Around the world by bike
(625km - 18days)
21/2 - 10/3 2008
21-22 February – Nuweiba, Egypt – Aqaba, Jordan - 28 km
From Nuweiba, Egypt one could cycle via Israel and Lebanon to Turkey, or take the ferry to Jordan and cycle via Syria. As it was difficult or near impossible to get into Syria with an Israeli stamp in the passport, the uncomplicated ferry to Jordan was a no-brainer. The ferry departed after five instead of three p.m., resulting in us arriving in Jordan after dark and leaving an hour’s cycling at night until reaching the city centre.
After a good night’s sleep, the next day was spent exploring our new country and Aqaba while strolling along the beach where Jordanians swam fully clothed. However, two surprises awaited: firstly, things were rather expensive as the Jordanian dinar was strong and, secondly, it became clear Jordan was another mountainous country.
Aqaba’s old town, where we bunked down, offered an exciting dose of ancient Arabia centred around a souq. These markets were fascinating and allowed a peep into the Jordanian lifestyle. Cafés were packed by men in kaffiyehs, smoking shisha pipes and sipping the local brew. I imagined a camel as a more appropriate means of transport than a bicycle. The market offered the best food in Aqaba including delicious hummus. Unused to the currency, I bought one JD’s falafel and received two full bags, enough for supper, breakfast and lunch!
23 February - Aqaba - Ras an-Naqb – 88 km
Ernest and I followed the King’s Highway, an ancient north-south trade route since prehistoric times, connecting Africa to Mesopotamia. This ancient route ran from Egypt via the Sinai desert to Aqaba and further north to Damascus.
As romantic as it may sound, the area was mountainous and the hills made it exhausting riding. Nevertheless, we pushed on until reaching Ras An-Naqib where we pitched the tents next to the road at more than 1,600m above sea level. I realised it wasn’t my imagination - it was an uphill trek.
24–26 February – Ras an-Naqb – Wadi Musa – 44 km
We parked off at Wadi Musa to explore the ancient city of Petra (known as the Rose City due to the colour of the sandstone cliffs). Although my second visit in a short time, Petra was no less impressive.
Petra is a remarkable place, and I failed to see how it couldn’t impress even the most seasoned traveller. Dating to 300 BC, it was the capital of the Nabatean Kingdom. However, the most impressive part of the visit was the entrance. Following a narrow canyon walk, it suddenly and quite unexpectedly opened, revealing a genuinely astonishing sight, the 45-metre-high temple with an ornate, Greek-style façade. Today a UNESCO World Heritage Site, Petra is considered one of the world’s most famous archaeological sites.
In its heyday, Petra was a major crossroad between Arabia (for incense), China (for silk) and India (for spices). While exploring Petra, one could easily be transported to the time of caravans and could just as easily imagine the chaos of trade and bargaining that undoubtedly took place in those years. Most ingenious was their clever water system and how rain- and floodwaters were channelled into cisterns and reservoirs. Being a desert area, none of this would’ve been possible without these channels and diversion dams that controlled and conserved the seasonal rains.
While returning from our walk to the high place of sacrifice, a sudden downpour and hailstorm made us seek shelter in a tomb. I thought taking refuge in an ancient tomb was quite a cool thing to do. Unfortunately, the rain continued all night and, with freezing weather setting in, we stayed an extra day.
27 February - Petra – At Tafilah – 91 km
The route out of Petra climbed steeply from Wadi Musa and continued uphill almost the entire day. Still following the barren, mountainous King’s Highway, we soon encountered the warned about stone-throwing children and I was mentally transported back to Ethiopia. The wintery weather brought snow and Ernest had to throw a few snowballs. On reaching the junction at At-Tafilah, the King’s Highway continued north and the At-Tafilah Highway turned down to the Dead Sea in the Jordan Valley.
Following discussing our options, the Dead Sea, which we believed had a milder climate, won. Already late, the tents were pitched at a viewpoint on the outskirts of At-Tafilah. The spot was a remarkable place to overnight as it was blessed with a terrific view of the surrounding barren mountains and the Dead Sea in the distance.
28 February - At Tafilah – Dead Sea - 112 km
In the morning, we raced downhill at breakneck speed, from 1,000 AMSL to the Dead Sea at 400m below sea level, the lowest place on earth. Before pitching the tents, we first had the obligatory swim, or instead float, in this unique lake’s saline waters.
Being under the impression that our chosen spot was well-hidden, was clearly incorrect. The many stray dogs soon discovered us. They barked continuously but were also quite aggressive, to such an extent that we feared they could rip the tents apart. However, chasing them only drew more attention to our illegal camp, rather than frightening them.
29 February-7 March – Read Sea -Suwayma – Amman – 174 km
The road climbed steeply out of the Dead Sea valley to Amman, located on a plateau at 1,000 metres above sea level, a slow process on a bicycle. In the process, we met Peter and Jill who recognised the South African sticker on Ernest’s bags and stopped to inquire about our trip. They promptly invited us to a braai, and we spent the following evening at their home, enjoying a great meal and plenty of red wine before being dropped off at our abode.
Two days were spent searching for a new rim but to no avail. There wasn’t a great deal one could do but order a new one. Thanks to my sister Amanda, Leon, and Jaco at Cycle Maintenance Centre in Cape Town, the parts were packed and sent to Jordan.
Ordering the spares made kicking back in a room until the parcel arrived easy. The best part of any accommodation was it usually had a bathroom. I considered this heaven. The freezing weather resulted in us biking and sleeping much in the same outfit, and you can thus understand my delight.
I should’ve used the time to do something regarding my appearance, as I was shrivelled up like an old prune. Instead, we did the tourist thing and visited Madaba and Mt Nebo, where Moses reportedly saw the promised land and then died at the age of 120. The world is clearly going backwards as the life expectancy in Jordan, at the time of our visit, was only 74. The place was a tad disappointing, and nowhere to place your feet and say, “Beam me up, Scotty”.
8-9 March – Amman
At last, the package arrived. Receiving a parcel is always exciting and it was eagerly opened. Not merely did it contain bike spares but my thoughtful sister included droëwors, cup-a-soup, pasta sauce, jelly babies and a buff for Ernest in SA colours. Thanks, Amanda!
Off to the bike shop, and although their technology was limited, the shop was accommodating and friendly. The following day, the bikes were as good as new.
10 March - Amman - Syrian border – 88 km
All smiles, we continued our journey towards Syria. The bikes ran well and the weather was good, making pedalling to the Jordanian-Syrian border effortless. We were slightly apprehensive, not knowing what to expect and whether obtaining a visa at the border was even possible. We were thus ecstatic to learn the process had changed and had become more effortless.
I did essential shopping (face cream and mask) at the duty-free shop. Then keen to use it, I found a room on the Syrian side of the border to relax until exploring Syria in the morning. That also brought to an end our rather short visit to Jordan.