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Amman Rising and Falling

3 – 9 April 2013

I end up couchsurfing four nights, its a strange experience. My host is a young Jordanian woman living with her family (mother, two sisters and two brothers). They are very welcoming and hospitable but during this time I inhale enough secondhand smoke I might as well be smoking myself and experience a number of fights between mother and grown up children I would rather not have.

There is also another couchsurfer staying there, an American woman so we meander around the centre of Amman together. I develop a cold from all the smoke and dampness of the apartment. I wanted to leave after three nights but after the other couchsurfer leaves I am weirdly manipulated in to staying another night. Some people are strange the way they want to bring people into their lives when they dont really seem up for having them.

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Roman theatre in the centre of Amman.

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Sheep grazing in the suburbs in Amman.

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A lemon mint drink at the Books@Cafe.

Upon at last leaving Amman I make my way through the various suburbs out of the city heading north west towards the Jordan River crossing with Israel. There is another border crossing the Allenby/King Hussein Bridge closer to Amman but I have read that no foot traffic or personal vehicles are allowed across and so am heading north to cycle across the other crossing.

I eventually reach the start of the descent back into the Jordan Rift though it is not quite as spectacular as before in terms of surroundings and busy road. I start to notice a funny noise coming from the back wheel so stop at sea level for lunch and to examine what the problem is. I think it is the wheel angle but cant seem to adjust it to stop rubbing on the chain stay and mud guard. The wheel is spinning unevenly and so I adjust the brakes allow for this but it still seems to be a problem.

I continue down the hill but now the problem only seems worse. I stop to examine and adjust but the problem persists. Its then that I notice the cracks on the rim sprouting from where the spokes join. This explains why the wheel wont spin straight, the rim is twisting out of line as it cracks at the seams. This is not good. I think that when I had the bike looked over in Amman they over tensioned the spokes thus causing the rim to crack under the pressure of the fully loaded bike. Before this the rim was completely fine and was part of the complete new wheel I got in Athens.

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Looking down into the Jordan Rift.

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Stopping at sea level on the way down.

I try to ring the bike shop and Rosie but to no avail. So I sit and ponder a bit about hitchhiking back to Amman. A truck pulls up with three army guys from the nearby base and one of them asks me what I am up to. After I have explained he says he will be finished work soon and can give me a ride back to Amman, so I accept and wait for him to return. The next part of this story is not one I care to remember but I will tell you anyway because I have already omitted a few unsavoury encounters with Jordanian men on the blog and if I am going to tell you any I might as well tell you the worst. Ugh.

He comes back in his car and we start the journey to Amman, he buys me food and drink and I am wary until he tells me he is married and has four children. At this point I foolishly drop my guard a little and trust him. Ugh. I should have just asked him to drop me near the centre of Amman so I could find a hostel like I planned but instead he says he has a friend who has a spare apartment I can stay at, the cheapskate in me wins. He stops at a few shops along the way to get more food and then we arrive at the apartment.

Turns out he wasnt only food shopping, after I go the bathroom and come back he has pulled out some shampoo and ridiculous underwear for me. I can only describe this point as the ultimate sinking feeling. I should have picked up on all the cues, I have really landed myself in it now. I take to asking him when he will leave and reminding him that he has a wife and children at home. Uncomfortable does not begin to describe it. He is passive and seemingly unable to go past the prop cues and eventually leaves after flicking through all the channels on the tv whilst I say nothing and sit awkwardly on one of the couches. I feel like an idiot for getting myself into this situation after all the trouble in Egypt I relaxed a little in Jordan, trusting people and this is where I ended up. Ugh.

I wake up the next morning not sure where I am in Amman and without my passport as the owner of the apartment took it the previous night. I eventually track him down after knocking on many neighbouring doors and get my passport back. I ask a few people the way to the centre and make my way back to the bike shop. On the way I get a flat tyre and so stop on the sidewalk to fix this. I am wearing a t shirt for the first time in Jordan as I have seen a number of other women in Amman wearing them so deem it ok. I was not however quite prepared for the problem my arm tattoos would cause.

I am working on Frankie when a young man comes over and starts talking to me, or rather shouts at me. He asks what work I do in Jordan, I explain I am travelling on my bicycle. “Why you not work?” “Why travel?”. I defensively explain the merits of travelling and that I have already been to university and worked. He really starts to piss me off implying that I am somehow stupid for traveling and should be working. He is staring at my tattoos repeatedly as he continues to shout questions at me. It seems I wasnt giving him the right answers. He declares I am in the mafia, referring to my tattoos and then tells me that fucking would be a good hobby for me, apparently the kind of job he was covertly trying to refer to with all the questioning.  I cant remember what I said at this point but I was quite enraged for being accosted on the street and having some sort of shouty conversation with this misogynist asshole.

I make it back it to Nader Bikes and they do there best to find and install a new secondhand rim on Frankie for me. It’s nice hanging out with Nader (the owner), the other mechanic Anton and their friends as they look after me and Frankie once more. A pleasant change from being treated like a piece of meat. I find a hostel to spend the night in the centre of town. I end up staying another two nights in Amman to shake off the head cold and regain some sort of sanity. I hang out at the Books@Cafe once more which I later come to realise is the unofficial queer space in Amman, no wonder I felt so at home.

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Back to Amman and Nader Bikes to get a new rim for Frankie.

Leaving Amman once more, it seems to take a long time to reach the edge of the Jordan Valley again. The view is as amazing as it was before and I cannot really complain getting to experience it another time. Reaching the bottom of the valley I turn and head north along the road that is now quite populated with towns in between various agricultural land and buildings amongst the fertile land near the Jordan River. The map didnt really indicate this and I had imagined the surrounding land to be more sparsely populated.

I feel a tension as I cycle past people as they seem to be deciding how they should act towards me. There is not the usual Hello! How are you? Welcome. Instead I am shouted at in Arabic words I dont understand, sometimes aggressively. It puts me on edge. I feel like my presence is unwelcome and sometimes provoking. I have no idea why I am so antagonising to the locals (later living in Palestine I think it is probably because they thought I was Israeli and they could possibly be Palestinian refugees living in Jordan).

A group of five or six teenage boys see me coming  and walk towards the road. As I cycle past one spits in my face, another on my leg and another throws a tomato that hits my arm and another a stone that hits the wheel. One of them starts to run after me. I stop and yell at him to come closer and show how tough he is. He starts to walk over and his friends behind him. I think one of them is going to throw another stone when a man in a truck pulls over on the other side of the road and shouts at them. I wasnt sure what was going to happen next so am relieved and you this intervention to cycle away.

There are people all along the road and I feel constant tension, real or imagined. A young guy, maybe fifteen steps out in front of me and says hello then brushes his hand at my bottom as I cycle past. I cycle on and turn a corner to see a another guy in his late teens waiting at a bus stop. He sees me approach and walks out in the road in front of me causing me to slow down. I think he is going to make a grab at me as well so I yell at him “Dont touch me!”. His face turns from interest to anger. I continue cycling and get about fifteen metres away when I feel something hit my back hard. I turn to see a rock the size of a baseball laying on the road near me. My back hurts where it struck me.

I shout at him in anger and he begins to walk forward picking up another rock. Luckily a car comes around the corner and I wave it down in a moment of desperation as the guy looks like he really wants to hurt me. The driver getting out of the car happens to be a uniformed army officer whom I hastily tell that the guy threw a rock at me. I dont know if he understands what I am saying but he gets the message that this guy is harassing me and shouts at him in Arabic until he walks away.

I am still at least 10km short of the border crossing I am now desperate to reach. I fear what else this gauntlet stretch of road will throw at me. With 3km to go I pass some more youth on the roadside, one shouts fuck you and begins to chase me until I stop and challenge him. I finally arrive at the border crossing. Thank God. Give me the dogs of Greece and Turkey or miserable weather, anything but this.

It transpires I am not allowed to cycle across the border and instead have to go on the foot passenger bus. Its a confusing process with a lot of waiting but at least on the Israeli side they do not xray Frankie again as they did in Eilat. I am questioned for a short amount of time for my motivations for visiting Israel but not to intensely as the young border control officer seems more interested in my bicycle journey then what I intend to do in Israel. By the time I get through the border control with a new three month visa it is 7pm. I arrived at the Jordanian side at 430pm, it is now close to dark and the town I hoped to get to, Jenin is still 30-40kms away.

I cycle away from the border and start eyeing up the road side for somewhere to camp, I am very tempted by some dense wooded areas until I notice the sign warning of land mines. I continue on and come to some agricultural paddocks, looking at the map I decide my best chances are wild camping and so quickly divert myself down a dirt track along the side of a paddock. I find a hay paddock out of sight of the road and any buildings and put up the tent trying to dodge swarms of bugs. As it gets darker I begin to hear howls from im not sure what, a fox? Dog? Wolf? Whatever it is has friends and they seem to be not so far away in the paddock now making an great noise. I dont get up to look. I have no desire after this day. My back still hurts.

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Spot of wild camping in the hay paddock.

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Lights from the Israeli border crossing just over there.

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.

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A hairpin at the start of the descent into the Jordan rift.

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Down.

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And down.

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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.

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The south end of the Dead Sea.

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The Dead Sea foaming at the edge.

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The local Jordanian beach and the strange foggy day.

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Rosie and I just about to part ways on the road to Amman.

Crossing Over

27- 30 March 2013
I head off from the hostel in Eilat to find a bike shop to replace my tyres. It is most fortunate this day is the one I am within limping distance of bicycle shop for with about 800 metres to go the back wheel that has gotten progressively stiffer lately completely locks up and refuses to turn. I dismount and ended up dragging Frankie awkwardly uphill the remaining distance, which is something akin to dragging the bike through sand except there is a lot of people.

It transpires that the ball bearings inside the wheel hub had some how gotten out of place causing the wheel to become locked. The mechanic replaces them and the tyres. So then we are off riding smoothly to the nearby border crossing to Jordan which is of little hassle and the visa free as I am heading into the Aqaba Special Economic Zone. I cycle into Aqaba to procure a map and some dinars. The city is refreshing with its tree lined streets, picnic tables and actual tourist centre. With map in hand I head north towards Wadi Rum.

The main road is busy and wide and at one point I pass a large group of truck drivers on strike, im not sure for what. I eventually reach the turn off towards Wadi Rum around 530pm as the sun is beginning to cast large shadows on the surrounding rock. The road is quiet and the landscape inspiring, this area is well known as where T. E. Lawrence (of Arabia) kicked around during the Arab Revolt of 1917-1918. The sun sets and the moon rises, I have managed to arrive in the desert on the full moon.

I cycle into the tourist centre just as it is closing and am helpfully driven to the nearby campsite in the village of Wadi Rum. There is a Bedouin wedding party nearby, as the full moon in the desert is a special time, many from the village get married then. There are two large separate tents, one for the men and one for the women set up loudly emanating Arabic music. The camp is full of Israeli rock climbers on their annual trip to Wadi Rum. Some of them sleep overnight halfway up the looming cliff faces so they have an early start in the morning to make their way to the top before the heat of the day.

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As you can see my tyres are royally fucked.

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On the road to Wadi Rum.

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Sun set looming.

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An empty house on the way to Wadi Rum.

The next day I want to spend some time hiking into the desert but feel a bit isolated and vulnerable to pesky tour guides venturing in on my own. I spot a large tour group that appears to be set for hiking so shuffle over and ask where they are going and if I can join. They are a French tour group with a Jordanian guide from Amman, and of course I am welcome. Some of the women strike up conversation with me as we hike out into the desert and I am happy for the company as the space is so vast. They are planning to spend the night in the desert so after lunch I turn around and head back the way I came.

On re entering the village I am watched keenly by a young girl who asks if I have been in the sahara (desert) to which I reply yes. She tries out her small amount of English then invites me in for tea upon reaching her door. I accept and sit in the courtyard outside her house with her young siblings and rather bemused mother as we browse through her English school book and try to make some sort of conversation. After the tea is finished I make my way back to the campground for another night in the tent there.

I try to leave early the following morning as I know I am in for a long days ride. It is slow steady climb up to the top of the hill range that reveals green grass and a cool breeze. Riding up and down along the hill tops I am spotted by a family drinking tea near the road and called over to join them. Many photos are taken whilst they ply me with tea. There are more rolling hills until the descent into Wasi Musa, the valley where Petra is located. The sun is setting as I look down into the beautiful canyons below, I am exhausted as I eventually find the cheap hotel I was looking for and check in.

The next morning I am waiting for the free van ride provided by the hotel when I realise it has already gone as I am an hour behind the local time never noticing the change until now. Petra itself is the most expensive tourist attraction I have ever paid for at 50 Jordanian dinars (90NZD). You would think at that price they could have a card machine at there ticket booths but ridiculously they only accept cash and I have to hike back to a nearby hotel to take cash out. I decide after this I am done with tourist attractions. It is a spectacular place and well worth the visit though I really do question where all the money goes as the few information boards on site are funded by USAID.

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The Wadi Rum camp ground, full of Israeli rock climbers.

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Use of long neck number 237.

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Following the French tour group into the desert.

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A mighty dune amongst the rock and flat desert floor.

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Heading into a narrow rock canyon.

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The girl (on left) and her siblings who invited me in for tea.

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This kid was enterprising enough to charge me a dinar for the photo.

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Heading uphill on the way to Petra.

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Green grass on the top of the hills, its been a while.

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Looking down into Wadi Musa.

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The tourists and the treasury.

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The endless caves, ruins and stream of tourists in Petra.

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The Monestary.