At the border I changed into my man tights. Normally this would mean the cold is something barbaric but I don't think Jordan knows a lot about cold weather. It is simply a case of covering my knees as this is a predominantly Muslim country. Of course all my clothes have at least one hole in them. Unfortunately my man tights have a hole right on the knee. Kind of defeats the purpose. Progress in Jordan was initially slow. Cycling through a bustling market town I kept getting pulled over, asked where I was from and invited in for tea. I like the way everyone says 'Welcome' here instead of 'Hello'. It is an excellent word and I would hear it 50 times a day throughout my time in the country. I took a road up into the mountains. The climb was long but with great views out across the bare hills of Jordan. I made things difficult for myself taking steep back roads in search of water but eventually found a well and camped in a rare clump of trees on the side of a mountain.
Last day of the decade and the end of an era. My Manchester United shorts finally bit the dust. They have more holes in them than, well, the United defence. Jordan is not the ideal place to pick up a replacement pair of shorts as no one wears any. The cycle into Amman was horrendous but I wasn't expecting anything else. They say cycling is good for you but I swallowed so much black smoke today it must have taken years off my life. The only way to get through it was to embrace the chaos and smile at everyone who cut me up. I'm very good at it to begin with but I could feel my patience beginning to wane. I found an outdoor equipment shop and got practical by buying a pair of shorts with zip pockets. Now I can cycle in a t-shirt and keep my map/phone handy. This is progress. I felt a little sad to get rid of my United shorts. They have been with me for over 30 countries. They have had more hotel sink washes than you have had hot dinners. For a minute I thought about posting them home but I realised that harbouring an emotional attachment to a pair of shorts was somewhat pathetic. No time to get superstitious about it either. We've been rubbish the entire time I've had them. I thought binning them would be sacrilege so I gave them to a kid who looked less than impressed. Cycled out of Amman and the day, month, year, decade ended well with a glorious camp-spot looking down on the rift valley beneath Mount Nebo. There was a time when my new years eve would not have begun at 9pm. This year I was fast asleep by 9pm.
First day of the decade and I hit an all time low. 410m below sea level to be exact. I was up at dawn to greet the new year and climbed up to Mount Nebo before enjoying a thrilling descent down to the Dead Sea. I knew I had started the day at 500m above sea level and felt that the descent was a lot longer. I was somewhat surprised though when the map on my phone said I was over 380m below sea level. Especially as I was looking down at the Dead Sea. The Dead Sea though is really a salt lake. It has a single source, the Jordan River, and is not connected to the ocean. I wondered if I had ever been to such a low altitude and got my answer a few minutes later when I saw a sign to the lowest point on earth. I was a little confused when I got to the official marker to find it 20m up a slope. The cycle along the Dead Sea was tremendous under a clear blue sky. It gets its name because of the high salinity which prevent fish and aquatic plants from living in it. I made excellent progress thanks to the abundance of oxygen at such a low altitude, the easy terrain, and a gentle tailwind. I hit the climb back into the mountains at the end of the day but after 130km my legs soon began to wobble. I didn't even make it to sea level.
I didn't sleep particularly well. A beautiful place to camp in the barren desert mountains. At sunset you can see a thousand shades or orange. Home to a lot of wild dogs though and one found me and yapped at me aggressively for about an hour in the middle of the night. Eventually he sloped off but I imagined he'd gone to fetch his mates and couldn't get back to sleep. The climb in the morning was fantastic. Photo opportunities at every bend. 20km at an average of 9% it was hard going but this was nothing compared to the pack of wild dogs I encountered half way up. A couple of oncoming vehicles had wound down their windows when they passed me, pointed up the road and said something in Arabic. I wondered what it could be and soon found out. Dogs are a common nuisance cycle touring but this was the hairiest moment I have ever faced. There were about 50 of them. This was not your normal dog encounter. They weren’t territorial. They were stray dogs, wild and hungry, and there were a lot of them. I approached them on a rare flat section and was able to speed through gesticulating wildly to keep them at bay but then the road turned uphill and I was surrounded. I was in what’s known as a spot of bother. I had some stones handy, I chucked a couple, but they kept coming back. The more dogs in a pack the more confident they are. I had never seen so many together. Fortunately I guy in a truck came downhill, saw my predicament, stopped in the middle of the road and started honking his horn. The dogs attention was diverted and I was able to inch away. A few followed but now that there was only a handful of them their aggression subsided. I would like to thank that truck driver but I never got the chance. It was the kind of road where a car would come along every minute or two but a couple of minutes is a long time when you’ve got a pack of wild dogs baying for your flesh. After that I enjoyed the rest of the climb grateful to still be in one piece. Made it to a high altitude plateau with panoramic views before descending to Wadi Musa. Otherwise known as Petra. One of the seven wonders of the world. Slept in a bed!
A rare spot of tourism today. Up at dawn once again. Easy when you are camping. Difficult when you wake up in a bed but I needed every minute of the day. Seeing the sites of Petra is a 4 hour walk and then I needed enough time to cycle 70km to get up and over a pass and down to a height comfortable for sleeping. It is extremely cold at night here when up at altitude. I baulked at the entrance fee (£60) but Petra did not disappoint. You could easily spend a couple of days walking around the ruins half hidden in the mountains. Not only is the place of great historical significance but the scenery is incredible with it's red desert landscape and silent canyons. A great place to hike around and take it all in. The money shot is the Treasury. Where Indiana Jones entered in search of the Holy Grail. There's loads more to see though. It must have been good. I've never taken so many photos. Most of the tourists don't bother to lower their arms. Happily snapping the whole time. Eventually dragged myself off and got back on my bike and headed up to a windy pass. Cycled though a wind turbine tunnel. Some people think they are an eyesore. I think they are a graceful addition to the landscape. When they are moving that is. They look daft stood still. The views out over the rift valley were spectacular and I eventually descended below 1000m just as the sun was going down. Camped in the desert. Wasn't expecting company but a van went passed, spluttered to a standstill and two Jordanians got out and explained they had run out of diesel. They phoned a friend to bring some, made a fire, they bought out the whiskey, I bought out the biscuits and we spent an interesting hour trying to have a conversation with no mutual language to fall back on.
This morning I headed to Wadi Rum, a valley cut into sandstone and granite rock, in the south of Jordan. It could have been an easy day if I had taken the road but for some inexplicable reason I decided it would be fun to take a short cut across the desert. Short cut turned into long push. Beautiful place to be, out alone in the desert, making my way in between small sandstone mountains. Wonderfully quiet. Dragging your bike through sand however soon gets annoying. I must have got on and off my bike about 50 times. Cycle a bit, push a bit, cycle a bit, drag a bit. 20km took 5 hours and had me seriously questioning my decision making skills. The only person I saw was a guy on a camel who invited me into his nearby shack for tea. In exchange for tea, bread and apples I connected to his phone Wi-Fi and registered his shack as a campsite on booking.com. He seemed happy and implied that God must have sent me off into the desert to find him. Maybe he did. Eventually found a road and cycled into the Wadi Rum national park. A climbers paradise but not a cyclists. More dragging through sand until it started to rain and the wind picked up. I found a quiet place to camp sheltered behind a rock.
When you wake up in the mountains fully clothed in your sleeping bag with a storm raging outside you don't expect to be swimming in the sea a few hours later. The temperature dropped below freezing over night but the storm soon died down and I got on my way. Left Wadi Rum, sped along the valley and dropped down out of the mountains for my first sighting of the Red Sea at Aqaba. Bought a ticket for the ferry across the sea to Egypt that night. I didn't have a lot to do so I found a little beach along the coast and went for a dip. More to get clean than to cool off. Out in the sea I could see Israel, Jordan and Egypt. Saudi Arabia was about 20km along the coast. Added a bit of red to the Red Sea by cutting my knee on some lovely looking coral. Ridiculous time for a 2 hour ferry. Departs at 11pm. Arrives at 1am. Security was tight at the Egyptian port of Nuweiba. I had simply planned to cycle a little way along the coast in the middle of the night, pitch my tent somewhere and catch whatever sleep I could. Immigration insisted on the name of the hotel I was staying at. I made one up. This was sufficient but then the police insisted on escorting me to the hotel that didn't exist. So off we went in search of it. Needless to say we never found it. I managed to persuade them to let me camp on the grounds of a resort. The resort was fine with this. I gave them a few Egyptian pounds. Pitched my tent at 3 in the morning and finally got my head down. An hour later there was an earthquake.