International Writers Magazine: World Travel with Hacktreks:
Dead Sea journey
time I go to the Dead Sea, I find things have changed. The first
time I visited the Dead Sea was in the summer of 1992. Aside from
one rest house, there was precious little, aside from a small village,
the blue salty sea, and long winding road that kept going to Aqaba.
our family, husbands, wives, brothers, sisters, aunts, and the children,
packed our belongings in one of the Amman suburbs, and made our
way to the Dead Sea. We were all an extended family, seeking to
encourage domestic tourism!
The drive took us
around 45 minutes of light cruising, with the temperature up as we descended
to the lowest point of earth. On either side, and in between rolling
patches of desert, there were awesome mountains, looking majestically
on the horizon. As we reached into the flat surface area to the shores
of the Dead Sea, the mountains become austere, sedimentary and rugged
reflecting an almost jumbled up terrain of the past.
Because of Jordans peace treaty with Israel in 1994, things changed
dramatically. Today posh international 5-Star hotels dominate the beaches.
These were built within the last 10 or so years to attract international
tourists, to come and lush, expand and twist their bodies in the salt,
special mud-water of the Dead Sea while seeking to enjoy the rest of
The Dead Sea is a historical marvel rooted in religious doctrine and
belief about the area being once inhabited by a community that dared
to disobey God, the Almighty, and follow prohibitive practices like
sodomy, and thats why it was turned upside down and a sea instituted
in its place.
Besides that, the Dead Sea is a strategic area to the Bethany Beyond
Jordan, where Jesus was supposed to have been baptized, it is near Mosaic
Madaba and Mt Nebo where Mosses viewed the Holy Land, to Amman, Petra
and of course Aqaba, down the highway.
With the auspicious King Hussein Convention Center, the places for 100s
of meetings a year, including major international meets as the biannual
World Economic Forum, the Dead Sea was transformed into a major tourist
On one side of the road, there is Sweimeh, a village today benefiting
from the touristic infrastructure. For one thing, Sweimeh has come to
serve as a pool of labor for the hotels and has revived the village
through the tall structures being built there.
Before the development that took place, you could park anywhere, and
dip your feet along the loose promenades if you can find the sand and
the water in between the scraggy rocks. The Dead Sea beaches were rudimentary,
in need of sand-combing.
time, it was different, the beach fronts, save those that belong
to the hotels, have become more organized with convenient facilities
of public bathrooms, showers, restaurants, shops, and tables and
chairs amidst smooth stretches of sand.
We were dismayed
at the JD 3 entrance charge and prepared to move further down the road,
but in the end paid and quickly huddled to the water, and glad to use
the clean public lavatories which previously were a hard find.
Since we got in at around 5:30, our party wanted to avail themselves
of every opportunity of the cool water. The mid-July temperature stood
at 40 degrees centigrade, it was hot, it pleasantly bit us but no one
My sister painted her son in mud, his back and legs, ordering him like
a sergeant-major to stay in the shallow water, my aunt wanted to dip
her feet and legs, while my wife stood watching with her brown sandals
with mud oozing from her toes. With crisp walks in between the water,
and the beach, she surveyed the land-sea-sky horizons with diligent
strides that capped her age.
It was a strange feeling of a heat wave that almost covered our horizons,
seeing bobbing men, women and children too concerned with what they
wanted to do rather than care of what the neighbors were thinking.
Sweat was pouring from my forehead down my face and at the back of my
spine, the hair was wet, and every time, I would pour some fresh water
into my galloping throat, it was a delicious feel of a mixture of contrasts
with salt on my limbs and trousers that made my eyes burn.
The Dead Sea is incredible, its rugged, as if you live in a back
century despite the modernization and flash. My seven-year-old son and
his cousin tried to splash, but they were quickly told not to because
of the salt that would sting their eyes. Once in, you are surrounded
by water infested with thick salt that corrugate to produce rock formations
that are very difficult to break, these pimpled your feet, and thats
why you needed some kind of protection.
At one point, it was almost like a steam bath. Having taking my shoes
and socks off, the earth, mingled with salt, mud, sand was scorching
hot and almost beat the souls of my feet to the extent I needed to get
in the water to cool off, but by then I started to dig unwillingly into
the water. In put my hand, gulped a piece of mud and put it on the side,
and it was literally piping hot.
People were everywhere on the beach, sun-bathing, dressed up, sitting
on chairs, some eating, and some watching beyond the horizon, watching
what used to be Palestine, and now Israel, in the evening streamlined
by lights through its colonial-settlement formations, put there to protect
huddle together dipping themselves into the water. Some went in
trunks, few dared it in bikinis, some just slighted lifted their
black abayas, long dresses and Jelbabs. People were standing, some
sitting, others on their backs floating at a snails pace with
the current gently pushing them whilst enjoying the steaming humid
air of the sun and the deep blue sky.
Along you can see
old ladies sitting in chairs in the water, no doubt their feet kicked
in the mud, while the water reaching up to their ankles. The water rejuvenates
the muscles and exhilarates the limbs.
I was told in one hotel, the Dead Sea Spa Hotel, which is one of the
beach hotels started in the early 1990s, specializes in mud health treatments
with experts from abroad to lean down those stiff bodies, ankles and
Oh yes, whilst in water I saw the bikini-line women, the ones you see
in pictures when the subject of mud baths come up. She was covered in
mud from head to toe, from the face right down, excluding the chest
of course and the bikini bottom. It was kind of strange because many
are used to seeing skin, tight or saggy, and not a bikini-clad bar of
Still the Dead Sea mud is good for your skin, everyone said so. Standing
next to my wife, sitting down actually, I saw two young teenage girls
from nowhere, they were vivacious, pure skin, untouched by the mud which
gave me memory flashbacks of my 1970s days on Hastings beach in the
My wife caught me staring but I was actually distracted by my steaming
glasses and the hotness of the situation. As you grow older, the wear
and tear of looking into the computer screen takes their toll, and you
start to descent into an archaic physical and mantle oblivion where
imagination is better than action. I told my wife, "I remember
you when you were in your early 20s" with her replying "I
still have what it takes".
Two-mid career fogies that still think of today as if it was yesterday,
they substitute the physical for the imaginary with occasional practice
of winks and nods, and symbolic techniques that redeem our true selves
through stiff upper lip and slurping behavior.
My brother in law had to look the other way, but was caught by his wife,
who stopped talking to him. They were a good deal younger than us and
the question of jealousy was still more nuptial for them.
One little guy enjoyed himself tremendously, my three-year-old nephew.
After getting caught in the sweaty heat, he moved to one shower on the
beach being helped by one of the maids, who had her hand on the water
catch for the next 20 minutes, so the little guy can have streaming
water roll down over his young body.
She was wrenched in water, but may have liked it as well, getting soaked
through the heat and a brief subliminal hooray for her mundane chores
of housekeeping among screaming kids.
It was sunset by now, around 7:30, we shifted our positions further
to the blue water, surrounded by tufts of grass. Here, it seemed hotter,
more humid, it was a wrong move because the water actually generated
whiffs of air that hit you face in the face, or so according to my wife
who was somewhat agitated by the move.
The journey to the Dead Sea was pleasant. On the way back to Amman the
sun was dipping into the horizons and evening was setting in. The temperature
then stood at 38 centigrade but started to slide as our car ascended
the hills of Jordan into Amman.
On top of one mountain, the temperature dropped to 27 centigrade, and
with it we melted into the coolness of the air. Thank God, we thought,
car air conditioners turned off, windows opened. Its always better
to feel the natural air rather than the synthetic stuff. Till next time!
© Marwan Asmar August 2008
Azraq Wetland, a heaven for ecotourists
It was 6:15 in the morning, there was a chill in the air but the
dew and the mist were intertwining with the brilliant sunshine.
JITOA juggles more than one
Business Associations are a new buzzword in Jordans corporate
world of finance.
Looking up into the sky, it was pitch black, to the east directly, you
see the faded lights of Bissan, the Palestinian town that is now under
Israeli rule and jurisdiction.
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