back toward Jerusalem and eventually to Tel Aviv. There are many tours from throughout Israel that will take you to the Dead Sea, but I would recommend renting a car and doing the experience on your own, and going at your own pace. This Dead Sea road trip was without question one of the highlights of my time in Israel. By the way, to give you some perspective of how much salt is in the Dead Sea, the Atlantic ocean has a salinity rate of 3.5%, while the Dead Sea (which isn’t even the saltiest) is nearly 34%. It’s an extraordinary experience and one that will leave lasting memories.
If you’ve ever been to the Dead Sea, or taken a Dead Sea road trip, please leave a comment below and share your experience and/or suggested stops along the way. This Dead Sea road trip was probably one of the highlights of my trip to Israel.