By Motti Verses

(Photos credit: Merav Ayalon and Ein Gedi Hotel)

Traveling south along the shoreline of the Dead Sea from Lido Beach always brings back unforgettable childhood memories. Weeks after the 1967 Six Day War, I visited the Lido, a luxurious Jordanian hotel at the northern end of the sea. A road was paved to Ein Peshcha and it was possible to enjoy an immersion experience of the freshest spring water merging with the salty sea waters. The sweet salty connection etched my memory. The blue sea was then full and impressive. Great memories.

This is the Dead Sea, earth’s lowest point with an elevation of 430.5 meters below sea level. Due to the high salt content of the water, no living creature can live in the sea. 

Since then so many years have passed, and the sights of childhood are left only in mind. The sea is shrinking and drying at a frightening speed. In the northern section it can hardly be seen and only when approaching an oasis – Kibbutz Ein Gedi. The road winding up the ridge, a more optimistic picture is obtained. If the road had been paved in recent years, it certainly would not have had to be turned up. It was possible to continue south at a lower location aided by safety concrete piles. The tranquility, the wilderness, the colors of the blue sea with the drying salt are breathtaking, but so sad.

Desert Delight. Past and present fuse as the early morning sun rises above the mountain in Jordan illuminating a tranquil Dead Sea.

During my studies at the Hebrew University, when I lived in Jerusalem – my hometown, the escape east to the Dead Sea was frequent. The choices were either to Jericho to “wipe some hummus” and slide in the narrow concrete canal of the Uja Stream, or south to Ein Gedi for a hike in the Nahal David and Nahal Arugot streams. Today the first option does not even come to mind. The territory is in the hands of the Palestinian Authority and no one is willing to risk a trip experience turning into a question mark. Ein Gedi remains a popular option. Excursions to springs, streams, water ponds and tiny waterfalls in the heart of the arid wilderness were frequent and full of happiness. Later came the visits and stays in the Ein Gedi kibbutz hotel , which I always preferred over a stay in the Ein Bokek hotels.

Lovers in Paradise. Serene beauty, solitude and togetherness, a formula for fun.

I returned to Ein Gedi with my partner, who was born in Israel in the Sharon region, but it turns out that she is not familiar with this area. Full of excitement, I returned to walk in recognizable districts. The Nature Reserves Authority has made the visit to Nahal David an amazing experience, accessible to almost everyone and special in nature. The ibexes that used to hide away from sight, walk around with no fear and their quantity is quite large. A variety of small waterfalls await everyone to enjoy the cool and fresh water. This is compensation for the disappointing sign forbidding immersion in the pond of the rather powerful waterfall of David. Not many years ago, we used to bathe in the cool water enjoying the water falling on our shoulders.

Cool It. Nothing like a cold refreshing natural shower in the soaring heat of the desert.

After the ultimate Dead Sea mud experience all over our bodies, we found ourselves in our car – climbing on the winding road to the kibbutz on the way to the hotel. Same curvy road. Loud noise from the industrial chicken houses was a childhood memory. Years later, the chickens vanished but the rusty houses remained. This week the rusty structures had disappeared and only their concrete ramps remained. A strange sight.

My beloved hotel was still there, scattered over large areas dipped in greenery, with ancient baobab trees and desert flowers. A real oasis. The room where we stayed was clean and compact with an adjoining garden, overlooking the arid mountains. Meals in the hotel’s dining room remained as they were. Rich and basic. Who needs more? In the morning we enjoyed shakshuka, a salad and an outdoor coffee while the view of the powerful mountains left us speechless.

I was looking for the old bus painted blue to hop on leading the way to the hot springs and the beach; to enjoy the sea water and smear mud all over our bodies. The idea back then was to be photographed on camera using Agfa or Kodak film spools and wait a week for the prints. Today, with a state-of-the-art iPhone, the photos are instant, but the bus is no longer there. It’s been put out to pasture due to old age. Ein Gedi’s hot springs  are temporarily closed. 

Playing it Cool. While a student at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem in 1980, the writer, Motti Verses (far left) with friends frolicking in Nahal David in the Ein Gedi Nature Reserve.

Challenges and improvisations in this unique area are endless. ”We had to close our famous hot springs facility next to the sea shores, as the water receded dramatically”, says Shahaf Homri, CEO of kibbutz  Ein Gedi. “Over recent years we have lost a staggering 50 meters and the waterfront that was part of the facility in 1982 when we opened, is now 5 kilometers away,” says Shahaf“No hospitality business faces a challenge like this globally. We are planning a totally different hot springs fascination to meet this new millennium, as the Dead Sea deserves a more modern attraction”, he says to me.

I was looking for Zalman’s cactus farm, an initiative of kibbutz member Zalman Dagmi. I loved enjoying the variety of plants in his compound. Unfortunately the farm is gone and the plants are now scattered all over the hotel and the kibbutz is now branded as a botanical garden. Nice, but for my money the older option was more desirable.

Road of Revelations. In contrast to the arid crust of the desert, the exotic flora along the coastal road provides a kaleidoscope of color.

The spacious swimming pool in the shade of the trees and at the foot of the mountains remains the attraction I really missed. On a sunbed overlooking the dying sea and the mountains of Moab, I was contemplating on my fortunate unforgettable vacation that connects past and present. 

Driving back home charged with energy with my partner at the wheel, I looked at my mobile phone, googling sadly about the Dead Sea, and a beacon shines via a surprising recent  announcement by Travel + Leisure, the prestigious American travel magazine with 4.8 million readers. It read:

The Dead Sea, Israel has been selected as the world’s number 1 healing spot around the world for 2022,  from hot springs to salt flats.

Besides being absolutely breathtaking, this landlocked salt lake has long been touted for its health-giving properties. From slathering the black mud over your skin for exfoliation and alleviating skin conditions like psoriasis, to its professed natural power to remedy asthma, arthritis, osteoporosis, and other issues, the body of water also boasts a low content of pollen and other allergens. At 400 meters below sea level, harmful UV rays are filtered through an evaporation layer above the Dead Sea, the ozone layer, and an extra atmospheric layer. This is said to mean that sunbathers can absorb the beneficial effects of vitamin D from the sun’s rays, without risk of sunburn and ensuing skin damage,” the leading travel iconic magazine highlights.

Looking at the great view with that new knowledge my optimism soars. I am indeed fortunate to have had such a unique experience.

About the writer:

Motti Verses is a Communications Executive, Video Presenter, Writer, Marketing and PR Expert. He was Head of Public Relations for Hilton Hotels Israel for more than 30 years. Now he is the publisher of Travel Flash Tips.

While the mission of Lay of the Land (LotL) is to provide a wide and diverse perspective of affairs in Israel, the Middle East and the Jewish world, the opinions, beliefs and viewpoints expressed by its various writers are not necessarily ones of the owners and management of LOTL but of the writers themselves.  LotL endeavours to the best of its ability to credit the use of all known photographs to the photographer and/or owner of such photographs (0&EO).


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