Monday, December 06, 2010

Almost Rags to Riches: West Bank, Israel to the Dead Sea, Jordan

Roaming camels.

When I left Jerusalem, I expected a tough ride. The Judean Hills had been rough on me and I thought there were more. Luckily, there weren't. It was big plateaus and bigger downhills to Jericho and the Dead Sea, which are below sea level. On the way, I broke my maximum trip speed again. This time I hit 75.6 km/hr. I think I could have gone faster but hit the breaks.

This looks like a picture of a camel, but is really a picture of the flies I had to deal with whenever I stopped.

On the way to Jericho, I was riding though the desert. I saw nomadic homes. I saw my first camel farm. There weren't many towns. There wasn't much agriculture. I assume part of this is because Jericho is in the West Bank, part of the occupied territories. I don't think Israel is going to spend too much money on an area that might one day be spun off as an independent state, if the road map to peace is ever followed.

An overlook of a place I can't remember the name of . . .

That attitude might also explain the condition of Jericho. After passing a police checkpoint, I headed right into to town. Town wasn't much to look at. It didn't seem as bad as the high population poverty areas I have seen, but it didn't look like it was going to prosper anytime soon. Languid is probably a good adjective to describe it. After a quick snack, I left the oldest (10,000 years) and lowest (-260 meters) city on Earth to cross the border back to Jordan and play in the Dead Sea.

This kid was so excited about his camel ride.

Leaving was pretty easy. I got hassled a little bit by a plain clothes officer at the border of the West Bank. It is odd to think that so many Israelis said it would be dangerous to visit the area. No one bothered me at all. I don't understand it. I know there were huge lines of locals trying to leave the area that had to be security checked, but no one even seemed to give me a second look. Maybe, I wasn't in the right area. I don't know.

It was interesting to see the commitment to praying while traveling across the border.

At the Jordan-Israel border, it was a lot more chaotic than my previous crossing. The facilities weren't as nice and the waits to be processed or catch the bus (I couldn't bike across again) were a lot longer. My jaded thoughts say that this is because it is the West Bank border that Palestinians use. I passed the time chatting to other Westerners who were getting frustrated with me at watching bus after bus of West Bankers leave for Israeli while we kept being told to wait 5 minutes for the non-West Bank people's bus. Three hours later, it came.

After crossing the border into Israel, I headed for the Dead Sea. I passed up a chance to see where Jesus was baptized. I didn't want to visit anymore monotheistic religious sites for a couple days. I wanted to celebrate what was, in a way, the end of my trip. My friend Betty was going to join me at the start of the King's Highway in Jordan in a day, so MY trip would be over. Ours would begin.

Getting ready for a little R&R at the Movenpick.

I had hoped to camp to save money and then live it up at a spa. Unfortunately, there wasn't much shrubbery to hide behind while camping and there were so many military guys around that I wasn't comfortable trying to rough it. I went to the cheapest hotel and they were full. The spa I wanted to visit was next door. It also happened to be one of the more expensive hotels. I decided I might as well go for it. If I was going to celebrate and experience what the Dead Sea is famous for, then I might as well go big at a place that even has peanut butter in their breakfast buffet.

Dead Sea sunset.

Dead Sea sunset over the pool.

As always, the fancy hotel gave me a lot of weird looks about the way I looked and why I was on a bicycle. However, after a couple minutes I was checked in to my hotel with a free soft drink minibar and heading for my first Dead Sea bob. I say bob because you can't really swim. When you stay vertical, the water comes up to just above the nipples. It looks like people are standing, but they aren't If you try to dunk yourself vertically, you can only get down to your chin and then you bob back up to around just below your nipples. If you lay on your stomach, it feels like you have a floatie on your neck and your ankles. Your back gets bent in an unpleasant way and no one stays in this position for long. Laying face down is a drowning hazard for reasons I can't fathom. Maybe because your back can't bend enough to let you get up for air. No matter the reason, wouldn't you just roll over?

Dead Sea Drowning Hazard: Floating on your front.

People floating on their backs, bobbing (No, they are not standing), and covering themselves in Dead Sea mud.

The best way to experience the Dead Sea is to float on your back. You can pretty easily stay level or just let your butt sink while your head and feet stick out of the water. I always thought fat floated so this seems opposite, but it works. The reason that you float so well is because the Dead Sea is so salty, six to ten times saltier than oceans. According to wiki, the Dead Sea is 33.7% salinity "though . . . some hypersaline lakes of the McMurdo Dry Valleys in Antarctica (such as Don Juan Pond) have reported higher salinities." I love that wiki had a reference to Antarctica that I know. Anyway, this high salt concentration means you don't want any of this stuff going into your body. If you have a cut, it will burn. If you get it in your eyes, it will sting. If you drink it, you will be lucky if you vomit. I even have it on good authority that if you urinate or fart, that will also be unpleasant.

Infinity pool.

I had only planned to get a massage and use the spa facilities, but then I decided I was probably only going to be at the Dead Sea once so I signed up for the 'what they are famous for' package. Step one was having someone aggressively scrub your body with salt. It was like the Turkish bath, but a lot more abrasive. It was not the most pleasant thing in the world. It works as an exfoliate and makes your pores more receptive to the other things they are going to do like, a mud wrap

Relaxation lounge.

You too can cover yourself in mud.!

Step two was a mud wrap. They take mud from the bottom of the Dead Sea and rub it all over your skin. It is supposed to pull some stuff out of your skin and put others in. I asked what the difference between the mud in the spa versus the mud that people were given for free on the beach was. They said the spa mud was cleaner. I can't imagine much in the Dead Sea being much cleaner or dirtier. I think the only industries on the Dead Sea are mineral extraction. After they smear you in mud, they wrap you in plastic and leave you while the mud dries. Then, you rinse it off. My skin did feel softer when I was done. I'm glad I experienced it, but I won't be rushing out to do it again. Maybe I'll do the free one. The massage at the end was alright, but not the best. That might be because the guy who did the salt scrub, also did the mud, and also did the massage. I am used to specialists in the USA instead of generalists. Oh well. It was a great relaxing morning was quickly undone on my afternoon bike ride up to meet Betty in the highlands of Jordan.

Peace of mind.

1 comment:

  1. Wow.

    Unbelievable trip man. Hopefully, I'll get the 1st hand account someday soon.

    BTW- Very sorry to read about your dad passing. Mine died about two years ago with no warning. I also had a pretty complicated relationship with him (hadn't spoken to him in three years- never met my daughter, etc.). We'll have to talk sometime.

    In happier news, Imogen Willow Boggess was born 10-10-10. So I got that going for me! :)

    Stay safe,