Day number 3 of our trip and we’re already on our way to the Dead Sea, Madaba, Mount Nebo, & the Jordan River.
When we got back to our car after the Wadi Rum experience Kyle decided that we were close enough to Aqaba to make a quick stop there to see the Northern part of the Red Sea. When in Jordan, why not see both the Red and Dead Sea’s, right?
So, we drove about 50 minutes west of Wadi Rum and arrived at the Red Sea. We hopped out, looked around, took a few pictures and stuck our toes in the water. Aqaba actually appeared to be a pretty modern and busy city. A few minutes later we were piled back in the car for a two and a half hour drive to the Dead Sea.
The highway between Aqaba and the Dead Sea was built in what must have long ago been the Red Sea bed. There were high mountains to both the right and left of us with very striking gradients in the rock.
The Dead Sea
We were told that the Dead Sea was drying up quickly and that the shoreline has receded dramatically in the past decade. When the sea came into view we could see exactly what they meant. The water level is dropping by 3.3 feet per year and it is predicted to be completely dried out by 2050.
Our trip coincided with The Arab Summit, which was hosted in the Dead Sea area. This meant that the entire Dead Sea area was closed to all tourists for security reasons. We weren’t sure we were going to be able to find any where with sea access, but we couldn’t go to Jordan and not try.
Luckily, there was one lone resort less than a ½ mile outside of the closed resort section. It was well worth the price (likely inflated given they had the only access to the sea for at least a week) to be able to check off floating in the Dead Sea from our bucket lists.
The resort provided changing rooms, bathrooms, showers, and lockers. The price for a day pass also included the use of their two pools and the famous Dead Sea mud.
We walked down to the sea access and climbed in. I thought it was freezing. There were warmer spots and I am always the coldest one in any room but by the time I was getting out I was almost numb. I had read that the sea area is much warmer than other places in Jordan and I guess that was actually true. But, that did not mean that the water was warm!
The water left an oily film on our skin, which I’m sure helps to produce the skin-softening effect the water is known for. Only my father-in-law braved the mud experience. I was too afraid I wouldn’t be able to brave the cold and get back in the water to wash it off after I got out.
When I finally did get out, I realized that I had a total body skin reaction to the water. Unfortunately, both the resort pool water and showers only had water as cold as the sea itself, which made washing it off quite unpleasant! Not to worry though, I was the only one with any kind of reaction – I have weirdly sensitive skin to heat, cold, and salt. An extra antihistamine and I was good to go.
When we’d had our fill of the sea, we wound our way up back up the mountain through more switchbacks than I could count on another 1.5 hour drive.
Our next destination was Madaba, where we spent one night. The first evening we arrived just in time for a round of drinks at our hotel before an incredible dinner at a local restaurant. We were finally able to try the Petra Beer, on of very few beers actually brewed in the Middle East. Madaba is a small and very walkable city, which we definitely enjoyed.
Our day in Madaba began with a visit to St. George’s Greek Orthodox Church. This church is home to a mosaic map crafted in AD 560 and depicts all of the major biblical sites of the Middle East from Egypt to Palestine. To this day, it represents the oldest map of Palestine in existence. The actual mosaic in the church is a must see, but so is the complete map in the visitor’s center next to the church. It lists over 100 sites on the map with their direct Biblical references.
Next, we headed up the hill to the Church of Saint John the Baptist. This church is a definite must see and a true hidden gem. The person manning the visitor’s center could not have been any kinder or more knowledgeable about the history of the church. He pointed us to the entrance of the self-guided tour, and were almost immediately surprised by what we saw. Remains of the original church are carefully preserved with even some of the mosaic tiles still intact. The tour ends in a climb up the bell tower and magnificent views of the city. Don’t forget your camera for this one!
We headed back to the hotel to check out and piled back into the car. Next stop was Mount Nebo. Mount Nebo and the two churches entrance fees were not included in the Jordan Pass as these are all privately owned establishments. None of the entrance fees were very pricy though.
Mount Nebo offers spectacular views of the surrounding area, which is the Holy Land. Maps point out various Biblical cities that can be seen from the top. There are two museums; one is smaller with photos and some small artifacts excavated over the years. The other is larger with walkways built over large mosaics. It probably didn’t take us over an hour to complete the Mount Nebo experience, but it’s definitely worth the visit.
After Mount Nebo, we headed to the Jordan River to see the site of Jesus’ Baptism. This is included in the Jordan Pass. After the guide marked or scanned all of our passes we waited a few minutes for the bus to return from their last trip. We boarded the bus for about a 15 minute drive. A few minutes in we stopped for a second to see a few murals but only got off the bus here because someone asked to.
The Jordan River
When we arrived at our destination, which was through a security checkpoint because of the shared border with Israel, we started down a constructed walkway. It was a bit of a walk and it was certainly hot! Don’t forget to take your water.
The Jordan River, like the Dead Sea, has dried up significantly. What was once a river fast paced enough to need to construct an off-shoot in order to have a baptismal site, is now little more than a stream.
From the Baptismal location, we followed another walkway to a church and then went down to see the Jordan River. Here there were steps and a ramp down into the river so you could step into the water. Israel was less than a stone’s throw away with several people on that side also dipping their feet in. I will say that the Israeli side looked to be a much nicer tourist area, but the Jordan side was more than adequate.
Despite the heat and the fact that I was hungry, the Jordan River was one of my favorite sites that we visited. I will gladly go back on the Israeli side if I ever get the chance; however, the actual baptism site can only be seen from the Jordan side. It was a seriously cool experience – don’t miss it.
After the river we were off to Amman for the next part of our adventure.
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