I squeezed into today’s trip to Madaba, Mount Nebo, River Jordan, and the Dead Sea by word of mouth from Liz and Ean. They were staying at the much better Palace Hotel, about a block down from the institutional-like Cliff Hotel. Instead of going with the “maybe tomorrow, maybe day after” tour of that hotel, I joined the sure thing this morning and dropped my things off at the new hotel with hopes of getting a room that evening. After a shower and street food breakfast (huge bread log filled with tomatoes, falafel, cheese and eggs, perfectly spiced), I caught up with the tour, which included Ian and Elizabeth and a German/Iranian couple, Joachim and Margana and Daoud, our driver.
Madaba: The Best Mosaics Ever
Madaba was a special place; it housed one of the most famous Mosaics in Jordan, home of thousands of mosaics from the 6th Century Byzantine Empire. This Mosaic was on the floor of a rebuilt church, Church of St. George and was the map of the “world” from the viewpoint of Jerusalem. The holy city was at the center, the River Jordan to the left and the Nile to the right. The Dead Sea and River Jordan held cartoon-like fishes, exaggerated and swimming in the tile likeness. The mosaic was in pieces, but showed, according to the Rough Guide, a cartographically correct representation of the area, with Jerusalem at the center of the world. Two million pieces were used to create it and I loved it. I took about 100 pictures, trying to capture the minute detail and artistry of each block.
Mount Nebo: Seeing the Promise Land
Mount Nebo was our next destination. This is the spot where, according to Deuteronomy, God spoke to Moses, told him to look out over the Promised Land and die here. After 40 years in the desert, Moses only had a chance to view his goal, but never make it to Israel. Mount Nebo’s view showed the desert of Jordan, the Dead Sea, and Israel, the great expanse of Desert Mountains calming into plains and water. I felt how I do at any great view: impressed and light, at the top of the world, nothing matters except taking in the vastness through tiny eyes.
Cry Me a River Jordan
I didn’t realize it until the trip, but our destinations also included a site to the River Jordan and the place where Jesus was baptized. When I was going through the Jordan guidebook at home and showing my Dad some spots of interest, I had mentioned that I could go to the spot where Jesus was baptized. He said, “Wow, imagine…walking in the footsteps of Jesus.” That statement hit me, that was pretty amazing. To be where Jesus was, to walk where Jesus walked. The River Jordan is not currently in the state of flowing glory that Jesus had experienced when John the Baptist baptized him, having diminished from the 60 meters in width to a now paltry 5 meters due to up river damns. Still, to be in this holy place was wonderful. I’m not Catholic anymore, but I love Jesus, he is my preferred prophet, an enlightened being who showed humanity how to love and forgive as God does, unconditionally. And to be where he was, was a gift.
The River Jordan divides the West Bank and Jordan, on one side is Jordan, with proud Jordanian flags waving and on the other side, five meters away, is Israel with the blue and white flag flying over a modern complex that leads to the river bank. The area is a military zone. The irony was as heavy as the thick hot desert air; barbed wire fence, armed guards, and centuries of conflict surrounded the place where Jesus was baptized.
Dead Sea Health Benefits
The afternoon was dead hot, we were below sea level, the air sank and the breeze was no longer cool. Our last stop was the Dead Sea. The driver led us into a modern comfortable pool and beach area that overlooked the lifeless blue water. It was expensive, 12 JD for access, but a very nice way to finish the afternoon. Liz, Ean and I ate lunch, we were like a traveling family and sat down for a buffet dinner, the only food at the complex and a splurge treat at 10 JD. We filled up and got the value for our money. The heat was oppressive, so we changed into our suits and walked down to the Dead Sea. About twenty tourists were in the water, bobbing up and down, bathing and baking in the warm water.
Ean went in first and then Liz and then I joined. The water was warm; I stepped over the encrusted salt rocks on the shore and got to waist deep when I let my legs go. The buoyancy was its own force and I was scooped right up to the surface, bobbing about. Every cut on my foot and leg screamed. I held my left arm about the water, the scrape from Petra a little to tender to expose to the salt. Some water got in my nose and I gagged, it was CRAZY salty. The water also left an oily film, I got out, showered quickly and was glad I had checked off “float in Dead Sea” on my life list. It was not enjoyable, more of a been there done that experience.
Some tourists were getting covered in the Dead Sea mud, a green black mud that has calcium, bromide, magnesium and sulfur, and according to the Rough Guide, proven healing qualities. Elizabeth and I joined them and paid 3JD each for the privilege of getting slapped with this dark mud. The guy smearing the mud on my body had been doing this all day, everyday so he was methodical and thorough. Soon Elizabeth and I looked like tourist Xmen, covered head to toe in the mud. Ian took pictures and I remarked that if I ever online date, this would be my profile picture. We let the mud back and dry and then I went back to the Dead Sea. This time was better, my cuts no longer hurt and the mud washed gracefully off in the water. I went out deeper and found it hard to stand, so I bobbed, why fight the natural force. I spread out, looking up to the sky and felt coddled in soupy liquid like a baby in the womb.
A shower got off all remaining mud and I walked back to the pool for a quick, cool dip before leaving. Some Jordanian girls began to talk to me. The three of them were early twenties, in conservative swimsuits and really beautiful, long black hair, Mediterranean features, and pale skin. They were so friendly and invited me to hang out with them. I was so tempted, had so many questions for them, but it was time to go. They were the first Jordanian women I had met and to befriend them would give me a glimpse of real culture. Sadly, I joined the others and we left for the hour trip back to Jordan.
Debating the Syria Visit
The hotel had a room for me… the next two hours I spent thinking about going to Syria the next three days. Damascus was a four-hour drive. I had not gotten a visa prior to leaving because there was no guarantee it would be processed in time for my flight to Cairo. In Cairo, I had heard it was impossible to get one for US citizens at the Syrian embassy, despite Lonely Planet’s assurance that it was possible. But then there were rumors that one could get one at the border, a chance in hell, but still a chance.
This tempted me; I really wanted to go to Damascus, jealous of Ian and Elizabeth who were spending two weeks there. I would only have one real day to explore and more likely be sent back to Amman…I ultimately decided not to go, but resolved that I would make a trip back there and to Lebanon and more of Turkey. And who knows… If I don’t feel Spain and Morocco, I can always do that on this trip, entering Syrian from Lebanon where it’s no problem to get a visa, something to think about.