January 1, 2013 - We arrived in Amman, Jordan around 6pm and immediately jumped in a taxi headed for the Dead Sea. We had absolutely no idea what to expect during our time in Jordan. The cab ride was about 45 minutes and our ears were popping much of the way as we headed to one of the lowest places on Earth. Once we arrived at the beautiful Dead Sea Spa Hotel, we went down to the sports bar to grab a drink and enjoy the nice night on the patio. Again, we called it a night fairly early because we had a very busy day ahead of us.
The next morning we woke up around 7, ate breakfast, and headed down to the beach. The beach was empty because it was only in the mid 50's, but this was our only chance to swim in the Dead Sea, so we had to do it. The water was pretty warm, and being the stupid tourists that we are, we dove right in. I didn't open my eyes under water, but I used my hands to wipe my eyes as I stood up out of the water. My eyes
felt like they were burning from my head and I couldn't get the strong taste of salt out of my mouth! Once I was able to manage a squint without terrible pain, I began to float in the Dead Sea. It is so salty that you just float effortlessly. I couldn't keep my feet beneath me because they just kept floating up to the surface. It was a very cool experience.
Once we dried off, we spoke to the front desk and hired a private driver for the day. We were going to be touring the biblical sights and then ending up 3.5 hours south where we would stay the night in Petra. Our private driver picked us up at 9:30 and we headed to our first stop, Jesus' baptism site.
The baptism site was nothing like I was expecting. I was anticipating hundreds of tourists, lots of shops and souvenir stands, and an almost commercialized feel to the whole thing. This was almost the complete opposite. There were only 5-6 cars in the parking lot, one old and run-down tour bus, and an old shed that stood as the ticket window. We got
our tickets and an audio guide and got on the bus which took us to the path that lead to the baptism site. Over time, the Jordan River has altered its course and water no longer flows in the actual spot where Jesus was baptized, but the ruins of the church and pillars where the event occurred can still be seen today. Once we saw that, we walked to where the Jordan River is flowing today. About 20 yards across this narrow stream was Israel. It was pretty interesting to see a Jordanian guard with his machine gun on our side and an Israeli guard with his machine gun on the other side. As you can imagine, there was a fairly serious tone to the whole situation.
Next we drove up the mountains to the site where Moses saw the promise land and was later buried, Mount Nebo. There wasn't a whole lot of information available about the site once we got there. The main attraction seemed to be the views and an interesting sign that pointed to various towns such as Bethlehem, Jericho, and Jerusalem.
After Mount Nebo, we made a quick stop
in the nearby town of Madaba to see an ancient church which is home to the oldest known map of Jerusalem. The map is in the form of a giant mosaic build into the floor of the church. It is still an active place of worship and I was very surprised to see that they simply roll a carpet over this precious mosaic and then put church pews on top for services. There doesn't seem to be a huge initiative to preserve what remains of this historical treasure, which was odd to me. Our driver suggested we grab another chicken schwarma from his favorite place in town and then we started our drive down to Petra.
The 3.5 hour drive was fairly boring just because most of the southern half of Jordan is just barren desert. But what I did notice is the poverty that exists. All along the road were tent villages and abandoned buildings. Many buildings looked like they lost funding once the concrete frame was in place and then the project was canceled.
On our way down, we stopped by to see a castle about a half hour outside of Petra.
We did a fairly quick tour of the castle and then finished our trip to the Amara Palace Hotel.
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