The Dead Sea (strictly speaking it’s a lake)

Complete set of photos from the Dead Sea and Karak Castle

The Dead Sea is 423 metres below sea level and the lowest point on earth that is not covered by water.  It has a micro-climate that makes it warmer than the surrounding countryside.  While we had been in the mountains of Jordan it felt freezing at times but down at the Dead Sea it was t-shirt weather.

There were a group of ocker Aussie lads at the resort who didn’t really make us feel homesick.  Rick got talking to one of them who was in his 70s and travelling overseas for the first time.  He lives in the Dandenong Ranges near Melbourne which is a lovely part of the world but probably doesn’t prepare you for travelling through Cairo and Jordan.  He seemed to be taking it in his stride but mentioned that he was meeting his wife in South Africa to visit their nephew who works for the Australian Federal Police.  It was to be his wife’s first time travelling overseas as well.  He said, “Have you heard the expression ‘shitting yourself’?” he asked rhetorically.

The sad part of the resort were all the Philippino waitresses doing work contracts for two years or more.  The two we spoke to also had young children living back in the Philippines which must be heart-breakingly difficult to cope with.

Obviously we hadn’t come here to lounge around a resort so after breakfast we headed down to the beach and jumped in the water.  It is a truly surprising experience to swim in the Dead Sea.  Even though you know it’s going to feel different nothing really prepares you for how strange it feels to be that buoyant.  Even though they recommend that you don’t put your face under the water Rick strapped his trusty goggles on and tried to do some freestyle.  He just killed himself laughing after a few strokes.  He couldn’t keep his legs under the water.  It’s quite difficult to balance in the extra salty water other than on your back.  With a bit of effort you can swing your legs under and float upright but it’s easy to topple one way or the other.  The water is around 35% salt compared to a normal sea salt level of 3.5%.  Salt crystals are scattered on the shore.  The reason it’s so salty here is that there is no outlet for the water and not too much rain.  The water flows in from the mountains surrounding the sea bringing salt and minerals with them.  The rest is just down to evaporation.

The other attraction of the Dead Sea is the mud.  It is thought to have healing properties so Rick, Jackie and Sarah slapped it all over themselves.  There was free mud available on the beach and they spared no exposed skin.  The mud quickly starts to dry and begins to look like an elephant hide.  They washed off in the sea, unfortunately getting some extremely salty water in their eyes in the process.  I’m not sure the mud did their skin a hell of a lot of good.  Sarah got a rash on her stomach and Ricks legs were pretty itchy afterwards.

We were surprised by how clean the water was.  Usually when the Dead Sea is featured on TV there’s all sorts of crap floating around in it but the water where we were was crystal blue.  The water feels strange on your skin, like it’s leaving a film of something on there.  Not sticky but slightly slick.

On the way south driving along the Dead Sea we came to the Wadi Mujib nature reserve which unfortunately was closed, not that we had time to do much of a walk anyway.  We did the equivalent of just sticking our head into the spectacular canyon where it meets the Dead Sea.  There is often flash flooding and the water can get to close the level of the bridge (the last bridge was washed away).  The reserve closes at this time of year precisely because of the risk of flash flood washing walkers away, but it would be fantastic to do a long hike in there.

Towards the south end of the Dead Sea we took a turn to the East heading back up into the mountains.  The views back down were spectacular.  We were heading up towards Al Karak castle which towers above the valley.  Another day, another ruin to clamber all over.  This castle was built by the crusaders when they were trying to gain an influence over the area.  They certainly didn’t do anything in half measures.  It doesn’t sound like they went on a charm offensive either.  The ruler of the castle at one stage used to throw prisoners from the top of the castle as an execution.  He devised a wooden device to be put over their head so that they couldn’t see and would be less likely to faint on the way down.  It seems he wanted them to be alive when they met their death many metres below.

Jordan is by no means an oppressive regime.  The king is moderate (you can look at his interview on Jon Stewart’s show for evidence) and his relaxed demeanour flows through the country.  For all that there is still the feeling that women are not on an equal footing.  We had less interaction with women during our trip and at least in the day-to-day life that we saw around us as tourists it is dominated by men.  The younger generation might be an exception to this, and whether this carries on into the future will be interesting to see.  At Karak castle a group of young girls were sitting around chatting and playing games.  As I walked past one girl said to me, “My friend dared me to speak to you, so I am.  Hello,” to a chorus of giggles.

As the photos show we arrived at Karak castle as the sun was going down, which it seemed to do faster and faster each day.  Each day on the trip we seemed to be in a totally different settingthan the beginning of the day, so fast was the pace, and this was no exception.  We still had a couple of hours to drive in the gathering dark to our sleeping spot for the night at Dana.  It was a pity the night was pitch black as we drove up and down a couple of mountains in what felt like beautiful scenery.  There was just a thin crescent moon to accompany us.  The signs on this road were pitiful so although we knew we had to head south, any time we came to a town the way became less clear and Rick would jump out to ask someone directions. It felt like it was taking longer than it should which was a problem because we had agreed to have dinner at the lodge which was served at exactly 6:30, a group buffet.  We eventually rocked up closer to 7pm and grabbed our dinner while the other guests relaxed next to the fire.

That evening the hotel manager said to me while we were sitting by the fire, “Do you mind if I ask you a question?”.  He was Jordanian and looked like he had some Bedouin heritage.  “Of course not”, I replied.  I was wearing my five finger shoes and he was curious about them.  He said, “When I first saw your shoes I thought ‘They are special’.  I mean, I thought that you were disabled”.  He’s probably not the first to think that.  I explained the benefits and he thought they would be could for trekking through the streams around Dana.  At first glance the rooms at the lodge didn’t look like much.  They had shared bathrooms and bunk beds (each couple got a room each luckily) but in the end it was one of the best sleeps on our trip.  The rooms were comfortable, quiet and warm which is really all you can ask.

Complete set of photos from the Dead Sea and Karak Castle

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