Floating the Dead Sea, Exploring Jordan’s Wonders

The Citadel in Amman. photos: Kent E. St. John.

Amazing Jordan: Dead Sea, Jerash and Getting Biblical

By Kent E. St. John
GoNOMAD Senior Travel Editor

I’ve reached my low point; in fact it’s the lowest point in the world. I’m bobbing like a cork in the Dead SeaJordan side. Nicks and scrapes acquired recently are making themselves known. It all adds to a surreal setting. I am floating with a guy named Carl Thorsen. Who just happens to be here for some peace and quiet after working for the Coalition Provisional Authority in Baghdad for the last three months. Carl put it this way; “It took awhile to get used to the peace and relaxation in Amman…for the first two days”.

It puts into perspective the entire why Jordan, why now I’ve been asked before coming. Just proves one man’s destination is another’s no fly zone! Last night I could see the lights from Jerusalem across the Dead Sea from my table at the Movenpick Hotel. (See Momma Told Me Not to Come, on GoNOMAD) Just a reminder of how small the world is. Jordan is indeed (actually?) a fine fly zone.

Up Lifting

I didn’t walk on water but if ever I felt lighter than air it was in the Dead Sea. Its vital statistics are as follows: fifty miles long and eleven across at the widest. It has a concentration of 30% salt compared to the oceans’ 7%. It is claimed that the saltly sea was created from the destruction of Sodom and Gomorra. It is however a fact that the air around the Dead Sea is heavily oxygenated. It is also drop dead gorgeous!

The clear air and mountains that edge it create scenery that will burn its image into your brain. Much like the sun’s rays there will burn into your skin! While mud bathing and soaking are prime, there are other choices. The area has an abundance of things to see and do such as the best- documented Baptism Site of Jesus. Ottoman towns such as Salt and Fuheis and the Plains of Moab. Names such as Lot, Elijah and Joshua figure in big time. The Jordan River may not be “chilly and cold”, but it is filled with meaning. Be it border or past blessings the area will engage you. Explore ancient baptismal pools and pilgrimage caves as well as Elijah’s hill. Modern border sites such as towers and tanks add a modern day reality.

Floating in the Dead Sea near the Jordan River's entranc

Amman a Coming

Amman was little more than a muddy village until 1921 when it was chosen by Emir Abdullah to be his new capital. atlastours.net/jordan/amman.html

Today the humming city covers 19 hills (jebals) and spreads wide. If you’re a history buff fear not because that little mud village held some amazing buried treasure now uncovered. Including a huge Roman Theater and the Citadel. The Citadel itself when excavated offers a mental picture starting with the Neolithic period and moving through Hellenistic, Roman and Arab Islamic Ages. The Temple of Hercules and Omayyad Palace should not be missed, same for the Jordanian Archaeological Museum.

Amman is the primary city of “Brotherly Love”.

It was originally called Philadelphia centuries ago. It fits; Amman has a large population of citizens originating from elsewhere. Palestinians, Circassians, Iraqis and Bedouins have all joined Jordanians to become Ammanis. Jordan’s King Hussein signed a peace treaty with Israel in 1994. Amman was built in circles and by far the best is the il-balad or Downtown. It holds most of the budget hotels as well as souks or markets. King Faysal Street follows the old Roman cardo or street. It is also where gold is king, in fact Amman is the cheapest place in the world to buy gold jewelry. You will easily pay two to three times more in the west. Gold is often used for dowries in weddings and some say that is where the tradition began.

To sum it up Amman is old, modern and sometimes maddening, but always interesting. Sheep graze just a few feet from modern highways and coffee shops sit side by side with fast paced dance clubs. It is a fine place to base yourself for journeys to the north and to the Dead Sea.

Getting Jerashed

As you head north out of Amman, the rolling hillsides gain momentum and turn into small mountains covered with pine and olive trees. It is also populated with many villages and Palestinian camps. In fact you will travel through the camp of Baqaa, the largest of the UN’s run Palestinian camps.

A scant forty-five minutes from Amman and you’re smack dab back in Roman times. Although overshadowed by everyone’s darling Petra, Jerash is world class. atlastours.net/jordan/jerash

Not even in Rome did I feel so immersed in Roman history. Jerash, the Roman City until seventy years ago, was buried beneath sand. A Roman playland waiting to reveal itself. It does just that. In the middle of the modern city are acres and acres of ambling through ancient history. Thousands of columns stand marking a once thriving city. Most unusual is the Oval Plaza enclosed by two curving colonnades. Up the hillside is the monumental Temple of Zeus and South Theater.

Perhaps my best thoughts that will remain about Jerash are the school groups encountered on my visit. Shouts of “America, you are America, take picture please. We love you to come to Jordan”. Swarms of kids posed for pictures. Any doubts about coming to Jordan faded like the sun sinking in the sky. If time permits consider a visit to nearby Ajloun Castle a perfect example of medieval Arab-Islamic military architecture. Saladin’s nephew built it in 1184. Its mountain top location was perfectly suited to stop the spread of the Crusaders.

Royal Road Way

A 5000-year-old road is unfathomable unless you happen to be headed south in Jordan. The King’s Highway is just such a road. atlastours.net/jordan/kings highway

While a lot of biblical names pop up along the route, its beauty is the importance to not just Christianity but Islam and Judaism. A veritable who’s who of biblical characters has wandered through. In fact, the man himself may, have muttered “Holy Moses”, as he viewed the Promised Land from Mt.Nebo.

Four horses for rent in Petra.

Who could blame him after 40 years leading the Israelites through the wilderness. Sadly Moses wasn’t to go to the land of, “Milk and Honey” and was buried somewhere nearby. The view is astounding and the Moses Memorial Church holds some memorable mosaics. From the 6th century to the 8th a church was built on the site and a monastic community sprang up. The Mount is now maintained and owned by the Franciscan Biblical Institute of Jerusalem.

The mother of all mosaics can be found at the Church of St. Georges in town. It has on the floor what maybe is the world’s first map our at least the first Holy Land guidebook. Over 2 million pieces of stone make up this masterpiece. While Jerusalem is its center piece, the map covers all of the Holy Lands sites named in Greek and provided an invaluable guide for modern archeology.

Further down the road.

Because of Jordan’s immense number of sites Madaba seemed the perfect place to smoke a Hubble bubble pipe and reflect over the trip through the past the last few days had taken me. It was also time to prepare for the Jordan of Kefiyah clad Bedouins, massive deserts with tones of Lawrence of Arabia and the World-renowned City of Rose, Petra. For those with a bent on seaside delights Aquaba will end my journey to the magical land of Jordan.

More Useful Jordan Contacts

Royal Jordanian Airlines was jam packed with families heading to Jordan for what was a holiday. The number of kids certainly did not help the 13- hour flight pass quickly. While totally adequate it could use some improvement.

The Jordan Tourist Board is a wonderful place to get info on all needed to plan your trip through Jordan’s treasures. They have many good pictures and practical advice on deciding where to go and what to see. Their response time is excellent and very cooperative. With no oil reserves Jordan depends on tourism. The friendly demeanor of people met throughout my trip was comforting these days.

Hotels in Jordan run the gamut from tent to top ten in most places. Near the Dead Sea it tends to be resort. The Movenpick was set up like a village and provided an exciting yet relaxing space. Compared to western prices it is actually a value. For more accommodation options, find unique Jordan hotels and interesting tours in Jordan.

Sites to see:

For Madaba and map

This will give you a glimpse into the local feelings and happenings in Jordan.

A sugar bird in Nevis Visit our Kent St. John Page with links to all his stories. Read more GoNOMAD stories about Jordan

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Kent St John

Kent St John

Kent St. John was GoNOMAD's Senior Travel Editor since the website was founded in 2000. During that time he circled the globe many times, visiting more than 80 countries. Sadly, he passed away on Thanksgiving Day in 2012. He had an appreciation of subtleties, always finding a way to capture the nuances and essences of a destination, whether he was whale-watching in Nova Scotia, riding the rails in Australia, bungee jumping in China or worshipping the sun on a beach in Brazil.