- Another adventure begins!! May 10, 2022
- That unmistakable way of welcoming a guest May 10, 2022
Any one of you half knowledgeable about this part of the world will know that tea and welcoming guests go hand in hand. You may remember the uncountable glasses of tea my dad and I used to drink sitting on the patio without saying anything to each other.
I remember my friend Ed who was on active duty in Afghanistan and how surprised he was that any place he would go to, invariably he would be offered tea and then once he was done, would be politely asked to leave to keep himself safe.
Just before the pandemic, you may remember my trip to Muscat. The driver who took me around – we still talk on his birthday (Mohammed Mubarak Khamis Humaid al-Jabri) had insisted on treating me to a glass of tea. “Karak Chai”, he had told me.
Today was no different. Mahmud – my new driver friend for life – insisted that he welcome me to Jordan by treating me to “Karak Chai”. He just would not let me pay for it.
For folks from India, you probably remember “Kadak Chai” in certain parts of northern India. It is essentially the same milk tea spiked with cardamom, clove, sugar etc. Tastes heavenly.
The young gentleman in the picture is Bilal. He is from Egypt. While making tea for us, he gave me a lesson on the short stretch of water in Aqaba that separates Egypt from Jordan.
- Wait, what? May 10, 2022
“Mahmud, what are those plants? They look like banana trees”
“They are banana trees.”
“What? I thought Jordan is mostly a desert.”
Apparently, there is this area called the Central Jordan Valley that we were driving thru that is an exception to the rule. This valley grows banana, various citrus fruits, strawberries and what have you.
Bananas in a desert!! I had no idea!
- It has been a long time since that eighth grade class May 10, 2022
Mrs. Bowmick was the first one to introduce me to this place called the Dead Sea. She was our Geography teacher. It was 1980. My eigth grade. I was fascinated by the facts she had taken us thru. The lowest point of the earth. The saltiest water – so much so that you would float in it.
Every unsuccessful swimming attempts much later in my life would bring back wishful thoughts that all swimming pools were a Dead Sea for me.
Today, for the first time in my life, I saw what the Dead Sea looks like. Whatever the imaginations of that eighth grader was (I am too old to recollect) certainly met reality today. And what a great reality it is!!
This picture was taken when I was at the lowest land elevation on earth!! 1350+ feet below sea level.
That is me. Behind me is the Dead Sea. Behind that is the West Bank. And behind that is the sun!
Given the depth of the Dead Sea shores, the conflict in the West Bank and the beauty of it all, my friend Anusuya describes it best – “Swargo, Morto, Patal!” (Heaven, Hell and Earth!”
- South view of the Dead Sea May 10, 2022
- As much as I assured him that I am perfectly comfortable in my skin… May 10, 2022
- Now for the customary Middle Eastern dinner May 10, 2022
- Morning view of the Dead Sea with the sun hitting directly the West Bank in the background May 11, 2022
- First stop – tea stall May 11, 2022
- Second stop – a local inhabitant May 11, 2022
- Reached Wadi Al-Mujib parking spot May 11, 2022
- The trek thru Wadi Al-Mujib May 11, 2022
- The starting of the wading May 11, 2022
- What Wadi Al-Mujib? This should be called “Wade”-i Al-Mujib! May 11, 2022
- The beauty of the canyon – 1/3 May 11, 2022
- The beauty of the canyon – 2/3 May 11, 2022
- The beauty of the canyon – 3/3 May 11, 2022
- Next destination – the crystal beaches May 11, 2022
- Half way there May 11, 2022
- Finally on the crystal (salt) beach May 11, 2022
- Where the salt meets the water May 11, 2022
- Salt formation – pretty interesting bulbous structure May 11, 2022
- The striations in the salt formations May 11, 2022
It so reminds me of the striations in the glaciers in Alaska that we saw in 2016
- Different shapes and sizes of the salt crystals May 11, 2022
- Onward to Ma’in Hot Springs May 11, 2022
- Hammamat Ma’in May 11, 2022
Imagine this… all around you see barren steep cliff mountains. And in the middle of that dryness, there is a waterfall.
So far so good. Then you dip your feet in the water and you realize that it is scalding hot. I mean from 113F to 140F hot!!
Completely unexpected. One thing that fools you is that you think you are very high. Actually you are nearly 900 feet below sea level.
The heat comes from veins that go deep into the magma. The whole Dead Sea lies on aa fault line (the larger African tectonic plate and the larger Eurasian tectonic plate)
- One of the rare selfies from me May 11, 2022
- That is one hot dry sauna May 11, 2022
A few steps up from the Ma’in Hot Spring is a cave. The inside is sweltering hot. The water on the ground is so hot that you cannot step in it. I did. And I scowled and jumped back immediately. There are mats laid there where you can step on and sit on the rocks.
I have not yet figured out what the rich green coloration comes from. They are not algae/lichen etc. It is too hot for that. That is the color of the rock itself. Perhaps copper oxide?
- South View from Panorama Point May 11, 2022
- West View from Panorama Point May 11, 2022
- North View from Panorama Point May 11, 2022
- Jerusalem from Panorama Point May 11, 2022
Mahmud (محمود الرمامنة) told me that in the mornings, you could get a clear view of Jerusalem and Bethlehem from where we stood. There was a map nearby showing the direction of Jerusalem and Bethlehem. Jerusalem was only 36 km (20 miles) from where we stood.
I took a picture from my phone in that direction (I am not carrying my DSLR), zoomed it and then edited to make it a little darker. And lo and behold! The silhouette of Jerusalem showed up!!
- The young boy and his ride May 11, 2022
- View from Mount Nebo May 11, 2022
- Bedouin tents on the mountainside May 11, 2022
- Hubbly bubbly? May 11, 2022
I was reading the sign at the Marriott gate waiting for the security guy to do the check. Check out where it mentions “hubbly bubbly”. My first question was why was champagne being mentioned specifically after already saying beverages were not allowed. And what is hubbly?
Learnt that hubbly bubbly is basically a hookah! That explains – no outside food, drinks or smoke.
- Swimming would have been so much easier if I had started with the Dead Sea May 11, 2022
- Serene sunset May 11, 2022
- Post sunset calm on the Dead Sea May 11, 2022
- An old tradition – relived May 11, 2022
One of the best ways to learn about a new country, I have found, is to make friends with a local driver and then keep him or her for the whole trip. Usually that relationship starts from the trip from the airport to the hotel or the first trip out of the hotel.
There have been some incredible learnings on the way. Like Jorge taking us to a completely desolate waterfall that no visitors visit. Or Giacomo taking us to a beautiful spot for lunch when I asked him “Where would you take your girlfriend to that is not visited by tourists?” in Italy. There was I Wayan in Indonesian, Juan in Chile, Henrique in Azores, Mohammad in Oman…. I have about 15 such great friends in my list. What always started with strangers on a drive invariably continued as a lifelong friendship. Of course, the annual birthday calls are always there to remind each other of the great memories I still cherish.
This trip, I made – hopefully another life long – relationship with Mahmoud. He picked me up from the airport and we hit it off immediately. He was, of course, extremely knowledgeable about the whole place. But more importantly, he got it very quickly that I was more interested in places of natural beauty and far less in historical importance.
We got to know about each others’ families. I was very excited to hear about his two sons’ career plans. Hopefully, they will all visit us in the US sometime.
Meanwhile, I cannot wait to go back to Jordan with my family and meet his family!
- Chance meeting – the kind that makes trips to unknown lands memorable May 11, 2022
“Solo tourist, huh?”
I heard the voice from behind me.
Having just reached Wadi Al-Mujib, I was measuring up the river and the prospect of having to wade thru it all the way. I had sort of expected it to be like Wadi Shab in Oman where it was a dry hike till you reached the lake. This one, however, I realized, was going to be completely in the water. I also realized the wisdom in the urging of the guy at the gate to keep my bag behind and change into water shoes. Which, I had duly ignored.
Looking behind, I saw the young lady looking at me. There was nobody nearby. I deduced she was addressing me.
“Solo tourist, it is!”, I replied.
“Want to hike together?”
“Why not? That way, you can pull me up from the water when I fall down.”
“Do you know swimming?”
“Not enough to save my life with a backpack on my back”
“I do not know swimming”.
“Okay. Let’s go as far as we can together. I will not make it to the end. I do not want the bag to get wet. This will help in taking pictures of each other too”.
And with that we started exploring the canyon valley while wading thru the water. The views were simply breathtaking (you can see them in prior posts). We stopped often to take pictures of the views and of each other on our respective phones. I was not carrying my DSLR (which was a good thing – it would have gotten wet). I also realized that I really need the latest version of the iPhone.
“Where are you visiting from?”, I asked her during the wade.
“Oh! I do not think I know anybody else from Sudan. Khartoum?”
“What do you do there?”
“I work with the United Nations”
“Nice. By the way, what is your name?”
I am not terribly good at foreign names . So, I asked her to spell it for me.
“Well, It is written ‘Basma’. But it is pronounced B-E-S-M-A”
“Got it. In India, there is a similar sounding name – Reshma”.
“What’s your name?”
“No. That would be Rajab. Mine is with ‘i’. R-A-J-I-B. Rajib Roy”
“Wait. Roy from India. Are you related to the famous Roy family in Delhi?”
“I have no idea which family you are talking about, but I assure you that I am not related to anybody famous. And how do you know about a Roy family in Delhi?”
“I have been to Delhi. In fact, twice to India”
“For Untied Nations?”
“No. With my ex-inlaws. For their business.”
“Wait. Ex-in-laws. Ok. Now I get it.”
I laughed and told her how I am terrible in computing relationships especially when a divorce is involved. I told her the funny story from 1996 when my colleague Stacy had mentioned “my ex-stepfather” and it had taken me a full 10 minutes to unentangle how you can put an “ex” and a “step” in the same relationship!
Anyways, thru the rest of the trip, I got to know about all the exciting places Basma has been to (and she has been to a lot of countries). She seemed very free spirited. I was especially impressed by how much of local knowledge and culture she has learnt in all those trips.
At some point, the water became too deep for me to save the backpack. We exchanged contacts and I turned back.
Reflecting back, one thing I learnt from her is that I need to make a lot more of these trips to different parts of the world. Especially lesser known parts of the world. There is so much to learn from people you meet randomly on the road from so many different backgrounds.
The world is so big and beautiful. And the first thing we do is put four walls around us and stay put there!
- Run in country #28 May 13, 2022
- Celebrating World Cocktail Day (May 13) May 13, 2022
- If only that guy was not there… May 14, 2022