Notes from Madaba and the Dead Sea

Nobuko, my travel-the-world friend, is posting from Madaba and the Dead Sea.

Madaba is a small town, 40km and a world away from Amman and also renounced for its Christian settlement. The Palace Hotel in Amman had a sister hotel in Madaba, so they shuttled me there for free. Well, NOTHING is really free in Jordan. But that’s how they put it. The hotel in Madaba was far from the city center, about a 30-minute walk, if you don’t get lost, that is. This was s contrary to what I was told before: a 10-minute walk to the town center. But it was a clean place. I give them that much. 17ND for a single. Jordan was stripping my wallet in just three days.

I ventured out to find the town center, following the map and verbal directions, accompanied by hand gestures given by the front desk staff. But I got lost. It seems that perhaps in Jordan left means right, or people don’t know what is left and right. I ended up going the complete opposite way. By the way, maps serve no purpose here: people don’t know how to read them. They will just turn it around, look puzzled, and turn it around some more just for the heck of it.

A police car with two officers passed, and not even they could read the map on their own, with Arabic indications. They were nice enough to give me a ride to the city center, but one of them tried to charge me. The other one pacified the greedy one, thank God. This type of “Nice gestures, that end in money making” schemes would repeat itself throughout my stay in Jordan, and strongly color my opinion of its people here (not a nice one as you can guess).

Once I got to the center, I continued to be lost. The map is not well written, not even correct. I found four young Jordanians from Amman, the sole exception to the general public who I’ve found to be greedy, liars, and distasteful. They suggested that we go around together. They could not even find some places, so this made me feel less stupid. We managed to find St. Jorge Church and a museum.

The next day, I went to the Dead Sea and the Jordan river where Jesus was baptized by John the Baptist. Jordan is a hard place for an independent tourist to get around: the lack of public transportation options (hitch hiking is not recommended), the high cost of a taxi, the mob network of taxi drivers and hotels, and the Jordanians’ inability to read maps make this country one of the worst places to travel cheaply. I ended up hiring a taxi for 40 ND for a day to visit only three places.

The Dead Sea was very nice. The Amman Beach is a public one and costs 16 ND to enter instead of 40 at private hotel beaches. It has a shower facility and locker. If you want mud smeared on you, that’s an extra 3 JD. Remember, nothing is free here. I’m surprised they don’t charge for the oxygen you breathe. I went early in the morning and it was not crowded. I floated for about two hours – it is even hard to stand up, because of the very high salt content. And the skin feels very smooth afterwards. This was better than any spa treatments I had received in my life.

The next destination was the Jordan river. Both the Palestinian side (West Bank, aka Israel) and the Jordan side capitalize on this river to which so many biblical stories are attached. At one point, the river is only about 20 meters wide, so you can greet tourists on the other side. There are die-hard Christians who bring themselves and their babies to be baptized in this river. Apparently, Israel got control of the water flow of the Jordan river, so it is affecting the fresh water supply to the Dead Sea. As a result, the Dead Sea is shrinking. Soon, there will only be a mass of crystallized salt there. After taking a break at my hotel room for two hours, I was taken to a sunset point overlooking the Dead Sea, with Jericho on the West Bank and Jerusalem in the distance.

But the entire time I was trying to enjoy the view, the driver was giving  his spiel on whatever else he could sell me – tours to this and that place, shopping at this and that, shops which are presumably owned by his “uncles” or “cousins”.

At the hotel, I met two French people and we decided to share a taxi to get to Petra (there is no regular bus from Madaba to Petra, and though buses exist that connect Madaba to other towns in between Madaba and Petra, it’s time consuming). Even this decision was altered by the hotel staff who basically forced us to take their driver, and tampering with our itinerary. But at 22 IS per person, compared to me going alone and paying 66, it was still a good deal.

The next day, we hit five places before getting to Petra, most of which we spent only 45 minutes. When arrived in Petra, we could not get out of the taxi without hearing even more sales pitches. It’s one thing for them to talk, but these people try to make you feel bad about your plan, or your plan is a poor one. I was so happy to be out of that taxi.

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