Hidden Dead Sea Mud Pools
Jerusalem, Israel and the Palestinian Territories
After spending over a month in Israel it's been decided that this will be our final day in the country, and the last thing to check off our (very short) list of things to do has been a visit to the Dead Sea. As it turned out, today's day trip to the lowest elevation on the Earth's surface on dry land was probably one the biggest highlights of our entire time here.
The Awesomeness of CouchSufing
One of the often glanced over aspects of CouchSurfing is capability to network with locals without actually having to stay in their homes. Even though we're with our CS hosts Naomi and Shahar, I've been keeping in light contact these past few weeks with a fellow named Yuri that seemed to be quite fond of taking his guests to a special spot along the Dead Sea coast. Yuri's energetic 'mud cowboy' photo and guests making mention of their trips with him in his reviews was all I motivation needed to reach out.
The vast majority of tourists in Israel will end up at the far northwestern tip of the Dead Sea, or somewhere in the vicinity of the fallen fortress of Masada. This area is saturated with pricey resorts, day spas (many people believe that the mud of the Dead Sea has special healing and cosmetic uses), and admission fee-only beaches ready to gouge as much as possible out of visitors.
But thanks to CouchSufing and Yuri's generosity, the mud cowboy was able to provide me with instructions and a map to a choice location where we could enjoy the unique location in isolation, without cost. This was priceless, as you could meet thousands tourists and travelers and discover that not a single one came close to such an experience at the Dead Sea.
I'm including the following so that others can share in the delights that we did, without the need for an Israeli connection:
Ok man, so that's what you do to get to my favorite mud pool:
From Jerusalem's Central Bus Station, take the bus that goes to Mezoke Dragot (or Ein Gedi, it's the same bus). It might be bit overcrowded with soldiers during morning hours.
You can check the bus timetable beforehand at http://www.egged.co.il/Eng/, under the name "Metsukei Dargot Branching". It should cost 27 shekels (US$7) per person, each way.
So, after about a one-hour ride you should get off at the army checkpoint at the bottom of the road that leads to Mezokey Dragot (ask the driver so you won't miss it).
From the checkpoint, just start walking down the trail that goes towards the sea. Walk until you reach the shoreline and continue north through the reeds. You will see some pools but they will be small and dirty so just keep walking. You will come across two creeks which you will have to jump over. The third creek will be much too wide to jump over, and that's where my favorite pool is! Just go up the creek, to the west, and you will see a beautiful big blue/grey pool! Jump right in and enjoy!!!
It's about 20-minute walk (downhill) from the checkpoint to the pool, so make sure you bring enough water. It's really hot down there no matter what time of year you go!
Salt, Sulfur and Mud
The pungent aroma of sulfur saturated the air as soon as we approached the shoreline—everything smelled of rotten eggs. There were scorch marks from campfires (despite signs declaring overnight stays as prohibited) and a little more litter than you'd hope to see. Although currently empty, this stretch of coast clearly wasn't a secret to the Israelis (just the tourists).
The sea is called "dead" because its high salinity prevents macroscopic aquatic organisms, such as fish and aquatic plants from living in it—though minuscule quantities of bacteria and microbial fungi are present. I was genuinely surprised to find such an abundance of reeds growing in the area.
Yuri's instructions were excellent, and we kept walking north along the smelly, salty coast until we hit a small canyon of flowing water that was too wide to pass over (especially with a baby in tow).
Walking against the brisk flow of elaborately snaking water, we came to a large depression with crumbling walls. Unsure of where the source was coming from, or if this was even the mud pool Yuri had described, I carefully helped Tatiana and a 16-month-old Aidric down into the wide fissure.
I took one step towards the water and suddenly sunk up to my knee in mud. The ground was deceivingly saturated.
After pulling off everything but my boxers I made my way across to the other side and ran a few dozen yards beyond the area to see if there was a sign of another creek or mud pool that might've been Yuri's, or if this was indeed it. Some distance away I spotted a tent, but other than that not much in the way of anything meeting the CouchSurfer's description.
I crossed back more eloquently than I had previously, told Tatiana to hold on for one more minute and continued to in the direction of the water. It was actually quite a precarious little journey along a slightly worn footpath that involved a bit too much scrambling to make it casual—where the slip of a foot in the muddy or crumbling terrain could get you hurt.
But the reward was spotted, and a smile washed across my face. A massive blue pool of opaque water, placed in such a way that it was completely secluded from the highway traffic buzzing above. Absolutely stunning.
Sadly, this is the best encompassing shot of the massive pool that I've got. You can sort of see Tatiana on the side for a sense of scale.
Naked and Happy
Unlike the body of water that this spring was dumping into, the water wasn't at all salty. It was cool and totally refreshing in the sweltering heat that we were enduring, only intensified by moving about in the exposed depression.
With no one around to object, we were running around naked and playing with the mud in no time. The mud was quite fun, and neither of us have ever felt our skin feel so smooth and exfoliated.
I wanted to jump into the thing from the top of the ridge, but was afraid of the off chance that I'd somehow get my feet trapped in the mud while submerged, unable to free myself from the potential vacuum. I never did find the bottom of the pool of water—it was exceptionally deep.
Dead Sea Escapades
No do it yourself trip to the Dead Sea is complete without 1) running out of water, 2) overheating your infant, and 3) actually playing around in the sea itself. Wrapping up our adventures 1,385 feet below sea level, Tatiana and I took turns bobbing in the syrupy water.
Showing off how absurdly buoyant I am in the Dead Sea. In the photo I'm hovering upright in deep water without treading, feeling like a fishing bobber. Insane.
The Dead Sea is about as much of a surreal experience as you've been lead to believe. I didn't buy into the hype much, but as soon as you get out of the far-reaching shallows of the shore, you're in total disbelief.
The salt concentration of the Dead Sea fluctuates around 31.5%—8.6 times as salty as the ocean—and anyone can float easily because of the natural buoyancy.
Since floating is beyond effortless, instead, all of your energy and attention is diverted to keeping the salty brine from entering your eyes, nose or mouth. The water is very gritty and noticeably thicker than any other type of ocean water encountered.
And since I just had to try some, I tasted a sample of the sea… instantly regretting the decision. I've tasted some foul, bowel retching things during my travels, but I'd be happy if I went the rest of my days without such an experience again. There's salty and bitter, and then there's sampling the Dead Sea—an instant inescapable convulsion of spitting and gagging that leaves your mouth in misery long after you've guzzled the last of your water.
But even if you can avoid getting the Dead Sea above your neck, you've got other things to worry about. Every little nick and cut on your body instantly starts screaming, while your body pickles at an alarming rate. Unfortunately, we'd been sliced up a bit by the small rocks embedded in the creek, and certainly felt it on our backs and butts.
Men and women are justly advised not to shave a few days before entering the body of water. Merely splashing about in the liquid for 10 minutes leaves you as pickled/shriveled as a two-hour session in the pool.