We hire the driver who took us to Umm Qais, Aljoun, and Jerash to take us to Petra from Amman, making several stops along the way.
This is the "City of Mosaics" known for the Byzantine and Umayyad mosaics found here from the late 19th century onwards.
One of the most important of these mosaics is the Madaba Map, dedicated in AD 542. It's a map of the Middle East that depicts the Holy Land made out of 2 million color stones. Researchers have been able to use this map to pin down places of biblical significance and learn about places of antiquity previously unknown to them.
Could you imagine what that must've felt like, to look across a whole region spanning multiple countries for places buried underground, only to then find a map with their locations revealed? This was a huge find!
The map currently takes up a large part of the floor of a church in the city.
Jerusalem is slightly off center to the left. See reconstruction for details.
Nearby is La Storia museum. There are several religious and historical exhibits, mostly dioramas, but I'm most fascinated by the workshop in the back where craftsman create colorful mosaics of all sizes and patterns. Most of the finished pieces are available for sale in what is a disproportionately large museum store (this thing takes up like half of the museum property).
A work in progress.
Tree pattern on a huge vase.
The first impromptu stop
We're stopped on our approach near the Dead Sea the long convoy of goats and sheep led by Bedouin shepherds. They agree to let me take their picture so I can share with the world how splendidly decorated their horse is.
This is a pretty horse.
All I hear around me are the sounds of cowbells clanking.
Floating on the Dead Sea
Salt and camera equipment don't play well together so I don't take many pictures here, but the Dead Sea experience is interesting.
First, the swimming. Salt makes you float, but that doesn't automatically makes it easier to swim. I find it's actually harder to right yourself and paddle at the same time on this overly buoyant water. There's a tendency to turn over on your back and float in recline. That said, people have swum across the Dead Sea to perilous consequence (border patrol on either side does not take kindly to floating aliens). I suppose with more practice it's not too hard to swim properly.
Another thing with salt is that it stings. Accidentally swallow some water or, heaven forbid, inhale water through your nose? Splash water in your eyes? It's gonna sting. I have the pleasure of scraping my elbows against a rocky surface near the shore and had to jump out of the water to ease the stinging. At least salt's good for cleaning wounds.
The white film is salt.
Merchants from time immemorial have sold Dead Sea goods, pitching their restorative and medicinal properties. Every other store near a resort beach sells them, a variety of salts, soaps, scrubs, and mud. I find out later that what they're selling is actually a good deal. A 250g bottle of mud sells for $15 online, shipped to the U.S.
This isn't stuff I normally buy into, but I'm willing to slather myself in mud for the experience. For a reasonable 3 JOD I get access to a giant bucket full of this stuff.I easily cover myself in more than 250g of it. It's got a thick consistency like dough, but dough that you've added too much water to, and it smells of... mud. Once it's settled on the skin, it turns into an ink black crust. And you know what? It actually does feel quiet rejuvenating either because it really is good for your skin or because of how liberating it feels to have the sea wash all of the mud off you.
A guy with mud on his face.
Salt buildup on the rockier shores along the Dead Sea.
The second impromptu stop
Really, this isn't as violent as it appears.
We drive through miles and miles of farmland on our way to Shobak when our driver pulls over to the side where a group of kids are selling vegetables. It's a real bargain. Aubergines, tomatoes, and zucchini sell by the crate for only a few JOD. This is where our driver does his groceries whenever he gets the chance to drive tourists to Petra.
Perhaps the kids don't see many tourists because they drop the crates they were busy hauling from the storehouses to swarm around us. It's my camera that they're drawn to as they line up to take turns for their picture. The kid above, likely the youngest of the group, jumps the line and gets swatted away before I even can click the shutter.
Ah, the joys of childhood.
Running after our car.
The downside of traveling in the wintertime is that there just aren't enough daylight hours. When we arrive at Shobak Castle, we're denied entry because sundown is closing hour. Our driver works his magic though and is able to buy us ten minutes to explore the castle at a sprint's pace.
I can't tell you anything about this castle other than its appearance. It's on a hill. There are some cool looking archways. The valleys it overlooks are nice. There are many birds.
Run, run, run!
Our next and final stop is Petra. More accurately, we're staying in Wadi Musa, which is a small city adjacent to Petra. We make one more stop on the roadside to photograph the sun setting over our final destination.
Wadi Musa at night.