Thursday, September 21, 2017

Adventures in Jordan: Baptism Site and Dead Sea

Jordan!

In the wake of Hurricane Irma, my husband, Dido, and I lit off on an adventure to the Middle East for the first time. Dido is a mindfulness trainer - he travels all over, teaching teachers about neuroscience, how to meditate, and use positivity and gratitude in the classroom. This time, I had the chance to go with him... which was extra cool for me because our point-person in the region was one of the countries' princesses. I'm a teacher, so I'm not all that accustomed to the five-star VIP treatment, but we were in for a surprise!

I'm including pictures of the breakfast buffet because I'm a millennial and we take pictures of our food - it's just what we do. I was super impressed that they had a real honeycomb!

From there, we ventured out to the "Baptism Site," which includes the place where Jesus Christ was baptized. We were told this was a must-see so we made it our first stop.

We didn't really expect that there could be a VIP option on this kind of thing but oh, we were wrong! When we arrived, the Princess's driver talked with the tourist office and they said that because they had gotten word from national intelligence, we were allowed to go throughout the site on golf cart (which saved us probably an hour of walking in the desert heat). A private guide came along with us, who told us that he had been working on excavating and preserving the sites since the 90's.


I guess we sort of expected to snap some pictures at a spot in a river, but the experience was so much more than that! We drove down narrow walkways lined with flowering trees exclusive to this part of the world, and our guide pointed out that Palestine was right there, and that was Jericho on the horizon and Jerusalem straight ahead down the road, paused to show us the hill where Elijah was picked up by a flaming chariot and taken to heaven, and where the monks hid out in caves away from the Roman soldiers who hunted them.


When we arrived at the place where Christ was baptized, it looked just like an ancient baptismal font, although the river has since dried up in that area. There was a small covered area for putting on robes, a staircase down into the river, and a flat space to stand. It was also roped off because they obviously don't want tourists climbing around inside it. The guide told us the story of the baptism and the Holy Spirit as a dove descending to declare Jesus God's son, and then he asked us if we wanted to go into the font. Wow!

There were no other tourists there, so we got to stand in one of the holiest places in the world virtually alone. It was moving beyond words. Whether Jesus was a divine person or not, this place sparked a religion that shaped the world and especially my own life. Pilgrims have come from all over the globe for thousands of years to see the spot where I got a few moments of quiet meditation with my husband. Amazing.

We then went to the Jordan River, the part that remains after so much of it had dried up. Many people still consider it to be holy. It separates Israel and Jordan, so we were able to watch people on the other side baptizing themselves as a priest sang a song of blessing. They were lined up like it was a ride at Disney - on our side, we were alone. We couldn't go in the water, but they did let us touch it!

Did I take a shameless selfie at a holy site? I'm a millennial, what you do think. 
Reeling from what an unexpectedly surreal experience that had been, we went on to our next stop - the Dead Sea. We got a good tip from a staff member at the hotel that if we booked a spa service with a resort, we could use their facilities for the day, including their restaurants, pools, and private access to the Dead Sea. So, that's what we did. The resort was beautiful, up on a hill with a panoramic view of the sea, probably fifteen swimming pools overlooking it, towel service, and the works. We ate lunch, dipped in the pools, and then headed down to the beach.


The Dead Sea is the lowest point on earth and the water has way too much salt in it. The salt was caked onto rocks, and the lifeguard shouted at people not to let it into their mouths or eyes. The water has this weird, greasy feeling to it. But, you float! You just sort of sit on top of the water. Dido insists that he can't float so it was his first time. It was fun, but super odd! (We skipped caking ourselves with mud beforehand. Maybe next time.)

Then, we enjoyed an authentically Jordanian meal - grilled meats right up Dido's alley and the best hummus in the world (Princess-approved) for me. Our flight was shortly thereafter at about 1am, so we hurried off to the airport. What an amazing time!