overland-underwater.com - A charity drive from the UK to New Zealand
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Final Statistics: Alex & Maz Total distance: 93,550km
Furthest Point: Rotorua, NZ Now settled in Sydney, Australia
Final Statistics: Martin Total distance: 79,698km
Furthest Point: Hobart, Australia Now settled in Bristol, UK

Bobbing About the Dead Sea

Written by Alex Towns. Uploaded 29 December 2005.

Jordan, Country 11 (revisited), Diary entry 21st – 24th Oct 2005, Total distance in Jordan (heading north): 591 KM

We'd like to wish everyone who's been following our exploits and those new to our expedition, a great Christmas and a peaceful and prosperous New Year. Stay tuned for many more exciting diary updates in 2006...!

Still amazed at the speed that the fast ferry got across the water we docked in Aqaba Jordan relaxed and looking forward to some home cooked fud :o) Being the only ones with cars, we were ushered from our first class luxury, out a back door, down some service ladders, through the busy stowage class (leaving our passports with a Jordanian port official) and finally onto the car deck to be given priority disembarkation..! Fantastic – thanks Arab Bridge Maritime. Within minutes we were at the immigration which so far was completely devoid of any other passengers. The slight snag being however that our passports were still back on the ship!

In an attempt to speed the process up, we tried a two pronged attack… leaving Maz to wait for the passports whilst Martin & I walked through immigration to start the process for clearing the cars through customs. Getting wiser at every border crossing we bullishly went for it and were inevitably re-routed a number of times from window to desk to window… but having just arrived from Egypt this was nothing – mere child’s play – easily taken in our stride.

The Dead Sea

Meanwhile Maz had intercepted the passports and single handedly gotten us all cleared through immigration without us even being there and with free entrance visas to boot – result! We expertly navigated the meagre 5 or 6 windows they tried to throw in our way and in no less than an hour after rising from our luxurious reclining chairs we were waving farewell to the Aqaba docks and making a beeline to Zed’s for sups.

Rendezvousing with Zed, she directed us to her apartment and with the cars safely parked outside we were shown indoors to a very quirkily decorated flat, where each wall told a story. Dinner was about ready – perfect timing – and with glasses filled with wine we chatted about our Egyptian adventures. After several helpings of chilli and mash potatoes topped off with ice cream, washed down with wine & tap water (incidentally the tap water in Aqaba is meant to be better than the best mineral water available – which either says a lot for the tap water or not so much about the local bottled water..!) we were all full & ready for bed.

The delightful colours of Wadi Mujib

Saying our goodnights we thought we’d head back to our beach front bush camp where we stayed on the outward leg. A fair breeze had picked up by now coming in from the sea. We set up tents awaiting the return of the security patrols then climb upstairs to bed.

The wind intensified, shaking the tents furiously and prevented any deep sleep. Worried by now that we were going to do some damage to the tent, I decided to seek shelter nearer to a resort under construction at the other end of the beach. I’m not sure if it improved the situation greatly, but we eventually fell into a restless sleep half expecting the tent to be ripped off the roof at any moment.

In the morning the wind hadn’t eased, so we packed up camp and headed into town to find breakfast. Our previous brekkie establishment was shut – in fact most things were being a Friday morning, but we stumbled across a bakers turning out 3 types of flat bread of which we sampled one of each piping hot as we were shown around.

A bread feast

With bread making up a large part of our staple diet, it has been quite fascinating seeing the subtle change in bread styles as we’ve progressed on our journey… from the good old crusty bloomer – French stick – Italian panini – Turkish roll – then a whole collection of flat breads in various shapes, sizes, thickness and taste. Some has been wafer thin with a life span of a few minutes before going rigid, others are ornately decorated with a multitude of finger indents before being topped with beaten egg and slid into the oven. It’s always great to watch as they reach into the roaring clay oven and stick the naan onto the inside wall to cook. The strangest cooking method however has to be for the bread served with Dizi (an Iranian pummelled mutton, chickpea & veg broth) which is cooked on a bed of hot stones!

The inaugural overland-underwater conference With our expedition conference pending at the SAS Radisson we made tracks and arrived in plenty of time. Unbeknown to the hotel they were hosting the first overland-underwater conference outside on the pool veranda. It may come as a surprise to some/all of you, that we aren’t just lazing from sight to sight on an extended holiday and (no sympathy expected) running said expedition can actually be fairly hard work. We had a number of things on the agenda that needed discussing and allocating to the team, so it was a good few hours before we were able to call the meeting closed – which happened to coincide with the opening time of Quizno’s Sandwich shop.

Longing for a taste of a simple sandwich (Maz would still roll her eyes back in ecstasy at the mere mention of a hot meat ball sub..!!) 3 noses were pressed against the glass as the Ramadam opening times were a little more relaxed than we wanted. Only one thing for it - so we set up camp outside and waited. Eventually the staff arrived in dribs n drabs and decided to clean the place first before attending to our stomachs. Finally we were stood in the queue and being served…. You may have heard it back home – no meat balls – Maz was NOT impressed…!!

Nice flag pole

We were spending time in Aqaba as Rawan from Arab Bridge Maritime had kindly managed to schedule a press conference for us the following morning with 3 of the leading Jordanian newspapers. It also allowed us a little time to catch up on a few things such as posting my flooded underwater camera lens back to the UK for repair and taking some pics of the immense Arab flag that stands proudly above Aqaba making some visual point to the nearby Israeli’s. Unfortunately in the gale force wind the flag was slowly ripping itself apart!

The day seemed to revolve around our stomachs as we passed time waiting to meet up with Rawan and her husband Ricardo by sipping cardamom coffee and nibbling on Baclava – yum. Rawan and Ricardo were driving down from Amman and had invited us round for a cup of chi. It was lovely to meet them both again and Rawan was keen to hear first hand our experiences onboard their boats. We all laughed at our Egyptian immigration stories and Rawan was pleased to hear we’d enjoyed the fast ferry so much – note to any other travellers contemplating a similar route take the fast ferry EVERY time..!

Wanting to be refreshed for our press conference in the morning we said our goodnights then headed this time into the desert where we’d previously recce’d a potential camp spot. It wasn’t fantastic, being partly insight of the road, but at least we were sheltered from the wind. Chancing our luck, the tents were up and we were soon inside and sound asleep.

I'd like to make a withdrawal please

So as to make a good impression with the Press we decided on showering in the morning. With the car angled in about the right direction we managed a quick bird bath without causing the cars on the road to crash in alarm! We then set off for the Arab Bridge Maritime office and our waiting media. With a successful interview in the bag we said a warm farewell to Rawan then set off north towards the Dead Sea via a quick detour to Ricardo’s bank to fill up our water tanks… quite a sight with the hose running along the floor in front of the teller and out the front door!

Caught in the Great Rift Valley, the Dead Sea (actually an inland lake) separates the West Bank and Jordan and at 400m below sea level is one of the lowest places on the planet. The water is laden with minerals and is 33% solids, containing 20 times the bromine, 15 times the magnesium and 10 times as much iodine as sea water. Bromine relaxes the nerves; magnesium counteracts skin allergies and clears bronchial passages; iodine, which is essential for good health, has a beneficial effect on the thyroid functions. We however just wanted to play in the salty soup and float with hands and feet in the air, followed by a good roll in the mud..!

Salty soup

We arrived as the sun was slowly sinking so busied ourselves finding a suitable camp. Fortunately this didn’t take too long and we were soon sat watching the sun set over the hills of the West Bank as we sipped a sun downer and nibbled on pistachios. With the sun set, we cooked up a tortellini and veg feast before retiring to bed to catch up on diaries and sleep. The wind must have been hiding just around the corner, for as soon as we were settled the wind caught up again. Not being able to tuck in any closer to the cliff walls we were in for another restless night of being battered by the wind.

The sun sets over the West Bank

Morning eventually dawned and our first activity of the day was to venture down Wadi Mujib which stretches across Jordan from the Desert Highway to the Dead Sea and is sometimes referred to as the ‘Grand Canyon of Jordan’. We entered the wadi from where it meets the Dead Sea for an early morning walk up the canyon to see the waterfalls. When enquiring whether the sign explaining ‘You must be able to swim’ was for your own safety precaution, we were informed “No, you must swim to the waterfalls” – ahh

The walk was beautiful as you first followed the stony river bank running between the cliffs before having to paddle across now and again to continue on the other side. Before too long there were no more banks and you had to simply paddle then wade your way forward as you looked up to marvel at how the water had sliced this thin channel deep into the rocks which towered to either side.

A paddle down Wadi Mujib

With the water about knee high we reached the first waterfall, the only way forward being a well worn rope which dangled invitingly from one of the rocks to the side. Once up n over the obstacle from here on in it was swimming time. Fortunately the water wasn’t too cold and we all needed a good bath, it’s a shame we’d left the shower gel in the car. We soon reached the second water fall and needed to use a helpful rope to drag ourselves to the very face as the water surged around past us.

Wadi splashing

Clambering about the rocks we could see no way of getting further on without the appropriate canyoning equipment, so with a big splash we all jumped down the waterfall and headed back down the wadi. An excellent couple of hours which we all enjoyed. Next stop in our water excursion – the hot springs.

Ahh... luvly hot shower

We arrived minus Martin at what looked more like a rubbish tip than a hot spring, but wading our way through the filth we managed to find the source of the spring which poured from a small waterfall over a rock making a great hot (& I mean hot) shower. This time we had the shower gel at the ready so scrubbed up – luvly! Still no Martin & we couldn’t raise him on the radio, so we dried off and doubled back to look for him. A few km’s down the road we spotted him coming towards us… he’d suffered yet another flat tyre from a faulty tyre valve!

Synchronised swimming

Now for the highlight… a float in the Dead Sea. I only wish the graze on my hand had healed before taking the dip as I now fully appreciate the saying ‘to rub salt in the wound’ – ouch that smarts. The sensation is very wired – you just can’t sink. The rope of the buoyed area has huge salt crystals growing from it and reminded us all of being back in chemistry class. After the obligatory float, we got on with smearing mud all over ourselves to feel healthy and look stupid, but here everyone does it.

Anyone for a float

After a dip in the salty soup to wash the most of the mud off, fortunately there are fresh water showers on the beach as you desperately need a shower afterwards. It’s a really strange sensation as the salty water slowly dries on your skin, it seems to take ages and is very slippery. With a day of various water treatments complete it was time to wave farewell to the Dead Sea and in fact Jordan altogether as we began the long slow climb, some 1300m out of the Rift Valley towards Amman.

Nice make-up

We arrived at the border with Syria just as the sun was showing signs of setting. Clearing the Jordanian customs and immigration was simple enough and then we crossed over into Syria for the second time. With the sun setting fast we’d arrived, but being Ramadam the border officials were mere minutes away from their breakfast and the arrival of two western vehicles at such an important time caused a regular commotion.

Suddenly we had a fixer assigned to us and we were rushed from window to desk in a blur until reaching one official that had only just woken after a hard days resting in time for food, to then have to deal with us. Needless to say he wasn’t happy and a heated discussion ensued between the bleary eyed chap and our fixer. Finally the right passport was matched with the correct carnet and the appropriate stamps had been placed in triplicate on all the relevant forms plus a few others for luck. With suitable diesel tax & insurance paid, we were through and into Syria and with a date at Bashar’s that night, we were on our way to the Valley of the Christians…

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Comment from Tall Eric again
Nice video clips!(?) When I get out the sea I feel all icky and crusty from the salt - I guess coming out of the dead sea is ten times worse?

If you are going to do more mud bath & swim-wear pics you could consider pay-to-view as a source of income for your charity :-)

Merry Mid-Winter Festival and Happy Start-of-new-arbitary-time-counting-period to all.
29 Dec 2005 @ 15:28:31

Comment from The Mother
We were so impressed with your Jordan memoirs that we've booked for next Autumn - but doing it the comfortable way!

Happy New Year to you three plus the one visitor you currently have with you. Have fun.
29 Dec 2005 @ 18:39:59

Comment from Pete Blakemore
Happy New Year guys, Fantastic to keep up with your exploits.
03 Jan 2006 @ 08:39:11