We boarded the bus and twisted our way through the bitterly cold morning in the Jordanian hillside. Fog was thick so travel was slow and precarious. Our drivers intense face of concentration a reassuring yet unsettling beacon. A gastric bug had plagued the group like I suppose it does under these sorts of circumstances and we made a hurried roadside stop so one of our group, Bernie, could have a spew. Faizal, God bless his heart ran outside with a shawl, to keep her warm. Soon though, we’re stopping at a little roadside diner for some intense coffee and optional felafel. The fog soon clears and back on the road the scenery is an amazing field of vast canyons, rocky and thatched with rough shrubs and the odd cluster of pine trees.
We make it up to Karak, famous for a castle built by the crusaders in 1132. It completely dominates the skyline of the town; standing there looking all aboding and English. And.. like England, the weather takes a turn for the **** and blows in a gale and some heavy rain. Faizal runs us across a kind of draw-bridge where the wind from the surrounding valleys howls through our clothing. The castle grounds are generally unkept and grassy with thatches of castle wall and some tunnel openings strewn about the place. The British were the last folks here, sometime around 1920 they were given a mandate to govern the area. Prior to that, an English mission operated from there. Before that, the Syrians held up a garrison of about 1200 troops there in the late 1800’s. But the Turks were probably the most significant tenants, having built much of what remains there today. And it’s mostly rocky arched tunnels, turrets for archers and some underground kitchens. It’s actually quite impressively preserved and takes you right back to those castles right out of Robin Hood or something, where giant pots of stew and bread, roast over smokey fires while toothless wenches dish out slop for the prisoners. We quickly and efficiently explore the underground sections of the castle so as to avoid the ripping gale. But we all soon tire, wet and cold, and make a hasty retreat.
Happy to be back on the bus we sit shivering, secretly green with envy watching Bernie sip a piping hot tea with sage. Bashing on and out of town we’re soon flying along the roadside along the Valley of Zered from where Moses lead his Jewish entourage after some 38 years in the desert. Suddenly the road starts twisting downward and the view opens up to reveal the Dead Sea in the distance at some 420 meters below sea level; the lowest point on the planet. All the plastic bottles in the bus implode at the increased air pressure. We’re due to have a little bathe in the Dead Sea, which is unique given the body of water is near 34% salinity. Though ominous, the name actually refers to the inability to sustain typical sea life due to it’s high salt content. We take a brief stop along the costal road to glance across the water at Israel and Gaza and Faizal points out the location where the famous Dead Sea Scrolls were recovered, found in caves inhabited in ancient times by Jewish settlers.
But they’re nowhere to be seen on this side. As we get closer, it’s more like Jordanians in running costumes and medals. There’s some kind of ultra-marathon event on that happens to conclude right outside the ‘beach’ we’re planning to float in. It’s chaos as we disembark. We dodge other tourists and race finishers at the beaches pool and buffet lunch. There’s rubbish and other **** everywhere. The process now is to obtain a locker and towel, get changed and wander on down to the waters edge to revels in the ultra-buoyancy and purifying elements of the seas mud. But there’s such a tirade of rubbish, that even on the sand we’re kicking over bags of McDonalds and packets of Cheetos to get to the water. It’s so bad that I for a second contemplate pulling the pin on the whole experience but it’s the solidarity of the rest of the group and in particular, Caroline who comes out of the water to kind of get me in.
I’m soon in my togs and wandering out past the rocks and packets of chips, I take a seat into the turbulent shore water and float like a ******* cork. I CAN NOT SINK. I do this kind of Zen Buddah pose, cross my legs and arms, I put both legs in the air, both arms in the air and even when I wander out past my depth, I just bob at the surface like a cork. It’s a really unique and amazing experience. The water is kind of thick and slimy, which could just be all the Cheeto residue from the empty packets floating around us. I get out momentarily and feel my skin kind of twinging. It feels all weird and active. Some of us coat ourselves with thick, black mud from the Sea.. until we all look like black-face performers. This older guy walks past looking at perturbed.. thinking I’m sure ‘This beach would be nice if not for all the sambos’..
The mud dries and it’s time to wander back into the salty sea to rinse. There’s critical warnings not to wash your face and mouth but mines covered with mud so I do anyway. My lips sting instantly and I freak out. I run out of the water and up the hill to a hose, which as been provided by a bunch of perverty teenage boys so they can watch all the bikini-clad tourists wash off. I give them a bit of a show, making sure I get all remaining bits of mud off and out of my crack.
Once everyone’s rinsed, showered and changed we jump back on the bus and it’s not long before we’re rolling into Madaba. It’s actually the last night of the tour so we’re given a few hours to wash up and then we hit the streets to find a place suitable for a ‘last supper’ so-to-speak. And we do. It’s this restaurant in this old mansion which has this amazing mixed grill and salad selection that has us all in a great festive mood and swapping plans for meeting up when we get back home. Alex, an absolute champion in our group, again performs the farewell speech and thanks Faizal for his quirky guidance.
Madaba is a nice, small town, navigable by foot and with some significant historical credibility. The Greek Orthodox Church of St George contains a 6th century mosaic map of the area. It’s rediscovery has resulted in the unearthing of local temples, hidden from history, and provided a significant snap-shot in time of Jerusalem ‘The Holy City’.
We simply take in the local atmosphere, the winding, stone paved streets complete with wonderful coffee and sweet shops. We’re due to leave here, for the first time in nearly 3 weeks, independently, to neighboring Israel. We’re excited to be going somewhere so new and different but we’re also feeling nostalgic for our newly made friends and the absolute hospitality we’ve experienced in Jordan.