Finally, it was time to leave the lowest point on Earth as we turned left into the snaking road that leads to the town of Kerak. Four hundred metres higher, there was a road sign that indicated where we touched sea level. As in throughout this region, the arid scenery was breathtaking with interesting rock formations and deep gorges.
The southern shore of the Dead Sea is where Jordan and Israel meet again. The fall in the level of the Dead Sea is most visible here, with much of the new land is being used as salt mines. There is also extensive agriculture despite the lack of rain, which is compensated for by the deep depression in the land that allows for wells to be drilled easily. There is also a small Jordanian village (al-Mazra'a) that seems so far away from civilization.
The Dead Sea is a natural wonder! Its shore is 420 metres below sea level, making it the lowest dry point on our planet, where the air feels thicker and much warmer than the cliffs above. The salty water mass fills the lowest point in the Jordan Rift Valley, a deep depression created by a split between tectonic plates millions of years ago (one which also created the Red Sea). The eastern shores belong to Jordan while the western shores are split between Palestine and Israel (though the Israeli military controls the entire shore as part of its continued occupation of the West Bank). The high salt content of the waters makes the Dead Sea (which is really a lake) devoid of marine life, hence its name, but these rich minerals give its water and mud the healing properties that have attracted people for millennia. Unfortunately, falling water tables in the Middle East due to continued drought and excessive use of the waters of the River Jordan upstream have resulted in a rapid drop in the level of water in the Dead Sea. This is clearly visible as one walks to the shore where older (higher) sea level is visible.
The spectacular Wadi Majib carves its way through the arid cliffs of Jordan and snakes its way all the way down to the eastern shore of the Dead Sea. A quick stop along the Dead Sea Highway for the attached photo is a must during the long drive to Petra. For those with more time, hiking trails and a spa are located upstream, though they are only accessible from the upper end of the valley rather from where I took this photo.
After a quick dip in the Dead Sea followed by lunch at the Movenpick, we drove south on the Dead Sea Highway as we continued our way to Petra. The views were equally stunning through out the way and towards the southern half of the Dead Sea we could see Israel on the other side.
So close, yet so far away... Palestine is clearly visible from the Jordanian shores of the Dead Sea and precisely beyond these arid cliffs lie Jerusalem and Bethlehem. I just hope to make it there one of those days...
Indeed you float easily in the waters of the Dead Sea. It is one of those things you hear about but do not fully believe until you actually try it. The sensation is bizarre, not only because of floating, but also because the water itself feels somewhat oily because of the high mineral content. I also found it a little too cool for comfort in December, but perhaps it's much more refreshing in warmer months. If you plan to take a dip, it is advisable to bring some sort of waterproof footwear as this person had done (something I hadn't thought of). This makes walking on the rocky bottom much easier.
Because of the high mineral content of its mud and waters, they are thought to have healing powers. Many people come here to get a Dead Sea mud treatment followed by a dip in the water. One look at these lovely ladies made me skip the mud treatment altogether and go straight for the water...
Just north of the Dead Sea on the River Jordan is the site of the Baptism of Jesus Christ in Bethany-Beyond-The-Jordan. It is called "al-Maghtas" in Arabic. Due to time constraints, we skipped a visit to the site but were content to be close enough to it to see the road sign in the attached photo.
The drive from Madaba and Mount Nebo to the Dead Sea and the Jordan Valley is simply spectacular! The descent is amplified by the fact that the shores of the Dead Sea are approximately 420 metres below sea level and Mount Nebo is at an altitude of over 800 metres, resulting in 1200-1300 metres vertical drop. Attached are a few photos.
The St Georges Church is world famous for it's beautiful old mosaic.
At the counter, you can ask for a detailed map of the mosaic. This way, it becomes more clear whar you see...
The mosaic is an old map of the Middle East. You can clearly distinct the Nile Delta, Jeruzalem and other places.
By the way, that's the one and only reason to visit this dull little town. The Archeological Museum and one other Museum can be missed.