Dead Sea Spa
(National Post, March 25, 2006)
"We don't open the eyes. We cross our legs. Then we swim," said Tareq Bdeiwi, the manager of Zara Spa at The Mövenpick Dead Sea resort. He was explaining how to swim in a sea so dense in mineral salts that it bobs the body about like a cork. "Locals believe swimming in the Dead Sea is good for you," he continued saying they use the water from the sea in their spa and in their therapy centre.
Before I travelled to this part of Jordan, I only knew the clichéd photos of a person reading a newspaper as they floated on their back, buoyed up by the sea. The image captured my imagination and I have always wanted to experience the sensation. I hadn't realized the health benefits of a dunking here. I really felt my ignorance when I learned the curative properties of the Dead Sea have been recognized since Herod the Great over 2,000 years ago. Cleopatra had Mark Anthony conquer the area and it was at her command pharmaceutical and cosmetic factories were built.
Actually getting into the briny water takes some practice. The sea's edge is stony and within the water the stones are crusted with sharp jagged mineral salts. Tareq had advice for this too, "Go in four steps until the water reaches your knees. Then turn, face the shore and push off on your back." That seemed a pretty shallow push off point given the cutting rocks below, but it worked of course. The water held the body up high and almost dry.
I was surprised at the size of the Dead Sea. Fully 80 kilometres long and 14 wide, it was impressive and beautiful, especially as the sun set over Jericho and Bethlehem across the water. The last rays of the sun poured like a stream of molten red lava across the deep blue waters bathing the resort in a warm glow. The whole atmosphere was special. This is the lowest point on the earth, at 400 metres below sea level. The air is high in oxygen and the ozone is thicker here. The dense ozone along with a haze created by evaporation from the sea creates a natural filter that allows mainly ultraviolet A waves through. Cancer causing UVB rays are mostly filtered out. Both the spa and the therapy centre have gender-segregated solariums so people can take full advantage of the sun's good radiation - in the nude.
The Dead Sea is a 'terminal lake' meaning it has no way of losing water except by evaporation. The result is a concentration of minerals and salts with therapeutic properties. There's sodium which balances the skin pH, magnesium that enhances skin metabolism, bromine that acts as a relaxant and sulphur that's an important detoxifier for example.
Healthy for me or not, the sea was cold in this March in Jordan. I was glad of the spa for that and more reasons. Opened in 1999 on the northeastern shores of the Dead Sea, it was 6,000 square metres of pampering. Last year it won an award as the best spa in the Middle East. Both its large outdoor heated hydro-pool with 3% Dead Sea concentration and its summer infinity pool over looked the Dead Sea. The hydro pool was an adult water theme park of neck massage jets, air seats, airbeds, whirlpools and geysers. Inside was a Kneipp foot massage pool with 28% Dead Sea concentration, a floatation pool with 28% concentration and a steamy hot oversized whirlpool with 3%. Playing around in these waters felt so good.
The gender-segregated thermariums, located on the second floor, were set up to be enjoyed naked. Tareq explained to me they were a bit less hot and a bit humid than the standard sauna and steam rooms, though they had a version of each respectively called a caldarium and a laconium as well as a tropical rain shower. The idea was to get relaxed in preparation for beauty treatments and so I did.
The spa offered a complete range of treatments including facial and skin care, body slimming and firming, massages, hydrobaths and acupuncture. Products used for spa treatments were either Dead Sea based or the European Thalgo line. Treatments could be booked a la carte or as a package. Most of the spa goers were not locals but rather from all over the globe especially Russia, Switzerland and Germany. Two Russians were on a 14-day package. The lucky souls.
The large, quiet spa rooms were centered by a comfortable relaxation room for use in-between treatments. The most popular treatments were the mud wraps, followed by the Dead Sea salt scrub and the massages. Another favourite was Zara's signature combo mud and salt scrub. It made sense. The Dead Sea mud is full of therapeutic qualities but who would want to drag mud all over their own home. That's what inspired my selection of treatments.
I started with a Dead Sea scalp revitalizing treatment. A thick mud poultice was massaged onto my head and secured under a shower cap. I was then led to a hot steam room where mud and I baked for 15 minutes. Still muddy-headed I next enjoyed a head and shoulders Swedish massage done by the expert hands of Widjan, who had four years of physiotherapy studies under her belt and was university certified. All the spa therapists at Zara must have a certificate from the Ministry of Health and a higher education certificate I found out. Next came a healing mud facial where the mud on my face joined that still on my head. A dirty job for the good of my body. My final treatment choice was a manicure. It was minimalist with neither buffing and nor polish. I'll know better the next time to stick to mud, the salts and massage.
The Therapy Centre housed next door in a separate building, had two doctors on staff as well as nurses and therapists. It was specifically for people with serious skin ailments but I decided to check it out just in case. Dr. Mohammad Kana'an, a specialist in physical medicine, resort medicine and rehabilitation spoke to me about their treatments. He and his colleague, dermatologist Dr. Tareq Salhab, treat patients who have psoriasis, neurodermitis, eczema and other skin diseases. "I'm here since six years and I can say all the patients get good results," said Dr. Kana'an. Their success is such that a new larger Therapy Centre is being built on the property, due to open later this year.
The Therapy Centre assured me of the therapeutic nature of the Dead Sea. The cosmetic I could feel and see for myself. My skin felt as soft as a baby's bum and my complexion was bright and blemish free after just two days. I even imagined if I stayed a few weeks I could reverse the aging process. Cleopatra was one smart and beautiful woman.
If You Go
How to Get There
Zara Spa: www.zaraspa.com