Sunday was Mawlid an-nabī, the observance of the birth of the Islamic Prophet Mohammed, but unlike Eid al-Fitr (Little Eid) or Eid al-Adha (Big Eid), Mawlid is a low-key celebration marked by a quiet focus on the prophet’s life and an uptick in eating and charitable acts.
It’s also an official holiday, which spells road-trip to me; so goodbye grey and frosty Amman, and hello southern Dead Sea, where even in the earliest weeks of January you can catch a mean sunburn and breathe balmy, mineral-thick air.
A friend picks me up at 11 AM, and we head to the Dead Sea highway – an amazing strip of asphalt that drops you approximately 3000 meters in less than 30 kilometers. Temperatures will raise from 50F to 68F by the time we reach our destination. Ears pop, sweaters strip off, windows open and we stop along the way to pick up some provisions.
Three deliciously roasted chickens ($8.20), three meter-wide flat-breads fresh from the oven ($0.85), with a couple water bottles ($.80) means lunch for two (with take-home enough for two more) for under ten bucks.
We continue our descent and choose one of the many highway pull-off spots to park and perch on the cliffside and devour our food. (Sweet surprise to see those chickens came with a mountain of pickled veggies and fries). Sit and listen to turquoise wavelets lap the salt-caked shoreline. Watch the craggy mountains on the west bank fade in and out through hazy skies looming above the sea.
Our plan was to slide along the coast to the sea’s southern tip to a small farming community, Ghor-al-Safi, home to some of the region’s most exciting archeological sites.
There’s Lot’s Cave (free admission includes epic trekking around the excavated ruins) and The Museum at the Lowest Place on Earth (free admission to see some of the world’s oldest preserved textiles) where the story of the Jordan Valley is presented in beautifully clear story-boards.
Driving directions from Amman can’t be more straightforward (“drive south on the Dead Sea road”) and the trip is stuffed with endless amusements such as impromptu parades of sheep, donkeys and goats and small children. Take care to be alert; and use the idle driving times to pick roast chicken from your teeth.
We head into Safi village to stop in on the women’s guild, a Green Prophet favorite, to see what the artists are up to today (to be covered in another story!). A current project involves dying wool culled from their sheep (and camels!), spinning it into yarn, and crocheting fiber bracelets (see image below). Handmade bracelets in a naturally-dyed gift pouch for under $5!
The Safi craftswomen load us up with cups of sugared sage tea before we hit the road. Aim to be back in Amman by nightfall, but couldn’t resist one last pit-stop to watch the sea turn silver and the sky start it’s evening performance.
This time I turned my back to the sunset to see what the light was doing to the red rocks to the east. Ancient formations cut by weather and wind look like gargantuan sandcastles.
I really do need eyes on the back of my head to take it all in. But the sea calls louder, so one last gaze before we climb to Amman.
Today’s adventure was concentrated – we have to be at work tomorrow – but our six hours door-to-door day-trip could easily extend to a weekend if you take time to fully explore the sites mentioned here.
In springtime, add a day of Dead Sea dipping at the public beach for about $14 (buying you access to swimming pools, freshwater showers, toilets and food concessions).
A day of these eye-opening natural and man-made wonders will set you back less that a week’s worth of franchise coffee drinks. Puts me in mind of the ancient Chinese saying, “Choose what you like and pay for it”.