Monday, January 11, 2010

March 20th Holy Sites, the Dead Sea and Amman

I had my small breakfast and then was off on my hotel arranged trip to the Dead Sea. There were 3 others with me on the trip - Margo, the Australian that I had previously met in Hamah in Syria, Kospi, from Argentina but working for Emirates Air and living in Dubai, and Rahul from India, working in Singapore. As all of the regular hotel drivers were on other day trips, the hotel arranged a taxi to take us around for the day.Our first stop was Madaba, a very Christian city, to see the Madaba Mosaic Map that was found under the floor of the Greek Orthodox Basilica of St George. The mosaic dates to around 560 AD. The mosaics were discovered in the late 1800s when a group of Christians settled in the area and as they were building, the maps were uncovered.The map shows all of the major biblical sites from Lebanon to Egypt and was made of more than 2 million pieces. Only about a third of the original map remains. When we arrived at the church we had to wait outside with all of the other tourists hoping to see the map. A church service was going on and the map was covered to protect it. Once the service was over and the map uncovered, they would let the groups of people in in the order they got there. Most of the people were in larger tour groups. We weren't the first to arrive but we were close to the door and the guy in charge seemed to be slightly interested in talking to me. He let us go in with the first group. All of the groups were limited to about 10 minutes in the church before they had to go to leave space for the next group. Because we were just a small group of four, we were allowed to take our time. The church is beautiful. The walls are covered in mosaic pictures of saints and biblical events and such.As I was wandering around the church looking at the mosaics, the guy in charge of keeping the visitors in order always seemed to be watching me. At one point he came up and started talking to me. He asked what I thought of the church. I said it was beautiful. His response: "Like you!" Ha ha ha ha ha. Nice.[Next to the church, a giant billboard of King Abdullah II]
Once we had our fill of the church, we headed to our next destination - Mount Nebo.
Then Moses climbed Mount Nebo from the plains of Moab to the top of Pisgah, across from Jericho. There the Lord showed him the whole land.... Then the Lord said to him, "This is the land I promised on oath to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob when I said, 'I will give it to your descendants.' I have let you see it with your eyes, but you will not cross over into it."
And Moses the servant of the Lord died there in Moab, as the Lord had said. He buried him in Moab, in the valley opposite Beth Peor, but to this day on one knows where his grave is. --Deuteronomy 34:1-6
(That's from the bible for those that don't know. Borrowed from Sacred Destinations Mount Nebo.)
This is where Moses is said to have looked upon the Promised Land.[On the sign left to right: Hebron(65 km), Dead Sea, Herodium (47 km), Bethlehem (50 km), Qumran (25 km), Jerusalem Mt-of-Olives (46 km), Ramallah (52 km), Jericho (27 km), Nablus (66km), Lake Tiberias (106km)]Mount Nebo gives an amazing view. On Mount Nebo there are the ruins of a monastery and church, complete with mosaic floors and tombs below. The structures are currently being rebuilt, so unfortunately we couldn't go to that part of the mountain top. "The Abu Badd - Rolling stone used as a fortified door of a Byzantine Monastery in the old village of Faisaliyah, once known as Kufeir Abu Badd." [from the little sign beside it]Just a couple of turkeys wandering around the mountaintop. ^.~[Aerial view from Sacred Destinations] Our next stop was Bethany-Beyond-the-Jordan, or Bethabara to see the baptism site - the place where Jesus was baptised by John the Baptist. It took quite a while to actually get to the site. Our ride dropped us off and we bought tickets which included a ride to the site. The ticket I was given was in pieces. I looked at it and the guy said no problem. I said no, I wanted one that was in once piece. The driver then looked at me and said, "No problem." I said no, I wanted one that wasn't ripped because I wanted to put it in my album. He just kept repeating, "No problem." I was starting to get frustrated though trying not to show it. Finally he took the ticket and handed it back to the guy in the office who then proceeded to tape the pieces together. Argh! I said no, I wanted a new one. They looked at me as if I was nuts. I got a new one! Maybe it's just me, but I think everyone wants a complete ticket. It's not like it was a cheap one, either! 14 JD!
We had to wait about 15 minutes for our ride to come. It was a fairly windy and cool day and our ride was a partially covered truck with seats in the back. Sooooo cold and dusty. It took us quite a ways down a dirt road before dropping us off at the entrance to the area. We had to enter on a walking tour. It was a fairly good walk. Eventually we came across the old baptism site and the remnants of old churches. The spot where Jesus was baptized is front right with a little protective roof, and the roof in the background is protecting the mosaic floors and what is left of the churches (they were built on top of one another, which seems to have happened fairly often all over).[The Jordan River at the roof of a church in the distance - gold color, center just over the trees.]We then went to the newer Orthodox Church of St. John the Baptist and the nearby new baptism site.Inside the church.
At the newer baptism site, there is a fairly large basin at which babies and young children are baptized. Adults are baptized in the river itself.
Touching the waters of the Jordan River. The Jordan river forms the border between Jordan and Israel.Directly across the river - Israel.
From there we made our way back to the visitors center (on the same little shuttle 'bus') and then we were off to the Dead Sea.A Bedouin camp on seen from the road.At the dead sea there are a couple of options for swimming or sitting on the beach. Tourists are generally taken to one of the resort beaches, at which you have to pay 12JD just to enter the gates (there are swimming pools inside, but why go to the Dead Sea to swim in a swimming pool right in front of the beaches???). We opted for the cheaper public beach (7JD). Our driver tried insisting several times that we go to the resort one. I have a feeling he would have gotten some sort of commission or something like that out of it had we gone there. As it was a bit chilly and none of us actually wanted to go for a swim, the public beach was the much better option. After a quick look at the beach and sea, we decided we were quite hungry. The only place that was open for us to eat was a large buffet at the entrance. It was ridiculously expensive for what it was. 10JD for a small lunch buffet at a public beach! I'd hate to find out what we would have payed at the resort restaurants then! Margo wasn't extremely hungry and didn't want anything more than just salad. The restaurant said she would still have to pay the full buffet price. She didn't want to be taken advantage of so she didn't eat. We ate and the driver ate (I think he convinced them to give him his for free or at a huge discount since I'm pretty sure he told them that he suggested the place to us). As we were still eating, Margo had the driver take her back to the car so she could rest a bit. We finished out food and then headed down to the water.We wandered around talking and watching the people. Some people were out having picnics, some were out to test the healing properties of the Dead Sea water and its mud. A couple of guys had covered themselves completely from head to toe in mud. If it were a bit warmer...It was interesting seeing women in their Hijabs wading in the water next to a foreign woman in a bikini. Quite the contrast. Not many people were swimming and to see a foreign woman in a bikini among all those who were completely covered up seemed a little wrong (you can see her if you look between the two guys standing on the beach just to the right of center). I figured it would be a shame to go there and not even touch the water so I went wading a bit. The entire edge of the sea is solid salt rock. You can even see the layers where it has been worn away. It is quite sharp in places where the top is salt crystals. Other places have been smoothed out by the water. Away from the waters edge the salt rock is broken into pieces in the sand. When I was finished giving my toes a salt water treatment, we made our way back to our taxi to find that both the driver and Margo had dozed off, with the air conditioner on. The battery had died! What to do? Give it a little push.A couple of guys came to help and since Rahul and Kospi were already at the back ready to push I was able to back up and capture proof of the incident. A bridge in Amman.
Back in Amman Kospi and I made plans to go out with a couple of other guys she had met previously (Philippe and Greg). We went to Hashem for dinner (where I had gone the night before for dinner), and then to the Blue Fig for some drinks. The Blue Fig was nice but certainly not cheap. It think most places in Jordan are not cheap when it comes to drinks. The Tiramisu cheesecake was fantastic!!

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Hi Laura,

Regina here, for

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