Spa types have always told me that minerals and mud from the Dead Sea, the lowest place on Earth, are good for your skin.
But our guide Tamar from the Israel Ministry of Tourism made it sound more like the Fountain of Youth than a facial. “People come out and say they feel 10 years younger,” she told us, as we pulled into Mineral Beach on the Israeli side of the lake.
Hm. That sounded much better than Botox. I decided to wallow, whole hog, even though overexposure does have its downside: Drinking even half of cup of Dead Sea water could upset the salt and potassium levels in our bloodstream, instantly killing us, Tamar warned.
Even with temperatures around 100 degrees, Mineral Beach was packed, with several tour buses standing by. I rented a towel and a locker key for 20 shekels each (you receive half of your money back when you return them), and headed for the locker room.
As soon as I entered the facilities, I realized that this was no fancy spa. The changing room boasted few amenities and even less privacy. “This is worse than Loehmann’s,” fellow traveler Sarah muttered, as she jostled for a spot among the bodies (Tip #1: Check your modesty at the door).
We changed as fast as we could (Tip #2: Take off your jewelry, as the water can tarnish some metals), and headed down a long path to the Dead Sea, which is receding about a meter per year. As we arrived, we could see people bobbing around, holding their feet and hands in the air. At 417 meters below sea level, the Dead Sea c0ntains four times as much salt as the world’s oceans, which makes it almost impossible to sink.
I waded into the water, and almost immediately felt the buoyancy tugging at my legs. I laid back and voila, I was floating! It felt surreal, like I had a plastic noodle keeping me up. I made the mistake of tasting my finger and made a face: it was beyond salty, and a little greasy too (Tip #3: Don’t put your face in the water, as it will burn your eyes).
I didn’t stay in long, as the salt burned a bit (Tip #4: Do NOT shave less than 2 days before floating, as the water will prick any cuts you have, even small ones). Time for mud. We hobbled over the rocky beach to the natural mud pits found in one section of the beach (Tip #5: Bring your water shoes, as the rocks and salt can be sharp.)
I reached down, pulled up a hunk of black mud and slapped it on my leg. It oozed a bit, and I could see the salt shards sticking out. Suddenly, my leg sunk down into the bottom of the lake, putting me up to my hip in mud (Tip #6: Don’t worry if this happens, as there are no creatures in the Dead Sea that can hurt you).
Once I extracted myself, I slathered mud all over my body, with a little help from a fellow writer. We baked in the sun, giving the minerals enough time to sink into our skin, and took the obligatory pictures. (There’s a certain Godzilla/Swamp Creature mentality that takes over when you are covered in mud). I kept thinking how I had once paid $120 for a mud wrap once, and it wasn’t nearly as much fun.
After about 20 minutes, it was time to clean off. I went back out into the Dead Sea and washed off most of the mud, although it took a couple rinses in the showers to get everything off. I spent the rest of the time admiring the view – on an unusually clear day, I could see the Jordan shoreline on the other side – and taking a quick dip in the hot sulfur pool (Tip #6: If you book ahead, you can schedule a massage). It took another hour to get into Jerusalem.
I’m not sure my Dead Sea experience really took a decade off my 40-year-old face. But my skin does feel much softer. And there’s nothing like a few hours spent splashing around in a mud pit to bring you back to the joys of childhood. And we all know that’s the real secret of a youthful life.
What’s the wackiest natural spa experience you’ve ever had? Did it actually work?