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Oct 22, 2005 - Dead Sea - The lowest land on the face of the Earth
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Stephen enjoying his Israeli breakfast Stephen and Eric looking out over the Dead Sea from the top of Masada Young Jewish boy having a peek inside the Model of the old Palace at Masada 
Dead Sea, Israel

Forget the trendy oxygen bars for your extra boost of this life essential gas, instead, head to the lowest point on the face of the earth where you can naturally breathe air with a higher oxygen content while experiencing some of Israel's historic sites and one of earth's greatest unique phenomenon. Located 400 metres below sea level the Dead Sea is the lowest piece of land in the world offering travellers a once in a lifetime experience unachievable elsewhere.

To reach the Dead Sea we took a shared taxi (similar to a mini bus or van) from our hotel in Tel Aviv to the resort area of Ein Bokek, which contains a handful of hotels to cater to travellers and Israeli vacationers coming to enjoy this unique area located in the heart of the desert. We checked in at the incredible Meridian David, Dead Sea Hotel, put our bags in storage and promptly hired a taxi for the day to take us around to see as many of the major sites as we could fit in.

Our first stop was Masada the ruins of an ancient fortress built high atop a lookout point overlooking the Dead Sea and Judean Desert below where Jews took refuge after the Jewish First Revolt in AD 66 but were then attacked by the Romans. Upon realizing they had no hope of holding back the Romans from breaking into their fortress, they elected 10 men to slay everyone and then themselves, committing a mass suicide before the Romans penetrated their fortress to find no one left alive. Israel has done a great job in preserving this site and recreating sections of it to help visitors understand the history and get a feel for what existed and took place high atop this desert mesa. We choose to take the cable car to the top and do the 30 minute hike back down the 'Snake Path' after our visit.

After leaving Masada we next went to Ein Gedi National Park offering an oasis in the middle of the Judean Desert where both Wadi David and Wadi Aragot (seasonal rivers and waterfalls) provide green paradise for both desert wildlife and hikers looking to explore the area. We did one of the shorter more popular hikes along Wadi David and up to David Falls although you can choose from many hikes ranging in difficulty, length and scenic views.

From Ein Gedi National Park we moved on to our last stop of the day, Ein Gedi Spa. Ein Gedi Spa was built on the back from the shores of the Dead Sea complete with natural sulphur pools for bathing, mud bathing, and of course the absolute must - float in the Dead Sea. This is certainly one of the highlights for all travellers coming to the area. The Dead Sea is an inland lake of mineral rich water creating a unique consistency that is made up of 33% solids allowing bathers to bob up and down and float as if you were a piece of Styrofoam - a phenomena that is completely surreal to our usual body reaction when entering water.

The Dead Sea is proclaimed to have healing properties for bathers due to the large amounts of bromine (relaxes the nerves), magnesium (counteracts skin allergies) and iodine (essential to good health and good for your thyroid). It is not necessarily a pleasant feeling water mass to enter though with its slightly oily texture that tends to stick to your skin and bathing suit after you leave you want to make sure you are close to a shower for a good rinse after your float.

After wading into the shallow waters you just squat down and before you know it you are bobbing on your back so comfortably you could read the paper and enjoy your morning coffee at the same time. Lift your arms and legs, float cross legged, relax on your back, or choose any position you are comfortable in but the only way you are going to hit the bottom is by putting your feet down or floating into an area that is too shallow. Whether the float 'healed' any of us at all I am not too sure, but it was great fun providing good laughs and afterall, 'laughter is the best medicine!'. If you are in the area a visit to the Dead Sea is an absolute must!

After our float in the Dead Sea we moved on to the mud baths where we had some good fun lathering ourselves in this therapeutic mud and rinsing off in the sulphur showers before heading inside to relax in the sulphur pools. Ending it all with a nice warm fresh water shower we were came out completely relaxed and revitalized ready for a great dinner back at the hotel and sound night's sleep.

Ten Travel Tips for Visiting the Dead Sea Area

1. If you choose to hike either up or down Masada be prepared as it is a strenuous hike (especially going up) and make sure you carry plenty of water and are up for the challenge under the hot desert sun that will be beating down on you the whole time. It took us 30 minutes to climb down the 700 steps that spans a distance of 2 kilometres and altitude change of 350 metres.

2. Ein Gedi Spa is well worth the visit where you can not only float in the Dead Sea (also available at most hotels and other beach areas) but also soak in their sulphur springs and give yourself a full body mud mask with the therapeutic mud from the Dead Sea.

3. If you enjoy hiking Ein Gedi National Park offers many hiking trails through both desert and desert oasis at varying ranges of difficulty and distances. If you are interested in doing longer hikes plan ahead as many are full day hikes and the park will not allow you to start after a certain hour of the day. Remember you will be hiking in the hot desert sun so dress appropriately and carry plenty of water!!

4. While floating in the Dead Sea do not splash and be very careful not to swallow any of the water or get it in your eyes due to the high mineral content it can be very dangerous if swallowed. If you get it in your eyes rinse them immediately with fresh water.

5. Be prepared for a strong feeling of 'rubbing salt into a wound' if you choose to enter the Dead Sea with any open cuts or abrasions. Floating around in the morning after shaving created a slight stinging sensation on my neck after it got wet with the dense water.

6. Remember you are in the desert and it can get extremely hot depending on the time of year you visit. Dress appropriately, wear sunscreen and drink plenty of water so you are not to ruin your visit by bad sunburn or dehydration.

7. Also in the area is Qumran National Park where the Dead Sea Scrolls were found and many describe them as the most important find in the history of the Jewish People. The actual scrolls are available for viewing at the Israel Museum in Jerusalem. We didn't visit Qumran on our trip to the area but it is something you might want to consider doing.

8. If you are looking for a day or two to relax by the pool the Dead Sea area would be a great choice. There are even a few all inclusive hotels in the area and all major hotels have nice pool areas and resort set-ups similar to what North American travellers are use to in the Caribbean.

9. If you are short on time there are many day trips available from both Tel Aviv and Jerusalem that include Masada and a float in the Dead Sea. Although I feel the area warrants more time than just a day trip it is certainly better than no visit at all. We spent a day and half and feel that next time I would give myself 2 -3 full days in the area if I had the luxury of time on my side.

10. Remember if you are travelling to the Dead Sea by taxi to make sure there is a clear understanding of the rate you are paying. Shared taxis are the cheapest but some independent taxi drivers will try to take tourists for as much as they possibly can. Large hotels usually recommend and deal with reputable taxi drivers and can assist you in arranging the trip.

www.carlhenderson.ca

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