Thursday, March 24, 2011

Jordan - Dead Sea Area

For February break we spent a week in Jordan.  The political unrest in Tunisia, then Egypt, then lots more places in the Middle East certainly kept our attention prior to the trip.  There were reports of some protests in Jordan, but they were mainly in Amman (not our primary destination) and seemed to be fairly peaceful.  The US State Department hadn't issued any travel warnings, so off we went. 

As it turned out, we didn't have any disruptions nor did we see any protests.  The Jordanians were very friendly, very willing to give you their views on Egypt (always supportive of the revolution), but not so forthcoming on the future of Jordan.   That may be because they are not really sure what the future should look like, rather than being reluctant to speak openly.  Although Jordan's monarchy is progressive, the country faces similar dilemnas as other Middle Eastern countries -- 70% of the population is under 30 years old and unemployment is 20%+.  Lots of young people without jobs does not bode well for long term stability.  I'm not sure what the future should look like either, but I do wish the Jordanian people the best of luck and thank them for delaying any revolution until we completed our journey. 

We spent the first two days in the area near the Dead Sea.  Leaving the airport in Amman you drive for about 20 minutes on partially finished highways through some unremarkable towns.  Then you turn off the highway towards the Dead Sea and you begin to descend.  And descend.  And descend.  At 1200 ft below sea level this is the lowest point on earth.  At this elevation, the summer weather would have to be horribly warm and muggy; but February weather was very pleasant.   The Dead Sea has no outlet; it loses water only by evaportation which results in a salt content of 30% (vs normal sea water of 3-4%).  We read that the high salt content makes you incredibly bouyant.   Anyone can float and it's impossible to walk in the water.  Unfortunately, the pleasant February weather included strong winds so the beach had the red flags posted and we couldn't go in the water. 

This was as close as we got to the Dead Sea

Flowers in the lobby of our hotel

Even in Arabic you know what they're drinking

The area around the Dead Sea is rich in history.  Jerash was a thriving Roman city of 25,000 people in the 2nd and 3rd centuries.  It was essentially destroyed by an earthquake in 749 and not "rediscovered" until the 1800's.  Now the huge site offers a very well preserved Roman city with a hippodrome that seated 15,000 people, a huge theater, temples, collonaded streets and several churches.

Gate to the City of Jerash
No skyboxes at this hippodrome.  Everyone sits on hard concrete. 

Windy day.  Now you can see why we didn't swim in the Dead Sea.

My fraternity greek lessons weren't enough to let me read this. 

This is a picture of Lori taking a picture of us while we sit in the top row of the theater seats.  I hope they didn't charge much for these seats.   

Notice the wet stones.  Jordan receives 8 inches of rain a year.  We were there for about 10% of that. 

They stage chariot races and mock gladiator battles in the hippodrome.  For those old enough to remember the movie Ben Hur, you'll recall the armor plated chariots used by Charlton Heston.  Evidently, those are not historically authentic (what a surprise).  Per the guidebook, the actual chariots were "less visually impressive, but much faster".  As you can see in the pictures, they are essentially flimsly bamboo/wicker carts that are not very substantial at all.  But they are fast!  Those guys were really going. 

Just like at Quad City Downs

Would you feel safe in this?

We also visited Bethany Beyond the Jordan, which was where John the Baptist lived and is also the most probable location where he baptized Jesus Christ.  The site was closed with the outbreak of war in 1948 but was re-opened following the1994 peace treaty between Jordan and Isreal (and after the area was swept for landmines.  Don't worry, we stayed on the path).   Our experience here proved that Jordan still has some work to do on tourism.  To visit the site, you park your car, buy tickets and then travel by shuttle bus to the baptism site.  We were the first (and only) people there that morning.  A very friendly host helped us buy our tickets then explained that the bus (which was parked right there) would not leave for another 30 minutes.  Having no other choice, we waited.  After about 3-4 minutes, the bus fired up and away it went.  Without us.   It returned in about 20 minutes, we boarded and away we went......despite the fact that the 4th and 5th visitors of the day had arrived, were buying their tickets and were looking rather startled that the bus was leaving them.  So after much hand-waving and shouting, the bus turned around and picked them up.  Maybe things run smoother when it is more crowded. 

No, this isn't where Jesus was baptized.  This is a pool built nearby for group baptisms. 

This is THE site.  The pilars are from churches that were built later.  Jesus descended the steps to enter the water.  In case you're wondering about the lack of water, the Baptism site was on a backwater area of the Jordan.  Now that river levels are down, it's dry. 

The infamous bus. 

There are many churches built near the baptism site.  The painted ceiling of this one shows that some people had a hard time staying awake in church back then also. 
 After visiting the Baptism Site, we walked to the River Jordan.  Life has been hard on the Jordan.  Several diversion projects have significantly reduced the flow so that it is less than 20' wide.  Certainly not the grand river that I had imagined.  But it's historical significance remains and it was still somewhat humbling to walk down the platform steps and dip my hand in the water.  Interestingly enough, both of our children were baptized with water from the River Jordan.   The minister who baptized Kate had travelled to the Holy Land and brought back water from the river for baptisms.  When Grant was baptized, the grandparents of the child that was baptized first that day had also travelled to the Holy Land and brought back water.  Since the Jordan River water was already in the baptismal font, Grant got the extra holiness for free.

Grant and Lori by the Jordan River.  It's about as big as Canoe Creek. 

Another view of the Jordan.

Jordanian army stationed at the Jordan River because......

.....Israel is over on the other bank.

  Our final stop in this area was Mount Nebo, where Moses saw the Promised Land after leading the Israelites through the wilderness for 40 years.  It's a fantastic view that provides a view of the Dead Sea, Jordan River, Jericho and the hills of Israel.

On the drive up to Mt. Nebo.  Note the bedouin tents in the desert. 

This is the view of the Promised Land from Mt Nebo.  Perhaps it wasn't so hazy when Moses was looking. 

In case you didn't recognize the sites in my picture from Mt. Nebo

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