Along the Dead Sea Highway
After a relaxing day lounging by the waters of the Red Sea and enjoying the pools of Blu Radisson in Tala Bay, Aqaba, it was time to move on to our next adventure. During our visit to Jordan we would check off another item on our bucket list, floating in the Dead Sea. From Aqaba, it was an easy 3.5 hour drive on the aptly named Dead Sea highway (Highway 65) to our luxurious lodgings for the night, the Kempinski Ishtar Hotel. On route, we stopped for a view of the magnificent Wadi Mujib Nature Reserve. The reserve is located in the Wadi Mujib gorge and at 410m below sea level, it is the lowest nature reserve in the world. It extends to the Karak and Madaba mountains rising up to 910 m above sea level in some spots. The variation in elevation contributes to the variety of plant and animal species that can be found in the reserve. Wadi Mujib offers many hiking trails where you can see beautiful waterfalls and natural pools. Entry to Wadi Mujib is limited to those over 18 years of age so we were not able to participate this time, but it gives us a good reason to return to Jordan in the future! Before settling into the hotel for the day, we stopped for a pilgrimage at what is widely believed to be the site of Jesus’ baptism, Bethany-Beyond-the-Jordan.
Recently added to the UNESCO world heritage list, Bethany-Beyond-the-Jordan (Al-Magthas) lies at the end of the Jordan Valley near the Dead Sea. The site is believed by archaeologists to be where John the Baptist performed the baptism of Jesus Christ. Many also believe it to be the site where the prophet Elijah ascended into heaven. The actual baptism site looks more like a small green pond at the base of some stairs due to much of the source of the Jordan river being choked off and the water being diverted several hundred metres from the original site. To visit the site we had to join a guided tour. Private vehicles are not allowed near the ruins in order to preserve the site as well as to add to the solemnity of the experience. Shuttle buses depart from the parking lot beside the ticket office every 30 mins. The buses are often full or over capacity and there can be a rush for the limited seats available. The site has only been accessible to the public since 1996 when the 1994 peace treaty between Jordan and Israel and the Palestinian Territories paved the way for the clearing of land mines that had been dispersed in the area. Archaeologists have since unearthed church ruins, caves, extensive wells and several baptism pools, which taken together with excerpts from the bible and other ancient text lend support to the claim that Jesus was baptised on the east bank of the Jordan river. This claim was sanctified by Pope John Paul II when he visited the site in 2000.
We took our time to traverse the paved pathway through the various archaeological sites. With the temperature sitting at over 40ºC we kept a conscious effort to remain hydrated. After about an hour, we reached the gold domed Greek Orthodox Church which is dedicated to St. John the Baptist. A short walk away down a bricked walkway lay the banks of the Jordan river.
A baptismal font sits in a covered structure right before the bank where one could be baptised if they were accompanied by a priest and made the arrangements prior to arrival. Baptism on the river itself is not encouraged in Jordan due to high levels of pollutants. We quietly took off our shoes and socks, even the children seemed to instinctively appreciate the solemnity of the place. We joined the Jordanian military guards on duty patrolling the quiet border and sat on the banks on the east river to watch the throngs of people, young and old, all clad in white, who were being baptised on the west bank of the river. Many visitors purchased rosaries and other religious items from the Greek Orthodox Church and proceeded to dip them in the river where our toes were promptly nibbled on by small fish hiding beneath the waters. After some time for quiet reflection, we slowly made our way back to the bus stop filled with a kind of inner peace.
The Dead Sea
The Kempinski Hotel was only a short drive from Bethany-Beyond-the-Jordan. As soon as we got there, it was easy to understand why the hotel is among the most highly rated in Jordan. Upon passing the strict security check at the main entrance we were greeted with a cold beverage and our personal guide who would accompany us to the room to ensure it was to our satisfaction and to answer any questions we may have about the hotel. While we were checking in, the children were each given stuffed camels; C loudly declared that this was his favourite hotel!
With the day’s intense heat the hotel staff recommended that we delay going into the Sea until sundown. So, we spent the afternoon enjoying the pools of the resort. Kempinski has nine pools including a large adults only infinity pool. C wanted to try them all, but we only managed to try out 4 during our stay. I don’t think he noticed!
Before we knew it, the sun was starting to set and it was time to experience the famed Dead Sea. The Dead Sea is 429 m (1,407 ft) below sea level making it the lowest point on the surface of the Earth. It is 304 m (997 ft) deep, 50 km (31 mi) long and 15 km (9 mi) wide at its widest point. The Dead Sea water has a density of 1.24 kg/l, which makes floating a breeze. A sign by one of the mud stations explained the rules to achieve maximum therapeutic benefit. It read:
- Swim and float in the Dead Sea for 10 minutes.
- After swimming, apply the Dead Sea mud directly on to your body conservatively.
- Wait 15 – 20 minutes until the Dead Sea mud is dry on your body.
- Return to the Dead Sea and wash off the mud.
- Take a shower after you exit the Dead Sea.
- You can do this once or twice daily.
It sounded simple enough, so off we went to accomplish Step 1.
We quickly realized that the children would not be joining in the water. C took one step onto the sea and he declared that the Dead Sea had given him a boo boo. The high salinity (it is 9.6 times more saline than the ocean) of the sea meant that one can feel an intense sting from even the smallest cut (the term rubbing salt in a wound is very much in play here). Since D was a walking Band-Aid commercial, we didn’t even bother asking if he wanted to go in. He was happy to move directly on to Step 2.
At the end of our bathing, the Dead Sea did not disappoint. Our skin felt as smooth as a baby’s bum. It’s sad to think that the Dead Sea is disappearing, dropping nearly 80 cm each year due to its water sources being choked off. The Jordanian government with the support of Israel have proposed several solutions that would divert water from the Red Sea to the Dead Sea. Here’s hoping it works.
With our skin softened and souls relaxed, we laid down for the night and prepared for our final day of adventure in Jordan as we drove towards Amman to see the Desert Castles and the Amman Citadel.
Having experienced over 20 countries across 4 continents Christina is well versed at travel planning and thrives on sharing that information with others with the hopes of encouraging more families to experience this incredible world that we live in.