If you are planning a visit to Jordan (and I’d strongly urge you to plan one, if you haven’t thought about it!), there are three places that should be on your must-visit list – Petra, The Dead Sea and Jerash. This post is on the Dead Sea, we’ll talk about Petra and Jerash soon too! Jordan is a country that has the misfortune of being sandwiched by troubled Middle Eastern countries.
When N and I were planning our break, I remember the ooohs and aaahs we got – not strictly in envy and awe – some felt we were being a bit foolish, taking off into a war zone for a holiday! The reality could not have been starkly different. If I’d not known Jordan was in the Middle East, I’d have mistaken Jordan for a European nation where Arabic was spoken – most in Jordan speak better English than you are likely to hear in France!
Back to the Dead Sea – that’s the post, remember?
Most Jordanians head to the Dead Sea over the weekend, head to the public beaches, smoke a few sheeshas while waiting for their mud packs to work before washing it off in the Sea. Tourists like us, on the other hand make a beeline for resorts, expensive (no doubt!) but with exclusive private strips of the beach.
Your geography lessons do prepare you for the Dead Sea – I’m yet to find someone who doesn’t know that at the Dead Sea, you float! Struggle as you might to sink, you’ll bob back up like one of those plastic floats that the resorts use to mark boundaries. Most people also know that the reason everything floats is because of the super-high concentration of salts in the water.
From far, the Dead Sea looks beautiful, blue and glistening. Go closer and the colour looks greener.. a bit closer and it looks ominously dark – or was it my imagination? The surface has an oily sheen – that’s the first bit of warning the lifeguards at the beach give you. Don’t let the water remain on your skin for too long, the salts can wreak havoc. Shower off the salts as soon as you can! So there I was, all ready for my first experience at weightlessness – two minutes later, I was a spluttering, teary sorry mess, who couldn’t even stand up without support.
Here’s what happened – I walked into the seas – a bit chilly, but bearable – what did I expect? I was there in early November when there was a nip in the air. Chill apart, what was pinching me were the sharp pebbles under my feet. Not the easiest to walk on – but I soldiered on. Four steps into the shallow water and I tried sitting down. Not difficult right? Theoretically not- but in reality, like the Titanic that tilted sidewards, so did I, ending up in neither sitting nor floating. And then I did what I should never have. Flailed my hands to find something to hold on to – that’s when I felt something stinging – first my eyes, then my nose and my mouth joined in the stingfest – and I tasted the bitter oily taste of the sea. That’s when panic set right in. Can you imagine the shame of wondering if I’d be the first person to drown in less than one feet of water? Well, when every orifice in your body is stinging, your imagination is allowed to run riot!
Two strong hands suddenly lifted me out, while my flailing legs suddenly found some steady ground. And suddenly I felt a gush of love for the husband – till I saw him laughing at my panic! And some cool gentle water was thrust into my hands by the lifeguard, who saw my clumsy struggles to right my tilting self. For a couple of seconds, you are in a state of severe conflict – do you guzzle the water to clear your mouth off that vile taste or do you pour it over your face to ease the burning sting? I suggest the latter – trust me, it is experience talking!
My first encounter with the Dead Sea kind of set the pace for our love-hate relationship. I loved the ritual of bathing in the Dead Sea. Take a quick dip, float for a bit if you are confident you won’t tilt, walk out of the waters and take a seat by the giant bowl of Dead Sea mud – slather your body and face with the mud and ignore the subtle burn you feel. Let someone bury you in the sands of the beach, till the weight of the sand becomes a pleasant weight. Choose your time to do this wisely. Stay away if its a cold, windy or cloudy day. I had the misfortune of having sand blow right into my nose and mouth and my hands were weighed down by the sands, so all I could do was grin and bear the grit everywhere!!! Fifteen minutes of being buried, shake off the sand, wash off the excess in the Sea and run to the nearest shower to stop the deadly sting from stinging more. It’s great to tell yourself the sting is for a good cause – the mud and water is good for your skin, but how long do you let something sting and burn you??
One last tip I’d give you is choose your resort wisely – there is only one resort – the Hilton, which has access to a shopping mall nearby. All other resorts are mini-islands – once you check in, till the time you check out, you are largely on the resort premises! If you get stir-crazy in the same environs, then ensure you have a taxi to ferry you around. Or you will have to make do with the often-indifferent cuisine served at the restaurants in the resort. We stayed at the Holiday Inn and often felt hard-done by the limited choice available for lunch! Starving souls tend to feel grumpy especially if there are few choices.
We spent 4 days by the Dead Sea, largely floating, swimming, eating, floating some more and eating whatever was available. And unlike the fair European skin that turns in a golden tan, mine turned bitter chocolate. Remember that the cold air is misleading, the UV rays of the Sun are no less harsh in winter and my sun-block did me no good.
There you go! When you do head to the Dead Sea, let it not be said that you weren’t warned!
Places to Stay at the Dead Sea – A series of resorts – 3/4/5 stars – choose what best fits your wallet – We stayed at the Holiday Inn!
Things to Do – Float in the Dead Sea, swim in the resort pools, get spa-ed and prettied, head to the Dead Sea Panorama for lunch/dinner for a bird’s eye view of the Dead Sea and Israel, Jericho and Ramallah on the other side, smoke fabulously smooth sheeshas with flavours like apple, lime and mint, down some really smooth Jordanian wine!
Budget – Jordan isn’t cheap – especially for Indians – the Jordanian Dinar (JD) is worth about 1.5USD. Now you do the math on what it sets Indians back by!