Wednesday, February 29, 2012

The Dead Sea

I have been saving, perhaps, the best for last.

Not that the food wasn't exquisite, the company divine, Petra amazing, or Istanbul awe-inspiring...but, for me, possibly the highlight of the trip was floating in the Dead Sea.

After a week of spending time in the driest place imaginable (minus the day of torrential downpour...but even then, there was a notable lack of humidity in the air to someone who was born and raised in the Mid-Atlantic), I was unprepared for the oasis of the Dead Sea.

We left the city mid-afternoon and drove the hour or so south. We all optimistically packed bathing suits and towels, although the weather in Amman was in the upper fifties. There was still substantial cloud cover, but as we moved further out of the city sprawl, the sun came out and baked the hills of sand and rock that edged up on either side of the road.

And then, suddenly, it was green. The dusty spans dotted with olive trees and stubby trees, rows upon rows of brilliant green crops, and, I kid you not, men with head scarves herding crowds of sheep and goats through the fields. I had stepped out of the modern city of Amman into the Old Testament. In fact, much of this area is considered "Holy Land" in many religions, and is the backdrop for much of the Bible. 

The Dead Sea on the Jordanian side is a lush span of absolutely beautiful resorts. It will cost you a pretty penny to use their coveted shore-space for an afternoon if you don't have a reservation (35JD each), but it's worth it.

The oddest thing was that the temperatures in and around the Dead Sea were about 20 degrees warmer than in the city. The entire body of water sits in what looks like a giant bowl, cradled on one side by Jordan, and on the other side by Israel. Drinking in the sudden 75-degree weather, the day after Christmas, we hastily changed in the wooden stalls down by the shore line, took our hotel-issued clear plastic wading shoes, and tentatively stuck our feet into the water.

The tiny little beachfront area of the Marriott resort where we'd purchased day passes was crowded with European tourists all covered in the famous Dead Sea mud. The water came into the shoreline with an unexpectedly strong current, and it surprised me as I waded out on the slippery rocks. There was a sudden drop, and then nothing beneath my feet - but I was floating. Floating because it was actually impossible to do anything but.

The Dead Sea is 8.6 times saltier than the ocean. I had read about the buoyancy, heard anecdotes, but had no idea that water could hold you so upright so firmly. I couldn't straighten my legs for anything; instead, the water folded me gently into a sort of V and bobbed me along. 

Beware the current, however, and beware the shoreline: I looked down into the depths of the water which was pure bottle-green in places, and saw what appeared to be giant mushrooms of brilliant white coral below. It's not coral. I learned this the hard way - so caught up was I in floating along, that I didn't realize how close to the shore the current was pushing me, and I crashed into one of the pieces of "coral." Which are actually large deposits of salt. And when you crash into them with the current, you might accidentally scraped your thigh. On a block of salt. It was not a pleasant feeling.

Also not pleasant - do NOT, under any circumstances, get the water in or around your eyes, nose, ears, or mouth. A wave splashed up over me as I hit the salt rock, and a few drops landed in my mouth and up my nose. The burning was immediate and intense. A few splishes on the tongue feel like acid. And if you have a single blister, cut, or scrape on your body, you will feel the anguishing burn as though someone were pouring hydrogen peroxide directly into the wound.

Floating as easily as you do, however, means you can swim for what feels like miles. We went further out into the Dead Sea than I think I've been in any ocean, with no threat of wild life or drowning. Even a sharp current can't pull you underneath, because the salt will push you back up. Nothing lives in the Dead Sea - no sharks, jelly fish, eels, nothing. 

But you can't go too far out, first of all because the Dead Sea is a pretty large body of water, and also because if you go too far you will require a passport to swim back as you'll find yourself in Israeli territory. 

Other things to note: it is advisable to shower as soon as possible after swimming in the Dead Sea. Why? Because that salt first begins to itch as it dries on your skin...and then burn. Horrifically.

We did schmear ourselves with the famous Dead Sea mud, which is, in no exaggeration, amazing stuff. My skin felt smooth, soft, and hydrated, even after the burn of the salt from the sea. I bought packets of the stuff, scented with delicate oils, for all of the females in my life and gifted them with the explanation that I have "discovered" the fountain of youth. If you want an immediate fix, visit your nearest Whole Foods or health food market. Almost certainly they will have some sort of Dead Sea product, and almost certainly you will love it.

In closing for this post: the visuals....

Marriott Dead Sea Resort, pool

That's the Israeli coast in the background. Don't swim to it.

The red flag indicates swimming is inadvisable due to strong currents. We ignored the flag. Please notice the strong currents, visible here in the water. Oops.

Handy stall where you can pick up your plastic wading shoes.

Sunset, Dead Sea

Lights on Israeli coast. I forget which city this is. 

Dead Sea scrape on my leg, 3 days after occurrence and much-healed. That thing hurt.

Next, and final Jordan post: final thoughts. Two months later. Just in time to gear up for Crazy Sexy Spring which shall involve Lee's wedding, Snap's second trimester of pregnancy, another half marathon, a trip to New York to see "Book of Mormon," and a trip to the Dominican Republic. I don't like to sit still for too long.

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Excellent Conversation

A conversation with The Gentleman's roommate about why there was a cold, perfectly prepared pot roast in the oven this morning:

"We came back from the bar, and we were hungry."

"So, you decided to make a pot roast? At four am?"


"But you didn't eat any of it."

"We got hungry waiting for it to cook and made sandwiches."

You're welcome for this story.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012


So, I've effectively dragged out the Jordan adventure into nearly two months' worth of entries here on the ole' blog. Go me.

The truth is, visiting Jordan was like nothing I'd ever done before. I like to consider myself well- traveled, though to hear some people (i.e. anyone not living in America) speak, I realize how limited my own world-view is. And, to be fair, Jordan is sort of like "Middle East 101." You will learn, for sure, but in an altogether Western-friendly environment.

And when I say "Western-friendly," I mean it. These people are beyond friendly and hospitable. If they ask you how you are doing today - they want an answer. Americans ask this question and it means, "Let us get the politeness out of the way until we can get to the meat of this conversation." Middle Easterners ask and it means, "Truly, how are you? You can tell me. Anything." You can be succinct. If you're honest.

The first day I was there, I made the rude discovery that I had forgotten one rather important thing: my makeup case. I knew exactly where it was, too - sitting in my bathroom back in Baltimore, all zipped up and ready to go after hastily applying some foundation before running off to BWI to catch our flight. The Gentleman and his brother, knowing when not to question importance, agreed to help me locate make-up in the city of Amman. I had assumed we would wind up at one of the boutique stores in the richer area of town, or possibly at a MAC or something resembling a MAC, but we found ourselves stumbling across a tiny little accessories shop in his brother's neighborhood where a woman swathed in a black head scarf and a gigantic man with a very full beard manned a tiny little make-up counter. With make-up imported from Paris and sold for such a ridiculously low price, I almost have to believe it's full of good old-fashioned ingredients like lead or cougar bones.

The shop lady was kind, and they quickly realized I wasn't just there to purchase an eye shadow or two. I am by no means high maintenance in the make-up department, but I rarely leave the house without foundation, blush, mascara, and powder. And traveling abroad means many dinners and evenings out, so throw in eye liner and shadow, and something sparkly. 

Shop lady and her companion (husband? Hard to tell.) busied themselves finding me the powders and pots I pointed at, and let me try everything on. For some reason, shop lady was rather eager for me to wear peacock blue eyeshadow and bright red lipstick, and I began to get the feeling that if I had let her do my makeup, I might have walked out of there looking something like this. She couldn't seem to understand why I was gravitating towards the less garish pinks and grays. In the end, however, I dropped about 50JD (after they graciously gave me a 5JD discount - Jordanians will always tell you they're giving you a discount) which is close to $75 worth of makeup, but in the US for what I got, I would have easily paid twice as much. In fact, I am so in love with some of the products I bought, that I may well be trawling the Internets for replacements when they run out. Suffice it to say, it was an interesting and welcoming experience to Jordan, and I got to feel like a lady during my stay with my face on.

The city of Amman sprawls out in an infinite landscape, or so it looks when you're standing in the middle of it. I'm sure most American cities would look the same, if the architecture were comprised of only one type of brick which happened to match the color of the landscape. The effect is a white-washed, cream-colored city dotted here and there with the blue roofs of mosques and the bright tents of street-side markets.

A very modern stove. Check out the aesthetics of the orange propane tank. And yes, there is delicious Arabic coffee boiling away in that pot, and yes, I drank most of it.

Corner store rabbit. Not for petting.

You can see here that I've managed to capture some rare footage of a red traffic light in the wild. These are incredibly endangered creatures in Amman, and rarely paid much attention to. I really have no idea why the car in the below picture is actually heeding the light, except that it may simply not want to crash into the red car crossing the intersection. It's one of few times I saw anyone abide by traffic laws, and I had to capture it on camera.

Apple-flavored hookah.

 Our first full-day in Amman was spent wandering around, camera in hand, and fighting off jet lag. We smartly went for a run in the hotel gym our first morning there, which helped in spades. Throughout this whirlwind trip, I found that the very best antidote for jet lag is to just establish as normal a routine as possible. So we ran in the morning, and spent nearly the entire day outdoors wandering the city, trying to absorb as much natural daylight as possible. This also helps to reset the circadian rhythm. By mid-afternoon, however, the inevitable crash came, and we buoyed ourselves with some crack Turkish coffee and a hookah.

Yet another disgustingly cute cat. More disgusting than cute, really.

Merry Christmas!

 The Thursday night market, pictured above here, is a sight to be seen. You can literally buy anything. I mean anything. Used Burberry sweatsuit? For you, 10JD. Brand new Timberlands, worn only once? I give you them for 25JD. Walky-talky radio? I throw in this boombox and this bag of DD batteries for only 7JD! And don't even get me started on the fascination of bootleg American films. Some of which haven't even come out in theaters yet

 The morning before we left for Petra, we visited King Hussein's Royal Automobile Museum. I am not a car person, per say; beyond the fact that I wish I owned a manual and I like cars that go fast. But after this museum, I am a bit more appreciative....

Yep, those are fins. Yep, this car goes in water. Nice for a trip to the Dead Sea, I suppose.

Ohhhh, Arabic television. I spent most mornings at the hotel gym, running off my jet lag and watching Arabic music videos. They consist of a very standard plot line: girl with heavily kohled eyes and jet black hair sings mournful ballad with tears streaming out of her eyes whilst driving a convertible through the desert. Or - girl with heavily kohled eyes and jet black hair sings uptempo catchy pop song while a gang of other girls with heavily kohled eyes and jet black hair dance behind her before they all jump into a convertible and drive off into the desert. 

We spent one very entertaining evening (Christmas Eve, I believe it was, right after dinner and before we went out - a story I shall get to in a moment) drinking port and watching an Egyptian soap opera (see above). The plot was rather confusing, but it seemed to consist of women crying and clutching their bosoms and men looking severe. It was rather not unlike Telemundo and, if you closed your eyes, it was nearly the same effect. Only when you took into account the scarves and beards did it change the perspective a bit. I'm sure they feel the same way about Days of Our Lives, which also features bosom-clutching and severe looks.

We decided to go out on Christmas Eve. And by "we," I mean The Gentleman, his brother, and I. Our first stop was at "Le Royal" where we happened into a night club where we were the only white people there. I'm not kidding. The lounge singer actually paused in her mournful ballad (sung with tears in eyes, although they couldn't possibly fit a convertible into the club and there were no deserts nearby, so she had to fall back on some bosom-clenching) to whisper in my ear, "Where are you from?" "America," I said. "Ah yes," she breathed and continued the next stanza of her song while the entire club stared at the three weird Americans who looked vaguely Swedish with their blonde hair and blue eyes. 

Another truly culture-shock moment: when I pulled the rental car up to the Valet stand at Le Royal, we went through the usual check of the trunk and under the car that is done at every hotel since the bombings of 2005. But this time, the hotel employee, in his stunning black tails (Le Royal being the pinnacle of class), asked me to roll down my window, and he swiped the steering wheel and dashboard with a cloth. I later learned he was checking for gun powder on my hands.Talk about a moment of realism.

After a few terrible drinks at the club bar (most of the bartenders are Muslim, and they mix drinks based off of a strict formula as opposed to taste, so you're usually much better off sticking to wine or beer), we decided to explore the hotel. A tank in the middle of the lobby held a giant eel, which we stared at for quite awhile until that got boring. And then we discovered the Buddha Bar upstairs, another night club within the hotel.

The Buddha Bar was Vegas all over again, only on a much-smaller scale, and seemed to be dominated by fifteen year olds in party wear. We took a table near the back and had a long debate about the origins of these partiers, who were out past midnight on Christmas Eve at a hotel in Jordan. I finally bit the bullet and approached a tiny, beautiful girl wearing a pure white cocktail dress and stilettos that I wouldn't have attempted even in my mid-twenties.

"Excuse me, but where are you from?" I asked. She grabbed my hands and squealed.

"You speak English?! We are from Brazil! We are on vacation! These are all my cousins!" she shrieked and then led me, champagne glass held high, to the dance floor where I was enveloped by fifteen squealing Brazilian teenagers, all drunker than freshman college kids at a frat party. I humored them for one song - which turned out to be quite fun, because they were all incredible dancers, the kind that make you feel like an amazing dancer just by proximity - and then went back to my seat. It was near closing time, and the poor club manager kept trying to cut them off, but the Brazilian family (whose parents/uncles/grandparents were all passed out in the hotel rooms, it seems) swarmed the bar in between every song, clamoring for more alcohol. It was not long after this point that we decided it was time to head home to bed, for the next day was Christmas, and we were due to head to the Dead Sea.

But Christmas morning dawned wet and rainy - the first real rain of the season, apparently - and I woke up with gastrointestinal distress. It was decided to postpone the trip to the Dead Sea and, instead, head to the City Mall. Which looked pretty much like any American mall. Except with Arabic everywhere, only Muslims swarming the shops on a Christian holiday, and no Diet Coke to be found (I checked).

Jordanians are obsessed with Tom Cruise, and he advertises a lot of barber shops. I have no idea why.

On Christmas morning, we woke up to a gift from the Marriott Amman.

 Some other sights around town, including these beautiful palm trees and some epic graffiti:

Our last day in Amman, we visited a mosque, which was amazing. As per Muslim law, The Gentleman's mother and I had to dress in borrowed robes that covered our heads in hoods, down to our feet and covering nearly all of our hands. You must also take your shoes off before entering a mosque, which would explain the pristine carpeting. And at any time of day, there are Muslims inside, kneeling in prayer, so silence is a virtue.

Your next installment: The Dead Sea. But, before I exit here, behold a montage of the things that will heal any amount of jet lag: water, vitamins, fruit, caffeine, and British girly mags.