Let me tell you about the Dead Sea. You do not submerge your head in the Dead Sea. You do not dive into the Dead Sea. You do not swim; you float. The water is so salty that everyone floats. If you get the salt in your eyes it burns, it really burns. It is also very oily, nobody tells you this. Under the sand there is black clay or mud that has a lot of minerals, people rub it on their bodies. There are also sharp pieces of salt that can cut you if you happen to step on them. I only encountered this in the manufactured Dead Sea, the artificial sea they are making to compensate for the declining water levels of the Dead Sea. The reason the water levels are evaporating so quickly is because part of the water that feeds the Dead Sea has been redirected and repurposed for drinking water.
Why is there a lifeguard at the Dead Sea? He looks like an Israeli Mitch from Baywatch. He has long curly bleached hair and red swim trunks. They must have told him “It’s an easy gig, a lifeguard at the Dead Sea, everyone floats, it’s impossible to drown.” That didn’t stop people from trying.
We hear someone saying, in a plain and calm speaking voice, “Help, help, help, lifeguard, help.” People are looking around to see where the voice was coming from. It belongs to a woman floating peacefully on her back, her face totally out of the water. At first no one, not even the lifeguard reacts. It’s surreal. She doesn’t seem panicked or in obvious danger. Finally a Korean man makes his way towards her, he floats her in the direction of shore. After about a minute, in 2 feet of water, she begins to panic. She pushes herself away from him, kicking hard with her feet, her legs flailing. At the same moment she manages to arch her back, submerging her head underwater as she kicks backwards. The Korean man is startled. The lifeguard runs into the water, stands the woman upright and walks her to the showers to wash the salt out of her eyes.
An obese woman floats on her stomach, finding it hard to balance she proceeds to bob up and down, submerging her face repeatedly into the water. Every time she pushes her face out of the water the rocking momentum dunks it back in. The lifeguard runs in, stands her up in knee deep water and walks her to the showers.
Over the course of the day we saw five or six near-drownings. Sometimes the lifeguard would yell instructions from the bullhorn “Turn over on your back” and “Get your face out of the water.” Sometimes people on the beach would clap after one of his rescues and he would take the opportunity to puff up his chest and put his hands on his hips as he pose-walked to the shore. Once he even posed for a photograph with a salt-water-blinded victim on his way to take her to the shower.
When I was at the Dead Sea last year I managed to splash water into my eye, it totally burned. This year I managed to do the exact same thing. I walked up to the beach where my friend Einat was laying and said “well, I managed to do it again, I splashed water in my eye.” Without so much as looking up from her book, totally deadpan she replied, “at least you didn’t panic and drown.”
Rocky 3 was filmed in the desert of Israel. Locals warned Sylvester Stallone not to dive or put his face in the water of the Dead Sea. His response, “I’m Rambo.” He dove head first into the water. He spent 4 days in the hospital and they had to suspend shooting for the film while he recovered. What a jackass.
That’s why there is a lifeguard at the Dead Sea. I’ve never seen a busier lifeguard in my life. People from far and wide with no swimming ability, no experience or common sense come in droves to drown at the Dead Sea every year.