It’s ON. The Middle East portion of our trip, that is. Sure, our last destination, Turkey, has a strong Muslim culture, but it’s tempered by both European and Asian influences. Landing at the Amman airport, we saw men sneak off to the bathroom to change from Western suits into traditional thawb (an ankle-length white dress that looks like a long button-up shirt), keffiyeh (red and white checkered scarf), and agal (a circular black cord that sits on the head, keeping the keffiyeh in place). And in much larger percentages, we noticed women in full burqa and face veil (rather than just a head scarf). Toto, we’re not in Turkey anymore.
We chose Madaba over Amman as our first destination in Jordan, mostly on the advice of this website: Jordan Jubilee (a FABULOUS resource if you are ever visiting Jordan), which described Madaba as a pleasant town full of mosaics and Amman as a big, soulless city. SOLD! Madaba it is. Perhaps based on that description, I was expecting Madaba to be quite charming, but the reality is, Jordan looks a lot like this, with miles and miles of expansive desert in between the concrete jungles:
The concrete jungle of Madaba.
Still, Madaba does have a few advantages over Amman. First, it’s known as the Mosaic City, most famously because of a mosaic map of the Holy Land set into the floor of St. George’s church.
Mosaic map of the Holy Land in St. George’s Church, Madaba.
Secondly, Madaba is close to the Dead Sea, the lowest point on the planet (almost 1400 feet below sea level)! The water is so salty in this lake that you can literally stick your arms and legs out of the water and still float. In fact, it’s hard NOT to float in these waters—as soon as you lift your legs up, it’s like someone is pushing your butt to the surface. It was the strangest—and coolest—sensation!
Jeremy floating in the Dead Sea with arms and legs out of the water.
There’s even a nice “resort” near the Dead Sea (called “Amman Beach”), with a pool, showers, and lounge chairs. At 12 Jordinian dinars (US$17) each to get in, it’s not cheap, and it’s true that you can walk down the highway and enjoy the Dead Sea for free. But trust me—you’re going to want a fresh-water shower after floating in that water. The high salt content makes it…hmm, how shall we say? A bit stingy on your sensitive parts.
Salt deposits near the shore of the Dead Sea.
Jeremy’s been to the Dead Sea before (via Israel), but he prefers this body of water on the Jordan side. Why? Well, if you’re in Jordan, you can watch the sun set over the water…and what a sight!
Jeremy afloat at sunset.
Hope emerging from the Dead Sea.
Alright, so we’re not in Turkey anymore. And the towns aren’t as pretty in Jordan as they are in that country to the north. But hey, how often do you get to float in a prehistoric lake with waters 9 times saltier than the ocean? We had such an amazing time in Turkey that almost anything that followed was sure to be a downer…but so far, Jordan’s doing a pretty decent job of holding it’s own.
Transportation from Van, Turkey to Madaba, Jordan: Our travel from Van to Madaba was one of those “We-probably-should-have-researched-this-a-little-better-before-booking-our-around-the-world-tickets” kind of moment. See, Van is in southeastern Turkey, so we were set up to cross overland into Syria (we hear it IS currently possible for US passport holders to get Syrian visas) and then into Jordan. Instead, we flew all the way the heck back to Istanbul (in the west), where we caught our OneWorld Alliance flight east to Amman, Jordan. Kinda silly, but we had no way of knowing that we would end up in Van when we booked our around-the-world tickets. Sometimes you do pay for that spontaneity in travel.
Where we slept in Madaba: Apparently The Black Iris Hotel is considered a one-star accommodation, so either our standards were REALLY low at this point, or it is vastly underrated, because we thought it was pretty freakin’ nice! We paid 23 JD (US$32) for a nice double room with private bath. The owner is really nice and helpful in setting up your transportation to the Dead Sea or wherever you’re going next.