Wrapped Up In The Dead Sea
How can a body of water be so deadly that no living thing, except one type of bacteria, can survive within its midst, yet be so therapeutic for the human organism? How is it possible to start at ‘sea level’ and travel down 1300 feet and still be on land and not under water? Who ever concocted the idea that slathering the human torso with mud dug from the bottom of this dead water could heal the body and beautify the skin?
I topped-off a recent pilgrimage to Israel with a respite at the lowest place on earth, the Dead Sea. This nadir point is reputed to be uplifting and exhilarating, despite its Hebrew translation of ‘Killer Sea.’ I came to test the waters and its mud.
Formed millions of years ago, as part of the Jordan Rift Valley, the Dead Sea registers a salinity content of 35%. The Jordan River trickles in as its one water source, but no rivers drain from it, so evaporation serves as the only escape route. This loss of water leaves deep deposits of mineral salts behind.
The Dead Sea served as a place of refuge for King David, a health resort for Herod the Great and a beauty spa for Cleopatra. There must be something to the hype for thousands of years. Would I be so buoyant that I could float like a boat? Could a mud wrap leave my body as advertised- cleansed, revitalized, toxins eliminated and muscle stiffness miraculously eased? Cleopatra believed it. I had to find out for myself.
After checking into a resort hotel on its mysterious shore near the biblical towns of Sodom and Gomorrah, I raced to test the buoyancy factor. At the water’s edge, white salt reflected from the bottom, giving off a yellow glow in the shallows. Whoa, Warnings posted: walk, do not run into the water, do not get any water in your mouth or eyes, do not attempt to swim, do not panic; bend one’s knees slightly and float. Hmm, so many rules for a quick dip. No way- a lot of bunk, I thought.
I eased into the briny liquid, the instant sting of salt grinding into a small cut on my hand. In three feet of water, I tested the knee bending exercise. Without effort, the sea took control. I found myself prone, staring at the sky, floating like a balsa log, toes sticking above the water. In fact, standing erect turned out to be the more daunting task. Okay, Cleopatra, I believe; on to the mud wrap.
The hotel’s spa receptionist introduced me to the masseuse assigned to rub me down and wrap me up. The image of an old ‘I Love Lucy’ TV episode flashed through my mind, as a goliath of a Ukrainian woman, who didn’t speak English, complete with a fake, two toned, blond and platinum braided beehive attached to her head, appeared. I asked the pretty young receptionist how we would communicate. “Oh, she speaks a few words of English, don’t worry,” she reassured me.
Helga, I named her Helga, guided me through a maze of 25 sub-terrain rooms to the appointed chamber, where I feared torture awaited. The long table draped with a massive sheet of plastic reaching down to the floor beckoned her victim. “Everything off; everything,” bellowed my mud wrapper, using two of the five English words she knew.
I lay naked on the plastic, waiting for the massive woman to return, my mind churning outlandish scenarios. Here I was, at the Dead Sea in Israel, no clothes, in a tiny room within a maize, waiting for someone I couldn’t talk to, someone whose giant hands were about to cover me, maybe smother me in mud from the Killer Sea and I was voluntarily paying an incredible sum of money for this supposed pleasurable experience. Egads!
The door opened and my fate rolled in. A caldron on wheels, bubbling with hot, grayish mud loomed closer. Sensing her victim’s panic, the mud expert went to work. She piled mounds of bubbling, gurgling, mineral salt laden, heavy gunk on my stomach and started spreading it- everywhere, every nook, cranny, pore, orifice, opening and appendage. She cemented my hands and feet to make sure fingers and toes had no movement. “It’s therapeutic. Cleopatra loved it. People would die for this experience,” I silently shouted to my brain waves; they responded that perhaps people had, died that is.
The initial torture completed, the giant woman wrapped the plastic around my body, tight, encasing me mummy style, sealing the therapeutic scalding, brackish stuff inside. Hidden under the plastic, the final blow, a heavy thermal blanket waited to close the hatch. “Don’t sit up,” my soothing masseuse barked, using the other 3 English words in her repertoire. She lit some candles, turned on a CD of dream music and swooshed from the room, leaving me with fears of suffocation from the mud’s choking sulfur smell and heat steaming within the double wrap.
My last thought before succumbing to this experience was, ‘now I know how it feels to be buried alive’, realizing I never wanted to know that. I gave in and drifted into a semi-dreamland, semi-conscious state. I tried to register what I was thinking. It seemed so important to be able to report how my mind processed this collapse, but I can’t recall a thing. I just remember submitting to an external control.
The door opened. Helga intruded. “No not yet, don’t interrupt my dream sleep. Please, I’m in the middle of a shut-down,” I begged. But my words fell on non-English ears. My allotted time in the cocoon had elapsed. The lights flicked on, candles snuffed, music stopped, blanket removed, plastic unfurled, nakedness exposed.
More plastic covered the floor. The woman, in her robotic moves of mud wraps, turned on the shower, directed me to slide from the table and shed the mud caked layer from my body. I slipped, mud squishing between my toes as I slithered to the shower, still in a semi-trance. I stood under the warm pelting water, feeling cleansed, as toxins poured down the drain. Cleopatra, I will never doubt you again.
Miss Beehive gathered the piles of mud soaked memories and refitted the table with fresh sheets of mummy cloth for the next Mud Wrap victim; a repetitious slathering of hot minerals on a flabby patron, who hoped for beauty and health miracles. I wondered if this woman had ever experienced Dead Sea mud and mind control. She should.
Miraculously, this Dead Sea muck made me feel alive and instead of being at the lowest point on Earth, I felt on top of the world.