Jordan’s Dead Sea Floaters

Jordan’s Dead Sea Floaters
The Twin Doctors Travel Bag visits the therapeutic waters of the Dead Sea in Jordan

 

Jamil Jordan's Dead Sea Floaters

Jamil Abdur-Rahman, M.D.

 

Elimination Jordan's Dead Sea Floaters

Dr.I and Dr. J being eliminated from The Amazing Race

If you saw Idries and I floundering pathetically in the crystal blue waters of Bora Bora a few years ago while on CBS’ The Amazing Race, then you know with an unassailable certainty that under most circumstances at least, we just don’t like the water. Now sure, there are always going to be exceptions to the rule. And when it comes to us and to water, there are a FEW exceptions. Yeah, that’s right, there are some exceptions. Under certain “well controlled” circumstances in fact, you might just say that both my brother and I think that water is just fine. Heck, you might even say that under certain “really well controlled” circumstances we both even think that water is down right delightful. After all, is there anything more welcoming, more inviting, more refreshing on a blisteringly hot summer’s day than a big cup of clear, cold water? Of course there isn’t. Or better yet, is there anything finer than a gently warmed cup of soup or broth, constituted lovingly over a hot stove using just the right amount of water to create a savory concoction that soothes the heart and warms the soul on a bitterly cold winter’s day? If there is something finer, well I sure can’t think of what that thing is. So look, SOMETIMES water is awesome! And sometimes I truly appreciate water.  But know this. When it comes to water, and when it comes to my appreciation of water, this is pretty much where I draw the line. In small consumable amounts, water is awesome! I love it! But when water is part of a large and foreboding body, say like when it is part of a pool, a lake or an ocean, well then I’m not feeling the love for water anymore. Under those circumstances, when water is just sitting there, silently mocking me while playfully exploiting each and every one of my deepest, darkest, longest held fears of drowning and losing every bit of control; well then water is not so welcoming and refreshing anymore. No, then water becomes the stuff of nightmares!

So here is a rule of thumb that Idries and I live by when it comes to water. If water is in a cup, in a bowl or in a dish, then it is alright with us. But if water is in a naturally occurring reservoir, and especially if that naturally occurring reservoir is 6 feet deep or more, then just call the two of us “The Twins Bennett”, cause we are not even thinking about “gettin in it!” So when we decided to visit the Dead Sea recently while in Jordan, one thing was for sure. We would not be submerging anything more than our brown little tippy toes into the Dead Sea’s legendary waters. Lest we do so, promptly fall forward, drown, and then become part of somebody’s cautionary tale.

Bethany Beyond the Jordan Jordan's Dead Sea Floaters

Bethany Beyond the Jordan

After leaving Bethany Beyond the Jordan and the baptismal site of Jesus of Nazareth, we made our way by car to the Dead Sea. If you want to read more about the morning that we spent both at Bethany Beyond the Jordan and at Mount Nebo, the mountain from which Moses was finally able to see the much sought after Promised Land before his death, click here.

Dead Sea Road Jordan's Dead Sea Floaters

Road leading to the Dead Sea

Driving from Bethany Beyond the Jordan to the Dead Sea, the first thing that we noticed as our car was approaching the vast aquatic expanse was that our ears began to pop. This is a sensation that most visitors to the Dead Sea experience because the sea sits at an altitude of 1407 feet (429 meters) below sea level. At this elevation, if you can actually refer to anything that is below sea level as being “elevated”, the Dead Sea sits at the lowest point on earth. So as you approach the Dead Sea, much like when you are landing in an airplane, the pressure changes cause your ears to pop. The Dead Sea’s “elevation”, being located at the lowest point on earth, is not the only thing about it that makes it super unique. But an opportunity to say that you’ve been to the “lowest place on Earth” is really cool! In addition to being the lowest place on Earth, the Dead Sea is also one of the world’s saltiest bodies of water. The salinity of the Dead Sea is in fact almost 34%. This means that the Dead Sea is close to 9 times saltier than most of the world’s oceans.

Dead Sea aerial Jordan's Dead Sea Floaters

Aerial view of the Dead Sea (courtesy of Yale University)

View of Dead Sea from Jordanian Side Jordan's Dead Sea Floaters

View of Dead Sea from the Jordanian side with Israel in the distance

The Dead Sea itself, as well as the shorelines bordering the Dead Sea are truly a sight to behold. This is in large part because of the previously mentioned high salt content of the water. The water’s excessively high salt content creates a visually stunning phenomenon that results when the salt in the water reflects sunlight in a brilliantly beautiful manner. A manner in fact the likes of which I have personally never seen before. This vibrant reflection of sunlight results from the large amount of salt in the water increasing the sea’s refractive index. Because the Dead Sea’s “refractive index” is higher than that of less salty water, sunlight, something that there frequently is plenty of in Jordan, bounces right off of the surface of the sea. This in turn gives the water, especially when viewed from afar, an appearance that at times can almost resemble that of a shiny, polished, flat metal surface. At other times, especially when standing close to, or even when standing with your brown little tippy toes in the water, the surface of the Dead Sea brightly shines and sparkles; vibrantly reflecting light like an expensive diamond. These reflections of light in fact can almost be temporarily blinding if you look directly into them.

Sunlight reflecting Jordan's Dead Sea Floaters

Sunlight reflecting off of the Dead Sea surface

Sunlight reflecting Jordan's Dead Sea Floaters 2

Sunlight reflecting off of the surface of the Dead Sea

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Rocky Dead Sea shoreline

Much of the shoreline bordering the Dead Sea is comprised of a mixture of sand and rock. Many of the rocks that sit adjacent to the Dead Sea, having been bathed in it’s extremely salty waters, are covered with a thin layer of white powder. Sometimes, this thin white powder deposits itself on the rocks in a wavy, abstract appearing pattern; almost resembling tie dye on a tee-shirt. At other times, when larger amounts of salt have been deposited on the rocks, large crystals that almost resemble stalagmites emerging from the floor of a cave are created. And it is ultimately the unparalleled atmosphere generated by the still, silent, quite air that sits over 1400 feet below sea level that, when combined with the Dead Sea’s brilliantly shiny and sometimes metallic appearing waters and it’s shoreline’s, with their unique salt stained and salt encrusted rocks and sand, that creates an overall experience that is like a hedonistic orgy for all five of the senses.

Salt crystals jordan's dead sea floaters

Salt crystal collecting on shoreline rocks

Now, not only does the Dead Sea provide a truly unique sensory experience that is in and of itself worth the visit, but the waters of the Dead Sea, and the unique atmospheric conditions created by the Dead Sea’s “elevation” are also said to confer a great number of potential health benefits. Many of these health benefits can be attributed to the fact that the Dead Sea is rich not only in salt, but also in other minerals like magnesium, calcium, iodine, bromide and potassium. In addition to the waters of the Dead Sea being rich in salt and other potentially therapeutic minerals, the fact that the air pressure in the atmosphere surrounding the Dead Sea is high while the concentration of pollen and other airborne environmental allergens as well as the amount of ultraviolet solar radiation is low helps to contribute to the overall health benefits enjoyed while spending time in and around the Dead Sea.  Well designed scientific studies have in fact shown that bathing in the waters of the Dead Sea can alleviate joint pain in people suffering from both Rheumatoid Arthritis and Osteoarthritis. Bathing in the waters of the Dead Sea has also been shown to improve Psoriasis, to promote improved cardiac function in people suffering from heart disease and to improve respiratory symptoms in people suffering from chronic lung diseases like Cystic Fibrosis and Asthma.

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Seaside visitor having mineral rich therapeutic Dead Sea mud applied to his skin before floating in the Dead Sea

Chuck of Salt Jordan's Dead Sea Floaters

Chuck of salt from the Dead Sea

Now, while the waters of the Dead Sea and the atmosphere surrounding the waters of the Dead Sea can be very therapeutic, they can also under certain circumstances be quite dangerous. Remember at the outset of this piece when I said that “in small consumable amounts, water is awesome! I love it! But when water is part of a large and foreboding body, say like when it is part of a pool, a lake or an ocean, well then I’m not feeling the love anymore.” Well, here is why I said that. And here is why when it comes to swimming in the waters of the Dead Sea, I am not feeling the love too much at all.  The water of the Dead Sea, being very rich in salt and minerals is VERY buoyant. This buoyancy results in it being very easy for people venturing into the Dead Sea to float on their backs while in the water. As a result, people also think that swimming in the waters of the Dead Sea is very safe, and that being so easily able to float in the sea makes it is almost impossible to drown. But here is why people who think that are wrong. Anyone who falls face first into the waters of the Dead Sea will quickly find that it can be very difficult for them to then get their faces back out of the water once they’ve become submerged. This is because normally, when swimming in either fresh or at least in less salty water, the easiest way for someone to free their submerged face from the water is for them to force their feet and lower body downwards. With this downwards motion, their heads will then automatically pop up out of the water. But with the Dead Sea being extra buoyant, it is very difficult for a person who’s face has become submerged in the waters of the sea to then push their feet and lower body downwards. Basically, the extra buoyant water pushes back against anyone who is trying to force any parts of their body downwards. This can therefore make it very hard for someone who’s face has become submerged below the water to then free their face from the water. What is more, the high salt content of the water can quickly cause anyone who is inadvertently drinking it or inhaling it to throw their body’s own salt and electrolyte balance out of whack, quickly causing vital organs to shut down and for them to lose consciousness. So yeah, both Idries and I chose not to submerge ourselves beyond the level of our ankles when visiting the Dead Sea, lest we fall in face first and become two of Jordan’s latest dead sea floaters. But hey, when it comes to the water, we are chickens, and we would be the first to admit that fact.

drowning jordan's dead sea floaters

How I act when I fall into a puddle

If you however plan to visit the Dead Sea while in Jordan, consider accessing the waters of the sea from one of a number of seaside hotels. Many of these seaside hotels offer “day passes” that allow visitors not staying in the hotels to use the hotel’s facilities (i.e. bathrooms, showers, changing rooms, restaurants, spas, etc.). Access to facilities like these can make all the difference in the world if you plan on spending more than just a few hours soaking up the sun, sand and salt-rich waters of the Dead Sea.

Interesting Dead Sea Facts

1. The Dead Sea is called a sea, but in reality it is a “salt water lake”.
2. Because of the Dead Sea’s HIGH salt content, no aquatic life forms can thrive in it’s water. That is why the salt water lake is called the “Dead Sea”.
3. Chemical reactions occurring deep beneath the surface of the Dead Sea result in the natural production of asphalt. As such, asphalt blocks can sometimes be seen floating in the sea.
4. Water flows into the Dead Sea but it does not flow out.
5. Ancient Egyptians used mineral rich mud from the Dead Sea to mummify the dead.
6. The Dead Sea is over 3,000,000 years old.

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