Tuesday, April 20, 2010

The Land of Milk and Honey

Matt finally got a day off yesterday, so we got to go see some sights!  Hiring a car from the hotel to take us everywhere was way too expensive, but we were not to be daunted in our quest.  So desperate were we to go check out the sights outside the city, that we decided to go a little random and take a shuttle from the hotel to the Dead Sea, and from there we thought we could just flag a taxi to take us to our other interests.  Not so.  First of all, the Dead Sea, while it has resorts galore, has no city to speak of around it, thus no public taxis zooming around like we thought.  We ended up having the front desk at the Dead Sea public beach call a cab for us, much to the dismay of our shuttle driver.  I guess he thought we were using him for the ride...
View of the Promised Land from Mt. Nebo             

Anyway, from there we went first to Mt. Nebo, where Moses led his people and looked out over the Promised Land.  Poor guy didn't make it, though.  He got to see it, but then he died.  Matt said something about how God had told him he wasn't going to get to go, but he'd get to look upon it.  I am not current on my Bible stories, so I have no recollection of this.  Anyway, the mountain was pretty cool, but not a lot to see up there... which was good because we were in a time crunch trying to get back to the Dead Sea and swim before our shuttle left.                                                                        
Staff on Mt. Nebo
After Mt. Nebo, we drove about 45 minutes away to Bethany-on-the-Jordan, the place where John the Baptist baptized Jesus.  I know, it sounds like we were on a religious pilgrimage or something, right?  Not so.  Just a historical one, I guess.  The baptism place was really pretty cool... not because of the sights really, but just from a spiritual and historical standpoint.  Our guide was non-intentionally hilarious as he repeated everything he said at least three times, I guess to make sure everyone understood him.  He'd point to a map and say, "This is the river Jordan.  The Jordan River.  The Jordan River.  The Jordan River!"  We got it, dude.      We walked along that important river through the trees until we came to the place where "John was baptized Jesus Christ.  Where John was baptized Jesus Christ..." You get it.  It's really just a small pool with old stone structures from a church that was once there.  They said they found an iron cross in the bottom of that pool from the time of Jesus.  Either that or they've placed a new water pipeline... I didn't get too much from the guide, as you can see.  

The place where John the Baptist was baptized Jesus Christ

Anyway, then we walked to a place on the Jordan River (!) where you can touch the water and feel holy.  Matt and I both dipped in quickly without thinking much of it, but it was really cool to watch these old men with us who washed their rosaries off and said prayers in the water.  You'd think all these Christian holy places would be lost on someone like me who doesn't have a very religious background, but in any case, it was amazing to watch other people getting so much out of it.  And, of course, from a historical standpoint, it was incredible just to be in the place where such a huge historical figure had been.  Also, as Matt said, it was hard to get a spiritual feeling from the place when you had all these random workers walking around kicking rocks and smoking cigarettes.  They kind of ruined the heavenly feel.  Thanks, guys. 
Matt getting his Jordan River water
 Meanwhile, back at the river, they were having a service... in Chinese!  I kid you not, all these Chinese people were circled around a Chinese monk and priest who was reading from the bible.  It was incredible!  I couldn't get over the fact that we were in Jordan, a traditionally Muslim country, at a holy Christian site, with people from all over the world, and they were having church service in Chinese next to the Jordan River.  Tell me that's not cool.  

After that, we went to John the Baptist's new church (there were these two people making out next to it... like really going at it.  I think they were on their honeymoon... but really, making out where Jesus was baptized?  Get a room.) and then we headed back to the Dead Sea.  We only had a little more than an hour, but we made it worth it.  The Dead Sea is incredibly salty, and I guess that does something to the buoyancy because you can float like crazy!  It's actually hard not to float.  Matt, who has never floated in his life was bobbing around like a buoy and doing all these different poses.  It was really cool.

Us floating in the Dead Sea.

The salt does have its drawbacks, however.  It burns your skin like crazy, and it's very hard not to get it in your eyes or mouth.  There are also pots of "mineral mud" you can put on your body for the purifying benefits... but you have to pay, of course.  It was incredibly thick and slimy, and reminded me so much of the pictures of Aura from South America where she walked around covered in black mud for weeks.  Gross.  This probably wasn't the same stuff though, because as ours dried, it started flaking off.  After rinsing the mud off in the Dead Sea, and then rinsing and re-rinsing (and getting walked in on while I was naked in the shower by not one but two different women) we headed back to Amman in our shuttle.  All in all, a pretty great, if impossibly expensive, day.  Good thing Matt got per diem then.  We used it all plus some.
Don't we look good in mud?
So that was our first big Jordanian adventure.  We just went to Petra yesterday, but I don't have the time or energy to post about that yet.  Suffice it to say it was incredible... also incredibly expensive, but I'll save that story for later.  We are currently stuck in Jordan for the time being.  That volcano in Iceland has really put a damper on world travel, so we'll be here at least until Friday night/early Saturday morning.  We had planned to leave Tuesday night/Wednesday morning, but there just weren't any flights.  Matt got some weird e-mails from UOP yesterday saying he was going to Finland, but he never got clarification, and there was only one ticket (meaning I couldn't go and would be stuck here alone), so I think they scrapped that idea.  I hope.  Like I said, we're not really sure what's going on.  Anyway, that's the newest (sort of) news.  I'll try to post about Petra tomorrow or the next day.
A mosaic of His Majesty the King of Jordan.  They looove him.

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