I am immediately reminded of a stark picture of seemingly satisfied, wallowing water buffalo from an old copy of
National Geographic. Plastered in primordial muck from head to toe, two men and a woman proudly pose before my camera, and then casually stroll side by side along Jordan's Dead Sea shore, allowing the mud to slowly dry and cake in the brilliant sun before washing it off at a nearby water station.
Three luxury hotels, the Kempinski, Mövenpick and Marriott enjoy a monopoly on the oozy market.
Tourists pay anywhere from $200 to $16,000 per diem to stay here. Of course, for $16,000, you are awarded your own beach, chef, chauffeur, masseur and related perks; however, unless you utilize the hotel spa, the mud comes gratis, easily obtained from nearby
pools at the shoreline. This industry constitutes a brilliant stroke of entrepreneurship, far superior to that of pet rocks and the hula hoop. Brits, Russians and Germans flock to this oasis, and because Jordan is the safest nation in the Middle East, North American tourists now heed the hedonistic call.
When I was a kid, mud was simply a natural compulsion. I played in it, created weird-shaped objects and foodstuffs served on tiny plates, and occasionally in wanton tirades of
abandon, lustily threw it at unwary playmates. Now, black mud is marketed worldwide as masks, creams, shampoos, and related mud-enhanced products. Who would have guessed then that there were big bucks involved in muck?
I am allowed briefly to sneak into one of the twenty-five treatment rooms at the Marriott in order to photograph my friend, Judi Lees from British Columbia, undergoing a mud facial and massage.
"No jokes," she warns as I enter. I'm tempted to belt out an impromptu Al Jolson tune, but comply, take my picture and quickly depart to scan a treatment menu which offers to "renew the body, calm the mind and honor the spirit." Given the surrounding turmoil, I'm thinking that this might be an appropriate venue for
Israeli, Palestinian, Syrian, U.S., Lebanese and Iraqi ambassadors in which to hang out for a few weeks. For a mere 45 dinars, they might enjoy a "Dead Sea Natural Mud Wrap" and allow their geo-political worries to wilt away.
Earlier in the day, I casual float on the twenty-one percent salt
water, actually a lake not a sea. Coincidentally bobbing beside me, I encounter a young man from Rochester, New York, lamenting the fate of his beloved Buffalo Sabres hockey team in recent Stanley Cup Playoffs, trounced by the underdog yet valiant Ottawa Senators. Sometimes, the six degrees of separation principle gets surreal. I wonder if die-hard 'Leaf fans know about this place. After all, according to Bruno Huber, the Swiss-born GM of
the Mövenpick, it's the lowest place on earth, over 400 metres below sea level and therefore an appropriate Dante-esque pilgrimage for avid followers of the blue and white. Bruno enjoys a great sense of humour. When I suggest that Ottawa might be lower, he retorts, "I'm talking about altitude not attitude."
Dead Sea black mud apparently was historically employed as a facial mask and a skin curative in ancient times, the therapeutic power alluded to in the Bible and associated with handsome notables such as the Queen of Sheba, King Herod
the Great, and Cleopatra, good lookers all.
How does this gooey, disgusting material work? I talk to Lina Shamieh, the Marriot's Marketing Communications Manager. She claims that the mud wraps improve blood circulation and that the fine grains cleanse the skin, removing dirt particles, impurities and toxins. Lina reports that doctors send patients here with skin disorders such as psoriasis, eczema, acne and wrinkles. Some claim that
the mud relieves arthritis, muscle stiffness and aches, rheumatism, joint inflammation and itchy, dry skin.
Apparently, the secret lies in the high concentration of salts and minerals that I encountered while floating beside my new friend. The Dead Sea, (a misnomer) is not
really dead but it is dying because it continually
evaporates, shrinking each year, not connected to any other body of water. The salt and minerals present in concentrated amounts are absorbed into the mud. Potassium, magnesium, sodium, bromine and calcium are required by skin to regulate moisture levels and hydration. Viola, the dark secret is exposed!
The next day, Judi, whose face looks remarkably silky clean and smooth, remarks that I am not using my cane with which I normally walk. Wow. I hadn't even noticed. My trip to Lourdes is cancelled. Unlike Ponce de Lion, who scourged the
earth trying to discover the secret of eternal youth, I have accidentally encountered it in the most unlikely of locations.
Elated, I fly home, (ten hours in the air and a seven-hour time change) to shower my spouse with copious samples of mud-related products. "You travel all the way to Jordan to bring home mud soap?" she asks. Some people will never appreciate the intricate business of beauty.
Mike Keenan writes for QMI Agency (Sun Media) Canada's largest newspaper publisher, printing 44 daily newspapers as well as a web portal, Canoe.ca. Besides regular columns for the St. Catharines Standard, Welland Tribune and Niagara Falls Review. Mike has been published in the Globe and Mail, Toronto Star, Buffalo Spree, Stitches, West of the City and Hamilton-Burlington's View Magazine. His work is found in QMI published dailies such as the Toronto Sun, Ottawa Sun, Vancouver Sun, London Free Press, Calgary Sun, Winnipeg Sun and Edmonton Sun.
Transportation, visas, health, maps and temperature
Airlines (Wikipedia): http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_airlines
Embassies/Consulates (Embassy World): http://www.embassyworld.com/
Health precautions (WHO): http://www.who.int/ith/en/
Google interactive map: http://maps.google.com/
Temperature (Temperature World): http://www.temperatureworld.com/