It was almost sad to leave Petra, that 2000-year-old city had mesmerized me and I knew I leaving behind unexplored corners. Exploring those could take weeks, the time I did not have. Our driver was going to give us a day tour of the Wadi before dropping us off at the Marriott by the shores of Dead Sea. We had gotten some early glimpses of the Wadi Rum from the heights of Petra and as we started the drive some viewpoints offered even more stunning scenery. Things have of course changed in the last decade. Most importantly you can do this on a self-drive car and then you have some pretty cool places to stay in the Wadi and enjoy a stunning star-studded roof over your head. Our driver did offer to roll out a sheet over the sand that we could sleep on, but maybe that was a little too crude and the country a little too new.
We took over 6 hours for otherwise a 3-hour drive with breaks and stops. The desert got prettier the deeper we got inside and we kept seeing fewer and fewer people. There were roads where we saw some stunning range of browns in the surrounding and not a single person. We were in a 4×4 and that helped because at some point our driver decided to go off-roading and show us how the vehicle could drift on the sand. There was not another vehicle in sight and we could spot the tire marks we had left a little while ago. We stopped and walked around the sand a bit – it was quite hot and dusty. Even that was serene! Today there are modern tents in the Wadi Rum and they attract guests to stay overnight as well as more day-trippers. A lot has probably changed for the crowds too. I wonder if it’s still possible to be the only person you can spot, in a vast desert.
After a half-day well spent in the desert, we headed towards the Dead Sea hotel. It was a wonderful luxury resort with a private beach on the Dead Sea. When we arrived, we were famished from the desert drive and all the dune bashing. We decided to change up the cuisine a bit and have a pizza lunch. The pizza was fantastic and the water they served with it even better. That was my first official experience of Aqua Panna – I had entered into the dark realm of consuming expensive bottled water. The delicious water did a fairly big dent on the bill, but I still say it was worth it.
The Dead Sea is at 440 meters below sea level and while we were there in winter months, it was sunny and pleasant outside. The hotel was constructed at least 100 meters above the level of the Dead Sea and we could walk down to the water on a private, well-maintained track. The hotel was quite luxurious with multiple restaurants, an amazing spa (which included a saltwater pool), a gaming room, and excellent views from pretty much everywhere. The highlight of course was access to the Dead Sea.
The Dead Sea itself is not as large as most would imagine a sea to be. It is 50 km long and about 12 km wide – you can easily see Israel on the other side. I was keen to just jump into the unworldly experience of floating in water with so much salt that it feels like a chemical. The getting in and used to this part was not too pleasant. The floor is lined with crystalized salt that is sharp enough to hurt your feet. The water will burn any injuries you have and if you get the tiniest drop in the eye, it will feel like needles poking. Once you get used to it, this is phenomenal fun. You can just sit in the water without knowing an iota of swimming. Just remember to wear waterproof footwear, be face up all the time, and not splash around at all. Feel free to take in a book once you are used to it. There is no place in the world that feels anything like this and the salt in the water is not the only thing unique about the Dead Sea.
The Dead Sea is so saline because the Mujib River, its main source of water, brings with it a lot of sediment and salt which just ends up staying in while the water evaporates. Its shore is also the lowest point on dry Earth. So the Sun’s rays feel a little different and apparently will not cause any sunburns even on brighter days. However, hot and dry conditions do cause a lot of evaporation. This sand around the dead sea is considered extremely good for the skin and you will find many people sitting on the pebbly beach covered in mud. Many shops all around the area sell dead sea sand-based beauty products.
I didn’t know then, but access to the Dead Sea is much better from Israel than from Jordan. The Jordanian shore is a few hundred meters above the Dead Sea water level and hence you always need to walk down. This also limits paved access routes to a handful of 5-star properties. Some of this could have changed since, but the topography remains what it was. The Israel shore is close to the water level and you could just park your car in some places and go into the water. There are fewer hotels in Israel right on the shore, but then you don’t need them.
A couple of days of relaxation at the Dead Sea later, we packed our bags for the long ride to the airport and the flight out. For some reason, I have no recollection of this part of the trip. I guess nothing could have matched up the sites of Petra and the experience of the Dead Sea.