As soon as I woke up the next day, I headed back to the Dead Sea beach to try this unique experience for one last time. At this early hour, there was only one other hotel guest there. Remembering from the previous day that trying to move or swim is pointless, I just floated on my back. I lowered my head back into the water, so that my ears were submerged, and closed my eyes. It was a great, relaxing feeling. Occasionally I could sense little waves rippling through the water as more guests arrived, but otherwise all I could feel was the warm sun on my tummy. I floated until the heat of the sun became uncomfortable, and then slowly paddled to shore to get ready for check-out and to have breakfast.
Back on the road in my car I felt a sense of excitement to be seeing the real Jordan again. Although the Dead Sea resort was an exceptional place, and unique in the world, it felt unnatural to have this little piece of extreme luxury and greenery amid the dust and bareness of the rest of the Dead Sea valley.
My first stop today was the site of Jesus’ baptism at Bethany-beyond-Jordan on the river Jordan. The Jordanian/Israeli border runs through the middle of the Jordan river, meaning that the site is in a guarded border zone and can only be visited as part of a guided tour.
Jesus’ baptism site was an important pilgrim destination for the first Christians, but its location was forgotten during the period when the Ottomans controlled Jordan. The site was only rediscovered during mine-clearing operations in 2003, a few years after the Jordan/Israel peace accord. Archaeologists excavated the ruins of 5 ancient Byzantine churches (very little remains of them now) and by comparing them to descriptions in the Bible and from records left by early pilgrims, proved that this was indeed the place where John the Baptist baptised Jesus.
Today, the river is sluggish, dull brown and not very wide. Since Biblical times it has changed course meaning that exact site of Jesus’ baptism is now on dry land and in Jordan. There is not much to see but I found the story of rediscovery of the site really interesting and somehow I could still feel the unique history of this special place. Next we visited a new Greek Orthodox church and a stretch of the river Jordan where on both the Jordanian and Israeli banks, modern-day pilgrims were queuing up for their own, 21st century baptism. A little floating rope in mid-river marked the border between the two countries.
From Bethany I took a very scenic road running along the side of a bright green wadi to reach the city of Salt.
My ears popped as I climbed up from 380m below sea level to the city. Salt used to the capital of Jordan in Ottoman times, but was frozen in time when Amman was chosen as the new Arab capital. There are lots of pretty Ottoman buildings and little winding pedestrian walkways that snake up the steep hills of the old town, past ancient mosques and churches.
I also met a fellow teddy-traveller for the first ever time in Jordan.
It was very interesting, but a shame that the city was obviously very poor and many of the buildings were in bad condition. I strolled around for about an hour then visited a typical coffee shop on the main square, where the mineral water claimed to come from Mecca. The coffee was so strong that on regaining my car, I found that all my fur hairs were standing on end!
From Salt it was 2 hours’ drive to my next stay, a bed and breakfast in the small city of Umm Qays, near the Syrian border in the North. The road might have been very pretty, but it was late in the day and I was driving, so I could not property appreciate it. I had to drive the last 30 minutes in the dark, and very relieved when I finally found the place where I was staying.
The managers of the B+B invited me to their house for dinner. As usual in Jordan, the food was copious and tasty (even though it was yet another version of chicken and rice). Although it was very interesting to eat in a real Jordanian home, the event was a little awkward. The hosts had already eaten and after putting the food down on the low table, watched me eat it on my own. Conversation was very limited, since the hosts’ English was very limited, and my Arabic was non-existent. Figuring that I was intruding and that by Jordanian standards it was quite late (9 o’clock), I had dessert, drank a glass of tea, thanked my hosts and then headed back to the guesthouse to write my blog and get ready for bed.