14 April – 28 August 2013
I spent three days being a tourist before cycling to Ramallah to join the International Solidarity Movement (ISM). This essentially involved being a witness to the ongoing occupation, recording and reporting as well as participating in demonstrations and offering solidarity to those I met. I had originally planned to volunteer with the ISM for three weeks but after my first day there I decided I would stay six weeks and then later four and half months until the end of August. During this time I experienced the wonderful hospitality and strength of the Palestinian people first hand in the face of the ongoing Israeli occupation. (All these photos are my own and the links with them are of the corresponding reports written for the ISM website by myself and other volunteers).
Dabke being performed in the ancient roman theatre in Sebastiya.
Mmm maklouba, midday feast in Asira after helping clean the Retaj Womens Centre.
Looking across the Jordan Valley on a visit to Duma with Ghasssan and Wael.
I witnessed many times the violence of the Israeli settlers and army towards the Palestinian people. I visited homes threatened for demolition or raided by the army the previous night. I met farmers attacked by illegal Israeli settlers while trying to work on their own land and saw fields and olive trees burn from fires Israeli settlers had lit. I saw army officers try to intimidate children on their way to school and invade family houses because no one would ever say no when they knocked on the door.
A house in Qusra that has demolition orders issued against it by the Israeli Army. Eight members of one family have lived here for ten years. http://palsolidarity.org/2013/07/qusra-demolition-orders-if-they-destroy-this-house-where-will-we-go/
Asira villagers desperately try to harvest crops before they catch fire whilst soldiers look on and prevent them from putting out the flames. http://palsolidarity.org/2013/05/arson-attack-on-asira-village-by-illegal-settlement-of-yitzhar/
Soldiers march down the street towards schools in Hebron before 9am in attempt to provoke and intimidate the children on the way to school. http://palsolidarity.org/2013/05/military-presence-at-hebron-schools-regular-updates-2/
I saw countless horrible acts that Palestinians endure every day that I know would be an outrage in my own country. And yet there it is commonplace, still horrible but never anything new. The price one pays for living under occupation. On the other hand I saw the steadfastness of the Palestinians in the face of this and visited social and cultural centres uniting communities and participated in demonstrations that protested the latest atrocities and the continuing occupation of their lives and land.
Women have their id checked by Israeli soldiers in order to pass through the Qalandiya checkpoint from Ramallah to Jerusalem. http://palsolidarity.org/2013/07/restriction-of-movement-remains-for-palestinians-during-ramadan/
Villagers from Urif speak with army after settlers have attacked the village. The illegal settlement of Yitzhar above Urif, Burin, Madama and Asira is considered one of the most violent in the West Bank by the UN. The Israeli Army are present to protect the settlers and maintain the occupation by violently oppressing the Palestinians, as happened this day. The soldiers used pepper spray, sound bombs and tear gas against the villagers while the settlers threw stones and lit the land on fire. http://palsolidarity.org/2013/05/villages-of-urif-burin-and-asira-violently-attacked-by-settlers/
The village of Burin holds its annual Kite Festival despite the Israeli army closing roads on the day preventing visitors access.
Each week villages across the West Bank hold weekly Friday demonstrations marching towards stolen land, the apartheid wall or a road gate. The people participating know they will be on the receiving end of the Israeli armies violence and face possible arrest but they demonstrate anyway. I have had my eyes and throat sting from tear gas and feared being shot with rubber bullets or sprayed with skunk water but all the while knowing as an international the violence I will experience is little compared to that a Palestinian could receive. At the end of the day the worst that was likely to happen was that I would be deported, I never had to fear months or years in a Israeli prison or being shot with live ammunition.
Children in Kafr Qaddum protest against Israeli soldiers who pasted posters in their village threatening to arrest them. http://palsolidarity.org/2013/06/we-are-the-armywe-will-catch-you-or-we-will-come-to-your-house-soldiers-threaten-children-of-kafr-qaddum/
Soldier about to pull the pin of a sound bomb on non violent demonstrators in Nabi Saleh after they got tired of listening to the demonstrators talk about the occupation. http://palsolidarity.org/2013/05/resistance-still-strong-in-nabi-saleh-video-and-photo-essay/
Demonstrator looks over the apartheid wall at the army in Nilin. http://palsolidarity.org/2013/06/nilin-words-versus-the-occupation/
I could go on and on about all the horrible crimes that the Israeli government and army commit against the Palestinian people but there is no end to this as the occupation continues. If I had been more organised/reflective then I could have written about things as they happened as a number of other long term volunteers did. At the end of an extremely violent day after the villages of Urif, Asira and Burin were attacked by settlers and soldiers I sat outside the home of a local activist in Burin with a fellow volunteer A from IWPS . We played with the young children as the sun set and the lights of the illegal settlement of Yitzhar shone out from the neighbouring hillside where the violence had begun. A summed up the day in an email she posted http://allsidesnosides.wordpress.com/2013/04/30/an-email-about-a-bad-day/
Violence is not the only method of oppression as C whom I volunteered with describes here http://whatisawinpalestine.wordpress.com/2013/05/24/watch-out-friday-youre-not-safe-or-sacred-either/. When in Hebron I saw the ongoing harassment of school children by Israeli soldiers, another fellow volunteer Ellie whom spent a lot of time there reporting on this writes about it here http://www.ellieceeoverseas.blogspot.co.uk/2013/06/palestine-spit-singing-soldiers-and.html. In this blog she also takes the time to discuss getting skunked and I can testify to being one of the sensible comrades who only got misted by rather less fearlessly running away from the action. It’s only an illusion of safety though as not even your own home is safe in Palestine. In the following link a fellow volunteer recounts our visit to a home in Sarra up for demolition and shows the harsh reality of a home night invasion and demolition by the Israeli army http://discorporatedo.wordpress.com/2013/07/10/reflections-in-broken-glass/.
Getting dressed up for a march through Nablus and Tulkarem to commemorate the 65th anniversary of the Nakba (catastrophe). http://palsolidarity.org/2013/05/photo-essay-march-through-nablus-and-tulkarem-commemorates-the-nakba/
Looking out the kitchen window of the Nablus apartment. Nablus, part of Area A which is technically under Palestinian Authority control but is regularly invaded by the Israeli army. http://palsolidarity.org/2013/07/video-israeli-forces-raid-nablus-during-ramadan/
Bedouin by tents and the apartheid wall in Anata at sunset. Every Friday the Bedouin community on the outskirts of Anata, East Jerusalem are caught between clashes of the Israeli army and young men from Anata. The Bedouin families are subject to the tear gas, sound bombs and plastic coated steel bullets used by the army against the young men despite having nothing to do with the clashes. http://palsolidarity.org/2013/07/video-anata-bedouin-communities-caught-in-crossfire/
If I could sum it all up in one story then this is the one. Five teenage boys are imprisoned in Israeli prison right now (December 2013) facing charges of 20 counts of attempted murder each for alleged stone-throwing despite the complete lack of evidence. I met Um Fadi, the mother of one of the imprisoned boys Ali a number of times in Bidiya where she worked at the Women for Life Centre. It was obvious to see the emotional and physical strain of having her 16 year old son imprisoned and the months drain by without any change (they have been imprisoned since March 2013). This is the epitomy of the occupation, wrecking families, young peoples futures and their communities. You can read about it all here http://haresboys.wordpress.com/ but more importantly can help by donating funds to the families here http://namlebee.com/index.php?np=proyecto&pro=27. If you can’t donate any money then you can support all Palestinians by educating yourself on the occupation and not spending money on Israel by participating in the BDS campaign (boycotts, divestment and sanctions). There are two sides to every story, one side is the occupier and the other is the occupied.
10 – 13 April 2013
I wake up in the hay paddock a little before 7am to some vehicle noise. I go outside to pee and see a tractor nearby. Crap. I duck back in the tent hoping they didnt spot me. I lie there nervously listening as the tractor approaches and stops outside the tent. I poke my head out the tent and say ‘Hello, sorry I will be on my way soon’. The driver says hello then asks where I am from. Once he understands I am a tourist on a bike he offers me water and says I can stay as long as I want. All I have to do is move Frankie who is currently leaning against the hay bales as he is picking them up.
As I pack up the tent a little while later he drives back over and promptly explains three things. 1. This paddock meets the border and there are army patrolling there and if they see you they will jump on you. He’s surprised they didnt. 2. There is rabies, the wild coyotes have rabies (that would explain the howling). 3. If I need to camp anywhere I should camp by the gate of a settlement as it is much safer there.
As I walk out of the paddock I think about how that camping spot was pretty stupid but very informative. I reach the dirt track back to the road where two men sit by a car. They invite me to come and sit down and tell me I will see something very interesting. At first I think they have a hawk but soon discover they are collecting various measurements from a barn owl. Apparently there are 300 owl boxes in the area that they monitor.
We end up talking about my trip and Jordan, I refer to some of the trouble I had there and this unleashes some rather casual racist remarks about Arabs living there and here. One of the men, Koby invites me to stay at his nearby kibbutz and explains how to get there, they give me a map in Hebrew. I take all this onboard and though I vaguely had notions of cycling north towards the Sea of Galilee decide I will cycle the country north to south when there is no more occupation and therefore will not be staying at a kibbutz anytime soon.
Taking measurements of the barn owl.
The barn owl and I.
I will admit though it is nice to not be shouted at and feel like I dont stand out anymore amongst the general population. I cycle through Beit She’an and on to the busy roads heading towards the Jalame checkpoint to enter the West Bank. I cross back above sea level on the way. I line up behind the cars waiting at the checkpoint, when it comes to my turn the Israeli soldier standing beside the road tells me I cant go through on a bicycle because it is only for cars.
Another security man standing nearby with dark glasses and a large machine gun quickly marches over and grabs my passport. He repeats that only cars can cross. I ask him then where I can go. He then tells me to wait as he talks into his radio. Hearing the response he then says I can go. Apparently a cycle tourist isnt a security threat after all. As soon as I reach the other side of the checkpoint the road condition deteriorates to become narrow and full of cracks and pot holes. The roadside is noisy with people selling goods, I am yelled at, there is a lot of rubbish.
I make it to the busy centre of Jenin where I attract a lot of attention trying to find the Cinema Guesthouse. I stay two nights in order to visit the Freedom Theatre inside the Jenin Refugee Camp and attend a concert in the cinema the guesthouse is named after. At the guesthouse I meet a German couple Willie and Magdelena. They have just begun a walking trek from Nazareth to Bethlehem in the footsteps of Joseph and Mary though neither of them are religious. Keeping with the theme they are walking with a donkey, which seems to cause them endless trouble as it continually wants to stop and eat rather than walk. It is a nice change to not feel like the only crazy one.
After talking with them I realise since the last days ride in Jordan I have had underlying anxiety from being hit with the rock. When I cycle now I am expecting the worst and this is proving really stressful. I begin to dread cycling through the rest of the West Bank where both Palestinians and illegal Israeli settlers are known for throwing rocks. Its only a few more days ride to Jerusalem though and I want to see and travel this part of the West Bank so forge on.
Fertile lands just north of the West Bank.
Jenin refugee camp.
The West Bank is beautiful in spring, the land is so green and lush in comparison to the other side of the Jordan Rift. South of Jenin the land is flat but progressively gets steeper as I begin to meet the rolling hills that define the West Bank from the Jordan Valley in the East and the flat plains heading to the Mediterranean in the West. I am slogging my way up one of these hills through a small village when I am shouted at “How much?”. My anxiety increases.
Carrying on the main road south towards Nablus, some people kindly stop to ask if I need help. Nablus itself is quite elongated and as I ride through am greeted Hello by some young men, ignoring them I am then sworn at repeatedly. I was planning to stay at the guesthouse here but the listed directions arent very good and I give up trying to find it quickly in order not to cycle round town in circles. Jerusalem is still 60km away and the road is now very hilly so as I continue south I begin scouting somewhere to camp.
Many of the roadside paddocks contain olive trees that provide little cover but the Israeli settlers have planted thick pine forests exotic to the land changing the landscape forever along with there orange roofed gated communities sitting atop hills in the most defensive position possible lauding over their Palestinian neighbours. It is in one of these forests I decide I will camp for the night, it is below the illegal settlement of Eli that was established in 1984.
The forest has various mountain bike trails winding through it and is near a natural spring. I sit at a park bench near the track to the spring to wait for dusk as many settlers come to use the spring. Most of them are from Eli and ignore me completely though a few try to speak Hebrew with me until I tell them I cant. At last they all disappear and I cycle into the forest and find somewhere to put up the tent. As I am sitting outside eating dinner I hear some rustling nearby, thinking some people are about to walk by I freeze. Instead two mountain gazelle run past my tent seemingly oblivious to my presence. Magic.
A plane turned into a cafe, just south of Jenin. Arafats picture is on the tail.
The sign reads: Possibility of mines. No passage on dirt roads.
The surprisingly lush West Bank after the dry terrain in Jordan.
View from top of one particularly long hill.
Green, green, green! You can see why they want to steal it.
The sign reads: This road leads to Palestinian village. This entrance for Israeli citizens is dangerous. Unbeknownst to me at the time this valley road would be one I would go up often in the following months in order to visit the villages of Burin, Madama and Asira whilst volunteering.
Cycling through the settler forest underneath the illegal settlement of Eli.
I head off early the next morning continuing up and down the rolling hills. I am using a UN map of the West Bank from 1992 I found on the internet, finding a useable map of disputed land proving quite difficult. I notice a dramatic difference in the last twenty years in relation to the map, the Israeli settlements have dramatically increased and expanded in size. I dont need to look at a current map to know this, it is clear with the naked eye. The road south of Nablus is also of much better quality with a wide shoulder and good seal now that it is jointly used by Israeli settlers and Palestinians. There are many small Israeli flags along the roadside that have fallen off cars.
I eventually cycle past the wall and through a checkpoint into Jerusalem unstopped by the army officers standing nearby. As I make my way to Damascus Gate I pass a lot of new, large clearly expensive buildings. It is a relief to arrive at the old city full of tourists and locals and finally be finished with cycling in the Middle East. It hasn’t been easy but I have learnt a lot and been to so many beautiful places. 7 months ago I rode out of Edinburgh heading for Berlin. Since then its been over 8500km through 15 countries and three continents. Now though I need to rest.
Trip Casualty List (Istanbul to Jerusalem):
1 rear rim
1 front tyre
1 rear tyre
1 set of rear wheel ball bearings
1 pair of cycling gloves
at least one inner tube
multiple brake pads and tyre patches
That horrible wall. On the outside of Jerusalem.
Damascus Gate, Jerusalem. The end of the road.
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.
Roman theatre in the centre of Amman.
Sheep grazing in the suburbs in Amman.
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.
Looking down into the Jordan Rift.
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.
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.
Spot of wild camping in the hay paddock.
Lights from the Israeli border crossing just over there.
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.
As you can see my tyres are royally fucked.
On the road to Wadi Rum.
Sun set looming.
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.
The Wadi Rum camp ground, full of Israeli rock climbers.
Use of long neck number 237.
Following the French tour group into the desert.
A mighty dune amongst the rock and flat desert floor.
Heading into a narrow rock canyon.
The girl (on left) and her siblings who invited me in for tea.
This kid was enterprising enough to charge me a dinar for the photo.
Heading uphill on the way to Petra.
Green grass on the top of the hills, its been a while.
Looking down into Wadi Musa.
The tourists and the treasury.
The endless caves, ruins and stream of tourists in Petra.
22 – 26 March 2013
A long overnight bus ride later I stop on the Sinai peninsula in Dahab, where you can look across the Gulf of Aqaba to Saudi Arabia. Dahab before the tourism explosion, was a string of sandy beaches with straw beach huts and shacks. It still maintains its relaxed vibe and is a small tourist haven devoid of the prevailing sexual harassment in comparison to the rest of Egypt. Even the touts seem half hearted and barely try to pedal their wares. The main activities revolve around the Red Sea and exploring the coral reef though a trek up Mt Sinai is also at the top of many tourists list. I decide to make this my priority and join an sunrise trek up to the top of the mountain knowing I will never be able to sum up the energy to do it by bicycle or trek alone.
To ensure all the individual groups make it to the top before sunrise we have to leave Dahab at 11pm and arrive at the base car park at 1am. The trek is then negotiated by torchlight shuffling up behind the countless other sleepy tourists. Occasionally a camel driver will materialise out of the dark trying to break the weaker spirits in-between the strategically placed cafes selling overpriced tea and coffee. The view from the top looking across the many rocky peaks making up the Sinai area is spectacular whether you have any spiritual connection to this area or not.
After anothers days rest in Dahab I cycle on for Nuweiba another town with tourist facilities to the north on the Red Sea. The road though does not follow the coast but rather heads inland leaving behind any cooling breeze in the 35+ degree heat. Its a slow steady climb up and twice I decline rides offered to me. After a lunch break I run out of water and face an uncertain ride til the next checkpoint where I can refill my bottles. Thirst begins to dominate my every thought and I actually say ‘You beauty!’ out loud when I see a sign for a rest house on the road ahead.
Making a bee line for the fridges stocking juice and water my happiness is soon quelled by the young male shop keeper who starts to closely pepper me with questions. There is no one else in the shop and I move to look at the food to escape his invasive presence though in doing so he manages to brush his hand against my bum following me around the shop. My jubilation in being able to drink multiple cold drinks in the shade has evaporated. I had wistfully dreamed that in the two final days of cycling in Egypt I might be able to avoid any further sexual harassment. The bubble that existed in Dahab though has popped and my desire to get out of Egypt has never been stronger. I fast track it from the rest house thoroughly disappointed but at least with enough water to last the rest of the day.
The climbing continues and at one particularly slow point a man pulls alongside me in a car very insistent that he will give me a ride and that there is still a very long hard cycle to Nuweiba. I stick to my guns though and a few kilometres later am rewarded with an epic descent back down to the coast. Only someone up to no good would deny a cyclist there downhill for the day. Nuweiba is a village past its peak and the majority of the beach front accommodation, mostly Thai style huts is empty and has seen better days. There is nothing much to do there other than to sit and relax at the sea front so I only spend one night sleeping in one of the many available huts.
The next day is long slog up and down along the coast under the hot sun to the Taba border crossing with Israel. I arrive at 3pm and once through the Egyptian side am forced to take Frankie through the foot passenger area rather than the car access. At first this is fine as I wheel along behind some Israelis returning from a day trip. A stone cold Israeli border security officer asks me what the purpose of my visit is, I laugh and point at Frankie. She looks at me like I am piece of shit she just got stuck to her shoe. Well I didn’t expect the red carpet rolled out but still they must suck some serious lemons in training for this job.
She waves me on and I eventually make it to the x ray machine. Assuming they will want to x ray my bags I take them off and put them on the conveyor belt. The border security officer though then wants me to put Frankie through the machine though there is no way this will fit. She asks if Frankie will fold. I say no. She seems very annoyed and asks ‘Why not?’. ‘Um its not a folding bike’ I reply. Awkward. I offer to take off the wheels to appease her anger and she agrees. I am pulled aside to another x ray machine where I have to grab my bags and find my tools to take off the wheels. Another border security officer puts Frankie through the machine and then begins to ask me about my plans and tells me the name of a bike shop in Eilat I could visit. I feel like I am getting the good cop bad cop treatment, its very disconcerting.
I finally get everything back together again and on the bike and am able to make it to the passport check. When I arrive at the counter the young woman behind the desk sees I am tired and stressed and sympathises to my cause. She asks a minimum of basic questions and then turns to asking me about my bicycle journey saying she would like to do the same whilst printing out a three month visa for me. I exit the border and am ejected into another world. I experience reverse culture shock with the sight of so much flesh, loud music, alcohol and general revelry along the beach and town of Eilat. Its like a slap in the face after travelling through Turkey and Egypt the past three months.
I cant say I have missed this part of western culture though the proliferation of western goods and opportunity to find some new tyres is appealing and the reason why I am here. There is a direct ferry from Nuweiba to Aqaba, Jordan which I could have taken to have avoided coming through the tip of Israel but decided against knowing there would probably be no chance of new tyres until Amman a number of days ride away. I make it to the centre of town and spot a YHA where I find out the reason for the endless stream of people on holiday mode, it is Passover a national holiday in Israel. As a result a bed in a dorm room is a ridiculous price but I am tired and see no other option at the end of the day so take it.
Local Bedouin looking across the Aqaba Gulf to Saudi Arabia.
Watching the sunrise from Mt Sinai.
Visual proof my sneakers made the night ascent.
To the north.
On the way back down the 3000 steps of penance.
Breakfast of champions.
Heading inland from Dahab.
Shade is your friend.
Sign at the camel racing track, how many mistakes can you find…
Nuweiba dunes, struggling through sand to get to the beach front shacks.
Thai style beach huts in Nuweiba.
The good life…