Jordan Trip Report- Day 2: Madaba, Mount Nebo, Wadi Mujib and the Dead Sea
Our first proper day of our Jordanian adventure sees us up early to a decent complimentary breakfast of khubez, falafel, eggs, pickles, cheese and jam. (Not forgetting the omniscient tea, of course). We got into the bus (the Abbasi runs daily tours) with 2 Germans and 3 Brits.
Our first stop, Madaba, is a small town not far from Amman. There’s little of note besides the general ambience and the big draw, the Madaba Mosaic. Thought to be one of the oldest mosaics in the world, it paves the floor in a Greek Orthodox church in Madaba and depicts a map of the Middle East.
It’s quite interesting to look at (if a little confusing with the Greek letters) but the church is a revolving door of tourists. The entrance fee is only 1JD but even with the low fee, they must make a killing. The church itself is attractive and there are some nice paintings and artefacts scattered around but I honestly wouldn’t go out of my way for it if you are pushed for time.
We stop at a small mosaic factory to look around because our driver is friends with the owner. More tea. We pass through a mosaic workshop and marvel at the amount of work it takes to make even the simplest of mosaics. I very rarely buy souvenirs unless something jumps off the shelf at me so I lay back and talk to one of the workers. The Brits join me and he asks where everyone is from. When he gets his answer he asks:
“Are you friends?”
One of the british girls looks like she’s mulling over the definition of the word “friend”. She answers:
“Well, we’re staying at the same hostel…”
The Jordanian guy brushes her answer off and says:
“No, no. Are Ireland and England friends now?”
The English look alarmed and start ehhing while looking at me for guidance. I deadpan:
“We’re good, guys”.
The Jordanian is the only one who laughs.
(I found that everyone I spoke to in Jordan knew an uncanny amount about the conflict between Ireland and England. It took me a while to realise it was because they see it as a western Israel-Palestine situation and are understandably interested in how peace was achieved).
Mount Nebo was our next stop, an important place for the religious and home to a nice Serpentine Cross at the top of the hill. There is a small museum containing mosaics and pottery discovered on-site. The best bit for me is the spectacular view afforded at the top of the hill. The heat is a bit oppressive at this stage so we head back to the bus.
The Brits want to skip Wadi Mujib so we drop them off at the Dead Sea on the way to the Mujib and tell them we’ll be back later. We almost run over some camels who are chilling out nonchalantly in the middle of the road. The other travellers and I laugh and leap for our cameras. The driver just looks bored, like this happens all the time.
The Germans and us consult in the backseat. None of us are completely sure what is in store for us at the Mujib. (It had been added on at the last minute so there was no time to research it). I know it’s a canyon and nature reserve so assume we will be hiking. The Wadi Mujib Centre is so newly built they are putting up the “reception” sign when we arrive.
I begin to suspect something is amiss when I’m handed a life-jacket. We are going gorge-walking. The two Germans, myself and my friend embark on what the Jordanian Rock-Climbing Association refers to as a “moderately difficult” gorge-walk. I am wearing nikes, long pants and a technical tshirt. This is not what someone about to go gorge-walking looks like. I decide not to care.
As is often the case in life, the aspect of the day we didn’t plan turns out to be the highlight. It’s hard to put into words how gorgeous the mujib is (I couldn’t bring a camera into the water). Imagine swimming (or in my case, paddling while holding your trousers up) in a narrow canyon, flanked by tall rock on either side. The sky is barely visible and the only sound is the water making its way through the gorge. We are moving slowly upwards and it isn’t long before we come to a small waterfall. Ropes are in place to help us climb up it to the next level. 3 men sit at the top of the waterfall holding loosely onto the ropes and looking expectantly at us. They offer to help us up and we take them up on it. There’s no graceful way to describe it, I’m forcibly hauled up the waterfall by one of them as the rest look confusedly at my clothes. I must look more ready to narrate a play than climb waterfalls. I thank them and they move on. I stare after them, wondering why they’re leaving. Suddenly I realise, they don’t work at the Mujib. They were just being nice by dragging my friend and I up a waterfall. If they hadn’t, I’m pretty confident I would still be at the bottom of that rock staring despondently upwards.
As we continue on, we notice what looks like chalk markings on the canyon walls. They rub off when we touch them. I realise it’s residue from the rocks found under the water. People pick up a rock and use it to write messages. I draw a heart and “hello” in Arabic and move on, happy with my work. There is a second, bigger, waterfall towards the end of the walk but we decide to turn back as there are no friendly Jordanians to operate a pulley this time.
A little later, we return to the Dead Sea (Amman Beach) to spend some time there and meet the Brits, who have been there for a few hours already. The way you access the Sea is by paying one of the hotels to use their pools and facilities. It’s steep at 15JD but they can basically charge what they like because people will always visit the Dead Sea. In fairness to them, the pool and facilities are attractive and well-maintained.
The tiles leading down to the sea and the sand itself are roasting hot, too hot to walk on barefoot. I end up putting my nikes back on. I’m stopped on my way down the steps by a Spanish woman who proceeds to speak very rapid Spanish at me. I look at her blankly and she points to my legs and says “sooo white”. Believe it or not, this is not the first time I have been mistaken for a Spanish person and I am confident it will not be the last. Used to pretty blunt comments about my skin colour (when I lived in San Diego people would yell at me from cars, gives you a thick skin), I laugh it off. The Spanish woman wanders away, occasionally staring anxiously back at my blindingly white skin.
I approach the guys in charge of the jugs of Dead Sea mud (people like to slather it all over them as it’s supposed to be good for your skin). They address me as “senorita”. A little confused to be mistaken for a Spaniard again, I enquire how much the mud is. 3JD. Somehow paying for wet dirt doesn’t seem right to me so I meander off in search of some fresh mud. I take my “Rough Guide” and float in the Dead Sea with it, reading. No-one else was trying to recreate the “man floats in dead sea while reading newspaper” photo, making things a bit awkward. The sensation was odd, your body weight was fully supported by the water and you can’t swim if you try. Getting water in your eyes or mouth is not pleasant as the salt content is so high. Same goes for any cuts you might have. You’ll definitely feel them.
When perusing the shops, we notice several amusing translations of dead sea face creams. I don’t know about you but I like my cream to be “anti cracks”. After a few hours, we all pile back into the bus. All nations reunited. We hit a few checkpoints on the way back and the driver gets a speeding ticket.
Back at Abbasi, we search for some cheap street food. Our search is not lucrative and our decision to cross the road proves near-fatal. There are no traffic lights or pedestrian crossings to speak of, crossing is mostly a case of striding confidently into oncoming traffic and hoping the cars won’t hit you. A supermarket we had been told about is essentially just a fruit&veg market. We continue until we stumble across a tiny restaurant surrounded by pigeon shops. (The Rough Guide did mention pigeon fancying being popular in Amman).
We have a mystery dish (I think it was mansaf but communication skills on both sides were not great) and more khubez than 5 people could eat. It only cost us 1.75JD each.
Happy with our bargain, we listen to the loud calls to prayer (Abbasi is quite close to Al-Husseini mosque) and welcome sleep.