Chana Pinto
Am Yisrael Chai

A Unique Tour of the Dead Sea

Our group exploring the salt and mineral deposits in the Dead Sea.
Our group exploring the Dead Sea. Courtesy of the writer.

A friend of mine saw a spider in her house last week. She told me that it means Spring is coming. Which is nice to hear, I guess, but not good for our country (Israel).  We haven’t had enough rainfall yet, so even though Pesach is just around the corner, and surely everyone has started cleaning already (yeah, right!), we really need to keep praying for rain, even if it means possibly more leaking in our houses (see my previous blog for more on that topic).

But…in case you are actually thinking about Spring, let me suggest a great and unique Only-In-Israel experience which is perfect to do in nice weather. This ranks up there with the “coolest” things to do or see while visiting-or living inIsrael, and honestly, I have been here for 17 years and I didn’t even know this was something you could do. And apparently it’s gaining a lot of popularity.  So I’m going to jump on the bandwagon and describe my own incredible experience…taking a boat trip on the Dead Sea.  Have you heard of it?  I hadn’t, until about 6 weeks ago. And last month, in conjunction with Yalla Israel Adventures (thank you Debbie Ziering and Leelah Gitler, for making this happen for us!), I got to experience it, and it was fabulous!

Our trip began on the shores of the Dead Sea (Yam Hamelach) near the Mitzpe Shalem Interchange. We were 12 passengers, excited for a one and a half-hour boat tour on the sea (if this sounds a bit like the beginning of Gilligan’s Island, the comparison wasn’t lost on me). Our guide and skipper was Jake, from nearby Kibbutz Mitzpe Shalem, who together with his wife Orit run the boat tours, which are so popular that they usually need to be booked months in advance (Yalla Israel Adventures organized it for us rather quickly-look them up).  According to Jake, not everyone can get the licenses needed to operate a boat on the Dead Sea, which is why these excursions aren’t so well-known. The border between Israel and Jordan runs north-south right down the center of the sea, and subsequently, it falls under the jurisdiction of the military. To take a boat out on the sea, you need to apply for several ishurim, or permits, from the army. It took Jake two years to receive permission to operate his small vessel, which can fit a maximum of 12 passengers.  Their company is appropriately called Salty Landscapes Israel (Nofei Melach in Hebrew), offering a variety of boat tour experiences.

Jake and Orit met us on the side of Route 90 and guided our cars through a barrier and down a steep embankment where we parked. From there, they took us in a 4×4 down to the water. Here we were, twelve Generation X-ers, giddy and excited to be going on this new and unique adventure out on the Dead Sea.  And Skipper Jake did not disappoint.

Our group, courtesy of the writer.

Our tour began with a  brief history lesson about the Dead Sea, and as we navigated through the salty water, we got to see first-hand what the lowest body of water on earth is made of: Salt “pearls” and “diamonds”; salt stalactites; salt “floes” (that actually do look like ice floes) made up of layers upon layers of minerals and salt deposits; large salt pillars which jut out from the water like icebergs (with Jake not missing the opportunity to make a Titanic joke as we passed by), and which we actually got to sit on and take some photos; and the famous Dead Sea mud, with large crystal-like cubes of clear salt hidden within. It was really fascinating, and the first time we had ever done anything like this (though one couple from our group had actually been on a boat tour of Great Salt Lake in Utah).

A clear salt cube, extracted from the Dead Sea mud.
Jake, our guide, in the background. Courtesy of the writer.

We explored sinkholes which have drastically changed the landscape of the sea and the beach in recent years, and which keep occurring at an alarming rate. Jake pointed out several small streams, some no more than a trickle, of fresh water which seemed to come out of nowhere, which flow down to mix with the salty water of the sea (We did not know that!). Jake knew his history and facts well, and showed us how the sea has been shrinking by more than a meter of water each year. Though the statistics sounded depressing, Jake was great at looking at the bright side of things and was very witty, cracking jokes about life in Israel and politics, in a way only a born-Israeli can. (We, in turn, laughed and went along with the jokes, in a way that only American olim can…).

Overall, this turned out to be a truly great experience, and one I recommend highly. So even if you aren’t yet thinking about Spring, or things to do during the Passover break (break for whom?), book one of these tours now, you will not be disappointed!

A sinkhole in the Dead Sea. Photo courtesy of the writer.
By next year, this salt pillar will most likely be above the water.
A large salt pillar, one of many.
Jake’s Dead Sea boat.
About the Author
Chana Resnick Pinto made aliya from Toronto in 2005 with her family and has lived in the Sharon area of Central Israel ever since. She earned a BA from Yeshiva University and an MSEd from Bank Street College of Education in New York City. Chana works at Eric Cohen Books in Ra'anana and loves living in Israel. She encourages everyone to stop and smell the flowers and always appreciate the small things.
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