The feeling is ethereal. You don’t notice anything different as you walk into the water. Go in past your knees as you could be in any lake in the world. But take a few more steps, until the water is up to your waist, and then sit back like you are in a chair. Relax. Let your arms go out to your sides. You’re floating in the Dead Sea, at the lowest place on Earth.
The Israelis call this lake the Salt Sea. It’s known everywhere else as the Dead Sea because of the belief that it is so salty that nothing can live in the water. Scientists have proven that that’s not true because there are some microorganisms that have adapted to this extreme environment. Ocean water is approximately 4% salt. The water of the Dead Sea is approximately 38% salt. This change in chemistry affects the buoyancy of anything floating in it.
Like me. Sitting in the chair position without moving is easy and very relaxing. I can also tilt back and extend my body to lie flat on my back without effort. I am hesitant to put head back in the water because the guide told us not to get any water splashed into our eyes. At such a high salt content, the water would badly sting your eyes. I can’t comfortably open my eyes under sea water, so I am taking no chances. I keep my sunglasses on. As I move my body to lie flat on my stomach, I quickly realize that’s a bad idea without goggles.
I paddle out a little farther into deeper water. I can’t touch the bottom. I try to stand up straight like a pole without moving, my arms at my side. I hang there like a clothespin on a line, gently swaying with the breeze. I tilt back and forth a little with the slight waves.
Having approximate neutral buoyancy to your body is a strange feeling. I have taken scuba diving lessons and have gone diving about 15 times. With scuba diving equipment called a BCD (buoyancy compensation device), while underwater you can either add air to your vest or let air out of your vest to control buoyancy. If you add too much you start to rise in the water, too little and you start to sink. Getting to neutral buoyancy is a skill that divers work on. It can be hard to get it exactly right.
The feeling is the same when floating in the Dead Sea, but you’re not underwater and no equipment is required. Just walk in to the water and relax…