muriel lowest bar(ANOTHER CHAPTER reporting on some of the sites visited by a group from Our Lady of Perpetual Help/St. Agnes Church with Nuovo Tours, Fairfield, NJ, a trip which culminated with a final three days in Rome two weeks before Easter.)

PHOTO:  Enjoying refreshments at the lowest bar on earth are Donna and Bart Brenner of Rumson and Muriel Smith. Photo by Andrea O’Boyle

We didn’t make it to the Red Sea, the one Moses parted on his way to bringing the Jews to the Promised land. We got to see the ruins of ancient buildings that King Herod built and got to put our feet in the water of the Mediterranean Sea near Caesarea, a fascinating and historic piece of Israel on its own. But it was the Dead Sea that was far more captivating and interesting.

     Of the three…the Red, the Dead, and in the middle, the Med, only the Mediterranean is actually a sea. The Red Sea is an inlet of the Indian Ocean and the Dead Sea is a landlocked lake into which the Jordan River and a few of its tributaries flow. Both the Jordan River and the Dead Sea touch Israel and Jordan and that was obvious when we visited the site where John the Baptist baptized Jesus in the Jordan… Across the narrow river, Jordanian soldiers on patrol sat quietly, politely, and curiously watching the pilgrims, tourists and visitors who, like us, attended mass in outdoor patios on the banks, then went down to the Jordan to put our feet in the water on the Israeli side or watch as a group of white robed men went in the Jordan for baptism.

muriel camelPHOTO: Muriel on the camel  photo by Vin Morelli

From that site on the Jordan to the Dead Sea is a mysteriously wonderful drive through desert, desert with very little green growth, lots of rocks and unique topography. The Desert is still home to many Bedouin nomads, camels roam aimlessly, and the nomad’s sheep and goats scrounge for their living among the rocks and sand hills. An ‘oasis’ along the way is a bright spot in a unicolor desert; in addition to the usual tourist shops, ice cream stands and small businesses, the curious and daring with $5 American or 25 shekels can take a short ride on the back of a very genteel camel!   (It’s safe, calming, and slow-moving, with the eeriest part being sitting atop a camel as he unfolds his ‘elbows’ and ‘knees’ from a resting position to his full height.)

The Negev Desert is as much as 2400 feet above sea level, so it’s a startling drop to go from those heights down to…my figures are correct……1300 feet BELOW sea level to the surface of the Dead Sea.

   But that’s only one of the fascinating facts about this dark colored, muddy bottomed salt lake. The road ends a couple of hundred feet above the Dead Sea’s surface, then it’s a trek down steps and sand to reach changing rooms, a bar and a restaurant, then more steps down to the murky water itself. There are signs along the beach…and for those used to Sandy Hook, that’s using the term loosely!....warning of staying within the perimeters of the roped off areas. Signs also warn visitors not to ingest any of the water; they make it clear they don’t believe it’s healthy with the added warning to see a life guard immediately if you swallow any!

   Ah, but it’s wonderful! A bit intimidating but wonderful and exciting nonetheless.

     The reason for the high salt content and the lack of sea life is simple; the Dead Sea is really the lowest spot on earth and water does not flow uphill. The Sea is fed by the Jordan River, which flows through the desert and surrounding area, picking up all kinds of minerals from the soil along the way. With no where for the water to go once it hits the lowest spot on earth, the mineral salts simply dry as the water evaporates from the hot sun and remain in the water, the soil and along the beach.

   And it isn’t all sodium chloride like oceans. In fact, only about 15 per cent of all the minerals in the Dead Sea come from Sodium chloride…compared to about 85 percent in our ocean. There are also salts of bromide, magnesium, potassium, iron, titanium, sulphur, even aluminum, to name just some of the many chlorides that make up 20 percent of the water. (Sodium chloride makes up about 4% of ocean water.). Another good thing..because of the depth of the water surface, the number of minerals and the surrounding desert hills, even the sun’s ultra violet rays are blocked, enabling sun worshippers to soak up sunshine without fear of sun burn.

muriel dead seaPHOTO:  Adrian O’Boyle of Middletown, Muriel Smith, and  Michael Guerrieno attempt standing in the Dead Sea. Photo by Vin Morelli

   The Dead Sea has a well deserved reputation for being a cure-all for many illnesses and diseases, thanks to the climate and all those salts. People with arthritis, rheumatism, poor blood circulation all report feeling better after soaking or floating in the Dead Sea. People with psoriasis and acne notice improvements in their skin. And women who believe that every time you go in the Dead Sea it takes a year’s appearance off your looks swear their wrinkles disappear!

     While cosmeticians have made and continue to make a healthy living with cosmetics and creams whose basis is the Dead Sea, they’re not the only ones; potash from there is used in fertilizer, asphalt was used by the Egyptians for mummification, and soaps and sachets are still made and featured in high end shops.

   But trying to either walk or sink in the Dead Sea is impossible. The heaviness of the water, the murky deepness of the soft mud when you’re standing, make you roll over and delightfully float in warm water, under an inviting sun, and relaxing with the full knowledge that it’s absolutely impossible to drown in the Dead Sea.