Dead Sea, Jordan, swimming tips: Whatever you do, don't get it in your mouth

In the end I can't resist. I decide to taste it. And it's disgusting.

I'm in Jordan, under a burning sun, on the eastern shore of one of the strangest bodies of water on the planet: the Dead Sea.

Covering an area of 605 square kilometres, with Jordan on one side and Israel on the other, the sea sits 400 metres below sea level, making it the lowest place on the planet.

In reality it's not a sea, but a salt lake. And there's no shortage of salt. The water is 9.6 times more salty than the ocean. It's composition means nothing can live in it – no fish, no frogs, no weeds. Hence the name.

I'm here just one night at the recently opened Hilton on the shore. Arriving late in the evening and departing back to the capital Amman at lunchtime, I've just got this morning to head into the water and see what all the fuss is about.

Taking a dip in the Dead Sea, I'm told, is unlike taking a dip anywhere else on Earth. It's not a case of sink or swim. You can't sink. You can't swim. You can only float and try to avoid getting the extremely salty water in your mouth or eyes.

I've also been warned not to shave the day before going in. That sting you get from slapping on aftershave? Multiple it by 100 times and that's what the Dead Sea will apparently feel like on your face.

I head down to the hotel's sandy beach early in the morning. The sun is already hot so I seek out a shady spot on one of the deckchairs shaded by an umbrella. The Hilton uses buoys to cordon off a private section of the water, and within this space there's a large pontoon floating with ladders for guests to climb in and out on.

There are already several other guests floating, reclined on their backs, going nowhere in particular.

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But before I join them, I need to partake in an important aspect of the experience – covering myself, head to toe, in dark mud.

The mineral-rich mud from the bed of the sea is great for your skin, I'm told. Rather than dig it up myself from the shoreline, I'm able to go to a large pot the hotel has set up filled with what appears to be a slightly more refined version of the substance. They've even set up mirrors so I can ensure I don't miss any spots.

After a couple of minutes I'm ready, but I get chatting to an English couple who have come across from their home in Dubai for the weekend. After a short time talking in the blistering sun I realise the sloppy mud on my skin has now transformed into a hard, dry crust. I'm not sure I'm going to be able to get it off again.

I leave the English tourists to their deckchairs and head out to the pontoon. For some reason I feel nervous. The water this far out is deep and suddenly I'm finding myself disbelieving of the stories that you can't sink in the Dead Sea, since the salty water makes you more buoyant.

Nevertheless, I'm convinced I'm about to become the first person to jump into the Dead Sea and sink straight to the bottom. I climb down the pontoon ladder until my legs are in the water and then let go, falling on to my back.

And I float. It's a strange feeling. My legs and feet are sitting much higher in the water than they normally would. I feel like I'm sitting on the surface of the water, rather than actually in it.

The mud on my skin immediately starts to loosen up and I wash it off as I paddle along on my back.

It's at this point I decide to touch a finger to my lips and have a tiny taste of the water. I expect it will be a little like ocean water, just saltier. I'm wrong: It's much worse. The water does taste incredibly salty, but also dirty. Maybe it's all those minerals from the mud.

I make my way out of the water and shower off at the hotel's beach facilities. I have to admit, my skin feels extremely smooth and soft. In fact, overall I feel pretty great. I just need to get that taste out of my mouth.

Trip Notes

FLY

Etihad flies to Abu Dhabi from Melbourne, Sydney, Brisbane with connections to Amman. See etihad.com 

STAY

Opened in 2017, the Hilton Dead Sea Resort and Spa in Sweimeh‎ is right on the shoreline and has a private bathing area and pontoon for guests. See www3.hilton.com/en/hotels/jordan/hilton-dead-sea-resort-and-spa-AMMDSHI/index.html 

MORE

traveller.com.au/jordan 

international.visitjordan.com

The writer travelled as a guest of Etihad Airways and Visit Jordan.

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