We can’t help but notice that the breakfast buffet here includes free champagne. This seems a bit incongruous in a country where the overwhelming proportion of the population is Muslim, and alcohol doesn’t seem to be all that readily available anywhere. Our desert camp out in Wadi Rum, for example, was dry in more ways than one. A sign outside reception advises guests that “Outside food, beverages and hubbly bubbly are not permitted inside the Hotel”. I wonder why anyone would feel a need to smuggle in their own “hubbly bubbly” when it’s laid on for free at breakfast. I don’t think there are any non-Muslim university students staying here, but if there were I’m sure they’d be only too keen to start the day by knocking back a few glasses of free champers.
Having commented on the “foul” that was available for breakfast yesterday I decide that I should probably try some. Its main flavour is beans, and it’s very tasty. Issy says that foul is also the Maltese word for beans. We’ve been given to understand that Maltese is 80% Arabic, and Issy’s been a bit surprised at how many Arabic words she’s been able to pick up
while overhearing local conversations. It’s also good to know that the locals haven’t been saying anything disparaging about us without us knowing, or at least anything that Issy’s told me about. I hope they haven’t just been saying disparaging things about me.
This morning we plan to visit Jesus’ Baptismal Site (officially known as “Baptism Site (Bethany Beyond Jordan)”), which is on the Jordan River about ten kilometres upstream from where it runs into the Dead Sea. I don’t think Issy’s all that keen on going, but she insists on tagging along because she’s not too enthusiastic at all about the idea of me driving here in Jordan by myself. I’m not sure whether she’s more worried about me getting lost, or crashing into one of the many goats and sheep that seem only too happy to wander along the roads here, or getting arrested for breaking some of the road rules. I think it might be the last one, because neither of us have been able to work out yet what any of the road rules are. We both think it’s possible that there aren’t any, which would be good in a way because at least then we
wouldn’t need to worry about breaking any of them.
We park at the site entrance and wait for a bus to take us down to the River, which forms the border with Israeli controlled territory. The site itself is in a military zone, and the whole area was heavily mined during the 1967 Six Day War. The bus is necessary because the locals are apparently a bit concerned that there might still be some live mines out there, and they don’t think it would be too good for business if some tourists inadvertently wandered off the path and got blown up. We pass a heavily guarded military checkpoint where a soldier with a machine gun checks the driver’s credentials before the bus is allowed through.
We get out of the bus and walk along a covered walkway to the Baptismal Site. Most Christian churches are in agreement that this is the actual site where Jesus was baptised by John The Baptist. The river bed is sadly dry here now as the Jordan’s course has moved a few hundred metres west during the past two thousand years. The remains of the sixth century Church of St John the Baptist
are however right next to the site, and John the Baptist is believed to have lived in one of the many nearby caves. Being here is a very spiritual experience.
We have a quick look at a modern Greek Orthodox Church which has been built next to the River’s current course. The River itself is muddy and only a few metres wide, and perhaps slightly underwhelming. Issy says she’s a bit blown away by the fact that we’re so close to Israeli controlled territory, which is only a few metres away on the opposite bank. She asks if it’s possible to walk across. I can’t see a bridge which might be a minor impediment, but I think I’m a bit more worried about the soldier with the machine gun sitting virtually right next to us. I suspect he wouldn’t hesitate to fire a few rounds into anyone foolish enough to dive in and make a dash for the other side.
I’m not sure Jesus would be too impressed by all the guns and other military presence here, not to mention the possibility of unexploded mines. This is all so completely at odds with what he was on about.
Israeli controlled territory only a few metres away on the far bank. Note Jordanian soldier with machine gun, presumably to deter would be border jumpers.
Very sad really.
We spend our last afternoon here in Jordan relaxing by the hotel pool.
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