Thursday, September 1. Madaba, Mount Nebo, Dead Sea. Sammy, the owner of the Palace hotel, where I was staying, organized a one day mini-bus tour for my a couple of college students from Britain, Rob and Barney. Our first stop was Madaba, a town south of Amman, famous for its Byzantine era mosaics. In the 19th Century Greek Orthodox St. George's Church is the Mosaic Map. The map was originally constructed in 560 A.D. (containing more than two million pieces) with 157 captions in Greek of all major biblical sites from Lebanon to Egypt. Today only a third of the original map survives. From Madaba, it's a short drive to Mount Nebo on the edge of the East Bank plateau. Here is where Moses is said to have seen the Promised Land. He died and was later buried in the area, although the exact location of his burial site is a matter of conjecture. From the summit, there are commanding (though hazy on this day) views across the valleys to the Dead Sea, Jerusalem, Jericho, and the Jordan valley--The Promised Land. We spent a few minutes wandering the Moses Memorial Church, with well preserved impressive 6th Century mosaics. From Mount Nebo, it's another short drive to the Dead Sea. We stopped at Amman Beach for lunch and afterwards a dip in the Dead Sea. Here we were near the lowest point on the Earth's surface. The sea is a salty, slimy warm soup. It certainly did not cool me off from the 40 degrees C+ air temperature. The water temperature was probably around 25 degrees C (about 80 degrees F). Due to its high mineral content, the Dead Sea makes floating quite easy compared to ocean water. The high salinity also stung the small cuts on my legs. It left a slimy film on me, which required immediate rinsing with fresh water upon my exit.
Earlier in the day I text messaged Vanessa, the Parisian, and made arrangements for dinner. We dined at the Cairo restaurant in downtown Amman. As I was with Vanessa, a woman, they seated us one floor above the all male floor. Having eaten a few times here before with Fred and Charles (from Amsterdam) on the all male floor, it was refreshingly quiet and cool on the family/women floor. Vanessa and I were the only foreigners amongst a few Jordanian couples and families. Dinner for two 3.5 JD ($5). After dinner, we finished the night off with drinks at Books@Café, a bookstore/restaurant/bar overlooking downtown Amman. Tomorrow Vanessa was heading to Damascus to meet her sister. As for me, I made plans to travel with Rob and Barney to Petra.