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03 April 2009 

Did you know – The Dead Sea is the lowest point on earth at 400 meters below sea level.  The sea is very clear, despite it being full of microscopic solids.  The Dead Sea has about 10 times more iodine, 15 times more magnesium and 20 times more bromine than normal ocean water.  Bromine is known to relax the nerves; magnesium is good for numerous skin allergies like eczema and iodine is good for thyroid function.  This concoction is supposed to be good for your health and you have the other bonus of being able to float on the water.

So we did only stay in Damascus for one night, which was a good move.  We left Damascus and headed for a place called Bosra close to the Jordanian border to look at some more ruins.  This one was quite impressive – it is a Roman amphitheatre built around 2nd century AD and is completely freestanding, unlike most others that are normally built into a rock face.  We only spent a couple of hours there and got to the border late afternoon. 

The border was still open (and probably open through the night) but we decided to stay there for the night.  There is a hotel and small café at the border and we stayed right outside the café.  We had a good meal at the café and started talking to one of the guys who work there.  The conversation was a bit odd at times to say the least.  We spoke about all sorts of things from looking at the sheep carcass hanging in the display fridge and teaching the guy how to say testicle and p-e-n-i-s.  He had a little book with English/Arabic and appreciated the little lesson on different body parts of a sheep.  The conversation also turned a bit political – in the end he confirmed my suspicion that Saddam Hussein was a very well respected man in this particular part of the world.  I even managed to get an old Iraqi bank note from him with Saddam on it.  After a good night’s sleep and an unexpected surprise of a free tasty breakfast from the guys at the café, it was time to tackle the border.

We were a bit apprehensive about this one too, because some people have reported that you need a carnet valid for the Jordan to get in.  Again, our carnet wasn’t valid for Jordan because of the high cost of 470%.  It turned out to be no problem getting the car in.  It took us about 1 or 2 hours to get in, which was good going compared to what was lying ahead of us.

Our first stop in Jordan was a small town called Jerash to look at some more ancient ruins.  It’s amazing how many of these citadels there are in this part of the world.  We spent a couple of hours walking around the place and started looking for a place to stop for the night.  We’ve heard about a place where you can camp and headed in that direction.  It turned out to be a very popular picnic spot with the locals, and it was packed!  We managed to find a little spot on the hills close to a local family.  A simple wave to say hello quickly turned into a ‘come-over-for-some-tea’ gesture from them and then into a ‘join-us-for-some-food’ not long after.  The people here in the Middle East are truly very friendly.  It seems like their whole life evolves around drinking tea, eating and chatting when they don’t work.  We ended up spending the whole afternoon with them and they invited us to their house (a 2 room building where 5 or 6 of them live).  Once we got there, it was more tea and we finished the night with some warm, sweet milk.  It was really strange though, they couldn’t speak any English, and we obviously can’t speak any Arabic.  I’m not sure how we managed to spend 6 hours with them without understanding each other.

We are going to the Mount Nebo, Jesus’ Baptist site and the Dead Sea in the next few days.  Will report again from there…until next time.

11 April 2009

Did you know – Petra is sometimes called the ‘Lost City’. In spite of its being such an important city in antiquity, after the 14th century AD, Petra was completely lost to the western world. It was rediscovered in 1812 by the Swiss traveler, Johann Ludwig Burckhardt, who tricked his way into the fiercely guarded site by pretending to be an Arab from India wishing to make a sacrifice at the tomb of the Prophet Aaron.

We went through some really nice scenery in the last few days, definitely something we haven’t seen before.  It is so dry and dusty everywhere.  The people are still very friendly, which is nice, but it is really expensive to do any sightseeing.

So we’ve had a bit of a religious twist to our last few days here in Jordan.  Our fist stop was at Mount Nebo, where Moses saw the Promised Land for the first time and the afternoon was spent on the Jordan and Israeli border at the site where Jesus was baptised.  You have to go on a guided tour of the site, because of the sensitive area you are entering.  There are checkpoints and military guys everywhere.  There is now an area at the Jordan River where people can go to be baptised.  You are about 5 meters away from Israel, because the river is not that wide.  It is really funny though with the army guys there, because they follow you to the water and hang around until you decide to leave.  I suppose they want to make sure you don’t jump in and get out on the Israeli side.  There weren’t any people on the Israeli side though, so not sure how quickly the soldiers will get to you if you do try to get to the other side.  It wasn’t until the 1994 peace treaty between Jordan and Israel before Jesus’ Baptist site - Bethany-Beyond-The-Jordan – was discovered after some excavations and work done by archeologists.  This was also the place where the prophet Elijah ascended to heaven.

We left late that afternoon and took the short drive to the Dead Sea.  There are a number of very posh hotels, like the Movenpick, with their private beaches and excellent facilities you can use.  We’ve heard that they are very nice and so we thought we would go in to see what it was like.  It is safe to say that it is really nice and the facilities are great, but at about AU$70 per person to use it for the day, we thought we would rather go to some of the more, shall we say ‘public’ beaches.  It was still very expensive for going to a beach.  I think we paid about AU$14 each for the day.  There are loads of places where you can go to experience the Dead Sea without paying anything.  The problem with the free areas comes after you’ve had a little float and you want to have a bit of a shower with some fresh water to get rid of all the salt – there are no facilities to do this.  It is however after all an experience not to be missed.  It was a very strange feeling, as soon as your feet don’t touch the ground anymore, they come up very quickly and you’re floating, effortlessly!

One of the main reasons people come to Jordan is to visit great ancient city of Petra.  It is definitely worth coming here.  We spent the whole day walking around in the blazing sun, looking at all the amazing temples, tombs etc carved from the rocks.  All of this dates back to around the 3rd century BC.  The ‘Treasury’ area of Petra also featured in one of the earlier Indiana Jones movies, which adds a little bit of fame to it.  There is one section where you have to climb a lot of steep and uneven stairs to get to another great temple area.  It is rather tiring in the mid-day sun, but it was worth all the effort.  There are loads of viewpoints to take in the amazing views, and to our well-deserved lunch.

Our last stop in Jordan was the port town of Aqaba, where we spent a few days relaxing after all the sightseeing.  Yes, you do get tired from all the sightseeing and walking around in the sun (especially after being use to freezing cold weather for more than 6 months), its not just an excuse to relax...

We are leaving for Nuweiba, which is on the Egyptian Sinai, tonight – we’ve psyched ourselves up a bit for this border crossing.  Most people we’ve spoken to told us that the Egyptians are notorious for making your life a bit difficult, we’ll have to wait and see…