With our jaunt in Egypt over, the Percussive Tours group hopped on a flight to my 22nd country, Jordan. When we landed in Amman, the five of us (me, Vince, Caleb, Bonnie, and David) split off from the main group to pick up the rental car we had booked and embark on a three day self-drive adventure. Our first destination: the Dead Sea.
We were only about an hour away from the sea, and we were all very excited for a half day of exploring the lowest land point on earth. After driving through some flat, beige scenery, the ground opened up to a view of jagged cliffs bordering what could have been the edge of the world. Below us were the eerily placid waters of the Dead Sea, with a gray haze blurring out the distant shores of Israel.
Before long, we came across the Panorama Dead Sea Complex and pulled in hoping to find something to eat. We had to pay two Jordanian Dinar a person to enter the complex, and we drove in to find it completely empty, and dead quiet. Vince parked the car and we walked into a completely deserted restaurant that overlooked the sea. Since there were no employees in sight, we decided to go outside and check out the view from the cliff top.
Eventually we ran into a couple of employees and inquired about lunch. They provided menus and we ordered a downright irresponsible amount of food, then went to poke around in the complex’s small museum while we waited. The most interesting thing in the museum for me was an exhibit that explained why you don’t get sunburned near the Dead Sea. Apparently the sea water is evaporating so rapidly that it creates a protective atmosphere around the area. Even though the sunlight feels intense, it doesn’t burn your skin. This fascinated me, and made me wonder if something similar happens along the Nile. I didn’t burn once while we were in Egypt, and after the first couple of days there I had stopped wearing sunscreen entirely. Despite the heat and oppressive sunlight, my skin left the trip with only a nice tan.
Lunch was ready when we returned to the restaurant, and we happily stuffed ourselves with a delicious array of local foods while enjoying the beautiful view of the sea.
After lunch we got back in the car and drove along the shore of the sea until we reached a river canyon called Wadi al Mujib. We had seen few other travelers that morning, but as we pulled into the parking lot, we saw dozens of other twenty-somethings, all dripping wet and toweling off near their cars. It seemed like we had come to the right place.
We went into an open-air building and paid 21 JD each, which got us entrance to the canyon and a life jacket each. I also rented a dry sack to protect my camera, then the men selling admission gave us a quick run-down of what to expect on our hike. The main takeaway was to plan on getting very wet, and don’t bring anything you wouldn’t want to lose.
Naturally, I brought two cameras anyway, despite a few warnings from other travelers returning from the trek.
Once we had our life jackets, and I had devised a system that I was satisfied with for keeping my Canon dry, we followed a pathway that led into the canyon. We had to climb down a tall ladder that ended in the river, and then our adventure had begun!
The river was wide and shallow at first, but we knew that it was bound to get more exciting because everyone who was passing us on their way out of the canyon was soaked from head to toe. We waded upstream, the warm water a refreshing relief from the 100 degree heat. Each turn of the river led us deeper into the canyon, and I couldn’t get enough of gazing up at the stone walls that towered above me.
For the second time in my life, I felt that I was in a place that would probably remind me of Utah, had I ever been to Utah. It put me to mind of pictures I have seen of the famous hike through the Narrows in Zion National Park.
After a few twists and turns the terrain became more difficult to navigate, so I packed away my Canon, and switched to filming on my GoPro. We started to encounter deep sections of trail that had fixed ropes which we used to pull ourselves upstream. We climbed over a few small waterfalls and scrambled up rocks, all the while gaping around us at the towering canyon walls.
Every new curve of the river brought a fresh obstacle to tackle. I especially loved when we had to use the fixed ropes to climb up waterfalls. The trek was fast-paced and exciting, and it kept us guessing as we ventured deeper into the canyon. The waterfalls got taller as we went, and eventually we found the end of the trail.
The path dead-ended in a tall waterfall that would be impassable without the proper equipment. I have read that there are tours that will take visitors beyond this point, but they weren’t operating when we were there because of Ramadan.
The fall was the perfect spot to take a break and enjoy the ambient sound of water cascading into the river. There was a pool just below the fall that was deep enough to jump into (feet first at least), so we found a spot on the cliffside that we could jump from. We also made our way behind the waterfall by hugging the canyon wall and pushing through the wall of tumbling water. Once inside, we were in a hidden cove, where the guys jumped from a large boulder into the stream of the falls.
We were reluctant to turn around and head back downstream, but we still had another item on the agenda that day so eventually we began our float out of Wadi al Mujib. The way back was even more fun because we got to float on our backs most of the way and watch the beautiful scene that towered above us.
Every so often we would arrive at one of the small waterfalls we had climbed up earlier, but now we got to slide back down them. We were having so much fun that David didn’t even notice he had lost his GoPro in one of the slides. It wasn’t until we arrived back at the car that he discovered it was missing, which confirmed the warnings we had received about not bringing any valuables with us on the hike. Later, while watching the videos I had taken, I discovered the exact spot that David lost the camera. I have video of him entering a slide with the camera on his head and resurfacing without it.
We searched for the GoPro for a while before giving up and deciding to move on. Our next objective was to find a spot where we could access the Dead Sea. We drove along the shore until we came across a sign that read “No swimming after sunset.” The stretch of coast was by no means an official beach-it was bordered by a tall fence-but the sign only specified that swimming was banned at night, so we figured it was ok if we hopped in. Vince parked the car in a pull-off on the side of the road, and we quickly found a hole in the fence and scurried through. Then we descended a steep hill to get to the water.
The sea was the most placid body of water I can recall ever seeing, and I could see swirling salt deposits that looked as though they had been painted onto the rocky sea floor.
Everyone else got into the water before me, and they immediately started yelling about how much it stung their skin and how disgusting it felt. Their comments did not deter me from following them in though. I took off my shirt and shorts, which were still damp from Wadi al Mujb, and joined the others in the sea. I was immediately struck by how bizarre the dead sea was. The water was glass-like, and when I swirled my hand in front of me, I could see salt churning in its wake. I could float with my legs pin straight below me without having to tread water. It was as though I was standing, but my feet weren’t touching the bottom.
Having no programmed response to an experience so out of the norm for me, I erupted into a fit of uncontrollable laughter as the five of us bounced up and down in the salty water.
The sea felt oily, although I knew it was just salt, and the water did indeed burn my skin. This didn’t diminish the fun of floating though, so we stayed in the sea for as long as our skin could bear it.
Afterwards, we trudged back up the hill, feeling understandably gross as the salt water lingered on our skin. The day was coming to an end, so we drove to our hotel in Amman were we were all relieved to get to take showers to wash the slimy salt residue from our bodies. Then Vince and I spent the evening enjoying our massive, comfortable suite at the Corp Amman Hotel. We tried unsuccessfully to get dinner at the hotel, and ended up walking to a gas station where I bought an amazing coconut Kit Kat and had to make the difficult choice between “Cheddar Cheese” and “Cheesy Cheese” Pringles. What is a girl to do? I ended up trying both, and yes, they taste different.
Back at the hotel, I elected to save the Pringles for our upcoming road trip, and ordered some real food from room service. Vince and I lounged around for the rest of the evening. The room was so nice that I was beginning to regret that we’d be leaving it empty the next night while we camped in the desert in Wadi Rum, but experiences are more important to me than accommodations, so I made my peace with it. In fact, I couldn’t wait to wake up the next morning to explore Petra and Wadi Rum!
Video from our canyoneering adventure in Wadi al Mujib, and our float in the Dead Sea