Petra and the Dead Sea

Click here for the audio version of this post.

We had a private driver from Wadi Rum to Petra, about a 90-minute drive.  He was wonderful; Sasa was his name.  Sasa told us all about his upbringing and his education.  He was educated in accounting and had been searching for work for seven years.  Seven years!  A reminder of how fortunate I am.  In the meantime, though, he drove tourists around Jordan.  Like all trips, it’s the unexpected, off the beaten path experiences I enjoy the most.  So when we pulled over at a roadside shop, I got out and went in, mostly to use the restroom.  But instead, I found a bathroom that was down a flight of stairs and incredibly welcoming workers who had set up a table full of local foods. 

There was pita with oil and the most flavorful spices, and hummus, and a sweet treat made of sesame oil.  I filled up on this and wandered around the shop that had all sorts of local items.  At one point, I turned around to find Tony wearing the traditional Arab head wrap.  I walked toward him, and before I knew it, the kind woman had me dressed in a hijab.  We purchased a few things and were on our way, bellies full and so thankful to Sasa for making the stop.

Once we arrived in Petra – the oldest city in the world – we dropped our bags off at the hotel our previous host offered us for the day and made our way to Old Petra.  Now, the typical journey into Old Petra involves either walking a five to six-hour roundtrip journey or renting a donkey which will cut down on some of the time.  We knew it would not be accessible, after all, it is the oldest city in the world!  I had done my research on this and discovered that in recent years, the city had purchased about ten electric golf carts to help those that had difficulty walking (it also sounds like PETA was pushing them to stop using donkeys).  This was perfect; we rented our golf cart and driver with great ease.

We hopped onto the cart, wheelchair on the back, and made our way through the great valleys and cannons.  The valleys themselves were often 900 meters deep, and in places, the hollowness of it all created echoes when you would speak loudly.  Deep into the city is The Treasury, which is the most famous view in Petra.  It was quite spectacular.  I took it all in while sitting along the edge; Amelia and Tony took turns walking further into the city which was not at all accessible for a wheelchair or a golf cart.  As I sat there taking in the commotion of the space, and how majestic this really was, I thought to myself, “This planet truly is so full of so many incredible views!  What a beautiful thing it is we get to share as humans.”

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We ended the day with a three-hour drive to the Northern End of the Dead Sea.  The drive itself was quiet, with the windows cracked open and fresh air blowing nicely around us.  It was a bit of a difficult drive full of lots of pin-needle turns and hills, but once those subsided, about two hours in, we drove across a flat, straight piece of land that bordered the Dead Sea.  We stopped about 20 minutes from our hotel to watch the sunset over the Dead Sea.  By far, the most amazing sunset I’ve ever experienced.  There’s something about the minerals and salt from the water that lets the sun visually melt into.

I don’t usually stay in hotels when travelling.  I much prefer the experience of living like a local, but in this case, I had been told that a hotel with a resort was necessary to get the full Dead Sea experience.  We were staying at the Hilton (which I highly recommend, by the way).  We were starving from our day at Petra so wondered out to find some local food.  Well, in the neighborhood we were staying, full of resorts and spas, finding local food just wasn’t going to happen.  We did find some hummus, so I’ll chalk that up as a partial success.

The next morning, we put on our bathing suits and had coffee while the sun rose.  At 8 am promptly, when the Dead Sea opened to tourists, we found our way down to the beach.  The lifeguard quickly picked up that we were trying to experience the sea and that we were novices.  He got behind me and pulled me in my wheelchair right up to the edge of the water.  I crawled in, scratching my knees up pretty badly as I scurried over the sharp rocks on the edge, and laid on my back.  I was floating!  The saline concentration in the Dead Sea is something like eight times greater than the ocean.  It has the highest salt concentration of any body of water on Earth, and because of this, there are no living animals or plants in the sea.  The mud is also full of minerals and does wonderful things for your skin.  Because the Dead Sea is the lowest point on Earth, the oxygen levels are much higher and the radiation from the sun is much weaker.  All of this makes it the perfect place for a few days of relaxation and self-care.

As we were floating in the sea, buoyant as could be, the lifeguard and another worker were setting up our massage areas, unbeknownst to us.  At one point, I had grabbed a handful of mud from the bottom of where I was floating – it was very shallow – and started rubbing it on my skin.  They quickly said, “No, bad mud!”

After about 15 minutes of floating, which is part of the process, I crawled out and sat on the wooden bench they had carried down to the edge of the sea.  I sat next to Tony while the two men slathered us in fresh mud and massaged our muscles.  We waited another 15 minutes for it to dry before getting back in the sea to rinse it off and soak again.  When we finished in the sea, the men gave us body scrubs with salt from the sea and shampooed our hair using a freshwater hose drug down from the hotel.  Truly, this is a massage experience like no other!

When we finished, we asked them how much we owed.  They said, “You can pay however much you would like,” and we promised to come back with some dinar for them.

The ordeal itself plus fresh showers took the entire morning.  We met at an Italian restaurant in the hotel around mid-afternoon.  When Amelia showed up, she had a plastic bag she plopped on the table and a big grin on her face.  “The two men gave me three bottles of mud and a bottle of salt!”  She had been hoping to get some Dead Sea mud to take home, so when she went back for round two later that night, we were not surprised. She was grinning from ear to ear!

We spent the rest of the trip luging around the ten pounds of mud and debating if the US Customs department would actually let her bring mud back into the country.  Turns out they did, after a bag inspection and explanation from her, but she gratefully has seven water bottles filled with mud from the Dead Sea preciously stored in her bathroom.

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