My friends and family know me to be an accomplished depressive, but a few days ago I hit a new low. I was so fantastically low that you could not possibly, on this whole benighted planet, be lower. And I had a big fat smile on my face.
This was because I was floating in the Dead Sea. The Dead Sea is so much more depressed than me, on account of being 422 metres below sea level, and also perhaps on account of instantly killing all living things and getting called ‘Killer Sea’ and ‘Devil’s Sea’ and ‘Stinking Lake’, that I felt duty-bound to try and cheer it up.
But mostly I was smiling because it’s just so much fun. The water’s deadly salt content may mean curtains for fish, but its unusual buoyancy means that you simply bob about on the surface like a cork. You’d have to be a gene pool-purifying, Darwin Award winner to drown.
Google some images of people floating in the Dead Sea. You’ll see them reading newspapers, with their drinks obligingly standing on the surface next to them. I yearn to be this cool but I’m really not, plus I didn’t have a newspaper or a drink, so I just linked my hands behind my head, shoulders clear of the water, and lay back, trying to look as if I did this all the time instead of like some thrilled hypersalinity virgin.
It was exactly like reclining in a deck chair positioned just under the surface—I actually crossed my legs. I tried a tiny little swim, but just ended up flapping at the surface of the water like a bedraggled bird, which is even less cool. The idea is not to swim. The idea is to hang out and converse with other half-naked floaters as if you’re having a chat on the beach.
I couldn’t really do that either because the people I was travelling with actually were having a chat on the beach, so I just floated, smiling like a lunatic, with the Holiday Inn beach in Jordan a few metres to my right, and to my left, across several kilometres of water, Palestine.
Getting into the water means negotiating the famously therapeutic mud at the bottom of the Dead Sea, which is squelchy, foot-sucky stuff that you sink into with each step. I took my time and was extremely careful not to splash, not then and not when I was trying to force my legs down from float to stand. The Holy Land is forever ringing with the screams of people who weren’t extremely careful not to get extremely salty water in their eyes.
Floating, screaming people are the only kind of life form in the water, if you don’t count bacteria and algae. Any fish that foolishly chokes up from the Jordan River inflow or one of the freshwater feeders instantly expires and wash up on the shores coated in salt. But humans get all sorts of bonus points for being there: fewer UV rays, more oxygen, and mineral-rich mud wraps.
This last involves being smeared from head to toe with clingy black mud until you look like a monster, and letting it dry out before hosing the stuff off. Hey presto: the new you, mineralised, tightened, psoriasis-less, endlessly youthful. King David, Herod the Great and Cleopatra all knew this, and now so do I.
The Dead Sea is only going to get more depressed. Not only is it sinking by a further metre a year due to evaporation and weakened inflow from the Jordan river; but it isn’t even the saltiest water on earth (drumroll for Lake Assal in Djibouti, apparently). But being there is guaranteed to cheer you up no end. If only by comparison.