(CNN) – On the shore of the Dead Sea, Jordanian comedian and national treasure Nabil Sawalha dives up to his chest in the water, with all the confidence of a swan in a lake.
“He loves you, the water here, hugs you,” he says while allowing the sea to gather his legs and bring his whole body to the surface.
“It is very sad.” Jordanian comedian Nabil Sawalha laments the decline of the Dead Sea.
The playwright, director and actor has taken the day to travel from his home in Amman to the lowest point on the planet’s surface to experience the mineral-rich waters sandwiched between Jordan and Israel.
“Nowhere in the world can you just sit in the water and feel relaxed and happy,” says Sawalha while enjoying her bath.
The Dead Sea is one of the saltiest bodies of water on the planet, with around 34% salinity. Its name in Hebrew translates as the Salt Sea.
But the Dead Sea is dying, its waters fading at an alarming rate. With each passing year, the possibility of enjoying a visit to its shores continues to decrease.
“It’s sad, very sad,” says Sawalha, lamenting how significantly the water level has dropped in the last 15 years.
A view of the current shoreline of the Dead Sea shows where water levels have dropped over the years.
The Dead Sea is fed by natural sources, primarily the Jordan River and its basin, but some of those that depend on them have been dammed or diverted.
Meanwhile, minerals are mined from the Dead Sea, prized for their therapeutic properties, further contributing to the shrinkage of the sea.
Jordan draws tourist flow after arrivals ebb
The number of visitors to Jordan has dropped dramatically in recent years.
AHMAD ABDO / AFP / AFP via Getty Images
As in the Dead Sea, the number of tourists from Jordan had dried up in the last decade before almost evaporating during the Covid pandemic.
In 2020, tourism revenue fell to $ 1.4 billion, a 76% drop from the previous year, according to the UN World Tourism Organization.
Nayef Al-Fayez, Jordan’s tourism minister, says her country is on the path of returning from holidays.
Lloyd Sturdy / WTM
The country’s tourism minister, Nayef Al-Fayez, used the recent World Travel Market trade event in London to tout Jordan’s push for more visitors.
Landscapes worthy of the big screen
Jordan’s unearthly Wadi Rum desert has been the backdrop for several big-budget Hollywood movies.
There is no doubt that the epic landscapes and archaeological sites of Jordan are a major tourist attraction. In fact, filmmakers from Amman to Hollywood regularly use them as otherworldly backdrops.
Most recently, the gritty sci-fi blockbuster “Dune” was filmed in Jordan’s Wadi Rum desert. Films like the live adaptation of Disney’s “Aladdin” and “Star Wars: Rogue One” were also shot on location in the southern desert plains of the country.
Prince Ali Bin Al Hussein, half brother of King Abdullah II, is the chairman of the Royal Jordanian Film Commission. Among many duties, he is responsible for attracting big-name studios to Jordan, as well as nurturing local talent and expertise.
Richard Quest sits by a campfire with Prince Ali Bin Al Hussein of Jordan in his country’s Wadi Rum desert.
“It is important that we are developing our own film industry and this brings real benefits to the people. It is not about getting support or money for the government. It is about the people working on the ground, all local communities benefit from this. wonderful industry. ” Ali says.
“It is a beautiful place. People want to see, they want to visualize, they want to understand what is happening.”
Rediscovering the lost city of Jordan
Professor Sami Alhasanat, a proud Petraen, is our guide through this Jordanian city of red roses “half as old as time”.
About a two-hour drive from Wadi Rum, it can be said to be Jordan’s most iconic tourist attraction: the ancient city of Petra.
The Nabataean civilization carved the city into the rock to create its capital for approximately 500 years from the 4th century BC. C. onwards. Nomadic tribes became merchants, settled in the area to control trade routes, provide security, and collect taxes and tolls.
Today, there is only one path to the archaeological wonder: through the winding rock canyon known as the Siq. The Nabataeans used the elevation of the canyon to create aqueducts to channel water into the city below.
The journey through the Siq takes about 40 minutes on foot. At the end, the narrow canyon opens into a huge clearing, revealing Petra’s most famous facade, The Treasury, an imposing structure carved into the side of the cliff. Astonishment hits you like a slap in the face.
The ancient Treasury of Petra established it as the capital of the Nabataeans.
MENAHEM KAHANA / AFP / AFP via Getty Images
Sami Alhasanat, proud of Petrean and a professor at Al-Hussein Bin Talal University, insists this was not a mistake.
“Location, location, location – this is what it was meant to be,” he says. “To be very impressive. It is to give you the first impression of ‘This is who we are’. Right next to the main entrance, when you first come across the Treasury, you get the impression that this is a great civilization. “
Despite growing up in Petra and dedicating his career to sharing its importance with others, Alhasanat says the UNESCO World Heritage site still amazes him.
Professor Sami Al Hasanat of Al-Hussein Bin Talal University is a proud Petraen who has dedicated his career to sharing his childhood “playground” with the world.
“It is still impressive to me. Every day I see differently. To me, it seems like concentrating on an image. The more you concentrate, the more you see, the more you will discover that this is a treasure. This place connects modern days with the past. and the future, “he says.
Petra was forgotten by the outside world for 1,000 years until Europeans came digging in 1812 and unearthed its magnificent structures.
While the trade-savvy Nabataeans are no more, their descendants still wait to greet visitors in Petra.
Bedouin tour guides work within Petra.
Leroy Ah Ben
Bedouin guides compete for the business of tourists leaving the Siq. They offer donkey and camel rides, personal tours, and photographer services for those who want to capture the moment on social media.
Mostly dressed in dark-colored western clothes, but still draped in traditional Jordanian shemagh or keffiyeh scarves, Petra’s Bedouins are unmistakable. But it’s something they wear on their face that is somehow the most noticeable.
Petra Bedouins say they wear kohl, a type of eyeliner, to protect their eyes from the harsh sun and sand.
Leroy Ah Ben
It is dark eyeliner or Arabic kohl, a way that Bedouins protect their eyes from the sun, dust, and sand. “These are our sunglasses,” says a guide. “Did I put it on you?” he offers.
Taken together, it gives them a “Pirates of the Caribbean” look, though they insist they were the first. “No, not Jack Sparrow. He has taken our style, my friend!” another laughs.
That Bedouin charm takes Petra from a cold ancient ruin to a living city that breathes. And that warmth, good spirit, and hospitality that thrives in this land as old as time is exactly what Jordan believes will call people to explore once again.