Ten minutes in the Dead Sea and I’m more alive than I’ve been in days. If that’s not a most bizarre oxymoron, I don’t know what is. It is a hackneyed one, though, so I’ll be as original as I can.
After yesterday’s city-induced nervous breakdown, I was a little apprehensive about my ability to face a whole day of sightseeing in high spirits. A seven o’clock start, mid-thirty degree heat, one car and twelve people with very different attitudes toward travel adds up for a pretty hectic road trip. But you must know my mind half as well as I do now; travel, especially the stressful kind, is deeply cathartic. Adventure is all about facing your fears, being more than a little reckless and having bucketloads of good and bad luck in equal measure. It beats case-marking and paperwork any day. Better the devil you know than the devil you don’t.
Mon dieu, but it was good to hear silence again. And a very new silence at that. Of course, traveling with twelve meant that it was never truly silent, but perhaps that wasn’t such a bad thing. Silence in the desert is otherworldly. It’s not just an absence of sound, it’s an absence of life. It’s oppressive. I guess I went into it in the mindset of ‘one of those desert-loving English’, but Alec Guiness’ Faisal has a point: there’s nothing in the desert. Stand with me atop the crumbling remains of one of the desert castles east of Amman and tell me otherwise. It’s just mile upon sun-scorched mile of hard, grey earth, dusty and pockmarked with black in all directions. A silence that smothers. After the endless bustle of Amman it felt almost wrong to be surrounded by such emptiness; like I’d stepped off the edge of the world into the void. I’m told this place was once lush and green, filled with game, and not too long before our time. Perhaps as recently as thirty years ago. Looking at it now, it’s almost impossible to believe, like the first dinosaur bones. Each castle had its own sad tale of grandeur, decline and the ravages of a world running out of time. And all of that for just one dinar. Moroccans, for all their smiles, have a lot to learn from the Jordanians about fair pricing.
After gazing longingly across the ten kilometre distance to the Syrian border, we returned to Amman to make a brief pit-stop before setting out once again, this time for the Dead Sea, to capitalize on our hired twelve-seater car whilst we had the chance. Getting down to the shore itself was a little fiddly; our first venue tried to charge us twenty dinars each for entry. We fought our way out of that to find another option fifty metres down the shoreline at just five dinar a head. Whether it would have been wiser to give ourselves more time is doubtful. All I can say is we timed our arrival perfectly; as everybody raced for the water, the sun was just beginning to set over the mountains on the other side of the sea, over Israel. I volunteered to stand guard over the bags whilst everyone else went for a float. Being in the water for sundown must have been pretty neat, but I reckon I had the killer view from further up the beach, watching the oddly slow waves slush against the shore in golden ripples. I guess I felt like Moses for a moment – not least of all because I was wearing a Turkish bathrobe that might have come from the set of Exodus itself – watching the sun set on the Promised Land. I’ve never been particularly keen on visiting Israel – the visa complications and Africa have always stopped me before – but looking at it then in the dying light I was transfixed. It was beautiful, like no land I’d ever seen before. Is it any wonder it’s caused so much trouble, like the similarly captivating forested mountains of the Congo? It might well have been the magic of the moment, but it’s definitely going down as one of the most memorable sunsets I’ve witnessed. Period.
I’m not done with you yet, Israel. Not even close. BB x