by Jenny Pullman
I wait in eager anticipation for our Petra tour to begin, we opt for an early start to try and beat the crowds. Entry includes a short horse ride from the main gate to the beginning of the Siq about 800metres. The horses amble along at walking pace, lead by a Bedouin handler. Ibrahim, our guide, is a wealth of knowledge and stops at each point of interest to provide us with a walking commentary. He stays with us until the Roman Colonnade, pointing us in the direction of the Monastery if we chose to go there.
The rest of the day is free for us to explore. I am on a mission to find a note Nancy, my Mum, put under a rock in a cave up the valley left of the Cathedral. Steve, my brother found it 6 months later, but after 2 hours of searching, looking in every cave and under every rock I was unsuccessful. The Pullman ‘scroll’ remains hidden and my never be found again….. (I have since discovered my search was in vain as the note was left in a cave to the left of the Monastery, I am now keen to get back there and have another look).
I return to town about 4.30pm and stop at the antique store below the hotel for a look. It is very interesting holding many treasures including frankincense and myrrh, rugs made locally, jewellery, amber, jade and silver. I meet the caretaker of the Bedouin museum located upstairs and he offers me a tour. The entry is JD7.00pp. The museum covers the history of the Bedouin people, how they live, ground wheat, harvest crops and make Bedouin tents from woven wool from sheep, goats or camels hair. A display also shows houses constructed from thick mud walls and ceiling, cool in summer and warm in winter. Tools, knives and ancient guns are on display. Traditional food called mansaf, which is seasoned lamb or chicken cooked in a large pot with yoghurt over an open fire, and served with huge amounts of rice on a large platter for all share. Coffee is also an important part of Bedouin life, ground coffee beans from Turkey or Brazil brewed and drank black in small cups. A photographic display illustrates what Petra looked like 100 years ago. It is well worth a look.
Another early start with our departure set for 7.30am. I head to breakfast at 6.30am and pull back the thick curtain to reveal an overcast, rain heavy sky, puddles from late overnight rain dot the roadside below. After yesterday’s glorious clear blue skies it is quite a contrast. Our 4 hour journey to the Dead Sea takes us across desert plains, hard to see through my misty window, the heater in the bus isolating us from the cold outside. As we weave our way to the valley floor we catch glimpses of golden hills, sprinkled with patches of green from agriculture in the Jordan Valley, and finally the Dead Sea at 423m below sea level. As with most of Jordan the traffic is light on the 2 land highway, road works are being done along some of the way but generally the roads are in reasonable condition. We experience intermittent showers, however as we descend into the Jordan Rift Valley we are greeted with blue sky and fluffy white clouds. The Jordan Valley is the bread basket of Jordan providing fresh fruit and vegetables for the whole country. The arid regions around Petra will grow wheat to be harvested in June; these fields of poor soil and rock have been ploughed ready to be sowed.
We drive past Amman airport, Madaba and turn right onto King Hussein Hwy linking us to Jerusalem. We arrive at the Dead Sea at 11.30am; our entry is via the Dead Sea Hotel, a 5 star hotel where the use of change rooms and restaurants are available during our visit.
It is hard to imagine that just 7kms from here is Jericho, where Jesus was christened. The Dead Sea is 67kms long, 18kms wide and 377m deep, with salt levels 8.6 times higher than the ocean. Due to its high mineral content, the low level of pollens and allergens in the atmosphere and reported reduced ultraviolet rays it is considered very healthy. The locals believe you do not need sunblock even at the height of summer, I doubt this very much as the weak winter sun was turning my skin pink in the short time we were there, but this may be due to the Dead Sea mud that I spread liberally over my body. During the winter months the water temperature is higher than the air temperature making it easy to get in but not so easy to get our and rinse off under an outside fresh water shower. The experience of floating on the murky, greasy coastal waters is only complete after you have smothered yourself with black mud dug from the shores. The water has a sting if you have open sores, gets in your mouth or eyes, and for me signaled blisters on my feet from Petra that I didn’t know I had.
We head from the Dead Sea to Mt Nebo along a steep windy road offering great views of the Dead Sea and the Jordan Valley. It takes about 30 minutes and is very cold on the exposed mountain top. We spend ½ hour at the Moses Memorial Church and the lookout with views as far as Jericho. We stop briefly at St George’s Church, home to Madaba’s most famous site, the Mosaic Map crafted in AD 560 depicting all the major biblical sites of the Middle East from Egypt to Palestine. It has been a long day and we are all ready to get to the Madaba Hotel for a hot shower to wash Dead Sea oils and salt from our skin and rug up against the cold. We check out Haret Joloudna restaurant tonight, it offers local cuisine and hosts tourists and locals alike. The food is very good and the prices reasonable, especially for Jordan where costs are much higher than Egypt.
The following day the Jordan trip ends here I make my way back to Egypt. The next adventure begins in Dahab………
About the Author: Jenny Pullman works as a tour leader for Oasis Overland and is currently in Dahab.