On the way to the Dead Sea, Zohar warned us that the water was greasy because of the natural salts concentrated therein (magnesium, potassium, sodium, etc.). We should shower immediately after our dunk. Zohar, who seems a bit of a worry wart anyway, but has 39 grownups to herd, also advised that we not dive in, or swim, not to splash, to watch for the rocks underwater, and to never, never let the water into your eyes. Something dreadful would ensue. We were no longer sure that a dip was a good idea. We were nearly ready to pull the senior citizen card.
But we had to do it. This is the Dead Sea: you can’t not do it. (Why that dreadful name? It’s too salty for sea life.) The sea—really a lake—was a surprising glacier blue. We waded in, little rocks and chunks of salt piercing our feet. Then we sat down in the water and floated like chaise lounges. It was fun, the water so dense that our feet had trouble touching the ground. Yee-haw! I could do this all day!
Then … a random drop of water came from somewhere and—pow! The unbearable sting of an eyeful of salt. Panicking, I hobbled across the sharp little rocks to the nearest beach shower. These eyes have had laser surgery and cataract surgery, It would be a shame to go blind right now. Especially before Petra. A minute of rinsing later, the salt was gone, and I COULD STILL SEE! Phew.
The next day, we drove to a place called Yardenit on the Jordan River, across the river from the spot where, it is believed, John the Baptist baptized Jesus. That spot fell to Jordan in 1995, so the Israelis set up a baptistery site on their side of the river. Yardenit, which ironically belongs to a kibbutz, does a brisk business in baptisms. You rent a white robe made of parachute cloth, fling it over your bathing suit, and wade in the water to be dunked by an officiating cleric.
We watched a busful of Russians made clean again, to the tune of an Orthodox chant. A couple on our trip got riled up when they arrived: the cleric had quit for the day. Finally, they simply ended up dunking each other, and came away brandishing laminated certificates to that effect.
And then came ancient Cesarea: the 59th place where I want to live sometime in this life. It’s a paradisaical seaside compound built by Herod I (some time around 22–10 BC) and named to gain favor with the Roman emperor. There are the remains of a Roman theater; and more rare, a rock-bordered swimming pool that borrows water from the sea. The breeze swept away the heat of the day, and we’re talking right on the Mediterranean. Location, location, location. How can I wrangle it from the National Parks Authority?
But we did not linger long enough to do the deal. It was time for the Kingdom of Jordan,and that sounded amazing. We were bound for Petra.