I turned 62 on 30 March. In previous years, I’ve swam laps to match my age on my birthday (until I tore my shoulders), read 59 and 60 chapters, and written a 61-word story. This year, I spent 62 minutes in a float tank, and to prepare for it, I read my travel journal entry on my 1995 trip to the Dead Sea.

My wife and I travelled overland from England to Australia in 1995 and 1996 on a north-to-south route inspired by Michael Palin’s BBC series Pole to Pole. We arrived in Jordan in early September, having spent 10 days in Syria (read my travel piece, Syrians Love Peace).

Our guidebook rated Jordan as easier for independent travel than Syria, and our checklist of must-see sites included Petra (for its Indiana Jones scenes), Wadi Rum (for Lawrence of Arabia) and the Dead Sea. I can’t recall why we wanted to visit the Dead Sea, but floating in hyper-salty water sounded fun.

The Bus Trip

My journal notes we had a “long, hot wait” and a convoluted two-bus hop from Amman to Sweimeh at the northern end of the Dead Sea.

On the second bus, I sat next to a middle-aged Syrian who had spent 30 years living in Germany. He held two passports, travelling to Israel for business on his German one and returning to Syria every couple of years to see family and friends on his non-Israeli stamped Syrian passport. As I recorded in my journal:

The Syrian was keen for the peace process to take hold, having experienced first-hand a war between Arabs and Israel. He felt that two isolated pockets of Palestine without a common corridor was unfeasible, although he conceded a corridor would divide Israel. However, whatever form it took, he felt both sides, especially the Arabs, needed peace.

Outside the Dead Sea Rest House (1995)

Outside the Dead Sea Rest House in Sweimeh, Jordan (1995)

​The Dead Sea

In my journal, I recounted how, after discussing “weighty Middle Eastern issues”, my wife and I “plunged literally into the weightlessness of the Dead Sea”. We dumped our packs and ground rolls on the beach at Sweimeh (“The sand was hard-packed, gritty and uncomfortable to sit on.”) and waded into the water.

I tried dunking, but submerging my body and head beneath the surface was difficult, and the salt tasted terrible. As I wrote in my journal, “I thought I’d have to scrub my tongue”, adding:

It was a weird yet comfortable sensation bobbing about in the sea, like a relaxation tank, I guess. We took photos of us reading a newspaper floating on our backs. Keeping the newspaper dry wasn’t as tricky as swimming, apart from “back breaststroke”. There were no waves, so we floated, hands behind our heads, knees and most of our bodies out of the water.

While it was cooler in the water than on the beach, it was still hot, bobbing under the sun. And there were too many flies on the beach. So we had a last “dip”, washed the oily salt from our skin, and packed up to find the bus back to Amman.

Bobbing in the Dead Sea (1995)

Bobbing in the Dead Sea at Sweimeh, Jordan (1995)

The Float Tank

Almost 30 years later, the local float tank operator advised me to keep my head above water during my 62-minute session and avoid touching my face (and eyes!) with wet, salty hands. I pulled down the lid, switched off the purple-blue light, and floated in the darkness on my back, with my arms behind my head, occasionally lifting a leg out of the water, as I’d done in 1995.

Like the Dead Sea, the float tank felt weird yet comfortable. Listening to my heart thump-thump-thumping in the dark wasn’t as soothing as I’d hoped, but at least I knew it was beating, and I wasn’t getting sunburned or swatting away flies.


Apart from featuring me, my Dead Sea and float tank experiences have little in common.

In 1995, I was 33 and childless, and now I’m a 62-year-old dad. The trip to the Dead Sea was a touristy thing to tick off the Jordan guidebook checklist, and the float tank was a birthday treat. And unlike the heat, flies and oily salt of the Dead Sea, when my 62 minutes in the tank ended, I felt clean and relaxed and only had a short walk home instead of a long, sweaty bus trip to Amman.

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​Sadly, reading the travel journal entry about my conversation with the Syrian on the bus to Sweimeh underscored one similarity. After almost 30 years, there is still no peace in the Middle East.

I enjoyed the float tank, but I’ll do something different next year to mark my birthday. Hopefully, Middle Eastern countries (and other parts of the world!) will try something different, too.

© 2024 Robert Fairhead

N.B. You might like to read my Milestone Reflections for my 60th birthday in 2020.

Note: This post originally appeared on Tall And True.

This post was proofread by Grammarly
About RobertFairhead.com

About RobertFairhead.com

Welcome to the blog posts and selected writing of Robert Fairhead. A writer and editor at the Tall And True writers' website, Robert also writes and narrates episodes for the Tall And True Short Reads podcast. In addition, his book reviews and other writing have appeared in print and online media, and he's published several collections of short stories. Please see Robert's profile for further details.


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