Monday

Even at 6.30 this morning I would have felt too conspicuous in running gear, so I settle for a walk instead, before breakfast. On reflection, I haven’t seen anyone of either gender running while we’ve been here. I walked south and west out of town on the Nablus road after having located the elusive Madaba visitor centre and bus station. I also found the Church of the Apostles, which we have yet to visit, and the archaeological museum – more by accident than design!
Breakfast at the hotel was good – a wide range of food, including plenty of Jordanian dishes – fuul, hummus and babba ghanouj, as well as more bland ‘international’ fare. Afterwards, we’d arranged a day trip by taxi to Mount Nebo, Bethany and the Dead Sea – much less scary than trying to negotiate Jordanian roads in a hire car. We stopped first at ‘La Storia’, a kind of Jordanian version of Beamish, en route to Mt Nebo. That was interesting – little tableaux of key biblical stories and then mocked-up workshops showing a wide range of local crafts. The inevitable shop was outrageously expensive though – little pieces of Palestinian pottery were selling for three times what we’d paid for them in downtown Amman. The church at Mt Nebo itself was closed for restoration but the impressive floor mosaics had been removed and were on display in an adjacent hangar. Many more tourists and much more interpretation than when we were here 25 or so years ago. Equally impressive were the views across the Jordan valley from where Moses is supposed to have looked out across the promised land. Pat and I, for some reason, were singled out for the attention of two groups of South Indian tourists, male and female, who wanted their pictures taken with us!
From Mt Nebo the road zig zags down to the floor of the Jordan valley, getting ever dryer and less green, to around 350 m below sea level – nearly the lowest place on Earth. I have no idea what the camels, sheep and goats we saw around the scattered Bedouin encampments find to eat. Our next stop is at Bethany, the site of Jesus’ baptism, which has only been accessible in recent times since the signing of the 1994 peace treaty between Jordan and Israel. A shuttle bus runs us down Wadi Kharrar towards the Jordan, past the site where Elijah is supposed to have been taken up to heaven (Tell Mar Elyas) and a series of new churches of a wide range of denominations. Here the scenery is positively lunar – unstable looking cliffs of white marl, completely devoid of vegetation. This area is also where the Israelites camped before Moses went up to Mt Nebo – the abundant Old Testament history is why John is supposed to have chosen it. Ruins of old churches are abundant here. As in Madaba, these were built one on top of another as fashions changed.
We walk the last km or so to the Jordan on foot, pausing at the modern baptism pool. This used to be connected to the river but is now a rather stagnant green puddle which could only look attractive to an algologist! From here the path leads through more dry scrub to the pretty little Greek Orthodox Church of St John and then down to the river Jordan itself – a little insignificant to look at, given its historical and political importance. The Israeli flag is flying less than 10 m away on the West Bank of the river and we can see an Israeli army post in the distance. The bored looking Jordanian soldiers at the checkpoint on our side of the river look like they haven’t seen much action in a while.
After Bethany our driver takes us for a quick peek at the Dead Sea, before heading back to Madaba. As neither of us want to swim, we opt for the free public beach south of Sweimeh which is, as he warns us, absolutely filthy. The heat and isolation of the hotels scattered along the shore only makes us certain that we did the right thing by staying in Madaba and taking a day trip here. We are back in Madaba in time to grab some bread for a late lunch. This evening’s meal at Adonis restaurant is fine, but not a patch on last night’s. It seemed a bit boring to go to the same place twice but, with hindsight, it would have been a good plan!
One result of posting a photo of Hanan, Huda, Lama and me on the IWG Facebook page has been an invite to extend our trip by spending some time with Mahdieh in Iran. Not to be outdone, this was followed in short order by an invitation to Malaysia and a reiterated one to Romania!

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