After Petra there were several other stops in Jordan I wanted to hit before moving on, however, by sheer lack of public transportation anywhere in Jordan and without a car and the fact that Jordan had been screwing our budget since day one, we decided to cut our losses, do our last "must do" stuff and just get out.
Our next stop was to Madaba. We got dropped off at the local bus stop and waited about an hour for the bus to fill up before leaving. At one point our bus stopped and a fully uniformed police man got on. Knowing the drill by this point, Bridger and I both instinctively and immediately reached for our passports to show him...until he sat down. Turns out he was just a policeman riding the bus haha! Unfortunately this bus didn't go direct to Madaba but we were told we could just get dropped off at a junction to Madaba and another bus would be by shortly. So sure enough, we were dropped at the junction-a busy highway overpass and left to hike along it with all our stuff to the other side, the direction where buses would be headed to Madaba. Luckily we had Google maps to tell us which exact direction this was! Amazingly, after 5 minutes another minibus showed up and stopped without even us flagging it-obviously two tourists on the side of the road with all their stuff could only mean one thing. We arrived to Madaba shortly after, the bus stopped several times but not at a true bus stop like we were waiting for...so it soon became clear to the local people on the bus that we were just gonna keep sitting, probably right on through Madaba. So the guy behind us asked where we were going, told the bus driver where to stop and then pointed to a guy across in the other seat and said "this guy will show you where to go". We thanked him alot and got off the bus. But apparently "this guy" didn't get the memo that he was supposed to show us the way because he just kept on walking! We did our best by map when about 20 feet down the road, he turned around and came back to direct us...it was like he just totally forgot he was allotted to set us straight! We started on our way according to his directions but inevitably we ended up lost only knowing the general vague direction we were supposed to be traveling in based on Google maps. We stopped at the visitor centre to ask for directions but didn't even get in before someone asked us in very broken English if we needed help. He didn't know our hotel so I showed him the map and the name of our reserved hotel in Arabic and he seemed to understand, said it was close and said he'd take us...by leading us on foot. At first we were feeling pretty positive until we had walked for a long ass time and when I looked on my Google map, we were going in the opposite direction of the hotel! But the guy just kept on walking. I tried to explain we were going the opposite way but he didn't speak enough English to understand so he just kept walking and we just kept following, not sure how to escape from this situation! Eventually he proudly pointed to a hotel...an incorrect hotel and I said "no, this isn't our place!" but language barriers prevailed. At this point I'd say we had walked like a km and I think he had no idea where we wanted to go and was just taking us to hotels he knew were frequented by tourists (I had seen the ones he was pointing out in reviews and stuff online), not sure if this was just out of the goodness of his heart or he was after a tip or something, we don't know. Eventually a taxi pulled up and tried to hijack us (we are pieces of meat, didn't you know?!) but at this point we just needed to get away so as politely as we could we tried to explain to our guy what was up and got in the taxi and drove away, as expected in the total opposite direction, leaving him on the street a km and some odd steps away from where he started! We felt terrible! Luckily this taxi knew where our hotel was and dropped us direct there...followed by a plug for further business as a driver for tours tomorrow.
The big draw in this area is a visit to the Dead Sea, a body of water with some the highest salt content in the world. Unfortunately public transit to/from here is spotty/nonexistent (surprise) so ultimately without our own car we were forced to go by "taxi tour" which was about 60 CDN for the taxi alone and then we had to pay entrance fees ourselves. The tour also included a visit to Mount Nebo, the site where Moses first looked down on the promised land. The other options for this day were to go canyoning through a water filled canyon which sounded adventurous and awesome or to go to "Bethany Beyond the Jordan", the site where Jesus was baptized in the Jordan river by John the Baptist. Given both of our Christian roots and the fact that we're plodding through such a biblically and historically significant area, Bethany won out.
The first stop on our private taxi tour was Mount Nebo. It was a pretty quick stop but actually much more interesting and surprisingly, moving and powerful than expected. They had a small exhibit with some history of the area and then a viewing platform where you could view what Moses viewed of the promised land. From the viewing platform you could see the Dead Sea and Jericho in the distance. Overall quite a well kept and serene sight and worth the few bucks admission.
Our next stop was Bethany Beyond the Jordan. The Jordan river is at the bottom of a valley so our taxi meandered down constant switchbacks, our ears popping. A guided tour of this area is mandatory because it is a highly sensitive site militarily, being literally meters away from the Israeli border. There was military presence and checkpoints along the entire way though we seemed to sail through with ease. We had to buy our ticket and then be shuttled down with the other tourists on a big bus.
Once off, our first stop was the actual baptism site of Jesus, however, the Jordan River had since changed course so what remained was a small dirty pool of water.
We continued on to where the Jordan River is today and it was crazy because it really was just a narrow (like 5m) patch of muddy water with Israel on the other side.
It was crazy because the Jordanian (primarily Muslim) side is obviously not used for baptisms often and is mostly natural forest and gardens and quite lovely, where the Israeli side of the border is used regularly for baptisms and is very developed with concrete structures, guard rails and baptismal pools. While we were there there was a actually a mass baptism going on on the Israeli side. At the same time as that, a lady from our group slipped and fell into the river so we obviously made jokes comparing an Israeli baptism to a "Jordanian baptism" :) Later that evening we watched "Prince of Egypt" on Netflix to further buffer up our religious background knowledge!
Our last stop was to the Dead Sea but the options for visiting were pretty limited. It is mostly lined by luxury hotels so you could pay the super expensive hotel fee for access to their beach. Or you could go to Amman Beach which is the mid-range tourist "resort", the right to wear a bikini coming in at a hefty 20JD (almost 40CDN) entrance fee. I had also read that there is a public beach with basic showering/change facilities for half the price of Amman Beach but you obviously had to swim clothed as it would not be acceptable to be in a bathing suit on a local public beach. The other options is if you have a car you could just go to anywhere along the side of the sea and get in, though you wouldn't have any showers for cleaning off after. Our preference was the local beach for cheap with basic facilities, forfeiting bathing suits. I asked for this and the taxi driver basically informed us that we were going to "Amman Beach" because there is no other beach. Ok fine then, we're going to the Dead Sea for sure so I guess we'll pay the piper because that's just how it goes. Once again, Amman Beach was a piss off. With that insane amount of money for admission, they clearly could not be bothered to funnel any of it back into the place because the lockers and change rooms were broken, they had old shitty plastic lawn chairs, the place was dirty, the shower knobs were all broken with a crap water stream, couldn't be bothered to clean the pool where you wash your feet and they charged you extra for dead sea mud. Made all the worse when we went to the beach and found out that the public beach was right.next.door. Seriously, it was separated by a metal guard rail. It was such a blatant gouge but by this point we had come to expect it in Jordan unfortunately.
But also again, Jordan's attractions sell themselves and the Dead Sea was no exception! I believe it is the lowest point on earth being some 1000 feet below sea level and has something like 35% salt content-high enough that it basically kills all life, hence the "Dead Sea". Entering the water comes with warnings posted on signs/from reading other visitor reviews: don't get it your eyes/ears/mouth because it burns terribly, don't shave a day or two prior to coming or don't go in with cuts because it burns terribly and don't try to swim on your stomach because several people have drowned attempting this because your legs float higher than your head or something. Noted. The water was literally full of these super thick salt shelves and there were small salt crystals littering the beach.
We walked in and the water actually feels thick and slimy, though not to the extent I think I was expecting nor did I feel as much resistance while walking in as I expected...until I attempted to lay down and literally just popped up, floating/laying on top of the water. We took the obligatory "reading a book in the Dead Sea" pictures and of course, we had to taste the water.
We each honestly took one drop on our tongue and my gosh...a burn completely disproportionate to the amount we were floating! Bridger had held on to the belief that he would dunk his head in it up until that moment where the sheer burn of one drop of water on your tongue made the prospect of getting that water in your eyes unbearable even in our heads! After this we experimented on different ways you could float-this was what really blew our minds and where it got really fun to play in the water. Of course we tried the "don't do it" float on your front. We didn't swim but the float was fine and we weren't sure what the fuss was about. We tried kneeling/sitting cross legged in deeper water and the sensation was very similar to hovering mid water...incredible. The best one was where we walked from shallow to deep where your feet just lifted off the bottom and we kept walking and just continued to float upright at about armpit level, a feeling akin to walking on water. We later tried the same position in the pool and sunk so that just the top of our heads were sticking out.
Bridger commented that this is probably the closest we'll ever feel to weightlessness which was true and also so awesome. Mud from the Dead Sea supposedly has minerals that are so good for your body so there are so many dead sea cosmetic products out there. We decided to skip on the $5 bucket of pay mud and just go dig some mud out of the sea ourselves to smear it on our bodies to experience these mineral effects.
We also decided to experiment whether we could give Bridger a Dead Sea mud beard. It was mostly unsuccessful.
Sure it was a great time, our skin felt decently smooth after we took it off but that was short lived after the drying effect of the salt water kicked in! Good fun regardless though and off course we scooped out a ball of it to throw in a plastic bag and take home...
We were in and out of the water and soon realized that anything that the water touched would be covered in grime that could not be removed until you washed it in fresh water. My sunglasses were smeared no matter how many times I rubbed them with cloth, your skin was covered in salt as were your clothes. All good until Bridger took the GoPro in and dunked it under the water...just like I told him not to. After this, we later found out, all our pics were blurry because the lens was covered in grimy salt slime. Luckily we were almost done so we didn't lose too many pictures. We had such a blast at the Dead Sea but eventually it was time to get back in that taxi and go. Still miffed about the "no public cheaper beach", I politely but entrappingly asked our taxi driver "ooh what is that beach?" and "how much is that beach?" as we drove by. He said it is a beach for Arabic people and it costs 12JD. Ha, like hell in the land of 50 to 1 tourist/local pricing that locals are paying 12JD to go...so obviously that's the tourist price so obviously tourists go there if they have pricing for them. If I was thinking clearly beyond my lividness I should have said "Oh how much do locals pay?" and when he gave me the obviously cheaper price, I would have entrapped him into admitting that tourists go. So be warned, I'm 100% certain that people get a nice big commission for taking people to the jackoff that is Amman Beach.
On the drive back into town the driver said we could stop at a local handicraft market that has the cheapest prices...like really, our driver has been to all the places and this one is definitely the cheapest. Hmm, interesting...all of a sudden he is concerned about saving us money! We said we would stop to look but probably wouldn't buy anything. We were welcomed in and staff showed us the place where they make the mosaics that Jordan is famous for, some by people in wheelchairs as it appeared (the same guy who later crossed his legs in his wheelchair so obviously not paralyzed, possibly not even having a disability?!). The place, as expected was grossly overpriced for those package tourists coming through and there was intense pressure. We were literally followed around the store with our own private consultant up-selling everything. "She'll give us a good price/you need souvenirs for family from Jordan/no tourists here so people can't make money/we can ship it home for you" and it went on. They had an answer for everything. At one point they tried to sell Bridger a knife for almost 500CDN "so we can protect ourselves". To which I cunningly (if I do say so!) replied "Oh is Jordan dangerous?" knowing full well that given the current state of 0 tourist Jordan, they could not afford to be letting that message spread, so obviously they backpedaled quickly haha. I think in the end we left, much to their disappointment, with a small bag of tea for less than $5. It was almost more embarrassing to buy that than buy nothing but alas, we purchased the tea and got the hell out of there. Realizing once again that ultimately nobody is there to get you, the tourist, the best deal as loyalty will always lie with "their people" making money from you. This includes hotels and along the way, it's can sometimes be one of the drags that you can't trust anybody who has a vested interest in your cash and therefore, it can be really difficult to get impartial information!
We got back to our hotel and I said I wasn't sure if I was going to shower. Bridger laughed because it would be in typical me style to visit the saltiest place on earth, be covered in salty grime and decline a shower! I gave in and had a shower, though the water pressure was barely enough to cover you with water let alone deep clean the grime out of everything. On Bridger's turn, halfway through his shower the water turned scalding hot so he couldn't get the nice lather off his body or out of his hair. I had to go get the hotel guy who was unable to fix it so Bridger wandered his soapy body in a towel down the hallway to another private room shower. Unfortunately we found out that the hotel didn't do laundry but the amazing receptionist who was just amazing across the board gave us a bucket and some laundry soap so we could clean the 14 pounds of salt out of our clothes before we ruin them. At this hotel we were also lucky enough to have a tv in our room, unlucky enough to see a breaking news story in all Arabic of riots and protests. This we realized is very unnerving for a traveler when you know there is newsworthy turmoil though you can't understand what/where or who. And you just hope you don't happen to be busing/flying there soon.
We decided to take one extra day in Madaba to sleep in and just not move. We went to a church with an impressive stone mosaic map of the world inside. Interesting to note was the abaya options for sale--instead of the long black curtain stereotypical of the Middle East, Jordanian women had endless choices of long, colored, buttoned, designed, what looked like trench coats but I assume were modern, fashionable abayas to express their individuality. The only other thing of interest was the thriving lingerie market not seen anywhere else in the Middle East (or world thus far!). Most stores had a rack of unmentionables hung outside blowing in the wind.
While we were out and about a clearly intoxicated guy bee-lined directly towards us with a big smile, shook our hands, and in very broken English asked us where we were from, asked if we had a baby, if we wanted a coffee and then said bye. Odd but entertaining.
Overall Jordan is a fabulous country with so many amazing people and activities/sights to offer but our experience was a bit tainted by frustration over the financial gouge and the relative inaccessibility of all the things worth seeing for an independent backpacker. I would absolutely recommend Jordan, however, this is how you do Jordan right so that you experience the best of it without the frustration as we did: Go to Jordan on your two week holiday with the money you saved and planned to spend and live it up. Rent a car to get to all these places. Enjoy!
Our plan was to head to Turkey right after Jordan but we decided to make a last minute detour through Israel. Turns out to fly out of Amman, Jordan was about $250 more expensive than to fly out of Israel so we thought we might as well get something out of that 250 and travel through Israel with it. Our plan was to go overland through the border to Jerusalem, spend a few days there and then spend a few days in Tel Aviv, the capital before flying out. Not in the original plans, but hey, that's why we're on a one way ticket!