Friday 20 October

Floating in the Dead Sea

Early morning drive down to a resort on the Dead Sea where we pay seven Jordanian Dinars for use of the facilities for the morning.

The water feels oily to the touch. The salt content here is thirty-three percent, which is eleven times higher than the oceans. I can actually feel the weight of it pressing around my legs as I walk in. I find myself floating upright with my shoulders just above the surface. I find that I can lie back and keep my entirely head out of the water with no effort, but contrary to popular stories, it is not impossible to swim.

(magnify) Dead Sea mud

Hazim digs up some fine black mud from the bottom near the shore and recommends that we cover ourselves with it. Good for the skin apparently. Some of the mud is blacker than other parts, and some contains large salt crystals. Elsewhere on the bottom are ridges of salt deposits.

The water is very bitter and stings horribly when I get just the tiniest bit in my eyes washing the mud off my face.

Climbing out of the valley ‒ sea level

Have a few goes on the water slide in the resort pool before leaving.

Delicious lunch in a restaurant on the outskirts of Jerash, where they serve up a splendid mixed grill. The make the pita bread on-site in a pebble-lined oven, baking the bread on the bed of pebbles and then hoicking it out with a metal hook on the end of a stick as soon as it is done.

The countryside is much ‘greener’ here – what I would call ‘scrubby’ rather than just rock and rubble.

The triple arch gateway of the Roman city appears first as our bus draws closer. The carving is amazingly intricate. Beyond the arch is an oval plaza ringed with columns and a colonnaded street leading onwards.

Left: Triple-arch gateway at Jerash
Right: (magnify) Main Street
Left: Colonnade
Right: (magnify) City of columns

We pass by the Nympaeum and then turn left up the steps leading to the Temple of Artemis. Hazim shows us how the pillars have withstood earthquakes by being slightly flexible. By placing your hand in the crack between blocks, you can feel the pillar flexing slightly in the wind. An even more dramatic demonstration is to rig a key as a lever inside the gap and to watch the long end going up and down. The sections themselves have a central depression in each end, and these are linked together by large metal pins, allowing this small amount of movement.

Corinthian columns

Our final stop is at the theatre. As we approach it in the distance, I think I am hearing things when the sound of bagpipes apparently comes drifting over the air. Then as we enter the building, we are treated to a medley of the Grand March from Aida, Scotland the Brave, plus others, from three somewhat individually-pitched sets of pipes, played by three pipers in full Arab dress, accompanied by a forth on a bass drum. It is at once hideous and utterly enthralling, and well worth the couple of dinars I drop into their collecting box. Somehow the incongruity of it makes a perfect ending to our trip.

Left: On stage at the Jerash
Right: (magnify) Jordan Jig