Luxury, Mud and Salt: A Visit to the Dead Sea

Salt is all the rage these days- from salted chocolate to special salt scrubs to even flavored salt it seems no matter where in the world we go, we see some sort of salted souvenir.  Honestly, until we started traveling I didn’t even realize there were different types of salt, nor the benefits of salt.

If you’re at all interested in salt or saline there is only one place in the world you can go to truly experience salt- the Dead Sea.  Bordering Israel and Jordan, the Dead Sea has the highest content of saline in the world.  Believe it or not, even the worst swimmer can float in the Dead Sea.  If you go in, the rules are simple, absolutely, positively no splashing.  The salt content is so high that the buoyancy will actually sweep you off your feet!


Besides being a fun way to experience total weightlessness, the Dead Sea is also home to some of the most mineral rich mud and thus skin care treatments in the world.  It turns out that the same natural forces that increased the salinity of the water also increased the percentage of minerals that make your skin and body feel and look gorgeous.  You may have heard of mud treatments, but no mud treatments compare to Dead Sea mud treatments.  In fact, some people make a pilgrimage to the luxury spas and hotels like the Kempinski Hotel Ishtar, that line the Dead Sea, not for only a vacation, but also for body enriching mud and skincare treatments.  All over the world products from the Dead Sea are recognized for their legendary properties.  Some sell for hundreds of dollars an ounce, well out of the price range of this traveler!

Mud, luxury and salt, who knew that combination could be so beautiful?

IF YOU GO:  The Dead Sea can be accessed from either Jordan or Israel.  Many people make a vacation loop from Petra to the Dead Sea on the Jordanian side, taking in spa treatments like mineral mud facials, massages and salt scrubs to rejuvenate at some of the world’s most exclusive and luxurious resorts before returning home.  Don’t skimp on the experience, Dead Sea treatments really do wonders for your skin-I even took a few bottles of product home with me!adventure travel



For most people, Israel is a destination that is visited via an all-inclusive tourist bus. That is how I entered Jerusalem for the first time, Jillian as well. We stopped at an overlook to see the Old City, sang a couple of songs, then listened to to religious music on the remainder of the journey to help set the mood. I imagine it is this way for most ‘pilgrims’ of any of the faiths that consider Jerusalem to be their spiritual holy land.

This time, things were different. Things were exactly as they were for every other city in the 29 countries we visited on the way here to Israel. We got on the bus in one city, and rode into the bus station at the next city. We entered Jerusalem without stopping for any scenic overlook and then were subjected to the standard display of security (which, in my opinion, was highly ineffective). Inside the station, the first thing we saw was a McDonald’s…Kosher of course. Much of the city itself, felt just that, like a city. It had some big and fancy buildings. People were going about their business. Tourists buying things in shops. Fancy hotels next to cheap ones.

Walking to the Old City my images of Jerusalem began to change. Outside the Jaffa gate were ritzy shops displaying the best in fashion trends. Inside the gate was shop after shop selling Judaica and other Israeli themed merchandise and souvinirs. I expected the Old City to have a market but I did not expect the Old City to be a market. Prices were high and we had a good laugh at the hoards of people bargaining hard to save a dollar or two. This was not the market we’ve become accustomed to.

Visiting the Kotel, also known as the Western Wall, was the most disappointingpart for me. A visit here, for us, felt a bit obligatory as Jews but what we found was hardly what we expected. Less than 100 meters from the wall, the holiest place in all of Judaism, was some kind of military function. Hundreds of troops were in uniform marching, more like goofing off with some level of forward motion, to a square with machine guns decorating tables.

The ceremony was in Hebrew so we are not entirely sure what it was we were witnessing but between what we saw and what we have pieced together in speaking to Israeli’s after the fact, lead us to believe it was a graduation for the paratrooper division of the Israeli Defense Forces. Since it was this division who captured The Wall for Israel they’ve held their graduation in front of it ever since.

I am not a religious man but I found the display, especially in light of the current turmoil with the Gaza Flotilla, to be deeply troubling. It made me feel as though this holy place was being treated like a trophy of war rather than a religious center. After all the traveling we’ve done I can safely say this was a unique experience, but for the wrong reasons.

In the end we had a nice time in Jerusalem, just as we did in the rest of Israel. As has been true of many places we’ve visited though it wasn’t the place that made it special but the people. We stayed with old friends in Tel Aviv, couch surfed in Jerusalem, and celebrated nice meals with family. These are the nice memories and the ones I most hope to repeat on our next visit.

Into the holy land

Walking into Israel was, in a way, walking from Kansas into Oz. Gone was the bad internet, livestock sharing bus space with us, and people yelling at you everywhere you went because you are the western tourist. In place of these things was flat-screen TV’s, cans of Dr. Pepper, Falafel served WITH hummus rather than plain, and functioning highways. The first step to entering Oz however, is making your way through the twister…in our case that would be questioning about why we would go to a country like Sudan.

Mostly the questions were innocent enough but they did get annoying:

Agent: Why did you go to Sudan?

Me: It was in between Egypt and Ethiopia, it was just a transit visa to get across.

Agent: Why did you stay there 10 days?

Me: Well there is ferry that goes from Sudan to Egypt, that is the only border crossing, and it only goes once a week.

Agent: Oh, OK. Don’t you have a cell phone number?

Me: I had a SIM card in Egypt but it doesn’t work here, you can keep the SIM as a souvenir of having met me if you’d like

Agent: No, I just need the number so that I can have Mossad trace it and see if your a terrorist.

Me: I don’t know the number, we just use it to call taxi’s. You’re welcome to keep it though.

Agent: That will be a problem because you were in Sudan and now you don’t know the number to this random SIM card that you’ve handed over to me and don’t care about and have only had for two weeks.

Me: Any way we can speed this up for a fellow Jew?

Agent: How do I know you’re Jewish?

Me: I can drop my pants and you can see for yourself….

And so it went for three hours before the start of Shabbat, allowing us to catch the last bus north with space on it with only 30 minutes to spare. We arrived to Tel Aviv about one hour before sundown.

The most surprising thing to us about traveling in Israel was just how expensive it was. Our budget doesn’t quite show this expense because we stayed with friends the entire time, but a can or bottle of soda usually cost about $2. Shwarma cost about 3-5 times as much as it did in Egypt and falafel even more. There is no doubt in our minds that Israel is the most expensive country we have been to on this entire trip. It really felt like we were back in the US, save of course for the Hebrew all over the place.

So what did we do in Israel? We spent our time relaxing, going to the beach, avoiding most of the tourist scene, buying jeans (first pair to travel with us on this entire trip) and tons of dead sea beauty products. We relaxed, recharged and just had a nice time catching up with friends.

For those of you who might realize, correctly, that we were actually in Israel for this whole Gaza Flotilla thing, let me tell you what we saw while we were in Tel Aviv….nothing. Everyone was talking about it, many half expected to be in a new war within a week, but we witnessed no riots or protests of any kind during our stay in Tel Aviv. Opinions were diverse and those critical of the operation, like 90% of the rest of the world, were mostly critical of how the military botched a very simple job. The news differed only slightly from foreign accounts in its coverage, not forgetting to remind people of Egypt’s complacency in the matter…a subject many foreign news outlets seemed not to notice.

Foodie Friday: Humus

Homus, hummus, humus, humos, hamos, houmous, seriously Wikipedia has eight spellings for it, but in truth it’s all the same. Pureed chickpeas, tahini, olive oil, lemon juice, and some spices, humus is found on almost every middle eastern menu. Not quite as popular as in “Revenge of the Zohan,” humus can be categorized as almost an obsession for some people. Everyone’s mom seems to make the best humus, leading me to wonder how humus reached such cult status. I wandered around the grocery store looking for a small tub of humus for a picnic, the only size to be found was nearly ½ a kilogram!

Humus in the middle east is slightly different than what we have on our shelves in the United States. More like a think liquid than a paste, humus is often used as a condiment on falafel or shwarma , not as a dip. Chickpeas have been part of the Mediterranean diet since before 2500BC and its possible that the Ancient Egyptians even ate humus or something like it. The first documented account of humus dates to a 13th century Arab cookbook, but unsurprisingly few cookbooks were published in the medieval period, so really we’ll never know.

Actually the origins of Humus are rather controversial. In 2008 a Lebanese food association lobbied their government to request protected status from the European Commission as a uniquely Lebanese food because it has become so popular in Israel. It’s so popular in fact that there’s an Israeli food website dedicated to humus:, which covers the controversy much better than I can.

So maybe the dip isn’t as boring as just pureed chickpeas.

Foodie Friday: Falafel

Sold as a street side snack falafel is as common as coca cola in the middle east.  Deep fried balls usually made from chickpeas, falafel can be served alone, with fuul or stuffed into a pita with fresh vegetables and salads.  In Sudan the falafel or t’amiyya was made of fava beans and was served alone or as an addition to fuul.  It was mostly plain in flavor and texture.  In Egypt we started to see falafel in pita with some salad and sometimes a tahini based sauce.  In Jordan we started seeing falafel topping bars, but it wasn’t until Israel that we had the full on falafel sandwich with chips, sauces, pickles and salads.  So its deep friend, but actually falafel is packed with lots of vitamins, fiber and iron making it also relatively good for you!

I’m sure everyone’s tried falafel before given how popular it is worldwide (we even had it in Mexico!), so I’ll just leave you all with a recipe from Tyler Florence on the Food Network:


  • 2 cups dried chickpeas, picked through and rinsed
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1 small onion, coarsely chopped
  • 6 garlic cloves, smashed
  • 1 tablespoon cumin seeds, toasted and ground
  • 1 tablespoon coriander seeds, toasted and ground
  • 1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes
  • 2 handfuls fresh flat-leaf parsley, leaves coarsely chopped
  • 1 handful fresh cilantro, leaves coarsely chopped
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • Vegetable oil, for frying
  • 8 warm pita bread, store bought or homemade recipe follows
  • Tahini Sauce, recipe follows
  • Shredded lettuce, sliced tomatoes, chopped cucumbers


Put the dried chickpeas in a large bowl and add cool water to cover by 2 inches. Soak the beans in the refrigerator for at least 18 hours or up to 24; the chickpeas will swell to triple their original size. Drain and rinse thoroughly.

Put the soaked chickpeas in a food processor and pulse to coarsely grind, not until smooth but with no whole chickpeas remaining either. Add the baking powder, onion, garlic, spices, and herbs; process until the mixture is pureed; scraping down the sides of the bowl as needed. Taste and season with salt and pepper. Transfer to a bowl and refrigerate while heating the oil, this should take about 15 minutes.

Pour 3-inches of the oil in a deep fryer or deep heavy pot and heat to 375 degrees F.

Roll the falafel mixture into ping-pong size balls. (Alternatively, use an ice cream scoop.) Carefully slip a few at a time into the hot oil, making sure they don’t stick to the bottom. Fry until the chickpea fritters are a crusty dark brown on all sides, turning as needed, about 5 minutes per batch. Remove the falafels with a slotted spoon and drain on a platter lined with paper towels.

Open the pita bread halves to make pockets (don’t split all the way) and put 4 fried falafels into each. Drizzle with the tahini sauce and layer with lettuce, tomatoes, and cucumbers. Serve immediately.