St George's Church of Madaba, Mt Nebo and the Dead Sea

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January 28th 2013
Published: January 29th 2013
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Our first stop this morning was at the Greek Orthodox St George's Church in Madaba. This church is renowned for the 6th century Byzantine mosaic on its floor that shows the entire region from the Nile Delta in Egypt in the south to Jordan and Palestine in the north. The detail recorded in this early map is impressive.

Just a few more kilometres by road found us at Mount Nebo which has been a centre for pilgrimages since the earliest Christian period. It is also reputed to be the burial site of Moses who climbed the mountain to view the Holy Land before he died. Unfortunately at present the peak of Mount Nebo is largely obscured with construction works. The historic church atop the mountain has been restored, but is now having a larger church, sponsored by the Vatican, built around it to preserve it. On the other side of the road the Ministry of Antiquities is building a new visitor centre that will commemorate Moses' journey from Egypt to Palestine. Ahmad says that this project is progressing very slowly.

Just down the road from the peak of Mount Nebo we visited a mosaic workshop. The mosaics that they produce these days are much finer than those of old with the artisans working with stone pieces only a few millimetres in size. Very fiddly work for sure. The Aussie dollar doesn't buy much in Jordan so we only bought a coaster.

From the peak of Mount Nebo at just over 800 metres above sea level we drove down to the Dead Sea at around 400 metres below sea level - the lowest land elevation on Earth. This part of the Jordan Valley was much more barren than it was further north where we were yesterday, yet Ahmad pointed out the Bedouin tents dotting the rocky hillsides. We saw a couple of Bedouin women grazing their herds of sheep along the roadside. It looked like there was nothing but rocks for the sheep to eat, but Ahmad assured us that there were grasses for them to nibble on or the Bedouin would not be there.

Nearer to the floor of the valley there were Gypsies camping. Although it was hard for us to tell the difference between the Bedouin and the Gypsy tents Ahmad told us that the Bedouin only use traditional woollen tents whereas the Gypsy tents are made from cheaper materials and usually incorporate some orange. There is no worse insult than to mistake a Bedouin for a Gypsy.

Just on noon we arrived at the Holiday Inn Dead Sea Resort. Our bags were X-rayed on our way in and my immersion water heater caused some excitement amongst the security personnel. Initially they wanted to confiscate it and keep if for me until we leave tomorrow. Just as we were about to open our bags to remove it and hand it over the head of security intervened and decided that we could keep it with us. Our room here at the resort is lovely despite being a standard room with an uninspiring view of the highway! I'm sure the rooms with pool view and/or Dead Sea view must be much more expensive. Not to worry, our standard room still has high speed wireless internet access, yay, we're back on line. We are such technophiles.

There was some dispute over whether our accommodation was bed and breakfast or full board. Ahmad thought it was supposed to be full board and our itinerary backed this up, but the hotel was saying B&B only. Ahmed made some calls and eventually the hotel agreed that all our meals are included.

We headed for the dining room expecting to be able to choose a light lunch from the buffet. Unfortunately the buffet is not open because there are so few guests so we had to go to one of the other restaurants for a four course set menu option. We skipped the soup, but still had another HUGE meal. We were full after the beef medallions for main course and then the chocolate brownies with vanilla ice-cream arrived!!

After lunch we changed into our bathers and wandered down to the Dead Sea and found that, even after all we had to eat, we could still float!! Ahmad told us that the concentration of salt in other bodies of water is about 11%, in the Dead Sea the concentration is over 30% which is what makes the water so buoyant. The extreme buoyancy is certainly bizarre and, yes, you can float without even trying. Ahmad also told us that after the Jordan River being dammed there is less water flowing into the Dead Sea and the water level is dropping by about one metre each year. Current estimates are that, if nothing changes, there will be no Dead Sea by 2050.

We put enough Dead Sea mud on us to write 'Dead Sea 2013' slogans on ourselves - well, everyone else was doing it! - and then we rinsed off and wandered back up to the pools. We lay on the sun beds by the pool for a while pretending it was actually warm enough to lounge on a sun bed by the pool.

At 5.00pm I headed to the spa for a facial and a massage. The facial included a Dead Sea mud mask that removed all of my wrinkles. Only kidding, but it was lovely! There is only one masseuse on during low season so I returned to our room and Bernie headed down to the spa for his massage. I am starting to feel so mellow from all of this pampering that I don't know how I am going to go getting back into a work vibe??!

We went down to dinner to be faced with the same two set menu options that were available at lunch. I was going to skip salad and soup and just have a main course. Bernie was going to have a salad and main but made the mistake of asking the Maitre d'Hotel which salad he should choose. The Maitre d'Hotel said he would talk to the chef and have him make up a nice selection for us to share.

OMG! The waitresses were soon back at our table with NINE plates of dips and salads and a mountain of pita bread. Knowing that we had main courses to come we really only picked at the dips and salads which was shameful because they were all delicious, but we can only fit so much in. I had fish for my main and Bernie had a combination of steak, chicken and fish, but at least we managed to convince the waitress that we really did not want chocolate brownies for dessert again.

Steps for the day: 8,044 (5.49 kms)

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