McD’s

6 03 2011

I wandered into the McDonalds in Irbid, Jordan to steal some free WiFi and found myself to be a minor celebrity – if I wait long enough, they’ll probably feed me!
I’ll probably be in Syria in a few hours – if the border guards will let me in!

Update: Stinky and dishevelled as I am, with the appropriate (and perfectly legal) visa payment, they let me in with no problems at all. Already I love Syria… Now to find a hotel





Petra

28 02 2011

I don’t know what to say. I have spent the best part of 3 days wandering around the ancient city of Petra and I’ve had about enough of rock and carved out caves.
It is an extremely impressive site. It is also now extremely expensive – the only way I could justify the entrance fee was to get a 3 day ticket (60 JD ~ 60 EUR ~ 85 Aussie Dollars) and average the cost over the three days. So now I have well and truly seen Petra, from every conceivable angle, and somehow got the special ticket where they throw in sore feet for free.
The highlight is, of course, the Treasury building which you may have seen in an Indiana Jones film. A close second is the Monastery (as far as I can tell the Treasury was never a treasury, and the Monastery didn’t house monks – who knows where they get these names). Both very photogenic from the outside. I was slightly disappointed with the interiors though. The caves behind the facades have been dug out of the technicolour sandstone. Imagine – there are something like 800 tombs, dug straight out of the rock. I felt sure that some of them would be Egyptian style, with a long corridor and then a burial chamber or two. It seems the Nabataeans (and Romans who took over from them) preferred ornate (really over the top ornate) façades and simple (if sometimes large) cubic rooms behind the façade. I must have checked out a hundred caves (it seems like more), and found one that had a second room behind the first – and none that I could crawl around in :(. I assume these rooms were painted at some time in the past (and I saw some evidence of this) – otherwise the corpses may have been rather bored in their big square caves.
Enough history for a few days. I’ll be riding north again tomorrow (and no doubt will bump into a castle or something ancient that demands my attention). Dead Sea is dead ahead.

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Wadi Rum

25 02 2011

2011_02_19 08_51_50I managed to flee Egypt and have arrived in Jordan. This seemed like a good idea given what was happing in Egypt, but it sounds like the situation in Egypt has calmed considerably – the focus is now on Libya, Tunisia, Iran, Yemen, Bahrain, Iraq… No, I’m not going to Libya or Yemen, although I’ve met some people recently (in hostels) who have been. What I’m doing might be crazy; those guys are nuts (if nuts is more crazy than plain crazy).

2011_02_19 10_50_31The trip out of Egypt was relatively easy – only frustrating. I got up and left early to conquer the hill and headwind and arrived pretty much as the ferry was planning to leave (to get from Egypt to Jordan you need to take the ferry from Nuweiba, Egypt to Aqaba, Jordan – the only other possibility is to go overland via Israel which would leave me with an Israeli stamp, or conflicting exit and entry stamps for Egypt and Jordan, in my passport and hance no possibility of visiting Syria or Iran). So the ferry was getting loaded soon after I cleared customs, and quickly filled up with mostly Egyptians and Jordanians. This was around 2pm.

Everyone sat around patiently. 3pm – this was the designated departure time (as was 2pm, 4pm and 8pm, depending who you asked) Still patient. 4pm. Nothing happening. 6pm. Hey, it’s dark now and we should be practically there. What’s up? The locals were still calm. 8pm. Come on!

Some mysterious criteria was met at 8:30pm (only 6.5 hours later) and we were underway. The crossing takes 4 hours so we arrived after midnight, and some genius had decided my bike should be tucked up the back – hence I was last off. Around 2am I cleared immigration/customs and had a bit of a ride into Aqaba, and then found a place to sleep. The most frustrating part is that from Aqaba you can see Taba, Egypt which is maybe 5km across the gulf. A ferry from there might take 1/2 an hour, but I doubt they would be able to justify the (ridiculous) cost of 70USD then. I could have ridden to Aqaba faster (if it weren’t for the Israeli passport stamp problem). But this is completely normal; others who have taken the same ferry have stories with longer delays than mine. I guess I should be grateful that the ferry is running (unlike the Hurghada – Sharm el-Shaik ferry).

2011_02_21 11_15_19I decided to visit Wadi Rum, since it was very close to Aqaba. At least that’s the way the map showed it. 80km, and well over a thousand high meters later and I staggered into Wadi Rum (in the dark… again). Luckily I met two Austrian climbers, Matthias and Niki who fed me and I crashed. The next day, those same climbers took me into the desert and showed me a scrambling route to the top of a mountain while they went off to climb a route that they had spied a few days ago (a first ascent they think). I scared myself silly soloing the route that was graded a III-IV (whatever that meant). I later worked out it was a walking route with the odd short pitch of (Australian) grade 8-10 – certainly not hard, but I haven’t been on rock for… 4 years? There was one part that I couldn’t bring myself to down climb so I just jumped – over a crevasse onto a small ledge. It seemed safer at the time. I didn’t reach the very top because the very final part was tricker (maybe grade 12), but I couldn’t see a way to down climb it safely. Sure I could have jumped, but if I slipped/tripped it’d be a very fast descent… Weich Ei climber has returned. But I did get some great views and had fun (on the easy bits).

2011_02_22 11_48_10The next day Stefan and Peter, along with Matthias and Niki were going to climb / scramble up to Jebel Rum – the highest peak in the region (and for a long time thought to be the highest in Jordan). They were going to take a ‘Bedouin Route’, ie a route that the Bedouin people have been using for years to go hunting and collect water and firewood from the top of the mountain. Barefoot and without any protection. It sounded like I should be ok on a route like that – and we had sandshoes and ropes. They invited me to come along, so of course I did. And again scared myself silly. The other guys were much better climbers (climbing 23-24 from what I could gather), so they generally soloed up the short pitches that involved climbing, while I stood around bleating for the rope please. They were more than patient and only told me to do it myself on one crevasse jump (they still helped m2011_02_22 14_07_34e there, but I only managed it by absolutely not looking down until after). Because I needed help on every part that was remotely exposed, we took 5 hours to the top and about 3 down an abseil route (luckily I didn’t freak out on any of the abseils). We finished before dark. And by the end my legs were rather sore (I haven’t done all that much walking, and no climbing, in the last months). And I would be lying if I didn’t say it was great to back on the ground by the end, although the view was awesome.

So I had a different experience of Wadi Rum to many – I didn’t drive all around the desert in a 4×4 or ride out on a a camel and then camp out in the desert with the Bedouin, but I did see it from above.

With legs so tired that I struggled to lift my leg to get on my bike, I left the next day to tackle the ride to Petra. I’d been warned it was a killer, and it was. To make it more fun, somewhere along the line I’ve picked up a cold, so I’ve opted for not one, but two rest days before heading out to explore Petra (hopefully that’s enough). On the way up to Petra I met a Catalan cyclists who told me about a British cyclist staying in Petra. So I met Mark and we had a good chin wag. It’s strange to suddenly start to meet cyclists again – although this is another part of the world where there are limited options for cyclists, the Kings Highway forms a bit of a funnel.

It’s getting colder. Sure we’re at altitude (~1300m), but perhaps I should slow down so I don’t ride back into winter…