It’s hard to go to Israel and not experience the Dead Sea as it provides experiences and sensations that are not found anywhere else on earth. Nothing I could say can prepare you for it- you just gotta do it. In August, my group had been looking forward to it since the beginning of the trip.
Due to road construction at the Dead Sea, 2 popular “free” beaches have been closed down, leaving a resort with an entrance fee as one of the few choices. That’s ridiculous- we aren’t paying for something free. On the way toward the construction area, I found a gap in the guardrail where it was obvious that other locals had entered to get down to the sea. I found a spot to park and relished the fact that we were the only ones there for what seemed like miles
It was hot. REALLY hot- close to 115 if I would guess. We made the slow 5-7 min walk down a gradually descending stony hillside that looked more like a poorly graded construction zone than a beach or sea side. At the water’s edge, there’s no sand, just salt encrusted smooth stones that can be sharp on your feet. In an attempt to keep everything together, I laid my towel on a rock, along with my van keys, as we all walked into the surprisingly hot stagnant sea and sat down… we began to float.
At the lowest place on earth, there is a high mineral content in the mud and water. The thick black clay-like mud becomes like a skin cleanser/softener, leaving your skin feeling like soft silk after washing it off in the sea water… again you just have to experience it. Many dermatologists in Israel prescribe time at the Dead Sea and smearing the mud on your body, due to the unique sun rays at 1290 ft below sea level and mud minerals for skin health. Yet combining the hot air and water temperature with this unique feeling of layered salt and minerals on your skin, it’s not “refreshing” as we often think of refreshing… not at all. But it is fun and good for you! At our new “secret” location, the black mud was amazing and completely untouched by the hordes of bus tourists. We started scooping up the mud and slapping it on each other while giggling at the comment that this particular action is not normal in everyday life.
With this high salt and mineral content in the water, I usually make a couple disclaimers the day before. 1) “Don’t shave anything the night before." Any part of the body that has a cut or is newly shaved will suddenly make itself known with intense fiery burn as you get in the water. 2) “Don’t try to swim." You can’t due to the water’s buoyancy. Float on your back and be happy. 3) “Don’t touch your eyes, nose or mouth with a wet hand.” If you do, you will know it… and we will all know it from your cries for mercy. This has led to the creation of the required “Ezra Adventures: Dead Sea Challenge” which consists of dripping 1 drop of water on your tongue and attempting to not react. It’s great fun and few have conquered the challenge. You’ve never tasted something so intensely salty… but you have to try it just once.
Despite my many warnings, someone inadvertently wiped their eyes or sweat from their forehead and found how this salt and the minerals feel on your eyes. Trust me- fire and brimstone are for pansies. The ensuing sting and burn causes the toughest of men to aggressively squint while stumbling around, whining unintelligibly, and blindly reach out for a towel. In a rush, someone grabbed my towel to save the day and the melee was averted… or it just began.
It was getting close to noon, getting even hotter and we needed to keep moving to our next location. I got my shirt, hat, towel…but no keys. Apparently in the effort to save the eye burn from the salt water, the keys dropped to the ground. The problem was that the greys, browns, tans and blacks of the sea side stones made a perfect camouflage for the keys. As we all searched and the minutes added up, I became increasingly concerned and began mentally processing a “plan B”. In this extreme sun and heat, we can’t stay here forever. While the search continued, two people were sent to the van to try to “break in” to get out phones and the extra water that we had just purchased 2 hours before. After about 10-15 minutes of no keys, the rest of us abandoned the search to return to the van and find shade from the blazing sun. As we arrived back at the van, drenched with sweat as if we had just got out of a shower, we were relieved to see an open van door due to an unlocked sliding window. As warm drinking water was passed around, a call was made to a friend in Jerusalem that had the extra set of van keys. So our 2 hour wait for his arrival began…
Not far from where we parked, we found a dry riverbed that passed under the road and provided much needed shade from the unrelenting sun. We were thankful for the shade, the light breeze and that we had just stopped for food and water before going to beach. To pass the time, we talked about Israel living in the desert for 40 years and God’s practical kindness demonstrated by providing shade with a cloud by day and warmth from a fire by night. We hung a hammock in an acacia tree, doing our best to avoid the long thorns that cover the branches and took turns lounging in it for some epic pictures. We left our mark in the form of charcoal graffiti, documenting our misadventure for future wanderers. We passed around very warm drinking water, unique Israeli snacks and bad jokes.
Before we knew it, our friend arrived slightly concerned about how he would find us in this unforgiving climate for so long. Thankfully, we all were ok while being well aware that it could have been much worse. With new keys in hand, the van started up and we all sang the glories of air conditioning as we moved on to our next planned spot, just 3 hours behind schedule.
While it could have been potentially dangerous in other circumstances, this became one of the favorite unexpected adventures with our group. It caused us to slow down, listen to our surroundings, and watch out for each other just a little more closely. What great life lessons for any of us.
As stated in previous blogs, we don’t call our trips “tours” but “expeditions”. Those on a tour just passively look and expect to be served while those on an “expedition” get personally involved in the outcome of the entire journey for the group. For me, this little misadventure was a reminder to live every day as an expedition.
Let's live life like an expedition and give me your comments below…!!
Israel is real,