So here I am back in Jordan after almost fifty years. For it was as a teenager freed from the rigours of a public school education that with a friend I took to a hippy highway that would eventually land me in Katmandu. After Turkey and Syria and Lebanon came a Jordan which still possessed its left bank and its Jerusalem.. alas, now no more thanks to the politicians. The few pictures from the time when bliss it was that dawn to be alive and to be young was very heaven showed us in the classic pipe smoking and newspaper reading pose on the Dead Sea.
I did not quite repeat that same pose today but fully again savoured the extraordinary feeling of floating, indeed of almost walking on water. Our hotel was great and served a breakfast that kept us free from hunger for most of the day. It was, indeed, a far cry from the primitive conditions we endured back in the days of Sergeant Pepper. But would we have put up with that today? In addition I had a relaxing mud bath and even allowed myself to be therapeutically buried in the sand.
I was sadly aware that the Dead Sea had started to show symptoms which in the case of the Aral sea has become disastrous, spelling the death knell of the earth’s third largest inland water.
Much of the coastline had lowered and the southern end of this lake, which is the world’s lowest recorded land surface, had degenerated into giant salt pans and rather more productive potash mines.
What remained unchanged, however, was the absolutely stunning landscape. Primeval! Sculpted into a thousand shades of red and yellow the rock formations were almost alive and rolled like gigantic geological waves through vast vistas.
Jordan is essentially a crossroads country traversed by pilgrims and warriors alike. We stopped in a lively town and gazed upon a magnificent paleochristian mosaic pavement discovered in a peaceful orthodox church.
We climbed up a hill which displayed almost interstellar panoramas stretching to Jericho, to Jerash, to the sea of Galilee, even to Jerusalem. Nearby was a basilica erected to commemorate Moses’ climb as described in Deuteronomy:
Then Moses climbed Mount Nebo from the plains of Moab to the top of Pisgah, across from Jericho. There the Lord showed him the whole land—from Gilead to Dan, all of Naphtali, the territory of Ephraim and Manasseh, all the land of Judah as far as the Mediterranean Sea, the Negev and the whole region from the Valley of Jericho, the City of Palms, as far as Zoar. Then the Lord said to him, “This is the land I promised on oath to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob when I said, ‘I will give it to your descendants.’ I have let you see it with your eyes, but you will not crossover into it.”
By the church was yet another beautiful ancient mosaic of great size and, touchingly close to it, an olive tree planted there by the late (and now sainted) Pope John Paul ll.
It was difficult to have to remind oneself that in the midst of all this wondrous peacefulness, this great hope for all humanity, less than a month ago and less than fifty miles away two thousand people were massacred in a futile war – to comment no further on the horrors which surround this lovely kingdom to the north and east.
But now the bright lights of Aqaba beckoned us to a gulf where no less than four countries converge – Egypt, Israel, Saudi Arabia and, of course, Jordan.