Coast to coast! (Aqaba, Jordan – KM 10,870)

The Jordan Rift Valley stretches between Jordan and Israel and the Palestine territories. The flat-bottomed valley—where the Dead Sea lies—has steep sides. It is a hot busy corridor leading south to the Aqaba Gulf and the Red Sea. We could have continued over flat-ish grounds in Wadi Araba and arrive in Aqaba in three days but we would miss some of Jordan’s better wonders. So in Feifa we started, on the granny gear, up to Tafileh, heading from the lowest place on Earth to the highest upland in the country.

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Riding south along the Dead Sea. Madaba Governorate. Jordan.

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The rugged and spectacular mountains of Mujib Biosphere Reserve borders the Dead Sea. Mujib has an all-year water flow, an oasis for life in a mineral world. Karak Governorate. Jordan.

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Dead Sea salt encrusted shores. Israeli salt evaporation pans and Jordan’s potash mines are just south of here. Karak Governorate. Jordan.

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Let’s have some tea and a bubbly! Arabic hospitality a stone throw from biblical Sodom and Gomorrah! Al-Mazraa, Karak Governorate. Jordan.

Many drivers stopped to offer some tomatoes, green chick pea bouquets and water, or to offer a motorized ride up the steep incline—or at least for us to hold on to the car window frame. We refuse, of course, this road is too beautiful to miss. Even when we leave the craggy dry canyons behind and emerge at on the grassy hill tops under a charcoal grey sky the ride is enchanting.

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After an afternoon visit at “The Museum at the Lowest Place on Earth” we are roaming country roads to find a place to sleep. Two brothers offer their Egyptian employee’s lodging while he’s gone home for a holiday. Safi, Karak Governorate. Jordan.

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The following morning we receive a visit from most men in the family. The parents came from Baluchistan in Pakistan in 1971. The five brothers grow eggplants, onions and cauliflowers, and are the first non-smokers we meet in Jordan! Safi, Karak Governorate. Jordan.

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Climbing between Feifa and Tafileh we are reaching sea level and above. Tafileh Governorate, Jordan.

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The scenic road is never steeper than 17%, still… Tafileh Governorate, Jordan.

The King’s Highway is a north-south trade route used since prehistoric times. Moses was refused permission to travel on it, the Nabateans used it to trade goods between Arabia and Syria and the Crusaders built fortresses along it. Nowadays it is a meandering two-lane truck-free paved road hugging the relief of the rolling hills above the Rift Valley.

We made an entrance on the King’s Highway with a tent packed wet, frozen toes in our wet shoe covers—don’t ask—and fog all around. At that moment I was thinking how wonderful it would be to find a place for the night where we could roll the bikes in and dry tent and mattresses, and a toilet maybe. Then a black SUV stopped on the shoulder in front of us. “Hello! It’s snowing up ahead in the Dana Reserve. Would you like to get off the road and have a place to stay?” Qais unlocked the door to the reception hall his family owns, we rolled our bikes in and laid the wet tent and mattresses on the balustrade. Then, he showed us the heated room, the full bathroom with hot water, the flat screen television and the internet connection. Qais came returned in the evening with a bottle of Mt.Nebo Chenin Blanc-Roussane 2011 that worked perfectly with our can of hummus, tomatoes and fresh bread! We had some great talks about Jordan, Dubai and Chicago, nature preservation, renewable energy, future technologies and his next priority: finding a partner and getting married!

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Our palace for the night! Thank you Qais. Ayn-Al-Bayda, Tafileh Governorate, Jordan.

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The King’s Highway between Shobak and Wadi Musa passes through upland plains at 1,600 metres of altitude. Ma’an Governorate, Jordan.

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Many mornings start with passers-by following a shepherd to better pastures. Ma’an Governorate, Jordan.

Fabulous Petra is the reason why most people make the journey to Jordan. The Nabatean city carved into the sheer rock face is a stunning attraction and we were looking forward to visit it. For a number of reasons, after a hard frustrating day trying to navigate our way around Wadi Musa, the village at Petra’s entrance, we lost our cool and decided to just keep pedalling. This happens on a bike tour, by the time you reach a tourist site your day is already full and you loose interest in getting off the bikes and arranging the logistics of the visit. We consoled ourselves with a visit at Little Petra.

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Nine kilometres north of Petra is Al Beidha, often referred to as Little Petra for reason. The Nabateans, an ancient Arab people, settled here from the 4th century B.C. Ma’an Governorate, Jordan.

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Once we reach the Desert Highway at Ras-An-Naqab the Southern Desert wind is tossing us around dangerously. Looking for a wall to hide behind for the night we ask at this supermarket if we can camp inside the attached construction site. The Yemeni owners don’t hesitate to say yes. We can’t believe our luck when, five minutes after we finish preparing our bed, a thunderstorm starts with torrential rain assaulting the ground around our digs. Quweira, Aqaba Governorate, Jordan.

The King’s Highway in the Sharra highlands and all the way to where it connects with the Desert Highway is so lovely and quiet that we arrive in the Wadi Rum desert relaxed and ready for trouble. The sandy desert, with sandstone mountains rising sheer out of the valley floor, was described by colonel T.E. Lawrence aka Lawrence of Arabia as “vast, echoing and God-like.” Lawrence and Arab warriors left from here to attack Aqaba in 1917 during the Arab Revolt. Riding into the Wadi Rum Protected Area we have a feeling of riding in front of a green screen with CGI so surreal the rockscape is. Actually it is here that much of the stunning Lawrence of Arabia movie was filmed.

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The Bedouins have inhabited the dry Wadi Rum region for thousands of years and the camel is the best desert vehicle. Disa, Aqaba Governorate, Jordan.

Like everywhere else in Jordan, tour buses have been far and few since the “Arab Spring” of 2011 that has slowly engulfed the region in chaos. In Rum, the village in the middle of the valley where local Bedouins have settled since the 1970s, leaving their tent-dwelling past behind, it is not difficult to pick a driver to carry us and Mt.Equipment over 8 kilometres of sand dunes. After that we are on our own—with many dung beetles—through a moonscape to a few kilometres before Aqaba.

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Although most local Bedouins have given up their traditional nomadic lifestyle they remain mobile and the men have become guides, hosts and drivers. Salem drops us off by Qattar Mountain, part of the maze of sandstone mountains that is Wadi Rum. We had tried pushing the bikes across the red sand dunes, and given up. Wadi Rum Protected Area, Aqaba Governorate, Jordan.

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The mesas of Wadi Rum formed along fault lines. On the desert track to Aqaba we go from red desert to white desert with sections of volcanic rocks. Wadi Rum Protected Area, Aqaba Governorate, Jordan.

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The 1,000-metre high sandy floor. Wadi Rum Protected Area, Aqaba Governorate, Jordan.

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We’ve taken a Land Cruiser over sand dunes but it does not mean we will not push our overburdened bicycles through loose sand, or fall off and bruise and scratch body parts! Wadi Rum Protected Area, Aqaba Governorate, Jordan.

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Desert caravan, solar panels and all. Wadi Rum Protected Area, Aqaba Governorate, Jordan.

After 1,000 kilometres pedalled in Jordan we settled at Bedouin Garden Village Hotel, on Aqaba’s South Beach, to catch our breath and digest the overwhelming experience. The in-house dive masters have invited us into the clear waters of the Gulf of Aqaba, known for offering some of the world’s best diving, but we are such land creatures we stayed on the sandy beach and puddled around in the coastal waters.

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From -400 metres at the Dead Sea, up to 1,700 metres in the highlands we have gone down down to 1,000 metres in the Wadi Rum desert and 0 metres now on the Gulf of Aqaba. Aqaba, Aqaba Governorate, Jordan.

During this pause, as we looked back on the last month, while organizing our departure from Jordan to Egypt, a heartbreak sneaked up on us. Tomorrow morning we will leave the bikes alone at the Bedouin Garden Hotel and board a bus to Wadi Musa. By noon we will be at the “new 7 wonders of the world” and UNESCO World Heritage Site we have almost forgone. Petra here we come!



Visit Jordan

In and out of Sinai! (Hurghada, Egypt - KM 11,110)
A most glowing Arab spring! (Dead Sea, Jordan - KM 10,395)

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