The Dead Sea, Aqaba and Wadi Rum - 23rd to
25th December 2007
The Dead Sea, at 1312ft below sea level, is the lowest point on earth (so I guess I should be planning my ascent of Everest now).
After lunch we changed and trudged down to the sandy beach by the Dead Sea shore for a 'swim'.
The Dead Sea is fed from the Jordan river, but as it has no outlet the rapid evaporation creates a high salt and mineral concentration in the water, around 10 times that of sea water. The sea is 'dead' because the high salinity means nothing other than minute quantities of bacteria and fungi can live in the water.
Jordan and Israel have increased their use of the Jordan river water for irrigation over the decades and this had had a dramatic effect on the Dead Sea. The water level has dropped by over 50 feet and the overall area has shrunk by a third. Our tour guide said that, if nothing is done to reverse the trend, the Dead Sea could disappear altogether in as little as 70 years.
The Dead Sea area has year round sun with dry air and low pollution, combined with a higher than average oxygen content in the air and lower than usual UV thanks to the low elevation. This has made the Dead Sea a popular destination for varied treatments and therapies. The most famous are Dead Sea salt and mud products. Of course we had an opportunity to purchase a selection from a company called Dolmen Black Iris.
There are 26 minerals in the dead sea salt products, including magnesium, sodium, potassium, calcium, bromide, copper and lithium. Dead Sea mud products include facial mud masks and body mud.
The high mineral content of the Dead Sea will aggravate any small cuts you have making them sting. They advise you not to shave the day of the swim. But one thing they don't mention is how sharp and painful the rocks are! I recommend some serious foot protection if you want to wade out into the dead sea, as one of our group managed to cut his feet and toes and bled profusely.
Lying in the waters of the Dead Sea, floating high in the water, is a really weird experience. I look forward to returning on a more relaxed schedule.
Once everyone had showered and changed we boarded the bus for a long drive south to Aqaba.
The next morning was free to explore. Aqaba is Jordan's only sea port and vital to the economy. The Red Sea has great diving and there are a variety of water sports on offer. There are tours from Aqaba to Wadi Rum, and in the afternoon we took a drive to the desert 'Valley of the Moon'.
Wadi Rum is linked with T.E. Lawrence, better known as Lawrence of Arabia, and David Lean's 1962 movie made extensive use of Wadi Rum as the backdrop to his inaccurate but dramatic telling of the events of the Arab Revolt.
After passing through the visitors centre you see the magnificent Seven Pillars of Wisdom. Allegedly given the name by T.E. Lawrence and said to be the inspiration for his book, in fact the book's title had been chosen long before he came to Wadi Rum.
Our visit to Wadi Rum included a 4 wheel drive tour of the desert followed by dinner in a Bedouin tent. I think we were all surprised when we saw the 4 wheel drive vehicles; rusting old Toyota pickup trucks!
We strode towards the vehicles, choosing the one we thought would be most reliable and comfortable, and set off.
About a mile or so into the desert we had our first casualty. The small blue Toyota died. I've read that some tours do this deliberately to heighten the rugged 'adventure' spirit of the journey, but one look at our tour guide Akmed's face suggested that this was not a standard part of the tour.
Talking of Akmed, I must say he looks to me like Jordan's answer to Jeremy Clarkson. An I the only one that can see a resemblance?
We shuffled around making room for the stranded passengers and continued on our way, passing some amazing rock formations and strange ancient graffiti. Unfortunately we didn't pass any of the natural rock arches that would have made great photos.
There was also a chance for a short camel ride. Camels are one of my favourite four footed transports so I had to have a go.
We were taken to watch the sunset, then we reached the Bedouin tent to enjoy a tasty buffet dinner.
Fortunately the coach was able to meet us there so there was no concern regarding travelling in the back of a pickup truck at night!
The next day was Christmas Day and we were flying home. But there was time for one more excursion, a semi submersible boat allowing viewing of the reef.
My time in Jordan was memorable and I would recommend it to anyone that appreciates historical sites, culture and religion, and natural wonders.