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What Is It Like to Swim in the Dead Sea?

So the tour bus rolls up to the Dead Sea and it's 34 °C weather out there. For any Americans reading this, that's 93 °F. No matter what scale you're using, that's a bit on the toasty side of things.
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I've done it twice, once in winter, once in summer. The experiences were quite different.

The Dead Sea in Summer

So the tour bus rolls up to the Dead Sea and it's 34 °C weather out there. For any Americans reading this, that's 93 °F. No matter what scale you're using, that's a bit on the toasty side of things. You might think that taking a dip in a body of water might be cool and refreshing under such circumstances, and you'd be right -- not too far from the Dead Sea is a place called Ein Gedi, it's absolutely beautiful and the water flowing there is refreshing and cool. You'll shvitz like a horse on the way to the waterfall there, but totally worth it.

The Dead Sea, on the other hand, will get to that 34 °C. You will not feel refreshed. You will not stop sweating. And there is a very, very good chance you will dehydrate if you stay in there for more than fifteen minutes. Theoretically, if you could get to a deep portion of the Dead Sea and get down to the depths, it might be cool there, but this would require quite a bit of concerted effort on your end of things, and there would be a tremendous risk of getting salt in your eyes.

Trust me, you do not want to get Dead Sea water in your eyes. Or, as my friend with poor bladder control informs me, your urethra, but seriously, don't get it in your eyes. It's painful and your first instinct will be to rub your eyes. Resist that instinct. Just keep your eyes closed and rely on the kindness of friends and/or strangers to get you to shore where you can wash them out with non-salt water.

Also, bring flip-flops. The bottom of the Dead Sea is covered in large salt crystals. Translation: the bottom's not sand, it's these large jagged rocks that are painful as all get-out to walk on. I went without flip-flops and my strategy for dealing with it was to dig my feet into the bottom, going underneath the big rocks. The big rocks go down several centimeters. This strategy took time and effort, not to mention vision, so it wasn't really all that practical on the way back, where I had to bribe someone with lunch to lend me their flip-flops to get back to shore.

You might be wondering what the Dead Sea tastes like. I mean, it has such a rich salt concentration, it must taste really salty, right? Actually, it tastes kind of bitter and I've never seen anyone who got that water in their mouth resist the urge to spit and flail. So, you know, try to avoid that, although chances are you won't succeed.

Not counting the extended time required to get to a depth of water I could float in or the time required to get back to shore, I spent maybe five minutes broiling in the Dead Sea. But it sure is a lot of fun, because no matter what you try, no matter what position you take, you will not sink. Also, the water does wonders for the skin -- I was breaking out in zits on my forehead when I went and that went away about a day later.[1]

The Dead Sea in Winter

Much the same dealio, but here's the thing: there is a vast difference between going in 14 °C water and 34 °C water. The former is actually pretty comfortable and you can stay in for much longer. Same risks still apply, obviously, but it's a lot more fun. Some things I learned:

Breaststroke is damn near impossible in the Dead Sea. It requires oh so very much effort to keep your legs in the water during the kick.

The Dead Sea does not care how much of a dough boy you are, you will float in it. It's a bad idea to shave the morning before going in the Dead Sea. Or at least, so my buddy's yelps of pain told me.

So, all things considered, I would recommend going to the Dead Sea, but scheduling it so that you go during winter. Honestly, the weather's more pleasant in that neck of the woods during winter anyway.

[1] I slapped the water on my forehead once I'd already gotten the water in my eyes and they were tightly shut.

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