No, the Dead Sea is actually below us...
Not an aggressive itinerary for day one, so we casually arose, showered and went downstairs for breakfast. Welcome back to the buffet line --- I had forgotten this is how you enjoy virtually every meal in the Middle East.
Our first destination for the day was Mt. Nebo and the Moses Memorial Church, which commemorates where Moses finally got to see the Promised Land, even though he was forbidden to enter it. Despite an early arrival around 8:30AM, the place was already cluttered with buses and tourists, which didn’t ruin the sanctity of the place. There is still a special feeling as you look towards Israel and see Jericho off in the mountains.
Looking towards the Promised Land from Mt. Nebo
Views were a bit compromised by haze, so we walked up to the church and entered the Old Baptistery. People from all faiths milled about while a monk performed mass. Somewhat odd to be viewing mosaics on display from around 500 AD while the monk was conducting his service. Outside were more views and a modern sculpture of Moses’ staff entwined by a serpent (inspired from Jesus speaking in John 3: “as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up.”).
We came across a very nice refuge from the milling masses of tourists, the Interpretive Museum. Its footprint is very small, but laid out brilliantly attractive. The collection followed suit and was limited, but some nice pieces which we enjoyed.
Moses' Staff and Serpent sculpture (the serpent wasn't very scary - there were several bird nests built in his tummy!)
Time to head for the Dead Sea, and it seemed like we should be able to proceed straight through Mt. Nebo, but there were a pair of military guys with automatic weapons at the crossroads, so we thought it prudent to double back to Madaba. A bad decision as the streets were swarming since Eid continued today. The streets of Madaba resemble a kettle of snakes, and none of the streets have their name posted in English, so we went around in circles even when we weren’t on a rotary! But we persevered and were successful in following a sign to Ma’in, a resort near the Dead Sea.
Along the way we came across the Dead Sea Panoramic and decided to check it out.
Inside the Moses Memorial Church
A recently built pair of buildings on a ledge with great views of the Dead Sea
, entrance fee is 500 fils (about $0.70 US) to get beyond the gate.
The museum was closed since it was Eid and we were worried the restaurant went the same way since we didn’t see any other vehicles, but the door opened to reveal a splendid diner.
The food was tasty and reasonably priced as we killed time in hopes the mist would lift. We must have opened the floodgates as the place became reasonably busy before we were finished. The weather did clear and we got some photography in before heading on to Ma’in. The descent to Ma’in was breath taking, but our view down suggested the road would dead end once you reached the resort. Pulled out my trusty “Rough Guide” and sure enough, our suspicions were correct. We made a U-turn and retreated a bit to get on the newest roadway down to the Dead Sea.
Mosaic in Moses Memorial Church
We weren’t on this road very long before encountering another couple soldiers with machine guns slung over their shoulders. Coming to a stop, we were asked what nationality we were. After we both responded “US”, the soldier asking us questions broke into a warm smile, extended his arm to gesture we could continue and said “Welcome”. Now there’s some racial profiling I can take!
Another twisty descent ultimately brought us to the bottom of the world and we turned north to get to Amman Beach. A few minutes later we paid 5JD apiece to enter the ‘low budget’ beach (next door is one for 10JD that has a pool and gives you a towel).
Soon we were taking turns bobbing in the incredibly buoyant waters of the Dead Sea while the other stood sentinel over our backpacks.
View from the Dead Sea Panoramic. Yes, that is salt rimming the sea.
The sights included three ladies covering themselves in mud for a free beauty treatment (the Dead Sea
is acclaimed as a health and beauty hot spot), a guy floating with a bright green turban wrapped around his head and fully veiled mothers wading into the water to keep tabs on their children.
Taking a dip in the Dead Sea is a very cool experience. You can’t swim because it is so buoyant, but you can’t sink either --> I grabbed my legs and rolled into a ball, but still bobbed away. Unfortunately Mark ducked his head under water and was not happy with how badly your eyes sting! When you get out it feels like you are coated in Teflon, so picking a beach with showers is recommended.
There is no life in the Dead Sea (beyond bacteria), but Mark made an observation that there weren’t any boats either.
Panoramic is an apt name!!!
The destination seemed ideal for a fleet of pleasure craft, but nary a Chris Craft could be spotted.
We thought about this and decided that since the other shore was the West Bank
, military concerns might be the reason, but also wondered whether the extreme buoyancy would require special boats???
Something to research when I get back.
On the way out we stopped at the ‘Preparations Store’ where I scored a tacky magnet before hitting the road back to Madaba. Convinced we could return through Mt. Nebo, we returned a different route and climbed back up, careful to avoid goats and donkeys that roamed everywhere. Before long we espied the snake sculpture and now that we understood how easily it was for pasty, white males to get through military checkpoints, we simply salaam alekum’ed our way back to Madaba.
You can call me "Bob"...
(“salaam alekum” is a common greeting that means “peace be on you”).
But the traffic nightmares continued in Madaba and we missed our last stop for the day. We had wanted to get to St. George’s Church, also known as the Church of the Map because on it’s floor is a mosaic map from the sixth century which has a very accurate layout of the Middle East, including many details of Jerusalem. We drove more circles around Madaba but punted when it was 6PM, the time the church closes.
Back at the Mariam, we packed up to depart early the next day. I went down to the front desk to ask if we could pay now and perhaps get an early breakfast. We needed to be at the Wadi Mujib Nature reserve to meet our guide at 8AM Saturday and had to hit the road about 7AM.
Goliath visits the Dead Sea, lol.
The response was “yes” to both questions, but in Jordan
, “yes” translates loosely as “I have no idea what you are saying but would love to help you if I could understand what you want”.
I stood around for a little, waiting for the clerk to start checking me out, but the he eventually starts waiting on another person who walks up.
I know when to cut my losses and head back to the room.
Mark and I enjoyed another buffet dinner at the Mariam and after a few minutes of reading/journal writing decided that sleep sounded pretty darn good. My final act for the night was calling the front desk and asking for a 6AM wake up call. The response I get: “that is very early, can you pay now?”. Sheesh! I drag my tired butt back downstairs and endure a fifteen minute session of tallying up the bill and completing the credit card transaction. I was ready to scream by the time we concluded everything, but the price was more than reasonable and I saw the Promised Land today, so I could forgive.