Siq Trail, Mujib Biosphere Reserve, Dead Sea, Jordan

May 11, 2016

Mujib Biospere Reserve - Siq Trail

The two hour up and back Siq Trail is a blast. Described as a wet hike, the trail goes up a slot canyon (siq) in water going from a few inches deep to up to about 3.5 feet deep. You take nothing with you on the hike except a water proof camera. You can leave your valuables with the park ranger at the front desk who also gives you a life vest to wear.

Mujib Biospere Reserve - Siq Trail

Expect quite a bit of scrambling, and the ability to climb over large boulders aided by ropes is a must. Thankfully, even in tennis shoes without great tread the rocks are not slippery.

I absolutely loved this hike. In May both the air and water were the perfect temperature, the trail challenging but not too much so and the scenery beautiful and fascinating.

Mujib Biospere Reserve - Siq Trail

The canyon walls are spectacular. Some look like they have been painted in a cool geometric design.

Midweek the trails were very empty. While the biosphere reserve office opens at 8:00AM, we were the first to arrive at just before 9AM. For several of the trails you need a group of five or more and must have a guide. We did the Siq Trail which was the only self-guided route available (no reservation was necessary). See their website for a description of all the trails.

I would start as early as possible before the direct light gets too harsh in the canyon. Also, at that early hour you can have the place to yourself. We didn’t see another hiker until we were well on our way out.

Photos:

Mujib Biospere Reserve - Siq Trail

Beginning of the Trail

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Mujib Biospere Reserve - Siq Trail

End Point

Mujib Biospere Reserve - Siq Trail

Float Back Out

 

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Floating on the Dead Sea, Jordan

 

May 10, 2016

Floating on the Dead Sea

I don’t often suggest an absolute must-do, but floating in the Dead Sea might be an exception. Such a simple pleasure to bob and float effortlessly in the viscous water.

Floating on the Dead Sea

Just don’t splash any into your mouth it will likely be the most salty bitter taste you have ever experienced.

Floating on the Dead Sea

Floating on the Dead Sea

Salt suspended in the water

Floating on the Dead SeaFloating on the Dead SeaFloating on the Dead SeaFloating on the Dead SeaFloating on the Dead Sea

 

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Chalet: Mujib Biosphere Reserve, Dead Sea, Jordan

May 10, 2016

Drive to the Dead Sea from Madaba

Drive from Madaba to the Dead Sea

Don and I have seen a lot of desert in recent years and I find the enthusiasm in the Lonely Planet guide book well overstated. This is an interesting but rather bleak drive through brown dirt hills to the sea.

 

Drive from Madaba to the Dead Sea

The Bedouin camps and changing rock formations add local color but it is certainly not the breathtaking experience suggested in the guide book. Maybe on a day with a spectacular sky but not in the general haze of late spring.

Drive from Madaba to the Dead Sea

First View of the Dead Sea

The Mujib Chalets 

Finally we see a stand of green in the distance and chalets along the bank of the sea. On first sight the sand colored chalets, part of the Mujib Biosphere Reserve, look just as bleak as the rest of the desert, however, after some time the place really started to grow on us.

Mujib Chalet

The chalets occupy a finger of land that juts into the sea, offering sunset views over the Promised Land.

Mujib Chalet

They still haven’t finished the complex and are currently digging large holes and putting in better soil, I’m assuming for trees. Currently there is no plant life, other than a few weeds, in the complex but based on the scale of the planting they are doing the area could be quite attractive in the future.

Mujib Bioreserve Chalet

The chalets are simple yet comfortable and include a fridge and full bathroom but only one electrical outlet.

Mujib Chalet

The first row of chalets all have great views of the sea through the sliding glass door to a balcony with a hammock.

Mujib Chalet

Just down from the chalets is a staircase that leads down to the water, with several showers along the bank.

Wifi is available in the dining room but not in the chalets.

Mujib Bioreserve Chalet

A simple buffet is served in the main building for both dinner and breakfast.

Mujib Chalet

Dinner included a selection of fresh vegie salads, bread, two kinds of meat – kaftah and chicken, very little to drink – only one small cup of water and some juice, no desert or coffee. The spread is perfectly fine and nourishing.

Breakfast includes a nice selection of cold items including hummus, vegies, hard boiled eggs and bread. Don’t expect anything very western i.e., no fruit, cereal or milk. Coffee is instant with powdered creamer.

The drawback is that the breakfast service doesn’t start until 8:30AM, so if you want to start the Mujib Siq trail when the office opens at 8:00, you’ll have to do something else for breakfast. The good news was that there were very few tourists here midweek in May and we were the first to arrive at the trail office at just before 9AM.

 

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Madaba, Jordan: Lonely Planet Walking Tour

May 10, 2016

Streets of Madaba

Starting about 10:30AM we followed the Lonely Planet walking tour, an enjoyable way to explore Madaba and its ramshackle selection of sights. Even if you are not a biblical history fan or a mosaic enthusiast it is still worth the wander around town for a slice of Jordanian life in a mid-sized town.

Inside St George's Church

Inside St George’s Church

While some of the mosaics have historical importance- such as the map of Palestine on the floor of St George’s Church – and are impressive for their age and condition, many are only remnants and much more faded than depicted in most photos.St George's Church - mosaic map

detail of the mosaic map

detail of the mosaic map

It took us about 3 and half hours to see all the sights, the extra half hour was needed to decipher the skimpy directions given in LP.  In the process we did learn that the locals are more than willing to point you in the right direction if you just ask.

Besides the map in the St George’s Church highlights along the walk included:

Archaeological Park I – ruins and mosaics from the 6th to 8th century AD.

Hippolytus Hall

Hippolytus Hall

Madaba Archaeological Park I

"...Adonis and a topless Aphrodite spanking naughty, winded Eros," LP

“…Adonis and a topless Aphrodite spanking naughty, winged Eros,” LP

Archaeological Park II (Burnt Palace) – 6th century AD former private residence

Archaelogical Park II (Burnt Palace) Archaelogical Park II (Burnt Palace)

Madaba Museum – Mosaics and other artifacts housed in former residences

Madaba Museum Madaba Museum

Shrine of the Beheading of John the Baptist – odd mix of church, archaeological site and museum

Shrine of the Beheading of John the Baptist

ancient well still in operation

ancient well still in operation

Climb to the bell tower

Climb to the bell tower

View from the bell tower

View from the bell tower

Church of the Apostles – impressive but very faded 6th century AD mosaic

Church of the Apostles

Wandering the streets of Madaba

Streets of Madaba

Streets of Madaba

Streets of Madaba Madaba - Muslim Barbie Streets of Madaba

 

 

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Sleeping and Dining in Madaba, Jordan

May 9, 2016

Streets of Madaba

This mid-sized city along the King’s Highway is one of the best places we found to wander and get a sense of Jordanian life and culture. With a third of the population Christian and the other two- thirds Muslim, it has a friendly multicultural ambiance and feels more like a real town than a tourist destination. The town boasts just enough faded, dusty mosaics to keep you occupied and give direction to your wandering.

Madaba, located a half hour from the Amman airport, also makes a great stop at the beginning or end of a trip, especially for those who want to avoid the hectic Jordanian capital.

Black Iris Hotel

Black Iris Hotel

This very average sizable hotel gets good reviews on Tripadvisor. The room was comfortable, quiet and clean but a bit shabby, about what you would expect for 30 JOD a night. Service is curt but friendly. Good wifi in the room and good water pressure if you’re lucky enough to get hot water. At 4PM the water was tepid but later at 7:30PM Don had a hot shower. Easy parking on the street in front of the hotel.

Black Iris Hotel - Breakfast Buffet

The breakfast buffet is serviceable with a minimal selection of cold vegetables, Laughing Cow cheese, butter, jam including homemade fig jam, bread and hard boiled eggs. Coffee is instant but they do have real milk. I should also add that there were very few if any other guests in the hotel on the day we were there.

Empty Breakfast Room

Empty Breakfast Room

Dinner at Haret Jdoudna Complex

At around  8:30PM we arrived at this highly recommended establishment with a pretty open-air stone walled dining room under large shade trees. The setting was lovely but the live music was blaring. Half the dining room was taken up by a large tour group and we were thankfully ushered upstairs where it was much quieter.

Unfortunately, a few minutes later we were told that there was room for us down stairs and we were asked to move. The waiter assured me that the music would stop soon. When it didn’t after a couple of inquiries he had the volume at least turned down to a tolerable level. After the tour group left the terrace gradually filled with a mix of tourists and locals smoking their beloved water pipes.

fattoush, olive salad, chicken wings

fattoush, olive salad, chicken wings

The longish menu contained many items we were unfamiliar with. For starters we tried the fattoush salad – OK but too vinegary and made with iceberg rather than the rocket listed on the menu, the olive salad – which turned out to be just a bowl of spicy olives, and the chicken wings.

Haret Jdoudna Complex

For mains we tried the local treebeh sawani. A baked cooking method, the treebeh is layers of a saucy ground meat with eggplant, crispy bread and topped with a yogurt sauce – nicely seasoned and tasty.

Chicken Sayejet

Chicken Sayejet

The Chicken Sayejet was chunks of grilled chicken with onions – a bit dry but otherwise well done.

 

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Driving to Madaba via Mount Nebo, Jordan

May 9, 2016

Drive to Madaba

The Dead Sea Highway to Madaba passes through the agricultural belt of Jordan surrounded by stark desert hills.

Drive to Madaba

Lines and lines of green houses and open fields interspersed with the occasional herd of goats and or sheep. In May vendors sell produce along the road, everything from well-established stalls to a guy with one box of peppers.

Mt Nebo

The last stretch to Madaba passes over Mount Nebo of Moses fame. The Memorial church is still under construction but it looks like it will be stunning judging from the gleaming exterior.

Mt Nebo

Part of Large Mosaic at the Church Site

Mt NeboMt NeboThe viewpoint overlooking the valley towards Israel was the most crowded place we have seen yet in Jordan. Busloads of tourists from around the world make the pilgrimage to this important spot. At 3:30PM on a hazy day the view really isn’t much too look at. Still you can see the Dead Sea and into Israel from this vantage point.

Mt Nebo

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Ajloun Castle, Jordan

May 9, 2016

Our hotel in Jerash recommended that we took a backroad to the Dead Sea Highway in order to visit Ajloun Castle located about an hour west of Jerash. A 12th Islamic fortress perched on top of a hill, it was never taken by the Christian Crusaders. This restored gem was a delight to wander through – graceful vaulted rooms softly lit combined with views in all directions of red soiled hills dotted with villages and olive groves.

Ajloun CastleAjloun CastleAjloun CastleAjloun CastleAjloun CastleAjloun CastleAjloun Castle

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