"HOPE YOU get treated to a couple of days in a Dead Sea spa," a friend wrote, on hearing of my 13-night sanity testing stint as a solo mum (with apologies to single mothers who have to do it day in, day out). The very idea got short shrift in the car on Sunday as we headed south along the Dead Sea coastline towards Masada, an ancient Jewish fortress high up in the Judean desert. Louis looked briefly panicked, before realising it was such a crazy suggestion that I had to be joking.
The sea - an inland lake where there's no need to hire deck chairs because you can just read sitting up in the water - stretches out below the vast hilltop palace, reflecting the intense blue of the sky most days. In the background is Jordan, all jagged hills rather than bands of angels but no less beautiful for it. The history is haunting: the site, built by Herod the Great, he of Nativity play fame, was the location of the Jews' last stand against their Roman oppressors in 73 AD. It ended with a mass slaughter, by Jews, of Jews, rather than become Roman chattels.
Staring at the sea was too much even for Louis, who had been warned he couldn't paddle because it's too salty (not worth risking getting it in children's eyes apparently), so we took the cable car back down after an explore and a picnic lunch and headed for Mineral Beach, one of only a handful of places you can swim because of the sinkholes. We made it with minutes to spare before the sun dipped behind the now pink desert ridge but there was time enough to slather on some mud and fulfil an ambition held since I was barely older than Louis after seeing a picture of someone reading a newspaper in an old book about the world I used to own. We gave the freshwater paddling pool a miss because it was too chilly. Ditto the hot sulphur bath: too many fat Russians hogging the water.
It was hardly that spa break, but fun nonetheless. And I spotted a shop in the Old City that sells the mud, although given the rate the Dead Sea is drying up I should probably stick to face wash.