I have walked in the ancient steps around the world. The ones touching me deepest, Ephesus comes to mind, are those associated with my natal mythology, my childhood creation stories. Not because I believe any mythology carries more validity than another. Their purpose is to help people cope at a specific point in history by establishing a moral code, a working agreement by which society can coexist. All peoples create interpretations of the gods. My affinity with Jordan is planted in the soil from whence my roots sprung, the symbology with which I am intimately familiar, the altar where I bent knees in homage to all my people deemed holy.
I am not judging nor ranking one site to another. Ranking is ludicrous. I was mesmerized in continual awe when walking the halls of the gorgeous and spiritually buzzing Meenakshi Temple, a soul deeply rooted in one of the oldest continually inhabited cities on this planet. I was astounded at the gilded temple in Amritsar, the holiest of holies for the Sikh peoples. Equally, the Blue Mosque and Hagia Sofia in Turkey held me in deep wonder at their stunning designs. Tikal and Teotihuacan are marvels of ancient technology. But, my deep cellular level connection dwells in none of these places, at least, not yet. Though I do feel deep affinity with many places anointed holy by believers.
Many of the places we visited in Jordan, the Dead Sea, the Red Sea, Mount Nebo, the Baptismal site of the Christ exist in the Christian holy book. Wadi Rum and Petra surpassed them in natural and manmade splendor and with connection to the holy despite existing outside the curtain of my mythology. Most enticing for me on our excursions to the old world is walking through long past history, stepping in the exact footfalls placed by the ancients, hearing spirits whisper into my soul as if they were still corporeal and we were not separated by dead languages…
Arrival In Jordan
Prior to arrival, we purchased the Jordan Pass, a money saver covering the entry visa and many sites including Petra. It made getting the final Visa stamp perfunctory rather than arduous. It’s always nice when customs flow like silk over shaven legs. The gathering of my luggage was not so silky. With the baggage carousel empty, my wife had her suitcase but mine was nowhere to be seen. Missing luggage is an inconvenience I dread. I never rest easy at the baggage carousel until I see my bright orange suitcase coming off the conveyor belt.
We were directed to security. It turns out, x-ray detected potential contraband in the form of a cheap pair of binoculars. There are restrictions on the power of binoculars being brought into the country. Thankfully, mine passed muster. But it added an hour to our time exiting the airport. Moral of the story, either leave binoculars at home or put them in your carry on. Our carry-ons were never inspected.
The Dead Sea Twice
We stayed at the Dead Sea twice. The first night arriving in the country since it was relatively close to the airport, only an hour away, and we were advised not to drive non-main roads at night due to herd animals crossing and challenging visibility. We experienced later the country is mountainous and the roads have few guardrails reinforcing our decision to not drive after sunset. We returned to the Dead Sea instead of Amman for our last two nights based on proximity to local attractions and, if desired, the ability to easily get into Amman.
On the first visit, we lodged at the pleasant Dead Sea Spa Hotel. A pleasant but slightly worn hotel. Travel was close to 18 hours from leaving our home in Chicago to arrival at the hotel. We ate heartily at the hotel buffet and slept better than I expected. The next morning, we visited the salty sea early before embarking on the long drive south to Wadi Rum.
The second stint we chose the Crowne Plaza Dead Sea Resort and Spa paying a premium for a room with a balcony overlooking the Dead Sea. The first night at the Crowne featured entertainment within sight and sound of our balcony. The noise from the music was so loud, we were unable to sit on our balcony and have a conversation. We complained the following morning and were offered a few adjustments, free food, spa time, neither which piqued our interest. Eventually, they offered a 50% discount for the first night. That we accepted.
The Dead Sea, at 1,388 feet below sea level, is slowly dying. Slow in human terms. Alarmingly fast when viewed in geological time. In relative terms, it is shrinking at a rate of 3.3 feet per year which is akin to severing the jugular vein on a human and watching them bleed out. This lowest point on the planet must be recalibrated on an annual basis.
The Dead Sea is eight or nine times saltier than the oceans of the world – so dense and mineral-rich that it doesn’t even feel like normal water, more like olive oil mixed with sand. An offering at the resorts is to be coated in Dead Sea mud, either by yourself or with the help of the hotel staff. I did slather a bit on my arm then washed it off in the water. It left my skin feeling oily, which many people deem to be skin softening. With that experiment, I opted not to coat myself. Both the mud and water carry a sulfurous base note that lingers.
The Road System
We rented a car, an automatic in case I became incapacitated and was unable to drive, for our week-long itinerary. All in all, we covered 600 driving miles. For the most part, the roads were great, traffic was light, the driving was easy. I encountered more cars in a couple of days driving in Chicago than the entire Jordan excursion. The driving challenges came from winding, narrow mountain roads not always pristine and the occasional herd of goats or camels. The sheepdogs were unhappy with our presence and chased the car on more than one occasion. Their speed was amazing, their ferocity frightening.
The landscape is barren. Very little substantial vegetation manages to find purchase away from water sources. Mostly we pass through rocks strewn over yellowish earth tones. It’s a wonder the herd animals can find forage. Joy comes from the mountain driving and the changes in rock coloration. Near Aqaba, we passed through massive walls laced with a black to dark chocolate brown ribbon as if putty was forced into a large crack to seal off drafts.
The mountain pass on our way Wadi Rum provided extensive vistas, a coffee shop at the top of the world where I drank Bedouin tea, less minty than the Moroccan version, while Irene sipped a muddy Turkish coffee. Numerous large birds gliding effortlessly in the cloudless blue waiting for something to die. The winds provided some respite from the flies.
There were lots of flies in Jordan. We found it hard to keep them out of the car. We stopped for gas. I opened the car window and they swarmed in. They rested on the attendant while he pumped the gas. They were on his hands when we paid and while he asked us for a tip. Not knowing local customs, I gave him a Jordanian Dinar, the equivalent of a buck forty in US currency. He was the only attendant on the trip ever asking for a tip. Back on the road, we opened all the windows so the airflow would pull them out of the interior.
Speed bumps are common, including on the highest speed highways. They are not always easy to see. The white stripes were frequently faded and warning signs were regularly missing. I was forced numerous times to brake hard just before a thump thump.
We were funneled through security checkpoints entering the Dead Sea area which is close to the West Bank and Aqaba which butts up against Israel. Security asked us where we were from and let us pass without further inspection when we said the United States. We saw other cars pulled over for deeper inspection.
Assessment: If you can drive in a city such as Chicago or New York, driving in Jordan will be a breeze. I’ve heard Amman is more challenging but, having not visited there, I can’t say.