Spa day: Dead Sea and Herzliya

Ein Gedi beach
Ein Gedi beach

There are few activities in this life that will invariably force grown adults to giggle. Floating in the Dead Sea is one such activity.

After an action-packed visit to Jerusalem, we were ready to kick back and relax. We rose early, and planned to catch the 8:00 bus to Ein Gedi. But, just like police, taxis are often omnipresent (and obnoxious) when you don’t need one, and nowhere to be seen when you do. We paced the streets outside the Old City for a half hour, trying unsuccessfully to hail a cab. Or at least, to secure a cab that would use a meter. Israel requires taxi drivers to use a meter by law, but they still will try to haggle a fixed price. “It’s better fo you,” they will say. “With traffic, it will cost ten shekels more if I use the meter.” Right, because that makes a lot of sense. You’re trying to do me a favor, because taxi drivers are so charitable (see previous post about Jordanian taxi mafia). If it’s going to make you more money, pal, why don’t you just use the frickin’ meter!?

Anyway, we finally found a taxi that would use a meter after a minute of arguing. Unfortunately, the driver was a dead ringer for Father Time, and drove at glacial speed. Upon arriving at the bus station, we still had to go through security. After that, we had to argue with the ticket clerks, who did not believe that there was a return bus from Ein Gedi straight to Tel Aviv, even though there is. We could not book tickets in advance, we had to get a transit card, etc. Needless to say, we missed our bus.

No worries. There was another bus at 9:00. We caught that bus without a problem, and settled in for the 2-hour bus ride. Along the way we spotted Bedouins herding goats in the desert, as well as some wild ibex trotting alongside the road.

dead sea float
Ben’s new take on reading the paper while floating.

The Dead Sea is the lowest place on earth (other than the sea floor, of course), at 1,388 feet below sea level.  The Dead Sea is 377 m (1,237 ft) deep, the deepest hypersaline lake in the world. With 33.7% salinity (8.6 times that of the ocean), it is also one of the world’s saltiest bodies of water. What does that mean? Well, first it means that plant and animal life cannot survive in the water (hence the name), which results in a beautiful, clear turquoise and deep blue lake. It also means that salt builds up in bizarre formations along the shoreline, and that minerals are deposited in the mud on its banks. These minerals, along with the unique climate of the Dead Sea area, can provide beneficial effects for a variety of health conditions ranging from osteoarthritis to cystic fibrosis. The Dead Sea has held importance for people of the region dating back to Biblical times, and ancient settlements were supported by the many freshwater springs in the desert surrounding the salt sea. Naturally surfacing asphalt and bitumen were traded by the Nabateans (see previous post about Petra) to the ancient Egyptians for use in the embalming process.

Floating!
Floating!

But, most importantly for modern visitors, the uniqueness of the Dead Sea means that you float without effort. In fact, it would take far more effort to not float. Your natural buoyancy keeps the water’s surface at about chest height when sitting or standing, and allows for you to lay fully extended on your back without any part of your front being submerged. You can read a newspaper sitting up, and no swimming is required. In fact, swimming can be quite challenging, as the increased density of the water combined with your increased buoyancy makes for slow going. The water itself is surreal, almost oily. It creeps sluggishly against the rocky beaches, salty foam heavy atop the small wavelets.

Hunting for mud
Hunting for mud

We arrived to a nearly empty beach in Ein Gedi, and although the water was a little choppy, we slid in for a float. Childlike giggling ensued. Ben warned that one should avoid water in the eyes at all costs, so I cautiously wore my scuba mask in for the first few minutes. Once I got my balance and a feel for the water, the mask was no longer needed and I reclined without worry. We also went hunting for the dark grey mud that houses the many beneficial minerals along the shore, and proceeded to cover our entire bodies with it. Basking in the sun, we let the mud dry before washing it off in the outdoor showers.

Soon enough it was time to catch the bus to Tel Aviv from the highway. A few hours later we found ourselves in the bustling metropolis of Tel Aviv, searching for yet another bus north to Herzliya to visit Ben’s cousin. Oh, the joy of independednt travel. Bus here, taxi there, walk here, train there. Puzzle pieces and broken English and long hours in the seated position.

But we found our way to Ravit in Herzliya, a first cousin Ben has not seen since he was a small child and had no recollection of. She generously put us up at her beautiful home, and her teenage son relinquished his bedroom so we could get some rest. We shared a delicious dinner with her and her family, which ironically was a “Mexican” feast.  Though the food (chili con carne, enchiladas, guacamole, rice) wasn’t the sort we usually eat at home (30 miles from Mexico), it was thoroughly delicious and we were grateful for a home-cooked meal.

Herzliya Beach
Herzliya Beach

The next day, Ravit showed us around part of Tel Aviv, meeting up with us after our morning beach walk in Herzliya. She took us through some of the flea markets, and we all ended up in the best hummos restaurant you’ll find anywhere. Upon returning to Herzliya, Ben played some tennis with Ravit’s son Itai while us ladies heckled from the sidelines.

After all too brief a visit, it was time to move on yet again. With only a week left, we still had family in Haifa to visit, as well as a trip to Amman to catch our flight home. Onward!

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