Please now quietly hum to yourselves, the following (or click on the lyrics):
Of course, you recognise it. It no doubt immediately evokes the spirit of the First World War in Arabia with Omar Sharif and Peter O’Toole and, lest we forget, the swirling sands that live a short distance to the north of Aqaba. For we have arrived and explored and revelled in the glorious territory that Al-Awrens (Lawrence) of Arabia stomped through all those years ago.
Having disembarked the ferry at Aqaba late one night, instead of heading north, we turned right and camped only a stone’s throw (a fitting irony, you will see) from the Saudi Arabian border. It was peaceful and remained so for the next three days as we then began to head northward (and upward, puff puff) and inland to explore the lands that Lawrence left behind.
For mountain goats such as us, the climbing/scrambling/bouldering of Wadi Rum was delicious in the extreme. The canyons and rock formations appear to change shape, size and form throughout the day. The colours of scrubby sands underfoot splay out in the way that chromatograms once did in the classrooms of our childhoods. And sitting up on high at sunset with a kind breeze seeping tranquilly past our ears allows the mind to roam. To Rum-inate. To be entranced by the dancing colours. And with the sun sunk, the temperatures dropped and the warmth of Bedouin fires awaited below, just as they would have done back in those days of Lawrence. We liked Wadi Rum.
With such an entry to Jordan, the sense of anticipation for the jewel in the Jordanian crown, Petra, you may understand, was intense. But as Mr Obama might tell you, expectation can be a bummer. And so it was. Don’t get us wrong, Petra is an impressive place and the Siq and Treasury are amazing, but thereafter the hoards of tourists, pestering touts and diminishing quality of the site (not to mention the £100 entry fees (!!!) for the two of us) led to a dribbling sense of disappointment. There are no doubt some of you screaming “cultural heathens”. Maybe. But Petra did not get into our bones, despite its additionally beautiful position along the King’s Highway.
We headed on northwards towards Amman, taking in crumbling crusader castles, the incredibly scenic Dana nature reserve, steep valley (wadi) descents (yippee) and gnawing (grrrrr!!!!) 3-hour steamy climbs (punctuated only by a puncture).
By the title of this blog, the suspicious-minded among you may have envisaged an indulgent descent into a hedonistic drug-fuelled week-long Jordanian binge, opening our minds and souls to the delights of this land. Such thinking is misguided. What has propelled us along the mountainous King’s Highway and as swiftly off the roads as humanly possible has been the deeply unpleasant reception we have had at the hands (another fitting simile) of Jordanian children. We emphasise “children” because almost without exception, Jordanians over the age of 18 have been kind, friendly and always wanting to welcome and assist us. Our gripe is firmly focussed on the kids.
Before arrival, we had read reports from fellow cycletourers who had also passed through these places and been subjected to the same treatment we ultimately received. We simply thought it could not be THAT bad. But it was.
As we pedalled through town after town, while some kids would smile and wave, others simply crouched ground-wards to clutch the biggest throwable stone and then launched it at us with real venom. This was invariably accompanied by shreeks of “fuck you, fuck you”, kids spitting in our faces, trying to knock us off our bikes, or chucking their satchels between our wheels. The first time this happened we tried to rationalise it and put it down to a couple of “bad apples”, but by the eighth attack, we were deeply pissed off and itching to leave the roads of Jordan. Irritatingly, community elders simply shrugged when we asked why this was happening, or requested their intervention. [According to the cycletouring community Jordan, along with Ethiopia, is notorious for such treatment of cyclists]. We should add that our experience was not similar to that of other travellers who made their way by bus or car and we would recommend a visit to Jordan, just not on a bike, or at least not without the cycling equivalent of a pope-mobile.
The culmination of our time in Jordan was spent patiently awaiting our Iranian visa (one week, four trips to the embassy, fifteen phone calls, seven emails and a princely sum). We feel we have now reached a new zen plateau of tolerance to adversity. The travails of visa-hunting were well compensated, however, by the huge luck that we had in finding Elodie and Isabelle on couchsurfing. The unexpectedly prolonged (for hosts and surfers alike) time in Amman allowed us a glimpse of city-life at its best in the (much maligned) capital (including nightly white russians and home-made sushi). We even managed, between bandaging and boxing our bicycles like mummies for their impending flight, to drop down – and we mean really down, to 400m below sea level – to the super-saline Dead Sea, wade in Wadi Mujib and visit the impressive ruins of Jerash.
Yes, you heard us right. Another flight. This time one most certainly not of our choosing. The plan had been simple, to cycle from Cairo to Iran and re-join our old route in Turkey but the tragic events in Syria, not to mention the closed border with Jordan, have left us with no alternative but to hop over the top. We did briefly look at rolling through Iraq……
So the Arab Spring continues but our Arabian adventures are over for now. A flight from Amman to Muş (pronounced Moosh) it is. What, why, where Muş all to come next time.
As ever there are updated photos viewable through the blog site here.