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Up the Dead Sea to the River Jordan

There are three main ways to drive between Aqaba and Amman. We took the center route (highway 35) on our way down to Aqaba so today we decided to take the western route (highway 65) along the shores of the Dead Sea on our way back. I think the eastern route (highway 15) may actually be the “fastest” way, but it didn’t look very interesting, so we never took it.

More than half of the drive today was getting from Aqaba to the southern end of the Dead Sea. It’s mostly downhill, which is a little strange to think about. Aqaba is at sea level and the Dead Sea is 1,400 feet lower than that. We drove basically straight north through the valley that is half owned by Jordan and half owned by Israel. It’s an interesting place to drive. There is a lot of development going on near Elait and Aqaba on both sides, but once you get a few miles north from there it’s mostly a bunch of farming villages. There were a lot of people selling fresh produce from their farms along the road.

Scammed Getting Gas

Eventually we needed gas and we filled up at a gas station along the way to the Dead Sea. This is where we experienced the one and only person trying to scam us in Jordan. We asked the attendant to fill the tank. And he did. Since we were paying in cash, we watched the meter as the tank filled. It stopped just shy of $35 and the attendant gave it a couple short squeezes to bump it up to an even $35. At that point his accomplice walked in front of the gas pump and reset it to a “preset” amount of $45. That means the pump will automatically stop at $45 for the next customer. It has nothing to do with the amount or cost of gas from the previous customer (us). The attendant pointed to the “total” and asked for $45.

Charmaine was very upset. I think she knew – logically – that $10 really didn’t matter to us, but the principle of being scammed when she watched the whole thing and knew exactly what was happening made her very upset. The pump no longer said “total $35” it now said “preset $45”. If you’re curious how to do this yourself, you just have to press the Clear and Enter button at the same time, then enter the amount you want to spend. We decided it wasn’t worth arguing with the attendant over his dishonesty. It was hard for Charmaine to let go after having watched the whole thing play out, but I think it was the right decision. He obviously needed the money more than we did.

Salt Beach

As we drove along, I kept wondering what the weather would be like at the Dead Sea. Would we make another attempt to swim? If we did, how would we shower off? We had been stiffed by the wind and waves the last time, so it seemed likely that Brett and Jess would want to take another shot at it. I had felt fine not swimming last time (since we had done it years earlier), but now I was thinking I might swim if everyone else did.

When we finally arrived at Salt Beach, the parking lot was hundreds of feet higher than the water. Getting down to the beach required climbing over rocks and walking through mud and salt. There were no showers or any other services anywhere around. So the decision didn’t need to be discussed. There would be no swimming because it would just be too difficult to manage climbing back to the car all salty and wet.

Salt Beach is really pretty. The white salt builds up on the rocks each time the water rises and falls. Every time a wave splashes across a salty rock, a little more salt gets deposited. And now the “beach” is really just rocks covered in several inches of salt. It may look like a white sand beach from afar, but it’s nothing like any other beach in the world. We took some time to examine and enjoy the various salt formations, took some pictures, and climbed back up to our car.

The Wife of Prophet Lot

Not too far from Salt Beach is a tall pillar formation on a cliff overlooking the highway and the Dead Sea. The name of the formation is The Salt Statue of the Wife of Prophet Lot. It’s made of rock. There is an equal and opposite rock pillar on the Israeli side of the Dead Sea (on Mount Sodom) that is also supposed to be Lot’s Wife. Neither are pillars of salt. They are just rock formations. I got a good chuckle out of that. We didn’t stop, so it was hard to get a good photo, but it was fun to see in real life.

John the Baptist and the River Jordan

We made good time driving north and at some point we realized we could probably go back the the River Jordan and go on the tour we missed earlier in the trip. We continued to hurry after that and make it we did. We had a ton of extra time, which turned out to be a good thing. You can’t just drive or walk down to these places. You are required to ride in a van and have a tour guide. We bought our tickets at the visitor’s center and waited for the next van to take us down to the river. Israel and Jordan don’t really love each other and they have a DMZ all along their borders with each other where nobody is allowed to go. The one exception to this rule is right here at this spot on the River Jordan. Both sides have agreed to allow tourists to come down to the river and even get baptized in it… being just a few feet from the other side. Once again, each country is convinced the holy site lies on their side of the line. I’m not really sure why it matters. To me it’s a bit funny. There’s a constant military presence, of course. And who wouldn’t want to be baptized under the careful watch of a soldier holding a machine gun?

They told us this was the spot where John the Baptist did his baptizing. They have a bunch of reasons for why they believe it, and most of them make a lot of sense. They have even calculated where the river flows now versus where it used to flow, etc. So we saw the church they built in the fourth or fifth century that they believe is where Jesus was baptized. The name of the church is Bethany Beyond the Jordan. The river doesn’t flow through the baptismal at the old church anymore. The Jordanians say the Israeli’s have caused the river to change course. It’s been more than 2,000 years. I’m guessing the river has changed course many times over the years. It’s a nice spot and probably has a better chance at being right than anything else. They have believed it is the site where Jesus was baptized since Byzantine times, so I guess it makes sense that some people would want to be (re-)baptized there. But nobody in our group had any desire to enter those muddy waters.

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