I was reluctantly forced into a hostel in Amman, Jordan, but I ended up doing a day trip to the Dead Sea with the hostel owner and his family. I say day trip, but Khaled assured me it’d be best if we left about three in the afternoon. “Too hot, too hot,” he told me repeatedly. “During morning it okay but at 12 it too hot even for us. You pale, you fry like egg.” The Jordanian hostel owner grinned at me as I sat in the hostel’s communal area next to the breeze of a fan.
If Khaled hadn’t been so damnably nice and if he wasn’t going to drive me to the Dead Sea later, I might’ve been annoyed. I’d been in this part of the world for over a month now and I thought my skin was taking on a nice healthy UV-blasted tone. Here’s a picture of me from Petra the day before:
If I was pale, that one kid I knew at school must’ve been Albino 2.0.
I passed the early afternoon wandering the area around the hostel, which was located in the centre of the city. Everything seemed bland now. The market/souq crowds were a nuisance rather than the magical unity of vibrant lives that they had been in Jerusalem and Akko. I just wanted to elbow everyone in the ribs and step on as many toes as I could. And that one guy who smashed right into me in a rush to buy his pastries? I wanted to ram that piece of cake right up his–
Would you look at that? Nearly three already! I stopped dreaming up ways of murdering these probably lovely Jordanians and headed back to the hostel.
Khaled was on the stairs and babbled to me, “Come! Come! Hurry!” so I raced up the stairs, shoved a towel and some swim shorts in my backpack, and headed back out into the heat. Thankfully Khaled’s car was air-conditioned. It seemed to be the only thing that did work, although the radio did cooperate after a few swift thumps. “Piece of– how do you say in English?”
“Piece of shit, yes.”
I shrugged. We drove out of the city to a little suburb. He lived with his family in a really cute neighbourhood, a very “American dream” kind of area, if America was middle-eastern and Arabic-speaking. Get your head around that one, rednecks. We changed cars to something a little more functional and practical – a silver seven-seater Nissan. I turned around in my seat and was surprised to notice two little girls and a wife sitting behind me.
“Oh, err, hi,” I said.
“Hello English,” the little girls said. The wife just looked at me like I was some kind of museum curiosity, a Roman jug perhaps, or maybe a 5th-century Japanese bowl.
We drove for 20 minutes and then Khaled stopped the car in a two-lane road. He didn’t pull to one side or anything, just stopped in his lane. He got out and went into the tiny store that was basically a big metal shed by the side of the road. He came back out with a bunch of bananas and a handful of ice creams. He gave us all one of each. No, wait, he gave me an ice cream and two bananas. Quite a number of car horns were blaring behind us but Khaled stood in front of the car and waved happily at everyone.
I should mention here that he wasn’t taking me along with his family out of the kindness of his heart. No, it was in fact the case that I was paying the petrol money that enabled him to take his family out for the afternoon. Quite a lot of petrol money, I might add, but if it was paying for ice creams for us all I wasn’t going to begrudge him anything — a child’s smile is one of life’s most beautiful things, particularly if there’s ice cream all round it. Aww.
We got to the Dead Sea resort and I was stung for $16. Jordanians get in for $1 apiece and kids were probably free. It’s a good system I suppose but not every tourist has money dripping out of their ears to form large puddles at their feet. I headed in and left Khaled and his family at the swimming pool — his wife and kids apparently hated the Dead Sea itself. I hopped into the changing rooms and changed into my swim shorts and shoved everything else into my backpack. There were no lockers so I brought the backpack with me. I headed downstairs and out to the Dead Sea. Everyone else hopped, skipped and jumped across the burning hot sand but I’d wisely kept my shoes on to this point.
I left my socks, shoes and backpack at the water’s edge — I’m a trusting person and I wasn’t expecting anyone to take a liking to my backpack — and headed into the murky Dead Sea.
Let me tell you, floating in water at the lowest point on earth is neat. It would’ve been better without the “holiday resort” feel to it but access to the Dead Sea is controlled (fenced off in most non-resort locations) and I had no real means of getting here without assistance anyway, so I owed Khaled a lot.
It’s hard to explain what the sensation of floating is like. It’s relaxing, definitely, because you’re not expending any energy to keep yourself like that. It’s like lying down on the comfiest couch in the world, one that changes shape to suit you. But despite what that picture might suggest, it’s not so comfy as to give you a boner (that’s just air bubbles, I swear).
Floating in the Dead Sea is an experience you’ll just have to enjoy for yourself, but whatever you do, don’t get the water in your eyes. It happened to me twice, I’m not sure how, but goddamn does it sting. Imagine cutting yourself then pouring a spoonful of salt into the open wound, then imagine the wound was in your eye. All right, it’s not quite that bad, but I couldn’t open my eye for about 10 minutes after the incident without being in saline agony. It burns, man, it burns.
You can also scoop up the mud at the bottom of the Sea and rub it over yourself for some weird health reasons. I rubbed the thick, sludgy stuff over myself and ended up looking like Bigfoot’s anorexic cousin.
I stayed in the water a good few hours and then headed up to the pool. I swam for a while and watched the sun set.
Then it was time to go.
The kids fell asleep in the back of the car looking entirely content with everything. They’d enjoyed a great afternoon out of doing homework or playing in the house. As I watched the Jordanian landscape change from rural back to urban, I remembered day trips out from when I was a kid – to Wicksteed Park or to the beach or caravanning in Wales watching the rain batter the windows as we played Uno or Monopoly. Me and my brother always fell asleep in the back of the car on the ride home, tired and content. I realised that, despite the language and the country and the climate and a thousand other things, this culture was entirely familiar.
The world isn’t as big as we think it is.