The Christmas holidays are coming to an end, but we are buzzing to get our bikes and luggage ready: we are off on a new journey. Destination: Jordan.
Leaving are me, Paolo - my partner in life and for adventures- and our bikes. Not the most valuable ones we have, but the ones that are most suitable -at least so we guess- for the rough and uneven terrain of the Jordan Bike Trail.
Awaiting are ten days of travel to fly from Milan (BG) to Amman, ride the national trail to Aqaba on the Red Sea and from there take a flight home.
The planning of the track -which Paolo likes to do most of all- involves a cut, copy and paste of the original track. Of the 700 kilometres we will cover about 500 with 7000 metres of climbing.
We have no sporting ambitions: the bike is a incredible form of transport that we have chosen for travelling for a few years now.
Before we set off, we defined our route stage by stage and booked a warm bed to sleep for almost all our stages (even in Jordan it's winter, so we agreed to leave the tent at home). As a precaution, we only bring our sleeping bag, which -spoiler- we needed.
Off we go!
We fly, and with us the bikes. Much to our surprise -it's the first time we've done this and there's a bit of apprehension- everything goes smoothly. At the airport in Amman we unpack and mount the bikes. Direction Madaba. We skip the capital: we don't have time to visit it properly and we know that cycling through it is hell.
From Madaba our journey officially starts, we head south, to Karak. We cheat and merge two stages of the trail into one.
The cost is a lot of cycling along the King's Highway, which is one of the three arteries connecting the north and south of the country. I thought it would be worse, but the route instead gives us unexpected tranquillity and breathtaking views. Over all wins the Wadi Mujib, the Grand Canyon of Jordan that crosses after Dhiban and that in the past divided the country in two: 4 kilometres wide and one kilometre deep, from the Dead Sea it stretches eastwards for 70 km. To cross it, between downhill and uphill, there are 18 km of hairpin bends. The highlight of the day.
From Karak, where there is a castle to visit, we cross the Jordan Bike Trail. The day starts, the route is a delight, we ride on side roads with no traffic. The only obstacle is the sheer number of stray dogs that we learn to deal with as the days go by: slow down, get off the bike if necessary and proceed at a walking pace. Secret: never let off the brakes on a downhill. Speed ignites the predatory attitude of the beasts that sprout from the roadside at the best of times.
Cycling in winter
Jordan also experiences winter. We test this on day four of our trip. We set off in rain and fog: when Paolo goes ahead a few metres, I can only see his shadow. On the clayey dirt roads, the bikes become covered in heavy "peanut butter". I suffer, I don't have a good relationship with the mud. But I try not to let it weigh me down, it's cold and energy is low.
After a cold day with wet gloves, numb hands and poor visibility, we abandon the dirt track and seek asphalt. The bikes are really poorly prepared for those conditions.
I steal "blue gold" whenever I spot a water barrel in an open space. For someone like me, vaguely fixated on a clean and lubricated chain, it is pure happiness. To crown my newfound happiness, a hot shower, the kind that leaves your skin red, with a view of the Shobak castle.
We set off with sunshine and good energy: today we reach Petra, our halfway checkpoint where we planned to stop for a day to visit.
The road to get there is as spectacular as it is impassable. The wet terrain from yesterday's rain presents takes its toll on us again today. Mud and stones mingle on the wheels. The speed and centrifugal force shoot gravel on the frame that resonates like a metallophone and on my legs beaten like two congas (bongo drums).
Petra is a world in itself. And our day off is not a day of rest. Visiting the holy city carved out of pink sandstone rocks is a real excursion into the Shara mountains.
Beautiful, enchanting, incredible, known all around the world. Yes, but desecrated by the actions of us, men and women who, in defiance of the sacredness of this nature, have been living for too long in the bosom of a new God, that of irrepressible lust, of the inordinate desire for who knows what, of the constant frenzy to fill time and space, of the hit-and-run.
Petra, like the Jordan I saw, has a waste problem. Where humans arrive, there is plastic. Fresh bread is wrapped in plastic, sweets are served in plastic, water is sold in plastic containers of all sizes (bottles, small bottles, closed plastic cups). Cause and effect, this plastic is found on the roadside, in fields outside the city, caught in the fences dividing properties, and even in Petra. Which is one of the Seven Wonders of the World.
Day seven: it is the most beautiful stage of the trip so far.
We leave Petra on a road from which, for a stretch, we can see the Siq, while the tomb of Aaron towers up like a North Star. At the first village, we leave the King's Way to enter a dream. A downhill dirt road makes us lose altitude. In my eyes a panorama that makes me squint every time I lift my head, in my ears a silence so loud that every time I listen to it, it makes them pop. Cycling like this, you don't feel any fatigue.
We leave the mountains behind and reach the desert, the first time I have ever cycled in it. We are at the gates of the Wadi Rum protected area. It's no longer me that controls the bike, but the sand: it decides where to go. I go along when I can. When I can't, insults fly - Paolo, who can't stand my verbal impatience, is ahead and doesn't hear me.
In the Wadi Rum desert, we sleep in a tent camp: minimum temperature recorded in the room 3°C. Having our sleeping bags with us turns out to be the best choice ever. I still sleep fully clothed and with two beanies on my head. All is well, only discomfort: frozen nose and I need to pee. I try to hold it as long as I can, but I have to get out of the temporary warmth I created in a few hours inside the sleeping bag, put on my shoes and cross the camp to reach the bathroom. At two o'clock I give in, I can't take it any longer.
My flicker of audacity encourages Paolo to do the same. He too, due to coldness, has to pee and goes to the bathroom.
Pedalling through Wadi Rum is the most difficult and hilarious experience of my cycling life. The sand fascinates me when it allows itself to be carried along by the pleasant rustle of the wheels that seem to glide over it; I deny it when it gives way under the weight of the bike that plants itself like a donkey. After more than thirty-five kilometres in the sand, there is asphalt: bless the asphalt.
Our destination is now near. In less than forty kilometres we glide over to Aqaba.
The city on the Red Sea is geared to tourism and you can clearly tell. It is clean, well-kept and has a little extra attention for beautiful spaces dedicated to people.
We pack our bags and pack our bikes with the help of a bike shop in the city, the Alrayan Bike shop. Tomorrow we leave, but now for dinner I will eat a whole table filled with food.