Around the world by bike
(513km - 19days)
21 - 22 February - Nuweiba– Aqaba 28 km
From Nuweiba we had various options, (1) we could cycle via Israel and Lebanon or (2) take the ferry to Jordan and cycle via Syria to Turkey. We understood that that, at the time, it would be difficult to get into Syria once we had an Israeli stamp in our passports and we opted for the ferry to Jordan. I was sure that one could take a ferry from Taba to Aqaba, which should, most likely, be much cheaper, but we were unable to confirm it. Instead of risking cycling all the way to Taba, we took the ferry from Nuweiba to Aqaba, which was expensive at 70 US per person. The ferry only left at after 17h00 instead of 15h00, with the result that we arrived in Jordan after dark. By the time we arrived in Aqaba we still had about an hour of cycling in the dark to the town.
Two surprises awaited us in Jordan, firstly things are very expensive and secondly it is very hilly. Welcome to Jordan!
We spent the 22nd exploring Aqaba and strolled along the beach where locals swam fully clothed. Me, unused to the currency bought 1JD’s worth of falafel and got two bags full! I forgot that 1JD was worth about R10.00 at the time. (One just sounded so little!). We did not only have falafel for supper but also for breakfast and lunch.
23 - 26 February - Aqaba - Ras an-Naqb – 88 km
It was 26th February before we cycled out of Aqaba, and knew for sure that Jordan was a mountainous country. Up and down we went (mostly up) until we reached Ras An-Naqb. We camped next to the road at more than 1600m above sea level, and I realized that it was not just my imagination that we went uphill all day.
The next morning, we cycled the last 44 km to Petra and booked into the Valentine Hotel with its pink walls, red curtains and mirror above the bed!
The following day we explored the ancient city of Petra (also known as the Rose City due to the colour of the sandstone cliffs), and although this was my 2nd visit to Petra in a short time, it was no less impressive.
Petra is one of the most remarkable places anyone can visit, and I fail to see how it could not impress even the most seasoned traveller. Dating back to 300 BC it used to be the capital of the Nabatean Kindom. The most impressive part of our visit was the entrance, as one walks for quite a while via a narrow canyon that suddenly, and quite unexpectedly, it opened up to reveals one of the most astonishing sights, the 45-meter-high temple with an ornate, Greek-style façade. Today a UNESCO world heritage site, it is considered one of the world’s most famous archaeological sites.
It is said in its heyday Petra was a major crossroads between Arabia (for incense), China (for silk) and India (for spices). Walking around Petra one can easily be transported back into the time of caravans, and one can easily imagine the chaos of trade and bargaining that must have taken place in those years. The most ingenious of all was their clever water system and how they channelled rain and flood waters into cisterns and reservoirs. Essentially a desert area, none of this would have been possible without the ingenious channels and diversion dams than controlled and conserved the seasonal rains.
We walked up to the high place of sacrifice and on the way down it started raining and had to took shelter in a tomb where we waited it out, it even started hailing! I thought that taking shelter in an ancient tomb was quite a cool thing to do. It rained all night and was freezing cold, with the result that we stayed put in our romantic hotel for another day.
27 - 28 February - Petra – At Tafila – Read Sea - 135 km
The road out of Petra climbed steeply from Wadi Musa and continued uphill for most of the day. We cycled along the Kings Highway and encountered, once again, stone throwing children. (I was immediately transported back to Ethiopia). It was icy cold, and we even encountered snow along the way! In true South African fashion Ernest had to stop and throw a few snowballs! When we reached At-Tafila, we had to make a decision, either to carry on with the Kings Highway or to turn down to the Dead Sea.
The Dead Sea with its milder climate won, and we pitched our tents just outside the town of At-Tafila at a viewpoint. It was a remarkable place to overnight as it had a fantastic view of the surrounding barren mountains and the Dead Sea in the distance.
The next morning, we raced downhill at a blistering speed, all the way to the Dead Sea at 400m below sea level, said to be the lowest place on earth! We had a swim or rather a float in the saline waters of this unique lake.
That night we camped off the road again, at a spot where we were under the impression that we were unseen. The many stray dogs, however, soon discovered us. Not only did they bark continuously but they were quite aggressive, to such an extent that it was scary and we feared that they could rip the tents apart. We tried our best to chase them away but our merger efforts only drew more attention to our legal camping than scaring the dogs.
29 February - 7 March – Read Sea -Suwayma – Amman – 174 km
Unfortunately, we had to climb out of the Dead Sea valley to Amman, which is located on a plateau. What a slow day it was, up, up, up at 5 km per hour. Along the way, we met Peter and Jill who recognised the ZA sticker on the back of Ernest’s bags and stopped to inquire about our trip. They promptly invited us for a “braai” at their home. The next night we went to their house and had a great meal and plenty of red wine before they dropped us back at our hotel. Thanks, guys!
The next day we spent searching for a new wheel for my bike, but to no avail. There were not much we could do but order a new one. Between Leon and Jaco at Cycle Maintenance Centre in Cape Town, and my sister Amanda we had the parts packed and sent to us. Be warned, couriers do not come cheaply!
We played the waiting game, but at least we were in a room, and the nicest thing about being in a room (grotty as it may be) is that one can shower and wash your hair! I thought it was something close to heaven as most of the way it was freezing cold, with the result that I cycled and slept in the same cloths for a number of days.
I should have used the time to do something about my appearance, as I was shrivelled up like an old prune. Instead, we did the touristy thing and visited Madaba and Mt Nebo, where Moses apparently saw the promised land and then died at the age of 120! The place is a bit disappointing, and there was nowhere to place your feet and say: "Beam me up, Scotty".
8 March - 9 March – Amman
It was the day of the parcel! At last, the package arrived, receiving a packet is always so exciting! We eagerly opened it, and not only did it contain bike spares, but also “droëwors”, cup-o-soup, pasta sauce, “jelly babies” and a head buff for Ernest in SA colours. So off to the local bike shop, and although their technology was limited, they were accommodating and friendly. The next day the bikes were as good as new, all shiny and running smoothly.
10 March - Amman - Syrian border – 88 km
It was great to be on the road again, the bike was running well, and the weather was good, so we made it to the border in good time. Not knowing what to expect and if we could get a visa at the border we were slightly anxious, but we got a visa without any problems. I did some essential shopping (face cream and face mask) at the duty-free shop and could not wait to use it, and took a room just on the Syrian side of the border.