In March 2006, two Canberra cyclists, Anne and Julie Cronin, cycled in Jordan as members of a group led by a volunteer, Graham Pettit, from the UK’s Cyclists Touring Club.
Why cycle tour in Jordan?
Jordan offers awesome mountain scenery, gracious people, cultural richness, history, archaeology and delicious food. Bedouin, Arab and other ethnic groups live alongside the families of refugees from neighbouring countries, creating a cultural diversity. The Bedouin have along established tradition of hospitality to all travellers. As tourists we found a society marked by tolerance, generosity and cultural pride.
The hills of Jordan, the Jordan River and the Jordan Valley have been places of historical and cultural significance since Biblical times. Jordan boasts many antiquities, including Petra,
the magnificent, ancient city carved into the rose-coloured rock. In antiquity, Petra was a major trading centre that operated monopolies on frankincense and myrrh. Wise men of the East followed the first Christmas Star to Bethlehem would probably have stopped in Petra for some of their homage gifts.
Over 15 days (including several rest days in attractive locations such as Petra and a desert camp in Wadi Rum) 11 cyclists from England, Scotland, Alaska and Canberra rode through Jordan, from Amman (the capital) to the Gulf of Aqaba in the south.
We cycled through the lands that were home to Ruth the Moabite ancestor of King David; zig-zagged down hills, dwarfed by seemingly endless folds of mountains.
We visited ruins of Crusaders’ castles. We camped in Lawrence of Arabia’s desert and dined together in a hut with rolled-up walls of dense, woven camel hair.
Our route followed the King’s Highway, an ancient route used by camel caravans and other travellers through the Middle East over thousands of years. This highway had little traffic to disturb the tranquillity of shepherds tending flocks on the arid, often stony land through which the road ribbons towards the desert. On the last stage of our journey, we rode on Jordan’s main highway to the Gulf of Aqaba, the Desert highway, using, the mostly, sealed verge. When we needed to share a lane of the busy highway with trucks, the truck drivers were extremely courteous.
Arriving in Aqaba, we saw the buildings and land features of four countries (Saudi Arabia, Israel, Egypt and Jordan) along the seafront.
Cyclists used their own bicycles. Anne and Julie experienced the bike carriage polices and practices of three airlines. Emirates and Gulf each carried boxed bicycles without fuss and were generous in applying weight limit. Royal Jordanian Airlines Policy treats a bike as ‘excess’ because of its dimensions irrespective of weight. Had this policy been applied, an excess baggage bill of over A$700 would have been payable per box for travel Jordan – Australia. Fortunately, a practical local manager at Amman found a solution: the bike travelled back to Australia as components (frame, wheels and panniers). Fortunately, the bike frame and fragile parts had been wrapped in bubble wrap; so unboxed items were still protected from damage.
Drawing on experience on a solo cycle tour in 2005, Graham Pettit of the Cyclist’s Touring Club suggested packing lists (including tools, spare brake pads, extra spokes, wide tyres capable of withstanding shards of stone or glass and baggy neck-to-knee, clothing for both men and women), arranged group travel, negotiated with Jordanian authorities (eg for clearing military check points that appear on roads near secure installations or international boarders) and managed the kitty for the tour. Graham booked comfortable, clean local hotels that offered secure bike storage. (Julie gives me to much credit here, many of these thing weren’t a problem or were taken care of by La Beduina Tours) The hotels provided local foods for dinner and breakfast. Safe holding of valuables was often available. We felt very safe in these local hotels. A brief experience of an international five star hotel’s extensive security checks made us glad we were not part of that scene.
Some of the group experienced pebble-throwing by children-more a nuisance than harmful. A few wild dogs in the hills raised the heartbeats and voices of passing cyclists but the dogs were harmless.
Our group was supported by local tour guides, La Beduina Tours. The guides drove utility trucks capable of carrying our bikes if needed.
The guides served lunches on the back of the utes. Sage tea was brewed regularly, to ward off tummy troubles. Thank god the sage tea is keeping everyone well’ was a daily reminder of their valuable role. As a treat one evening , one of the guides cooked a delicious dish of goat (head included) in yoghurt and coriander.
Our tour was in March, in the early Northern Spring. Days were mostly mild and sunny, although very cold on some days. Can you imagine riding uphill for hours in layers of thermals and still feeling cold? It was that cold. Side winds were a challenge on several days.
Being seen as foreigner-friendly is important to the people of Jordan, in the aftermath of a terrorist bombing at a tourist location in 2005. People went out of their way to ensure we felt comfortable and welcome.
English language skills, signs and tourist police were plentiful in tourist locations.
Cycle touring as part of a well organised group offered us security and companionship as well as a sense of adventure. As the physical challenge of riding harsh terrain generated a sense of accomplishment, the ancient history and the hard, rural living of contemporary Jordan inspired in us humble admiration for its people.
© CTC Cycling Holidays
web construction: Francis Cooke