The bizarre world of the Dead Sea
31.05.2012 - 01.06.2012
The Middle East holds some cities with amazing history. Cairo, Damascus, Jerusalem, the list is extensive. However, Amman (Jordan's capital) isn't among them. In fact, Amman's history as a capital city only began in 1921, with few fantastic tales and majestic buildings. Yet Amman has something that so many other cities in the region seem to lack. Order. Jordan has enjoyed relative political and economic stability within the region, and the streets of Amman appear to have a few more rules than the total chaos we experienced in Cairo. We used Amman as our base to explore the northern expanses of the country, enjoying some delicious falafel and hummus in our time off.
Of the many attractions in northern Jordan the Dead Sea and Wadi Mujib national park had most peeked our interest. Fortunately for us the Royal Society for the Conservation of Nature (Jordan's conservation organisation) happened to be running organised trips to both sites just when we reached Amman. We couldn't have been more lucky. Being one of the only substantial bodies of water in the whole country, the Dead Sea is a favourite beach destination for locals. On most days, the public beaches quickly fill with Jordanian families. Unlike these public beaches, we were in for a completely different, and more intimate, experience. Our organised trip included a night in the private RSCN chalets sitting only meters from the Dead Sea, and we were able to approach the shore with nobody else in sight. As we prepared ourselves for our salty swim, the sun began to set over the hills of Israel across the water. To say the Dead Sea is bizarre is an understatement. Rather than sand, the shores of the sea are covered in salt encrusted rocks. As you enter the water the extreme salinity gives you the feeling of entering an oily bath, and then finally you try to swim. The buoyancy of water means regular swimming is completely impossible, all you can really hope for is to float. And so we floated, calm and relaxed on the water watching the sun setting across the sea, illuminating the eerily still water with amazing shades of orange.
We awoke the next morning calm and relaxed, though stinging a bit from our salty dip the night before. The new day brought with it a completely new experience. The Dead Sea basin was once fed by many rivers, but many are now dammed or diverted to feed the thirsty populations of the region. One river still allowed to (mostly) run its full course is that of Wadi Mujib. To explore the Wadi Mujib canyon requires a sturdy pair of footwear and a willingness to get wet. We climbed to the start of the canyon, every direction we looked was dry and sandy, it seemed unbelievable that we were hiking to a river. Suddenly, though, we heard the sound of running water. Emerging from the desert we came across the entrance point to the Wadi. Our next few hours were spent clambering, crawling, slipping, sliding and sometimes floating our way through canyon. On both sides the sheer walls of the canyon soared into the air, curved and waving from years of erosion. It was hard to believe that beyond those walls lay desert. After a time we met the sheer drop of a waterfall. We strapped in, and abseiled one by one through the water and regrouped underneath the roaring torrent of water. After 5 hours of adventure, we finally emerged from the canyon. We could once again spot the Dead Sea in the distance, yet between us and it we spied the large pipes which divert the waters of the Wadi to quench the thirst of the dry land. We had followed Wadi Mujib so far, but the river would never reach its final destination. So important is water in the Jordan Valley the Dead Sea is shrinking by the day, as water is syphoned from her tributaries. Water scarcity simply provides another flashpoint to fight over in the already troubled region.
Jordan had given us so many fantastic experiences, from the arid beauty of Wadi Rum, the magnificence of Petra and the watery amazement of the Dead Sea and Wadi Mujib. For such a small country, we had no shortage of things to do. Yet, although Jordan provides a stable pillar in a region of war and turmoil, the issue of Israel was never far from conversation. After all, Jordan's population is made up of almost 2 million Palestinian refugees. Following our return from Wadi Mujib, we left Jordan and headed for the flip side of the coin, to explore the Israeli side of the equation.
Some observations from Northern Jordan:
1. Avoid cuts and bruises before the Dead Sea or prepare for some pain.
2. Take the time to explore the RSCN parks.
3. Remember; water is precious.