Monday, April 16, 2007

Mud on My Face..and Arms...and Legs...

Last week, the cool temperatures and occasionally strong winds of Jerusalem were beginning to get to me. The remedy? A visit to the Dead Sea.

Not wishing to navigate through the maze of Jerusalem's Central Bus Station, I decided to go on a group tour. Theorizing that the posh hotels would only work with excellent operators, I signed up for a Masada/Dead Sea trip at one of the swankest hotels in Jerusalem. The next morning, I arrived at the appointed time, only to wait...and wait...and wait for the minivan to show up, about 45 minutes later. I climbed aboard and noticed that one of the seats was completely broken. The tour guide - a burly white haired ex-history teacher named Shraga - started the tour with humor and good cheer but his attitude deteriorated and by mid-day his style began to resemble that of a barking general ("Lady, hurry up!"; "You, come here!"). I overheard another passenger tell her friend, in Spanish, that he was the worst Israeli guide she's met so far.

So much for my theory.

En route, the driver (an older fellow named Eli) kept pulling over, as if he was not confident that the rattling vehicle would make it. Somehow, though, he was able to accelerate to insane speeds as he negotiated some very twisty curves as we descended from Jerusalem to below sea level. The fellow sitting next to me, an American named Robert who had spent a year in Iraq doing humanitarian relief, commented that it would be rather ironic, not to mention stupid, if, after all he'd experienced, he died as a result of a crazy Israeli driver. I agreed - what a pointless way to go!

We hinted to Shraga that the driver could slow down.

"No, no," reassured Shraga, "it's OK. The speed is fine."

Maybe the speed was within the legal limit but the vehicle itself didn't sound like it could handle it.

Perhaps the driver wanted to stress us out so that we'd have an even greater appreciation of the therapeutic benefits of the Dead Sea and the Ein Gedi Spa. The tour guide didn't leave us all that much time to sample the spa, so we (Robert, myself and an Argentinean woman) hopped from treatment to treatment. First stop, the Dead Sea itself. We floated in the warm water and basked in the sun, emerging after a few minutes with crystals of salt and minerals clinging to our bodies. Then we jumped onto a shuttle which dropped us off at the mud station, with two huge wooden vats filled with the stuff. Still salted, we coated ourselves with thick but smooth black mud (think "mud mousse"), apparently marvelous for the skin AND hair, and photographed each other while the mud dried. We carefully rinsed and scrubbed under a warm outdoor sulphur shower, removing the dirt but adding a stink! Then it was time for a 15 minute float in the hot indoor sulphur pool, followed by a regular shower. Still a bit annoyed by having to wait in the morning, I decided not to rush.

Returning to the minivan (I was the last to board), my now baby smooth skin glowed and I felt deeply relaxed. Even Shraga seemed liked a nice guy, and I found it in my heart to give this angry and frustrated man a small tip. A few days later, after several shampoos, my hair still smelled of "eau de sulphur". Perhaps by the time the odor completely disappears it will be time to return.

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