For the past two weeks, Your Man in Abu Dhabi is now Your Man in Amman. Being the Best and Brightest, you already know Amman is in Jordan and in addition to being the capital, it is the most populous city is the country. It is also one of the oldest cities in the world. Jordan itself contains some of the oldest historical sites in the world; including a Roman coliseum, aqueducts and several biblical sites.
At my disposal is a rented 2006 Ford Explorer. So I elected to adopt the name my persona, for a least a day and embark on a mini-pilgrimage along the Dead Sea.
Updated in 2006, the Explorer was put on a new frame and became slightly larger. It also came with a revised cabin, redesigned rear suspension and power-folding third-row seats. This particular well-worn 43,000 mile example is equipped with the standard 210 hp 4.0L 12-valve SOHC V-6 and 5R55W five-speed auto. It also has the standard tire pressure monitoring system (currently broken) along with power seats, locks and pretty capable AC.
Just past 9 AM, I plugged in my iPhone to the plain headphone aux input and hit random. After I was greeted with “Diane” by Material Issue, I set off. Amman has an English speaking pop radio station, but they are in love with new single from Miley Cyrus. I would rather run a carpenter’s plane halfway down my shin.
It was the second day of Eid al-Fitr, the end of the Holy Month of Ramadan and the roads were deserted. Most of the stores were closed and the majority of folks were off work for four days. I was grateful; Amman is a challenging place to drive, 2nd only to Riyadh Saudi Arabia in my experience. This particular Ramadan has been bad according to an article in the local paper.
Just outside of the city, the fuel gauge displayed ¼, so I topped off the 22.5 gallon tank. Jordan is not an oil rich country. Gasoline prices are closely regulated by the government, but locals still pay 0.95 Dinar per liter, or just over $5 a gallon. The beast swallows 40 liters to fill the tank, costing me 42 Dinar, just under $60. Ouch.
Even without the V8, the Explorer made easy work of climbing the hills outside of Amman and gracefully descended into the Dead Sea valley. The roads aren’t smooth, but for the region not bad. It’s all blacktop with large sections repaired without repaving the whole stretch. The big truck soaked up the irregularities as you would expect. What was surprising is how well the truck handled. It is not sports car, but previous experiences with vehicles of this size have not been this good. The drive is just over 25 miles. Coming down the mountains, the roadside stands sell cheap inflatable pool toys for the tourists headed to the Dead Sea.
My first stop is the Baptism site on the Jordan River. At the bottom of the last hill is a fork in the road, the site is to the right. The road immediately becomes a 2 lane through goat farms and in less than 2 miles I have arrived.
Until 1994 the entire zone was off limits, but the Israel-Jordan peace accord opened the area to visitors. You usually cannot drive directly to the site itself, but my timing coincides with a full bus. The tour guide elects to ride with me and we follow the bus to the actual river after getting special permission to drive a POV into the area. Take that punctuality!
The river is more of a creek, and at the actual point of entry into the water, you are less than 6 feet from Israeli tourists doing the same thing on the other side. With the opening of the area, every major denomination of orthodox Catholics have started construction of churches, there are 5 being built but only one is in operation, a Greek Orthodox St John the Baptist on The Jordan River.
After the hour long guided tour, I climb into the Explorer and continue to the Dead Sea, the ultimate destination of the Jordan River. Recently declared a free trade zone by the Jordanian monarchy, several high end resorts have sprouted up; more are underway and large homes gaze upon the valley. At the same time, cheesy tourist traps offered camel rides and questionably constructed roadside shed sold snacks, soft drinks and swim trunks.
At 1,385 feet below sea level, the shore of the Dead Sea is lowest point of dry land on the planet. The water is hyper saturated with salt, rendering humans quite buoyant. The mud is fabled for medicinal qualities. Indeed as I pull to the shore, swimmers are already in the water and many sit on the shore caking their bodies with the green, clay-like mud. I forgo the swim, but make it a point to wade in. When will I get this chance again?
The clay bottom squished under my feet and remnants stayed between my toes the rest of the day. I returned to the Explorer and continued south.
But that part of story will have to wait until tomorrow.