Mukawir Castle (Herod)
Zirka Ma’in Canyon
Quiet town of Madaba
Today we have a busy day planned. We have asked around for the best prices for a car for the day, and have decided to go with Abu Sameer. He is a local Jordanian with a Romanian wife, so David is happy to be able to practice his Romaneski. Apparently David’s grandmother is Romanian.
Abu Samir will take us to Mukawir Castle, the dead sea (free beach) and Zirka Ma’in. We all wanted to do the Mujib reserve for canyon walking and the local hotsprings. This would have been pricy with all the entrance fees, and he has promised us that Zirka will be a combination of the two. Again for free, so it all sounds good! We compared this with the Brother of the guy at Madaba Hotel, who had taken us up Mt Nebo yesterday. That would be 50JD as well, but only take us to a lookout point, and the touristy section of the Dead Sea where it would cost us 16JD each to go swimming.
First we stop to get some supplies: water and breakfast. Flat bread and cheese.
Then off to Mukawir. Mukawir castle is King Herod’s castle. It is here where John the Baptist was beheaded. The drive out is beautiful. The country side is mountainous and extremely colourful. The hills seem to be made up of many different types of stone, and they al reflect different colours, from grey, pale yellow to purple and black.
Arriving at the site, there doesn’t seem to be much castle left.. We buy our tickets at one hill and walk down and up the castle one. Along the way we notice the ridge lines in the hills. This country must have been under a lot of pressure, or many earthquakes as the lines go up and down a lot. We are finding lines of different stone structures and a lot of fossiles. The hill side is also dotted with little caves that are still being used by the bedouin
people for resting places out of the hot sun. On the opposite hill a goat-herd goes by with his flock. On top of the hill are only the remains of the castle. A few low walls. They seem to still be excavating here as there is a very deep structure here. Andrew, David & Sophia had decided to walk up the steep section to get there, rather than following the path. Anna was surprised to reach the top and find no sign of them. There were several interesting caves along the vertical route. Some of these had been carved out to form rooms, and one had a steep drop leading to a staircase descending into darkness. Not having a torch, and not sure if they could get out again, they skipped exploring it.
The hole at the top is blocked of from entering. A few pillars have also been resurrected, although they look like new ones. We have a break and go back down (and up) and have some breakie in the shade. The ridgelines are interesting, and as we returned we had a closer look at them. There were large sections of sand/dust that isn’t even realy rock, with lined of limestone through them. This limestone contains many fossils. They are all similar to the ones found at Taemas. All small shells, with no coral. There are gastropods, things similar to spirifers, and what looks to be tentaculities.
From here the plan was to drive to the Dead Sea. This took us through winding roads around Wadi’s and over black volcanic hills. These hills stick out in the landscape and are completely black. They are quarrying them for the rock and sand. Nearby are the other colours. Most of these we had seen with the people making the coloured sand bottles, and now we know where it comes from. We had thought it came from other bottles, but no. It is around this region. We stopped again a little later on the hillside opposite Hammamat Ma’in Hotsprings. This is where the resorts are and
more are being built at the moment. It is a fantastic view of two waterfalls. The contrasting green around the falls and the desert is amazing. There is also a long yellow line parallel to one of the falls, where the sulphur is building up on the rocks. We are going to canyon further downstream of these waterfalls later today, and Abu Samir wanted to show us where the water comes from.
Back on the road, we find out that it has only been built in the last couple of years, and no-body really drives it yet, except for the trucks. Winding down, as we were about 1600m above sea level to the dead sea about 400m below. This was quite a decent. We drove past a few oases, and found out there were many hot springs in the region. But most tourists only know of the ones with the resorts. The rest are used by locals, or for irrigation.
A drive along the shores of the dead sea, we come to a stop. Piling out of the car we walk down a steep path and are on the shores of the Dead Sea. There is a little spring flowing down here as well so there is some fresh water around. If you ignore the water bottles and used nappies in the area it is quite pleasant. A stone beach and you can see the salt formations off around the corner. We change for our swim, and find the stones are too hot to stand on. Running to the water we are told to slow down. The salt builds up on the rocks under the water and can be quite sharp. Abu Samir pointed out the rocks that are covered, and they are a pale purple colour under the water. On closer examination the rocks were purple, and
covered in a white layer of salt creating the pink look. As the salt builds up on the rocks it can create sharp spikes and ridges, that make it easy to cut yourself. Navigating past these treacherous mines we waded out into the dead sea. The swirls of salt in the water were mesmerizing. If you pour a lot of salt into a saucepan and simmer it, I think the effect would be similar. You could feel the resistance in the water, but it was still fairly easy to walk in. We were not there to walk though, but to float. Andrew is not the best floater,so this would be a good test. Can he sink in the dead sea? Or is there that much salt that he can float? It would be a close call. The salt won. Andrew could float quite happily. We had been warned not to get the salt in our eyes, and not dunk our heads under water. This was fairly easily done, or not done as the case may be, and we worked out why when, with the hot sun and water, we licked our parched lips. The salt stings your entire mouth, and you cannot get rid of the taste. Floating around was a lot of fun. Especially rolling over from back to front. You could even drop your legs down and bob around at chest level.
There was a fairly strong current, and we could see ourselves being pulled south, although it was not hard to swim against. We chose to go with the flow for a while, and even went faster, as it was taking us towards a small rocky cliff. This was caked with salt. You can see the lines of built up salt all along it. The formation must have taken years to develop. Towards the bottom there was maybe 30 centimetres of clear rock, with no salt on it at all. We were curious about this and asked Abu Sameer about it later. We found out that the Dead Sea was dropping roughly one metre per year, and the last rainy season was really bad as well. This could explain the difference.
Back at the salt. Drifting around there was a sudden change in water temperature. A spring was coming out of the cliff, and even though the springs around here are all warm, this was cooler than the sea’s water temperature. It was fun to sit there for a while feeling the currents swirl cool and warm water around. Looking at the formations, we were reminded of cave/limestone formations. They were all represented except for helictites. There were small shawls, stalactites and cauliflowering. At the base of the salt above the water line the stalictites were still dripping water. Geology at work.
Anna and Andrew had planned on skipping the Dead sea due to its cost, but David and Sophia had said how good it was. We were glad that we went, as it is amazing, and well worth the time. Asking David and Sophia if it was better than when they had visited before (on the paying beach) and they said it was much better, as there was no salt where they had been before. Except in the water I suppose!
We washed up in the small creek to get rid of the salt, and headed back to the car. At the car we ran into a policeman that did not look that happy. Tourists not paying for the Dead Sea! However Abu Sameer smoothed things over and we drove off to Zirka Ma’in.
Wadi Zirka Ma’in is a little further north than where we went swimming, and after we crossed over a bridge we came to an impromptu car park. This was fairly full. Walking back to the entrance to the Wadi we started seeing a lot of people, and were wondering if our secluded canyon walk would be full of people.
There were a lot of people there. Picnic time for a lot of people. Walking past we had all the young ones calling out to us to take their photos. Going past the main pools at the entrance the people dropped off exponentially. The Wadi has been dammed at the entrance to provide irrigation water, and this made a great swimming pool. Continuing up the side of the water for a while, then zigzagging through it we
proceeded up the canyon. The walls were steep and the colours ranged from a fantastic rose coloured rock to sandstone. There were the occasional palm trees, and occasionally you could walk for over a minute and not see a plastic bottle anywhere. The canyon walls are very steep, and tall. It would take a professional climber to scale them, but as we didn’t need to, we didn’t worry about it. Scrambling over boulders washed down in untold floods, and through the water we came to a nice deep pool where we had our first swim. This was great, and you could feel the salt washing out of your cloths and hair. From here we proceeded up the canyon for another hour and a half. During this time we only saw one other person going the other way. Apparently it is not a popular walk, although the empty drink bottles said enough people did go that way. Or they were washed down from upstream.
As we progressed the water was getting steadily warmer. This had the drawback that we drank more, and finished off our drinking water before we made it to the end. But we were almost there. It was not a grueling trek through the Thai Jungle, yet we were still happy to see our destination. Two large boulders had fallen into the stream, cutting it off, except for two waterfalls. There was also a fairly deep pool there. Climbing part of the way up the stones you can jump in. This is fine as long as you are careful. It is also a lot of fun. Then you can swim up to the heavy waterfall, Andrew tried to swim into it a few times, but was pushed back before he could get there. The other one was easier. You could sit in the bottom section and get a massage, or move up to the main section for a shower. It was a warmer shower than in some hotels we had stayed in. Andrew made another attempt for the big one and god around the edge. There is a small ledge here big enough for two. There is also another ledge to the side that goes under the rock about a metre or so.
We had a great time hanging out there, swimming, jumping, and generally having fun. The only down side is that towards the end Annerieke’s camera fell into the water. Gathering everything up we started to head back,as the shadows on the walls were climbing steadily. We made it out in plenty of time, and as we were sorting out our stuff, Andrew & Anna noticed the guys in the car next to us. They were changing to go swimming, and as they finished, started pocketing pistols. There were five pistols between two men. We asked Abu Sameer if this was common, and he said not as much as it used to be.
Driving back to Madaba was great. Romanian music and good views. We stopped at the top of the hill for a last look at the Dead Sea and a few photos, and realised that Andrew’s camera was caked with salt. It hadn’t even gotten wet, but there was a thin sheen over the entire camera, just from the salt evaporating into the air. Still, it looked like no harm was done.
In town things were weird. Abu Sameer had mentioned earlier that a Taxi driver had been murdered about a week before, by four young guys. There were two big families involved, and traditionally for every person involved the wronged party needed to kill five people to retain their honour. This ment 20 people. The streets were quiet, hardly any cars around with a lot of burning garbage on the roads. Abu Sameer decided to take us to his place for a coffee and as we went there we passed armored vehicles and military riot squads. There was a policeman and car on almost every corner.
Abu Sameer has a really nice house, and is proud of it. They have just built it, and there are a few things that still need doing, but it is basically finished. It took 8 months to build. His Romanian wife is a darling, and although she doesn’t speak english, made us feel at home straight away. The turkish coffee came out, then the bedouin coffee. This was followed by freshly baked cake and juice. It was great, and we were welcome to stay there for a long time, but we were all very hungry by then. Abu Sameer took us back to the hotel, and now there was a tank stationed besides the armored cars.
At the hotel we were told to go inside, and if we needed dinner we could order delivery from the shop around the corner. We passed on this. It is a cousins restaurant, and very expensive. So we broke out the Bottle of Hong Tong we were saving for France and preemptively celebrated Davids birthday on the 29th with bread and Thai whiskey!
The streets were eerily quiet. Silent with the occasional burst of gunfire. It came as quite a shock to hear the call for prayer. It was so loud against the silence of the city. It was the quietest night we have had in Jordan. Probably ever.