The plane arrived at midnight, an hour late; our tour escort took 40 minutes to find our visas, and we were then informed it would take an hour to reach our hotels on the Dead Sea where we

Moses's view of the Promised Land

Moses’s view of the Promised Land

were in two hotels. It was 3 in the morning before we settled into our luxurious room at the Movenpick Hotel. Ah, a morning at leisure and a late breakfast at 10 o’clock. Bliss – but ‘morning at leisure’ as on our itinerary? We were leaving at 11.25 for Mount Nebo where Moses died after seeing the Promised Land and on to lunch and the early Christian mosaics at Madaba. Hurry, hurry to descend through the hotel grounds to the Dead Sea. There were changing rooms but only the four from our group in this hotel were braving the stones and the salty sea in the misty morning sunlight. I had already dipped into it years ago on a visit to Israel, but it was amusing to sit and OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAread the newspaper while others snapped. Ticked off! Done it!

Then we rushed back to change and meet our guide for the 8 days, Ibrahim, who was looking at his watch. We always seemed to be the first lot to be picked up by the coach. There weren’t many people in our hotel and I couldn’t quite make out whether it was a bad season or the end of a season. It was pleasantly warm with light clouds, very recognisable spring weather.

Mount Nebo has been a place of pilgrimage for centuries. Churches had come and fallen into disrepair, but the early Christian mosaics remained, now excavated. The large tesserae present bold pictures of leaves, animals, birds, priests and worshippers with brown-circled eyes as if marked out with bitumen, or tar, from the Dead Sea. A new church is almost finished, using the old foundations. We looked down over the dry and rocky land towards the River Jordan and a strip of welcome green. Beyond it was the Promised Land that Moses never saw. His tomb has not been found.

We sampled delicious introductory dishes, rather tough roasted lamb and sweet semolina pudding topped with spices in Madaba before leaving for St. George’s Church with a unique mosaic map of the Holy Land. Then began a long journey through the Biblical land of Moab, south of that of the Ammonites, into the land of Edom – all Semitic peoples like the Israelites. For some of it we went along the Dead Sea highway. Tar or bitumen was taken from the sea and used on ship’s hulls.  The water level has fallen by more than 20 metres in the last two decades because of the intensive farming on both sides of the River Jordan which feeds the Dead Sea. Water, never enough here, and tourism doesn’t help. The mountains were treeless and much of the lowland stony and uncultivated, grazed by a few scrawny goats and sheep. We nodded off on the way to another resort hotel on the Red Sea at Aqaba.  Bliss, the next morning is free, with an optional excursion to T E Lawrence country in the afternoon. A sleep-in to look forward to.