Travels with V
430 meters below sea level
On the road south in a brutal landscape between Jerusalem and Eilat, on the west bank of the Dead Sea lies the kibbutz Ein Gedi. Surrounded by hot dry desert and sterile red cliffs this place is a heavenly oasis with flowers and trees, There’s even a little botanical garden here.
Kibbutzes was the young Israeli nation’s version of socialist communal farms and many young and idealistic Europeans in the 1960’s and 70’s have worked in a kibbutz. Nowadays most of these farms have changed their communal structure and been transformed into more traditional companies. Many, like Ein Gedi, have become tourist lodges. Here we find a bunch of very nice cabins in a green garden, restaurants and bars, a large swimming pool, and most important, free bus transfer down to the shores of the Dead Sea.
This remarkable lake lies more than 430 meters below sea level, and this has created some bizarre conditions. Since the water has no outlet instead it evaporates in the desert heat, and what is left becomes more salty by the day. Today the salinity lies at nearly 34 percent, so one third of each liter of the lake water is pure salt.
Walking out into the water you tread on a crust of solid salt. The air smells like brine. Out far enough – but not too far, you absolutely don’t want a single drop of this water in your eyes – you lie down and pop up to the surface like a cork. The water is lukewarm and fells like oil.
The Dead Sea is drying out, its surface level is constantly sinking, almost a meter each year. This happens because irrigation water is being redirected from its main water source, the Sea of Galilee. As a result the shoreline is constantly moving further and further out. The dried up sea bottom cracks up and creates dangerous traps and sinkholes.
The bus from Ein Gedi stops at a place where you can continue on foot (or on a little train) down to the water, but you can also stop by a tub full of mud from the lake’s shores, and smear your body with it. It’s supposed to be very reviving for the skin, but most of all it makes V look very funny.
One lazy afternoon in Ein Gedi we’re relaxing in front of our cabin, checking the large number of cats strolling about, looking for something to eat. Suddenly there is some movement on the footpath before us. It’s an animal with a brown fur, the size of a beaver but looking more like a big rat. We’re not moving an inch, so he’s not scared of us, just continues along the path, snatching and chewing the dates that have fallen to the ground. It’s a rock hyrax, a cute little fellow and actually quite common throughout Africa and Asia Minor (years later we’ll se them in Tanzania). Strangely enough this little creature’s closest animal relative is the elephant.
Last night in Ein Gedi and we’re sitting on a park bench looking out on the Dead Sea and the Jordan mountains on the other side. We see what appears to be a strong floodlight being switched on behind a mountain top. The light gets stronger and brighter until suddenly a gigantic moon rises above the mountain rim. It’s a goodbye moon and we say Bye! See you!
In the next chapter we continue down south. The heat is unbearable but we cool down among corals and colourful fishes. From the Dead Sea to the Red.