camel sitting cover

Lively Amman and the Dead Sea

By on July 29, 2014

I boarded the plane in the wet wetness of Sri Lanka, and got off in the dry desert of Amman, Jordan. I navigated the visa/entry fee lines in the airport and toyed with the idea of buying a SIM card with some data for my phone on my way through the airport.  Only planning to be in Jordan for a week, I opted to go without. When I got outside the airport, I was in somewhat of a culture shock. You mean… I just get a ticket for the shuttle for a fixed price, give them my bags, and hop on? Seems too easy. On the shuttle to the cab area, I met a solo travelling Chinese girl, and we shared a cab to the city center. The cab ride was very pleasant, a huge change from Sri Lankan tuk-tuks and buses, and the cab driver even stayed within the lines in the highway (crazy stuff)!

The Chinese girl didn’t have anything booked for the night, so I told her that the hostel I booked was recommended to me by a guy who lives in Jordan. So it was me and her (I forget her name) in the cab supposedly getting dropped off at Sydney Hostel in central Amman.  The cab driver was clueless and after he dropped us off, it took us an hour of using the map, asking locals on the street, and trekking with our packs up and down the steep streets to FINALLY find Sydney Hostel (hostel is awesome though, definitely recommend).

Anyways, so Jordan right. Aren’t you scared to go to the Middle East? Isn’t the world so scary and cruel? THINK AGAIN. There are definitely pockets of turmoil in the Middle East, but it’s not all AK-47s and Muslim extremists. Thinking Jordan is unsafe is the equivalent of thinking that the localized violence and police action of Ferguson means that the whole city of St. Louis is a warzone. Untrue. Jordan is one of the safest and most stable countries in the region, and just like most places, the locals are so extremely nice and helpful that you can’t help but fall in love with the country.

OH, I should also mention that my week in Jordan coincided with Ramadan. For those that don’t know, Ramadan is a month-long holiday celebrated by Muslims with fasting, feasting, religious prayer, and many family gatherings. The fasting takes place whenever the sun is up… so no eating or drinking until sundown for followers of Islam. They take this very seriously too, and while I am not Muslim, it is still seen as very rude for non-followers to be eating or drinking in public during Ramadan. This means that it is almost impossible to buy any real food during the day. So you either go hungry (most of the time), or you plan ahead and buy stuff the previous night.

At Sydney Hostel, there were tons of cool people, and as far as hostels go, I have never heard more intelligent, honest, respectful debates on current events and world politics.  I met this guy Kyle from Pittsburgh who was also traveling long-term and solo at the moment. Turns out we had real similar travels around Southeast Asia and were on the same flight out of Jordan in a weeks’ time. With that coincidence, we also wanted to do the same stuff while in Jordan, so we ended up traveling together.

amman citadel steveFirst stop was the ancient Citadel of Amman.  Perched atop a hill in central Amman, these Roman ruins of the Temple of Hercules are from 162 AD.  With evidence of civilization since 1600 BC, Amman is one of the oldest continually inhabited cities on earth.  It felt a little like Athens, Greece, but older. We walked around the ruins for awhile, then took a stroll around some of the main streets of Amman. As we were walking, we started to see bakeries open and sell some food. At around 5pm! Good news, I was starving. We bought loads of pita bread, a medley of different dips (hummus, baba ganoush, cucumber, some other stuff), found a hidden spot by the Roman amphitheater and CHOWED DOWN.

CHOWED DOWN

We hid and ate like little kids who found a candy stash.

A good first day in Jordan.

The next day I ate as much breakfast as I could fit in my stomach, and our plan for the day was to head to the Dead Sea.  We met up with another traveler that Kyle met on his way into Amman, Gary (Chinese), and the three of us set out. Now there are two ways to do the Dead Sea. One is to take a tour that goes to one of the resorts on the Dead Sea and use their beach, showers, and facilities. The second way is to wing it. Since the tour costs money, we took the road less traveled and tried to figure out how to do the Dead Sea on the cheap.

We had heard that there was a “free beach” where you could just drive up and walk in. Sounds pretty easy except we don’t have a ride, towels, or a shower afterward. And a shower is KEY (explained later). So we head to the streets of Amman to try to explain to a taxi driver what we want to do. On the fourth try, success. I forget what the fare was but we split it and before you know it, we are getting close to the Dead Sea.  BUT not before our cab driver got a speeding ticket and we stopped at the Sea Level sign.

OOPS

OOPS

sea level sign

So we pull up to the free beach and you can kinda tell it used to be something. Like people used to come here to enjoy the sea, but now it’s just full of trash and sand and salt. We park, walk down to the water, and change into our swim stuff. I was the first one in, and boy was it WEIRD. They say you float, but I didn’t expect to not be able to sink. I floated so well that it was hard to turn over without losing balance. Yea… that’s right… you have to pseudo balance in the water.

salty trash free beach

Salt chunks washed up on shore… along with a lot of trash.

steve dead sea float

kyle steve gary dead sea

Humans are so buoyant in this salty water that you can easily lay back and read a book in the sea.

book reading float steve

While we were swimming, this man on a camel came up and told us we had to pay him. We called bullshit and ignored him. I don’t know what our taxi driver said to him but I like to think he told him to fuck off in Arabic. He had our back. His camel was pretty cool though. It was the first real one I had seen in my life.

camel free beach steve

This must be the skinniest I’ve been in years.

After we had our fill in the Dead Sea, we set to clean up. With the amount of salt that’s in that sea, the water is REALLY SLIMY. You have to wash off. At one point in the dry sun, my wet arm dried and I had flakes of salt on my arm hair. We knew that the free beach wouldn’t have anything so we picked up big bottles of fresh water on the way to the sea. Definitely a waste of good bottled water, but we took turns dumping the bottles on either other and washing each other off.

Can you do the Dead Sea on the cheap? YES.   ….. But I might pay for the shower next time.

We headed back to Amman without any more speeding tickets, and the three of us headed to Hashem Restaurant that night for food. Being Ramadan, we hadn’t eaten all day and were starving. Good thing Hashem is awesome. Even the KING OF JORDAN goes there. All you can eat falafel, hummus, baba ganoush, pita, and tea for a good price. I highly recommend if you are ever in Amman.

hashem restaurant

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