The Dead Sea: Let's start with some facts, and by facts I mean things I read online and in my Jordan Guide Book. I assume they are all true or mostly true. :)
The Dead Sea is about 1,400 ft (400 meters) below sea level. It's the lowest point on earth. It's called the Dead Sea because of it's high salt content. It's about 34% salinity, which is 9 times more than the ocean! Only a few small micro-organisms can survive in the harsh water and area surrounding it. Each year, the sea recedes about a meter. The Dead Sea is bordered by Jordan to the East, and Israel and Palestine to the West.
People come to the sea for it's nutrients. The salts and minerals are popular for skin treatments and cosmetics. Most hotel beaches provide pots of mud for you to use freely. You're supposed to slather it all over your skin, let it dry in the sun for 10 minutes, and then go in and wash it off.
We booked a room at the cheapest hotel we could find. The only hotels on the Dead Sea are mostly 4 and 5 star resorts with swimming pools, spa's and restaurants. There are only a couple public beaches where you can enter the sea, and they still have an entrance fee. The average price was $15-20 JOD or $20-25 USD. Hotels will let you use their facilities just for the day, but again it's for a high price. We felt that since we were going to have to pay to enter the sea anyway, we might as well book a hotel and get all the included amenities. We booked a room at the cheapest hotel we could find, the Ramada Inn. With all the extra tax, it came out to $99. We choked a bit on the price we were spending, but ultimately felt it was worth it.
We arrived at the hotel just before check in at 3pm. We quickly changed and walked down to the beach. It was very hazy and you couldn't see across the sea at all. The water was super calm and surprising cold on the surface, but very warm below! It had a weird oily look to it. We got in for a few minutes to get a feel for what it was like. Because of the high salt content and buoyancy, it's hard to move through the water! Swimming is out of the question, so you are forced to just lay back and bob. I tried keeping my legs down and staying in an upright position but naturally my body would want to fall forward or backward. You have to be very careful not to submerge your head. It's extremely painful if you get any of the water in your eyes. There was a warning sign on the beach that said to seek medical assistance if you accidentally swallow any of the water.
We found the buckets of mud and slathered it all over! After about 10 minutes, we got back in to wash it off. After about another 5 minutes or so in the water, our time was up. Your skin starts to tingle and it's not safe to stay in for too long. I think the max time limit they recommend is about 15 minutes. We quickly got in the showers provided on the beach to rinse everything off and then headed back up to the pool.
The hotel had two pools; one smaller one for kids, and a larger one with a swim up bar. By this time, there was a DJ that had started playing modern Arabic music. People started to dance and gather around the pool to have drinks and smoke hookah. (I should say that most people weren't drinking, as it's not common in Muslim cultures). The vibe was super fun! After a while, we got cleaned up, had some dinner and drinks in the lounge (which was 50% off during happy hour!), and then spent the rest of the evening out by the pool. The DJ changed to more of a live band with 2 different singers and another guy playing a keyboard with a drum kit, synths, etc. The crowd was an awesome mix of families, teenagers, couples, and a mix of both Arabic and western cultures.
The next morning, we took advantage of the fitness room, enjoyed a huge buffet breakfast (all included in the price of the room) and set off down the Dead Sea Highway. It was a lot less hazy and you could actually see across the sea over to Israel! The landscape is pretty barren and similar to the desert. It feels like you're on another planet! We drove south for about an hour and a half with the mountains on the left, the Dead Sea on our right, and Israel across the sea. You can see where the sea has pulled back from the coast and salt deposits are left.
The Dead Sea ended and we were left driving through the desert for another 2 hours. The small towns that pop up every so often aren't even on the map. There are military outposts and checkpoints all along the way. The stops include a brief conversation with the guard while he checks your passports and a quick conversation about us being from the US and where we're headed for the rest of our trip. They almost always ask if we speak Arabic and poke fun at us that we don't. Blake always tries to get a few words in that we've learned and they get a kick out of it. Next stop, the Red Sea!