Two things about Jordan have surprised me:
1. Jordan is cold in February
2. Jordan is expensive
The cold was the most surprising. Even though it is winter, I figured winter in the desert is still hot. I had looked at weather reports for Egypt and expected Jordan to be as hot as Egypt this time of year. I’m wearing my hiking boots, socks, long sleeve shirt and my inner jacket here—even during the day. In Bangalore I seriously considered throwing away my “heavy weight” pants and mailing my coat and boots home. I’m glad I didn’t.
I arrived in the small town of Madaba by bus from Amman yesterday and set about looking for groups to visit the surrounding sites. But, because it is off-season, the only people here are in tour groups or have rented cars. Luckily, an American couple showed up last night and we agreed to take a taxi to The Dead Sea and Mount Nebo today.
After eating breakfast (boiled egg, breda and tea) in my hotel owner’s house upstairs we hopped into Saleem’s car and were at Mt. Nebo in notime. Jordan’s valleys are surprisingly green and the view was pretty. Unfortunately, we didn’t get the full effect—it was too cloudy to see “the promised land” like Moses did. But I did a cartwheel and watched a group of Japanese tourists glance at the church’s ancient mosaics before pouncing on the postcard display.
These mosaics were quite good, including hunting scenes with ostriches, a giraffe and a lion. I thought they were as good as the mosaics I saw in Madaba itself, which is what the town is known for.
We hurried back into the car for the downhill ride to the sea. This ride was longer and we had to stop for herders crossing the road with sheep. There are about three military checkpoints along the road but we were waved by all but one. Saleem parked at Amman Beach, which costs 5 Dinar a head but has showers and other facilities. I didn’t want to get back into the car without washing off first.
I decided to do the Jordanian thing and swim in my clothing. I don’t think the locals are ready to see my chest in a bikini. We left our bags by the edge of the water and wandered in, walking on sharp rocks and then even sharper solidified salt. Saleem instructed us “slowly, slowly” and I sank back into the water without a splash.
The sensation is hard to describe. I was able to float on my back and front and even stand in the water without my feet touching. If this is what the Bible meant when Jesus walked on water he totally cheated! I could barely make out the Israeli side through the haze and was content to flat around and twist around in strange but entertaining barrel rolls. At one point a black chopper flew by twenty feet above and the locals told us it was Americans.
While we looked for mud a girl ten feet away started splashing frantically. Her friends saw me and pointed so I laughed and swam over to the “drowning” girl. She must have fallen in while her friends stood by the shore. Her scarf was covering her face as she twisted and turned, splashing her arms. I yelled “put your feet down!” but she didn’t speak English. Finally I reached her and pulled her up (man, I’m strong) and carried her over to her friends just as the lifeguard arrived. Yes, there are lifeguards at a sea that is too salty to actually drown in. She coughed and blew snot and cried while I swam away, unthanked but slightly amused. I’m a terrible swimmer so the idea of me saving someone from drowning is pretty funny.
Saleem waded out into the depths and found some mud for us and took a lot of pleasure in rubbing it over my arms and face before a policeman took him aside. He didn’t pay the enterance fee (1 Dinar for locals). After ten minutes drying off we washed the mud off, avoiding our eyes, and then took showers while being stared at by teenage girls. After this long on the road I don’t always appreciate the history or significance of a place as much as I should, but I still had a great time.