The Dead Sea
31 March – 2 April 2013
Scraping out of the hotel at 1030am I creep up the hill out of Wadi Musa to have the road transform into a wonderfully meandering downhill. My joy is broken when a teenager exiting school pretends to karate kick me as I cycle past him and the rest of his cronies. Things go from bad to worse after this. The road turns to rolling hills and when I reach a town I am followed by a small boy begging for money with hands cupped.
The town is situated on a steep hillside, halfway up the hill I stop at a shop to buy something to drink and a small boy inside is staring at so much he fails to see the stacked goods on the floor and falls over. I leave the shop now quite uncomfortable and continue slowly cycling my way up the hill. Another young boy begins to walk beside me demanding money. Im going so slow he can keep up at walking pace and so I am accompanied by him the whole way up the hill begging.
Once I reach the top he stops but now I have attracted the attention of a group of children playing soccer. I cycle through relieved to finally be left alone only to have the soccer ball smack me hard in the back. I turn around at look at the smirking boy that threw it at me. I pause and then I do a u-turn and go after him. He runs away yelling fuck you, fuck you. I give up and carry on out of town to the cries of Hello! Money? from nearby children. I am really tired of people shouting at me.
I am on guard when I enter the next town and see one of three young boys pick up a rock the size of a tennis ball. I eyeball him constantly until I am ten metres in front of him and thankfully he does nothing. 50 metres later another group of young boys see me coming and run across the road in front of me, one of them spits on me then bursts out laughing. This was the sort of behaviour I had somewhat feared when reading other cyclists blogs on Jordan, and as it turns out it is the same town of At-Tafila that they described having trouble in.
It doesnt end there though. There are more children ready to throw stones, one boy throws one which hits my pannier bag. He only stops throwing stones when I threaten to chase him. I carry on and stop at small shop at the edge of town, the man there tells me the road ahead is dangerous as it is very steep downhill. Sounds like the most fun I will have all day.
I reach the start of the descent and look down into the Jordan Rift that I will cycle down into to reach the Dead Sea. It is getting close to 5pm and dusk as I stop to eat hummus and bread. Enduring the days troubles is all worth it for the next hour that I get to descend down the steep winding road as the sun sets. The road is quiet with only a few vehicles passing me and so I get to enjoy the rocky landscape in peace.
A hairpin at the start of the descent into the Jordan rift.
To the bottom to find Bedouin tents near the roadside.
I should have really stopped halfway down to camp amongst the rocky outcrops in the fading light but I couldnt resist finishing the descent so am spat out at the bottom into the small village of Fifa. There is no where sheltered to camp and so I continue along the main road north as it begins to get dark. Some policemen spot me and ask me where I am going, I point and tell them I am looking for somewhere to camp before carrying on my way. They seem somewhat concerned but let me go.
The police catch up with me a short while later and begin to follow slowly behind me there lights lighting up the road in front as it is now completely dark. I secretly hope that they are escorting me somewhere to sleep for the night as there is definitely no where suitable to camp. Ten minutes later we arrive outside the police station and I am shuffled inside to meet the police commander who thinks I am the biggest joke he has ever heard. I ask to put my tent up inside the police compound but this does not fly. Instead the police commander in between questioning and offering me coffee makes a number of calls and finds me somewhere to stay the night.
I later decide that the person chosen to house me for the night would be the man he knows with the most daughters. Or at least that is what it seems like, there is at least nine of them. He comes to pick me up in his truck with one of his daughters and drives me back to his home. A shared multi level apartment block with a separate living room for women on one level. It is here that I am quickly surrounded by women on all couches, nearly all younger than me and with at least a few children each though not all of them are present.
They look at me curiously and ask questions which I try to answer with the help of my phrasebook. They bring me food and drinks and I try to show them photos of my trip to explain where I have been. One of the young women then pulls out her cellphone and shows me photos of her trip to Aqaba. It is 200km away but clearly a celebrated trip for her as she shows me many photos of her and her friend posing there in their best clothes. How foolish I feel for being taken in from bumbling around in the dark by these people who clearly have little but choose to offer me a place to sleep, food and water. I sleep in the womens lounge with a few of the women, spread out across the various sofa mats.
The next day is a strange muggy day with a thick fog hanging low in the valley. It is a sweaty ride to and along the the rugged shoreline of the Dead Sea. I eventually arrive at the local public beach where Jordanians pay to access the water. The rest of the shore on the north end being taken up by various hotels and apartments. I feel a bit self conscious being the only foreigner present and decide to swim in shorts and t shirt as all other women in the water are fully covered head to toe in black abayas. It’s a refreshing float at the end of a long sweaty day.
After washing all the salt off I now have to look for somewhere to sleep. Only problem is that its rocky barren hillside on one side and apartments and hotels on the other. Im pondering my current predicament when fate so kindly steps in. Three people cross the road in front of and stop to see what I am up to before calling out hello. I stop to greet them in turn and meet Rosie and her two neighbours whom have just been for a dip in front of their apartments. Rosie asks me where I am cycling to and if I am on my own and where I planning to sleep. No sooner have I answered I am whisked into her apartment to stay the night.
I have met a kindred spirit, Rosie is an avid cyclist. Everyday she cycles 20km towards Amman and has competed in the Dead2Red cycling race (a cycle race from the Dead Sea to the Red Sea). She is German and married a Jordanian man thus came to live in Amman fifty years ago when there were few foreigners to speak of. She makes some wonderful vegetarian food and we discuss the sexist nature of men in this country in regards to women on bikes. I feel wonderfully taken care of and at home falling asleep in a comfortable bed showered and well fed.
We head off early together on Rosie’s regular ride towards Amman, parting after 10km. She is the first woman I have seen for months on a bicycle which is just the solidarity boost I need to slowly climb up from the lowest point of my life/the cycle tour -420m to +900m to arrive in Amman. Rosie had already made word of my arrival to her local bike shop Nader Bikes and so the humbling generosity continued. After having Frankie seen to and being gifted new cycling gloves (my other ones being so worn down I was starting to get sore hands) and food I was then given a lift to my couchsurfing hosts house. Things were looking up.
The south end of the Dead Sea.
The Dead Sea foaming at the edge.
The local Jordanian beach and the strange foggy day.
Rosie and I just about to part ways on the road to Amman.