Hi again, My Wonderful World readers! Being on Spring Break, or Passover (Pesach) Break, in Israel makes me think: What is more Israeli than spending the holiday in the sun, near the water?
This week I’ve traveled from sea to lake, from the Kineret in the North, to the Mediterranean in the South. My favorite by far is the most quintessential body of water in the State of Israel–Yam haMelach, or, the Dead Sea.
So what is the Dead Sea? When people hear the name, the image of a person sitting on the water’s surface immediately comes to mind, but how is this possible? Located in the Syrian-African Rift Valley between Jordan and Israel, the Dead Sea is the lowest point on Earth, at approximately 1,300 feet below sea level. Because of its location and the fact that it has no outlets (out-flowing streams), the Dead Sea is also one of the saltiest bodies of water on the planet, with a salt concentration of 34%! This is compared to 3.5% salinity for the Mediterranean Sea, less than 100 km west. It’s this high concentration that allows for the Sea’s seemingly miraculous qualities, such as the medicinal benefits of the mud, and the buoyancy of the water.
Unfortunately, the high salt concentration also results in at least two not-so-exciting characteristics. First, there is absolutely no life in the Dead Sea, which is more than eight times as saline the ocean. And second? I’ve come to learn that one should never–under any circumstances–enter the Sea with an open cut, and yes, this includes shaving of any kind. While the medicinal powers of the high salt concentration will heal the cut in a shorter period of time, the pain is excruciating–and hardly worth the results, in my opinion. Nor should you swallow the water; there are signs everywhere warning naïve tourists about the dangers if water is ingested.
The Dead Sea’s fascinating characteristics, despite the dangers, make it an amazing place to visit, whether at one of the many spas and resorts, or on a rocky beach facing the enormous mountains of Jordan. But do it soon! Located in the middle of the desert, the Dead Sea has an extremely high rate of evaporation, which is part of what makes it so salty. The lake has been shrinking fast from its original extent, which, at one point in history, reached as far as the Kineret in the North!
Today, unfortunately, Jordan’s need for water has caused the Jordan River (feeding the Sea) to be diverted for irrigation. This diversion affected the Sea so dramatically that the water level fell 22 meters between 1970 and 2006! As the water level continues to fall, both Israel and Jordan are trying to figure out how to save this environmental wonder. As Jordan looks toward desalination of the Red Sea for irrigation and drinking water, Israel is experimenting with ways to bring water in from other bodies. Unfortunately, this is not so simple, as any chemical change to the lake would have unknown consequences.
In short, the Dead Sea is an amazing place. The beaches are exquisite, the spas relaxing and rejuvenating, and the view, breathtaking. If you find yourself in either Jordan or Israel, be sure to come visit–before it’s all gone!