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Published: December 19th 2015
We got an early start on the road and made our first stop at Shobak castle, where we were the only tourists. Shobak castle lies on a remote knoll 1 1/2 hrs north of Petra. It was constructed in 1115 by the crusader king Baldwin I and was used as a desert stronghold along the King's Highway. The castle was eventually taken by the Muslims after an 18 month siege by Saladin.
I had read of the castle in my guide book and they recommended bringing flashlights for the more remote sections, to include a long and dark secret passageway which they provided directions to find. We did find the passageway which was little more than a narrow cave, and slipped and slid down through the bowels of the castle and into the mountain for the next half hour, eventually emerging out of a hole up a ladder at the base of the mountain. We both agreed that we were quite terrified in some sections, and were quoted as "I don't think this is a good idea" several times. Thankfully we survived without any broken bones or encountering any ancient Crusader or Jinn spirits.
We stopped later at the
more famous Karak castle, about 2 more hrs. north of Shobak. This castle was more renovated, was located in the middle of a city and filled with tourists. It was more impressive of a castle, but we definitely enjoyed Shobak much more and wished we had spent more time there.
Eventually we reached the Dead Sea after poor Dennis drove several more stressful hours through windy mountain roads, avoiding pedestrians, potholes, goats and bad Jordanian drivers in a small stick shift. We drove the length of the 65km coast, noticing that it seemed eerily "dead" as there was no structures on the coastline, no sea birds, nor even a boat on the water. We found a free, albeit filthy locals beach on the Dead Sea to experience a dip in the world's saltiest water and a place where your health ailments can almost be miraculously cured. Unfortunately my cold I had woke up with after our wet Petra day persisted long after our dip.
There are several beaches along one stretch of the Dead Sea that charge about $20 to use their beach and a shower and cater towards tourists seeking expensive spa treatments. I read that no
one stays in the water for more than a few minutes because your skin starts to burn from the salt, so we instead filled some water bottles to have a hasty rinse after our quick sunset float. We were careful not to get any water in our eyes, but couldn't avoid the burning that came from cuts and scrapes we didn't realize we had. The sea was much stranger than I had expected, and the coastline looked almost like it was frozen. The sand was petrified and encased in hard salt, and the small amount of vegetation surrounding it looked as though it was encased in ice. We took our obligatory photos and marveled at our buoyancy in the water that was 30% salt and 6x more salty than the ocean. We quickly rinsed off, but continued to be itchy and salty for the seemingly endless drive to our hotel in Madaba, less than 1 hour away.
Dennis and I are not religious whatsoever, however we did find many locations we passed to be interesting in a historical context. We drove up Mt. Nebo, where Moses died, and past the Jordanian River, where Jesus was baptized, and countless other
biblical locations along the way. I can appreciate how many people go on Holy Land tours and are completely flabbergasted by the places they visited, as we were quite intrigued by many of them as well.
We finally arrived at our hotel, the Moab Land ($30), and met the owners, both Greek Orthodox Christians. They were disappointed we did not have longer to visit beyond a few hours of sleep and quickly showed us pictures of what we were missing. Madaba seems as though it is the Jordanian Jerusalem, where Christians and Muslims have peacefully coexisted for hundreds of years. We listened to the evening call to prayer from the rooftop terrace and saw that the mosque it was coming from was beside a Greek Orthodox church.
Tomorrow we depart Jordan and head to Greece for "Dennis' part of the trip."
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