Jordan and the Land of the Bedouin

Well a lot has happened since my last post. I strolled through an old Roman city, I swam in the Dead Sea, I was interrogated by the Jordanian military, I rode a camel in the steps of Lawrence of Arabia, and I got hit by a car.

Where to begin? I’ll go in chronological order. Entering Jordan was a breeze, and my first stop was the city of Jerash. This was a big Roman city and part of it is still preserved remarkably well. You can stroll down the avenues where the ruts from the chariots are still visible in the stone. Jerash was at its peak around the 3rd century.

Here is what is the main thoroughfare, the collonade.


Columns around the forum, or oval plaza.


One of the theaters. When does the show start?

Columns at the Temple of Artemis.

I stopped in Amman briefly to get my visa for Egypt. Here’s a couple shots.

A school girl.

Want a muffler?

A Close Call

I was pedaling uphill out of Amman and came across an intersection. A car pulled up on my right and stopped at the stop sign. The woman inside seemed to look right at me and she remained stopped until I pedaled directly in front of her. Then, for some inexplicable reason, she accelerated right into me. She hit my rear pannier, knocking me over onto the pavement. That in itself was not so bad. The scary part was when I fell I rolled into the next lane just as a car was passing. I managed to stick out my hand and brace myself against the passing car. I was lucky– if I had fallen in front of the car instead of into its side it may have run over me. As it was I escaped with a few scrapes and bruises. My bike was not damaged. I waved the lady off, flagged down a taxi and got a ride until I was out of town.

Actually that is what I do a lot. The most dangerous parts of this trip have been entering or leaving big cities. There’s so much chaos. So frequently I will hail a cab to take me into the center of town from the suburbs, or to get me out of town. This particular day I just felt like riding. I guess it was not yet my time to go.

Fun with the Jordanian Military

After Amman I had a great ride down the Dad Sea highway for three days. I passed near the spot where Jesus was baptised by John then headed for a campsite on the Dead Sea. Unfortunately they changed the place from $5 cheap camping to $100 bungalows which I did not want to pay. Furthermore, camping anywhere was prohibited because it was a sensitive border area (Israel’s West Bank is just across the Sea). Finally I got a bed at a water pumping station nearby. The two man crew let me shower there and use their kitchen. They also said I could swim in the Dead Sea.

The Dead Sea is six times saltier than the oceans. It is also the lowest point on earth, some 408 m (1338 feet) below sea level. It was nearly sunset by the time I got to the shore and there were some great photos to be taken so I did not get to swim until after the sun set. It is a weird feeling. You just float. It is difficult to swim because the buoyancy forces you on your back. So I splashed around a bit and enjoyed the quiet twilight. As I am getting ready to walk back to my accommodation a Jordanian soldier appears and asks for my passport. Well to make a long story short, for the next two hours I was shuttled around, interrogated by two different officers, my bike and all my luggage were searched and phone calls were made to ensure I was not an Israeli spy (who knows what they were thinking). They scrutinized every single page and stamp in my passport.

During this time I was informed that swimming in the Sea after sunset was prohibited. I was not too upset since I obviously was just an innocent tourist, but I did worry when they asked if I had a camera. I lied and said no, because I did not want them going through my camera and deleting my great sunset photos. Fortunately they did not search the bag I had with me.

The questions were relentless: What is your name? Where do you live? Why were you in Syria? Why were you swimming? Where are you staying? How long will you be in Jordan? Where are you going next? Over and over. It was a little unnerving. I don’t think I could be a professional spy.

It was worth it. Here are some of the photos of the Dead Sea at sunset. You can see the salt deposits on the rocks. It was really cool.

A sign by the Dead Sea. But it makes no sense. You cannot drown in the Sea. You are too buoyant. Maybe the sign is a warning to watch out for the Jordanian military.

The area south of the Dead Sea was pretty remote but I stopped at a couple towns to stock up on food and water. One of my favorite dishes was a felafel sandwich. felafel are deep fried balls of chickpea paste mixed with spices. They mash up the balls and toss in hummous and vegetables and roll it up in pita bread. Here is a felafel vendor at work in western Jordan serving a customer.

I arrived in one town just as school was letting out. A crowd of 10-20 girls surrounded me, staring and giggling. Surely I was the first western bicycle tourist they had seen. But when I pulled out my camera they shrieked and scattered like the wind. I managed to get a couple to stay still for a second so I could snap this photo.

A look at the Dead Sea highway.

A building on the sea.

I camped a couple times further south and managed to sneak off the highway and into the desert out of sight of the many military watch towers. Here are some views from those couple days.

Camping with camel bones.

Sunsets are great in the desert. I loved the shadows cast on the sand by the setting sun.

Desert sunset

As I was packing up one morning this fella wandered over, curious to see who had invaded his territory.

I finally arrived in the port city of Aqaba. I had been interested in Aqaba ever since I saw the movie Lawrence of Arabia. There is a scene where Lawrence is trying to convince the local Bedouin fighter Sherif Ali to cross the deadly Nefud desert and surprise the Turks who held Aqaba. Ali thinks the plan is crazy. the desert will kill them. Lawrence takes Ali by the shoulder and points off in the distance.

Lawrence: Aqaba is over there. It’s only a matter of going.

Ali (turns slowly to stare at him): you are mad.

By the way the movie happens to be at the top of my favorite films list. I can’t say it is number one but it’s in the top five. To see the rest of them click the link below.

Here is one shot of the gulf of Aqaba at sunset.

Wadi Rum and the Bedouins

The highlight of my visit to Jordan has to be Wadi Rum (I did not visit the Nabatean city of Petra which is supposed to be a “must see” site). Sigh. Next time. Wadi means “valley” in Arabic. What an incredible place. Vast plains of pink desert sand are punctuated by massive mountains, eroded to a grotesque beauty. The silence is deafening, and only small lizards, a few birds and camels are to be found. I toured around on a camel and spent the night in a Bedouin tent. It is a place where you really feel like you are swallowed up by the desert. Wadi Rum is also where T.E Lawrence made his headquarters in the fight against the Turks in WWI.

The area has been home the nomadic Bedouins for centuries. Nowadays many have settled down and are making a good living escorting tourists like me around the place. They are extraordinarily hospitable. This is the tradition of the desert, where a nomad is always welcomed into any tent.

Here is a mountain named the Seven Pillars of Wisdom, after Lawrence’s book by the same name. You can see a truck in the lower part of the photo.

A Bedouin at prayer in the valley.

Camels in Wadi Rum

In a Bedouin tent. The guy on the left, Atik was my guide. His brother Saleh is on the right.

Here I am on one of the rock bridges in the area.

A Bedouin with his goats.

The Bedouin tent where I spent one night. It was incredibly quiet with a beautiful starry night sky.

I shared the tent with some other tourists from Holland, Austria and England. Atik and his cousin Abdullah prepared this Bedouin dinner for us.

Jordan was a big surprise. I did not realize how much it has to offer. It really is place I want to return to. There is more to do in Wadi Rum such as hiking and rock climbing, and I must see Petra.

But for now, I push on. I need to get to Egypt where I will meet my sister Katrina in Cairo. This ends what I have thought of as phase two of my trip: Asia and Middle East. Phase three, to begin tomorrow,  Africa.