On Wednesday the 8th, we traveled from Jerusalem back to Amman via the Sheik Hussein Bridge. This route took us through the Palestinian Territories of the West Bank, so it could perhaps count as visiting another country. We didn't see much on the road, just some goat farmers, a distant look at the town of Jericho, and some secure and desolate looking Israeli outposts
. Overall it was an easy taxi trip to the Israeli border and had no trouble reentering Jordan (although we had to pay for another visa because the first one we got was no longer valid - bummer). As we walked through the final checkpoint we came across a group of western-looking people hanging around several big monster safari jeeps and an old firetruck. One of the guys in the group asked the four of us in a very thick New York accent where we were from. We responded that we had traveled from Jerusalem but were from the U.S. It turns out this guy was a NYC fire fighter traveling with a group of people from all over the world through the desert from Jerusalem to Tripoli, Libya. Their trip called Breaking the Ice (www.breakingtheice.org) is aimed at promoting peace and understanding between all nations, and especially in the Middle East. The team includes people from Iran, the U.S., Israel, Iraq, the Ukraine, Afghanistan and many others who have all been impacted by global acts of violence. It turns out that they were having trouble getting some of their satellite communication equipment across the border and had been held up for six hours! We stopped a while and chatted with the group about their mission and about our travels. Michael also videotaped an interview with a few team members. After about a half hour, they were told to get ready to cross the border shortly so we wished them good luck and headed out to get a taxi to Amman.
Since it was our last night traveling with Rebecca and Michael, we decided to splurge on a nice Italian dinner (revisiting a spot we enjoyed the first time we were in Amman)
. We celebrated the incredible adventures we've had in the past two weeks with a bottle of Jordanian wine (really good - can we get this at home?). We'll definitely miss hanging out with Rebecca and Michael but I'm not so sure they'll miss listening to Matt's occasional bouts of snoring through the paper-thin walls at the Youth Hostel in Jerusalem. We really made a great traveling team and we've vowed to travel together again but next time we'll be staying at the Four Seasons!
On the 9th, Rebecca and Michael headed out to Casablanca while we spent a lazy day in Amman browsing the shops and trying to stay out of the rain and sleet. We are definitely not prepared for this wintry weather but we're hoping not to have to buy too many more clothes for our stay in Istanbul. In spite of the winter weather, we made the trek to the Dead Sea today for a little swim. It was pretty cold but we couldn't pass up the chance to float in this famous sea. It truly is impossible to sink in the Dead Sea. The extremely salty water sweeps you off your feet onto your back as soon as you get in. Given the fact that we had to wear our fleece jackets down to the water before getting in, we stayed in the water only a few minutes. And since we were at the "local" beach and not at a fancy resort, our pale skin and bathing costumes definitely attracted a lot of attention. As we walked back to the changing rooms and showers some local teenagers began cheering our brave dip into the cold water. Most Jordanians were enjoying their sabbath day (Friday) lounging on the beach having barabcue lunches with their families but not too many people were actually swimming.
While we changed and showered, our guide got us a bag full of Dead Sea mud from the beach to take back to our hotel
. Apparently, this mud sells for big bucks at the spa stores and is a healing remedy. Kristy is definitely planning to give it a try before we leave. This mud is so valuable we had to sneak it out of the beach area! The guide also brought us to Jesus' baptismal site along the Jordan river and Mount Nebo -- the mountain Moses climbed before his death and where Moses is buried. All these biblical sites can get a little tiring, sad to say. You think seeing Jesus's Baptism site would be somewhat profound but the feeling was more, "Hey look, Jesus's Baptism site. How about that. When's lunch?" Luckily lunch was incredible falafel and Shwarma sandwiches, the best yet. Is it time to go home when you rave more about a sandwich than one of the holiest places in Christendom? Anyway, next stop Istanbul. We'll see how the sandwiches compare.
Tonight is our last night in the "true" middle east -- we leave Amman early tomorrow morning (4:30 am) for Istanbul, Turkey (the bridge between the east and west, Europe and Asia). Our travel to Turkey slowly moves us closer to home. I think we'll only be six hours ahead of East Coast time in Turkey. Although the middle east has been one of the closest places to home we've visited, its vast deserts, mountains and occassional fluorescent green valleys make it one of the most foreign-looking place we've seen.