The cobalt blue waters of the Dead Sea had been still all morning, and it took no persuasion to jump right in. A gasp for breath and I was jolted out of my joie de vivre. The salts were pricking each pore on my skin, instantly turning it to a shade of scarlet. I doubled over, struggling to stay afoot as the rocks shook and tumbled under my feet. "Sit down and relax" I heard my friend, Indira, shout out, the voice sounding more faraway than the two feet distance she was at. While clambering down the rocky shores, watching her float without a fuss has buoyed my spirits. "This seems easy" I had concluded and; "Ouch! It burns" I pleaded now. Obeid, our guide in Jordan, had warned us that the water should not enter one's eyes or mouth, but a few persistent hyper-saline drops had trickled inside my tightly pursed lips. Dead Sea is 9.6 times as salty as the ocean, with Jordan river feeding in fresh water, but no streams for outflow. At 427 meters below sea level, this lake is also the earth's lowest elevation on land.
This is not how -- the already imagined for weeks as the highlight of my trip to Jordan -- was supposed to be. For weeks, I had imagined myself floating on the waters, letting the mild waves completely take over my loco-motion. I would have been smiling contentedly from behind my swimming goggles as I balanced the iPhone on one hand (or a book, perhaps even a drink on another?) for a quick selfie to announce the latest tick on my travel checklist. The vision came back to haunt me, as I finally managed an awkward cross-legged position, before it completely blurred out. "No no, this cannot be; this is the place for non-swimmers like me" I resolutely muttered and started stretching my legs out. Before I knew it, the dense waters pushed them right above, much against my will to do this with a bit of salvaged elegance. My hands were gingerly maintaining a grip on the rocks below; oh no, I was not giving in to the Dead Sea yet. Now at an odd ungainly thirty degrees angle to the ground; in this state of limbo, each second seemed eternal.
Suddenly, Indira's reassuring hand slipped beneath my back for support, and almost on a stimulus, I finally stretched out, the whole body now completely rising to the surface. The voices in my head ceased to exist, and for perhaps the first time, I became conscious of the all-pervasive calm of the Dead Sea. I stared at the morning sky above, speckled all over with small grey clouds, and then at golden Judaean hills of West Bank on the horizon ahead. Though the swim did not last for more than five minutes, the feeling of being afloat kept coming back for the rest of the day.
Image taken and provided by Gitika Saksena.