The place was proving epic.
It occurs to us that he deserved a proper appreciation of the heights.
Since the hotel's balcony cut back our view, we decided to repeat the usual procedures while traveling. Check how the access to the top of that almost industrial building would be.
The elevator takes us to the next floor, not the last one.
We moved to the emergency stairs we climbed until we found the last door to the terrace which we tested with a kind of defeatist curiosity. As a rule, hotels are barred from these passages and requests for authorization result in long bureaucratic processes or in outright denials.
It is, therefore, with great astonishment that we see the door open without any problem. We weave through structural obstacles, poorly stored furniture and other construction objects until we reach the east side and are treated to the panoramic view we wanted.
Down and forward stretched the vast Dead Sea, as inert as it was lush, dispersed in shades of blue and emerald green that not even the fog caused by the strong evaporation could make it go away.
To contain it, mountainous shores of dusty earth overflown by flocks of black crows supported by the rising currents generated by the heat on the surface were imposed.
We are tens of meters above the 423 below sea level at which the strange geological phenomenon is located. Despite the late hour, the thermometer still reads 38º and dozens of bathers float in it in absolute delight.
We soon returned to the ground. Joining those resistant.
The Complexity of Bathing at the Dead Sea
We entered the hyper salty water without any major issues except for an excruciating burning in the sores on the knees resulting from any carelessness of the previous days.
The horizontal adaptation to the environment, on the other hand, proves complicated, which is why hotels install structures with steps and handrails that allow bathers to enter slowly and without incident.
The Dead Sea has nearly ten times more salt (33,7% or 1.240g per liter) than the oceans and is averse to normal body sinking.
With this same exaggerated concentration of the substance, he punished us with a new afflicting ardor every time we splashed our eyes as we ventured out with simple-to-perform swims and movements.
We can see, from the punishments of the practice, why the most popular image of leisure in this capricious liquid is that of someone completely immobile, reading a newspaper.
However, Oded, the Israeli guide who led us through Israel, appears. He has fun listening to the complaints we present him.
“Well, this is very common for those who come here for the first time.”, he answers. “But look, I know much worse things. A few years ago, a German who was riding in a car with friends stopped at the edge of the bank in a desolate area and decided to send a dive from the top of a rock.
Believe it or not, he ended up in the hospital and ended up dying.”
Despite the inconsistency with its name, which portrays the fact that it does not harbor any permanent life form – in fact it is home to 11 different species of bacteria – the Dead Sea is also moribund.
Dead Sea: Shrinking the Lowest Place to the Earth's Surface
It was once one of the five most renowned therapeutic resorts in the world, at a time when King Herod, who built the fortress of Masada Nearby.
The future King David, John the Baptist and Jesus Christ, among other biblical characters, also retired to its banks, or to the adjacent mountains and caves.
At that time, the Salt Sea, as it was known, maintained its original dimensions. More recently, water from the Jordan River that feeds it has been blocked by the construction of dams, reservoirs and thus continuously diverted by Israel, Jordan and Syria for direct consumption, agricultural and other purposes.
As a result, the surface that reached 395 m below sea level in 1970, reached 418 m in 2006, and continued to decrease at a worrying rate of almost 1 meter per year, 30% in 30 years.
This shrinkage caused its division into two distinct bodies: there is currently a northern basin that is three times larger and 400 m deeper than the south, this one separated by the Lashon peninsula originating on the Jordan bank.
The last basin – the one in which we bathed – does not exceed 6 meters and has an even greater concentration of salt, which justifies the appearance of enigmatic crystal formations in the style of icebergs.
The Dead Sea Geological Traps
It is said, in a witty way, that the Dead Sea has developed its forms of revenge and the truth is that the Israeli authorities must strive to prevent their visitors from being victims.
As we travel along Highway 90 – the deepest road in the world – we see a succession of eccentric warnings that warn of the danger of sinkholes.
As the water recedes, it leaves behind brine deposits that are dissolved by fresh surface water and rain which, although rare, can be tasted diluvian.
Gradually, the process gave rise to thousands of camouflaged holes, geological traps into which, from time to time, tourists fall.
Luckily and with some care, such disgrace never happens to us.
Ein Gedi's Therapeutic Ritual of the Mud
On another day of exploration, we decided to stop at the Ein Gedi spa, sought after for the nourishing properties of the mud that makes up the seabed there or, we are more inclined to believe, for the strange fun of being able to cover and show off the body with them.
Oded refuses to accompany us. “I did it once and I'm not getting into another one! “ Reassures us. On the contrary, a group of American students make the most of the experience and share among themselves the visual results achieved:
“You're awesome Ken! I already saw zombies better looking, believe me”.
We don't even try to resist the ceremony.
We smeared ourselves with the black mortar and headed with dozens of similar creatures, cooking under the cruel sun that keeps the Negev Desert dry, to the stop of the small train that would take us to the beach, like the rest of the sea, much lower than a while ago.
There, we divided the time between bathing and restoring the coverage we had arrived with.
There is no evidence that any of the biblical characters who passed through the Dead Sea ever made such preparations.
Or this will be missing from the extraordinary discovery that came to reveal a substantial part of the life and history of the Jewish people in the region.
The Historical Scrolls of the Dead Sea
In 1947, a young Bedouin herder was looking for a stray goat when he spotted and unearthed clay jars lying in a cave at the top of a cliff, near Qumran, a village farther north of Ein Gedi, on the west bank.
Later archaeological work uncovered scrolls that included books from the Old Testament, the apocryphal books, and other unpublished texts.
They also found that the cave was part of a settlement of the Essenes, a refractory Jewish sect that believed itself to be the chosen people of Israel and that had moved to the Negev desert around 150 BC to protect itself from the decay it considered to be raging among the remaining Jews.
It will be a complex task to find out, these days, the reason for this sect.
To prove the theories of archaeologists and other scholars who argue that Sodom and Gomorrah were situated by the Dead Sea, had the Essenes existed there a few centuries before, they would have had much more cause for complaint.