As a teenager in the 1980s, inspired by an older cousin’s example, I dreamed of spending time as a ‘work-for-hire’ in a kibbutz. (It didn’t seem too far, workwise, from growing up on a farm but it offered novelty in other aspects.) I had forgotten that, until the BB and I arrived at our accommodation near the Dead Sea.
The kibbutz had seen better days. With rusty doors, peeling paint and haphazard construction from a mish-mash of materials, it was essentially a ghost.
Beyond it was the new area. Basic. A large reception area was sparsely-furnished, functional, light-filled and gave the impression of having been designed for easy cleaning. (And why not?) The rooms were set in no-nonsense rows but the garden…the garden was lush. Everyone else was indoors that afternoon but I enjoy heat so I settled down to write to my family.
I’m sitting on a wooden bench with a glass of wine (it’s warming rapidly, but the air-conditioning in our room too cold for me), overlooking the Dead Sea. Muted pinks form the mountains of Jordan on the far side. Apparently, one can just rock up at the border and get a visa.
I have my computer on my lap and one of the ever-present Israeli cats purring loudly on the bench next to me – a stroke now and then and it’s content. Too much appreciation on my part and it wants to walk over my computer in reciprocity. It has now placed a paw and its head on my thigh. I choose to see that as a gesture of affection but know that it’s not really. Still, I am happy with it.
An ibex just ran past me and is now standing ten metres away. They are quite relaxed about humans but our Negev guide told us that, when he returned to Israel 20 years ago, they feared us.
We arrived too late at our kibbutz hotel to bathe in the Dead Sea. Access closes at 5. I haven’t seen fences so one could walk down but sink holes abound. I suppose the authorities simply hope people read the signs and have a strong instinct for survival.
My laptop battery is low – battling the heat? – and we must soon go to dinner.
Love love love,
In the morning, we approached the Dead Sea from another resort. We travelled down in a little ‘train’ – carriages pulled by a tractor. Just below the resort, people stood under jets of water. My Australian, water-conserving, farming mind boggled.
We left the buildings hundreds of metres behind us, for the sea, once lapping at the walls, has shrunk. Since the 1950s, dams and redirections have reduced the flow of fresh water into the Dead Sea so it is now insufficient to maintain the homeostasis of inflow and evaporation that kept the sea vibrant for thousands of years. Those gardens at the kibbutz hotel? Water previously destined for the Dead Sea. Just one example.
The salt beach twinkled in the sun. White plastic chairs, many smeared with mud, were strewn about. Most people sat under the open-sided shelter, avoiding the sun. They watched languidly as this new trainload disembarked.
It is a beautiful body of water – flat, with tiny ridges of movement. A metal shelter, large enough for several people abreast, echoes the one onshore. Its posts are encrusted with salt so thick I was reminded of Lot’s wife. A loop of rope under the roof allows sitters to hold on and prevent themselves drifting to shore.
The water is so salty it is bitter. It is tepid where people tend to enter and exit but, further out, hot enough for a bath.
The salinity is such that The BB had difficulty putting his legs down to stand up. If we removed our feet from the sea bed and relaxed, they floated upwards. Lying on my back, I raised my bent legs above my body then rolled them sideways to the water in a standard Pilates move. It held me. Beneath the surface, my skin felt slick.
I assumed I’d scrape mud from the seabed but it is hard salt, rippled like sand dunes. I asked two shower-capped women, plastered in mud and drying on plastic chairs, where to get some. They pointed to a pipe gushing cloudy water into an area of dirt at the water’s edge. Walking along the shoreline, the small, rounded, smooth clusters of salt in the spots frequented by tourists, gave way to those which retained their tiny, foot-pricking spikes. Then, at risk of anointing myself with dishwater from the resort, I scooped up the silty mud and slathered it over my body. I sat awhile, baking in the sun and, I hoped, absorbing healing wonderfulness before washing in the sea.
Upon return to the resort, I didn’t shower. I wanted to see how it felt to keep that intense brine upon my skin; what, if anything, happened. The water took a long time to dry.
In the car, I peeled an egg and wiped it on my calf to salt it – dipping again in the Dead Sea.