Madaba / Mount Nebo / Dead Sea
Regrettably, this is our final day in Jordan, and we must pack this morning for the return trip to Cairo. Driving north toward Amman, our first stop is at Madaba. Madaba is known as the city of mosaics. Its chief attraction is treasured in the contemporary Greek Orthodox church of St. George-a wonderfully vivid, 6th-century Byzantine mosaic map showing the entire region from Jordan and Palestine in the north, to Egypt in the south. The map includes a fascinating plan of Jerusalem: on the left is the north gate from which two colonnaded streets run south. On the straight street through the heart of the city stands the domed Holy Sepulcher. Clearly inscribed above the north and east gates is the legend "Holy City of Jerusalem."
There are many other fine mosaic examples in this church that I photograph, but at the same time I can't take my eyes off a group of very young, very handsome, and very buffed Americans who are touring the church at the same time. Outside I ask one of them what type of group they are (I was thinking possibly religious), and he was a bit evasive in his answer. Later in the bus we all agree that they are most likely members of the US Military on leave from neighboring Iraq. Of course they would not identify themselves as military in order to minimize their exposure to possible attack.
Returning to the bus along a street crowded with shops selling fabrics, mosaics and rugs, we see a group of Jordanian men enjoying morning tea in the sunshine. Next stop is a mosaic factory where we can watch men placing stone chips meticulously into artistic patterns while women put the finishing touches on vases. The prices are expensive, and I don't think anybody buys any mosaics.
In Biblical times Moses came to Mt. Nebo and was allowed by God to look into the Promised Land, but because of an incident when he exhibited less than complete faith, he was not allowed to enter. We reach Mt. Nebo, and marvel at the amazing views into Israel in the distance. A sign points out the direction of Bethlehem, Jerusalem, Jericho, etc. There is an ancient church on the site containing more examples of mosaic flooring and a museum with a large photo of Pope John Paul standing at the overlook into Israel in the year 2000.
The day is warming nicely, and we head down the mountain toward the Dead Sea for lunch and some free time to float in its salty waters. It is difficult to describe the feeling of being so weightless. It is possible to stand completely erect without touching bottom, and still have your upper torso out of the water! A couple of us slather ourselves completely in Dead Sea mud, which is sold in gift stores for a considerable premium. Here it is free for the enjoyment!
We stop at one more gift story for last-minute souvenir shopping before returning to Amman and our flight back to Egypt. Our Cairo hotel is situated close to the airport since most of us will be flying out the next morning. We bid fond farewell to those who are not flying with the main group back to New York, and hit the sack!