Matt Kauffman in Jordan

A day at the Dead Sea

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Sunday was yet another excursion day for our large and lively group. Seriously, I wonder how it is us journalism students are ever going to get any reporting, writing and blogging done with all these damned day trips.

Not that I’m complaining too much. Sunday was a chance to see some very unique places, special to one or all three of the Abrahamic faiths.

Strangely, I’ve always been drawn to religious spots, despite having no particular allegiance or belief in any of them. Maybe it is something about the weight of history, the fact that people have occupied a space so long and imbued in it sacredness that gives it meaning for a nonbeliever like myself.

St. George’s Basilica in Madaba

Our first stop was Madaba, an ancient city not far from the Dead Sea. The town is known for it’s numerous mosaics, the most famous being the Madaba Map at the Basilica of Saint George. On the church floor is a 6th century mosaic of the Biblical Middle East. It’s also one of the oldest maps of the Holy Land, depicting among other things Jerusalem, Bethlehem, the Dead Sea and the Mediterranean.

The Madaba Map. The dead sea is the oblong shape on the upper right. Jerusalem is dead center.

Before we shipped off for our next destination, we meandered through Madaba’s tapering streets and poked our heads into its quant shops. At one, I finally pulled the trigger on a keffiyeh too! Went with red and white. Jordan represent!

Next stop: Mount Nebo. Supposedly, this is the spot where Moses first looked out onto the Holy Land. It’s also said the Prophet Jeremiah hid the Ark of the Covenant in a cave somewhere nearby. Unfortunately, I didn’t have the time to go Indiana Jones-ing for it. Next time I guess.

I’ve always been a sucker for a hilltop view, so I was stoked to take in this holiest of vistas. I jumped off the ‘daffodil monster’ and made my way up the pine-lined ramp towards the land of milk and honey. About halfway up though, I stopped. Suddenly I wasn’t in such a hurry. It took me a couple seconds and then I noticed it: fresh(er) air, no filthy car exhaust fumes, fumes ubiquitous through Amman, freakin’ pine! For a second, I closed my eyes and swore I was back in Camp Sherman again, riding by sexy road bike through it’s Ponderosa Pine forest. Who knew I’d find home at the top of a biblically significant viewpoint?

There was only so much time to savor the sweet flavor of central Oregon; I had to beat the rest of the Northeastern crazies up to the top and gaze out on the Holy Land. I wondered if Moses must have done the same, telling the rest of the Israelites to sit tight while he scoped out the scene at the summit of Nebo in shalom. Just him, his land and his God.

Up the hill, a dash to the right and I was looking out on quite a sight: striking rolling hills of gold, dotted with olive trees, dirt roads snaking their way down to the valley floor. It would have been a scene familiar of a Tuscan summer. It was a couple minutes before someone told me what I was looking was in fact Jordan and that Israel/Palestine and the Dead Sea was further up the path.


So I joined the crowd at the real viewpoint.

“Meh” was my first thought. Maybe it was the overcast day or the more striking view looking back to Amman, but it was all a bit underwhelming. I’ll take that landscape looking back towards Urdunn.

After our bus careened down a road with enough switchbacks to make even Andy Schleck sweat, we arrived at the Dead Sea AKA the lowest freakin’ spot on earth. With each switchback our canary behemoth banked, my ears popped a little from the pressure.

To say the Dead Sea is unlike any other body of water is a bit of an understatement. With eight times the salinity of the ocean, it’d be hard to sink even with an anvil strapped to your feet. The consistency makes it feel like you are rubbing oil between your fingers. If a drop of Dead Sea water happens to fall in your eye, it feels like acid boring into your skull. All this makes it sound terrible, but it’s really quite amazing. That first moment when you fall backward and the water gently cradles you at the surface is pretty amazing. Plus, rolling onto your stomach, punching a fist forward and doing your best Superman impression is pretty awesome too.

And apparently the mud there is miracle stuff for your skin. Check out some pictures:

Muddy Mad Dogs

It felt so good I did cartwheels:

It was a great day. As we headed back to the seemingly endless hills of Amman, the sun died behind the barren hills of the Holy Land. With Bon Iver and St. Vincent playing through my headphones, it was a pretty perfect coda to the day.


Written by kauffmant

30/05/2012 at 4:17 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

One Response

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  1. love the cartwheels! yes!


    30/05/2012 at 9:58 pm

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