Day 13: Wadi Rum – Wadi Musa: Reaching the Rose Red City
Thursday June 2, 2011, 114 km (71 miles) – Total so far: 1,239 km (770 miles)
After another good night’s sleep I headed over to the resthouse and got the usual Middle Eastern breakfast of bread and a hard boiled egg. I packed up my things and got on the road early as I had a fairly long day ahead of me. Wadi Musa, the town beside Petra, lay over 110km from here with 1200m of climbing along the way.
Before I left the village I ran into a good few of the backpackers I had met on the ferry to Aqaba. They were all on a bus bound for Wadi Musa. We were able to have a quick chat and I got the name of a good hostel in Wadi Musa before the bus pulled off.
I began the 25km descent back to the desert highway where I would head north before taking the turnoff onto the King’s Highway. It was on this quiet road out of Wadi Rum that I had the most chilling experience of the trip. I was around 10km from the desert highway and the road was pretty quiet with a vehicle passing only once a minute or so. As I was cycling along there was a small truck coming in the opposite direction. As the truck was getting closer to me for some reason the driver suddenly switched over to the wrong side of the road. He was now speeding straight for me. Fully alert I moved into the rough hard shoulder to my right. Scarily he began to drift into the hard shoulder aswell, it was like he was aiming directly for me. He now had nearly half the truck in the hard shoulder and was barelling down on me. All I could see ahead of me now was the front of the truck coming straight for me. I kept up my speed and as he was just about to crash into me I pulled sharply to the right aiming for the narrow gap between the oncoming truck and the deep sand. The truck passed just inches to the left of me. I jammed the brakes and just stood there in shock looking back at the truck which was now pulling out of the hard shoulder and back onto the correct side of the road.
I didn’t know what had just happened. I didn’t know whether he was aiming for me intentionally or whether he was just trying to scare me. Either way if I hadn’t reacted so quickly I was a gonner. The speed that truck was going at I was definitely going to be hit square on. It was a truly chilling incident. I don’t know what reason someone would have to try and knock me down intentionally. Maybe it was a hatred of westerners, I can’t think of any other reason. Either way there was nothing I could do now. There were no police around here except for a checkpoint 10km back. So with this in mind I got back on the bike and continued onwards for the desert highway. In my 3 weeks in the Middle East this was the only time someone tried to intentionally harm me. It was so at odds with the rest of the people I had met who would bend over backwards to help me. But every place has it’s lunatics so I made sure not to let this tarnish my view of the great people here.
Back on the desert highway I was able to put the incident behind me and just carry on. Along this road I ran into the only other cyclist I met on my entire trip. Ruudi was a Dutch cyclist heading for Egypt. He had passed through Syria back in October when it was safe. He had spent the rest of his time cycling around this region. He was now hoping to get a boat from Egypt back to Europe or head south to Sudan. We were able to swap stories about the road ahead. It was great to have a chat with another cyclist, we seemed to be in short supply around here. We wished each other luck and set off again in opposite directions.
Along the desert highway the hospitality remained the same as yesterday. I was welcomed to Jordan countless times and given cheery waves by many of the people I passed. The children like yesterday would sprint towards me just to shout “Hello” or “Welcome to Jordan” and some even tried to hand me free hard boiled eggs from the side of the road.
It was the opposite of what I had read the children here were like. Every cycle tourers’ blog I read told tales of the menacing kids who would throw stones at them, try to rob things off the bike, shout out curse words or spit at them. Every blog I read of cyclists who had cycled the King’s Highway as far as Karak had been attacked by stone throwing kids! Even in the Lonely Planet for Jordan there is a piece in there saying that it is impossible to avoid the stone throwing kids, saying most boys between 3 and 20 engage in the hobby. ( http://www.lonelyplanet.com/jordan/transport/getting-around ) With this in mind I was well prepared for this when I turned onto the King’s Highway.
After climbing for a while on the Desert Highway I reached the turnoff for the King’s Highway. I left the heavy traffic behind me and began my cycle along this quiet and hilly road.
The King’s Highway is supposed to be one of the oldest routes in the world still in use today. It was built for a king many years ago for his passage through the mountains of Jordan. He obviously wasn’t travelling by bike as there were some pretty steep climbs on this road! It was completely different from the Desert Highway, there was very little traffic except for the odd bus or rental car heading for Petra and the scenery was more impressive with the road dropping away on both sides to reveal barren mountains.
On reaching the first village I was keeping an eye out for any stone throwing kids. I went at a fast pace through the village hoping not to draw any attention. But inevitably I did draw the attention of the kids. But instead of throwing stones at me or shouting abuse they were just like the kids I had met earlier in the day, running out to meet me, shouting hello, asking where I was from and welcoming me to Jordan. The same happened me again in the next village. I was suspicious, was I being lulled into a false sense of security! In the end the day passed with no incidents at all. With nothing to worry about I was able to enjoy this road to it’s full extent. The scenery really was fantastic, definitely the best I had seen on the journey so far and the fact the road was quiet meant I had a great end to the day cycling along this road as the day drew to a close.
Expecting to receive harsh treatment and abuse on this road I was delighted to find it the opposite. So I was upbeat when I finally reached the long descent down to Wadi Musa. There had been a nice bit of climbing today, mostly against the wind and it took 7:30 hours of cycling to reach Wadi Musa in the end. In that time I had eaten 4 packets of biscuits and a full swiss roll! The latter was eaten when I was fairly low on energy. A swiss roll is a sort of chocolate log that is usually cut into slices and shared among the family. It would usually last a day or two in my house back home. Here though I was so hungry I ate one out of my hands in one go! As I was doing this of course a bus load of tourists pulled up to take photos by a rock formation in front of me. I’m sure I looked like a complete savage to them, stuffing my face with an entire swiss roll but it had to be done to get some energy into me!
Descending into Wadi Musa I ended up in the hostel I had got the name of this morning. I was delighted to find out it had an all you can eat buffet for 5JD! It was well worth it and I had 2 full plates of rice, chicken, felafel and spagetti bolognaise. My appetite had gone a bit out of control with all this cycling! I spent the evening watching Indiana Jones in the hostel common room and chatting to Dan and Emily, two of the backpackers I had met on the ferry. They were very well travelled and had been to many of the places in Central Asia and Mongolia that I hope to visit. Their tales made me look forward to my (all going well) future trip there even more. We had a good chat and in the end I didn’t get to bed until 1:30. So all I would be able to get was 4 hours sleep before my full one day assault on Petra tomorrow!