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December 26th, 2010 | Asia

Back to Amman…

The Valentine's Buffet Dinner is legendary in Petra...!! Twenty different salads, pasta, chicken and a few items which I did not dare to ask about...!!

Hadn't seen Amstel in a red can before...!!

After a quiet Christmas afternoon, followed by the usual Valentine buffet dinner that the hotel was famous for, I got all my gear ready for an early start the next morning…

My intention was to ride to Aqaba, take a quick look around and then get back to Amman before nightfall, a trip of about 480 km…

The freight agents had contacted me and wanted the Big Fella back in Amman by Monday morning, so that they could get the crating done, and begin the process of booking flights to Dubai…

I had enjoyed staying at the Valentine Hotel, meeting a wide range of people who passed through Petra heading either south to Egypt, or north to the Dead Sea and Israel…

Very few I spoke to were planning to go further into Syria and Turkey… On the morning I arrived there, I had missed another South African biker by barely a few hours…!! I was told that he was on his way to the Dead Sea and Jerusalem…

The hotel had not entered his full name in their registry book, and the best I could make out was that he was “Anton van ?????”, from Cape Town, born in 1983… After asking around, I discovered that he had been on the road for about 9 months, but nobody could tell me anything else about him…

I thought how amazing it would have been to meet up with him…!! To compare our experiences and thoughts on our respective journeys would have been great…!! I had ridden down from the Dead Sea, and must have missed him while on the road to Karak… He apparently took the direct route up, hugging the shores of the Dead Sea…

We had probably missed each other by as little as 20 kms…!! Hard to believe…!!

If anybody reading this knows Anton, please ask him to get in touch with me via my website…

A few dozen fellow travelers gathered to see me off when I left the hotel, all snapping away with their cameras and video recorders, shouting farewell greetings as I rode off down the narrow alley leading into the centre of town…

“Cheers Gypsy, good luck” from the British guy who was on his way to Egypt…

“Bon chance…!!” from the French couple who had once cycled from Alaska to Ushuaia, and were on their way to Wadi Rum to do some rock climbing…

“Aufwiedersien…!!” from the German couple waiting for the bus to take them down to Petra…

“Good on yer, Mate…!!” from the two Aussies who punished the hotels stock of beer the previous evening…

“Adios Amigo…!!” from the lone Spaniard who was on his way to Israel and from there to China…

I have no idea what the Japanese group said, but I must assume they were wishing me well too…!!

With their cries still ringing in my ears, and a huge grin on my face at the thought of the camaraderie we had shared for so short a time, I rode out of town and stopped high above it to look down into the valley below…

High above the outskirts of Petra, I stopped to look back over the town...

I saw the canyon through which I had walked to get to the Treasury and the other relics of the Lost City, and the buses beginning to offload hundreds of tourists… I wanted to shout, “I hope you’re all wearing comfortable shoes…!!”, but knew my voice would never carry so far down into the valley…!!

The canyon leading to the Lost City of Petra...

On the King's Highway, I stopped at this sign to Aqaba on the Red Sea coast...

The last stretch of the King’s Highway, leading to the turnoff to Aqaba was a great ride through the high mountains of Jordan…

I would have enjoyed it even more had there not been a spitefully cold and strong wind blowing…!!

It plucked at me as I crested a ridge, pushed and pulled as I descended down into the deep valleys, and generally gave me a hard time on the narrow, twisting road that led through the small villages At Tayyiba and Ar Rajif…

There was hardly any traffic on this the “Road 35” as it is also known, until it reached the Desert Highway which ran north to Amman the capital, and south to Aqaba and Jordan’s only stretch of coastline on the Red Sea… All 18 kms of it…!!

I sat the Big Fella at the turnoff, thinking about my reasons for going to Aqaba… It meant a round trip of about 170 km back to the very spot I was sitting at… I would arrive there too early for lunch, and would probably spend less than hour riding around to look at the sights of this seaside resort…

I decided it was not worth the effort, and kicked the Big Fella into gear with a shout of, “We go north my friend…!!”

The double-lanned Desert Highway was relatively free of traffic, but every 50 kms or so, a traffic control car was parked, radar at the ready… The speed limit was only 110 km/h here, and after all the twists and sharp curves of the mountains, we could have done with something a lot higher…!!

I passed a number of desert castles standing forlornly on the edge of the highway… These castles dated back centuries to the Umayyad Period, built by the Arabs to protect the caravan routes down to the Red Sea… They were nowhere near as the impressive structures the Crusaders had built, and consisted mainly of four high walls built around a central courtyard…

I passed the city of Ma’an, when the reserve light flashed onto my dash… I had to begin thinking about refueling…

I had to begin calculating how much fuel I would need to get to Amman...

I still had two litres in one of my fuel canisters, a range of about 50 kms left in the tank, and according to Gi-Gi, about 250 kms back to the New Park Hotel in Amman…

I had to have a completely empty tank before the bike could be loaded into its crate, so there was no point in filling up, only to have to give the fuel away later…!!

About 60 kms further on, at the village of Al Hashimiyya, with the Big Fella gasping for a drink, I stopped to refine my calculations… I emptied the contents of my canister into the tank, and then bought 5 Dinars of fuel, which was 8,33 litres…

“Why you no fill…??” asked the petrol attendant…

Rather than give him the long detailed explanation of airline regulations, I simply said, “Not enough money…!!”

He translated this to the group of guys who had surrounded the bike… One of them ran off and returned with a large cup of coffee for me…

Then an elderly guy in a threadbare suit, who was filling his Mercedes which was at least twenty years old, opened his wallet and offered me a 50 Dinar note, (about R480.00) and using the Sudanese petrol attendant as a translator, explained that he wanted me to have the money to continue my journey in their country…!!

The earnest look on his face told me that he was not pulling my leg, and to say that I was astonished by his act of kindness, is an understatement…!!

Had my visa been granted, I would have been making a right hand turn here...

I thanked him profusely, but refused his kind gift, shaking his hand and explaining that I would get more money from an ATM in Amman… He reluctantly put the money back in his wallet and then smiled broadly when I offered him a cigarette…

We stood chatting for at least half an hour, and I was happy to answer all his questions, noticing the deep lines on his face that spoke of years spent in the sun, the coarseness of his hands that indicated he was probably a farmer…

At one point he issued a terse instruction, and another cup of coffee materialized at my elbow…

Then he shook my hand, placed his right hand over his heart and touched it to my forehead, wishing me a safe journey for the future…

I watched him climb into the battered Mercedes and drive off in a cloud of dust…

“He is a good man…!!” said the Sudanese…

“Yes…a good man…” was all I could offer in reply…

A warm feeling flooded through my chest at having been singled out in this way by a complete stranger in a strange land… I had just experienced another magical moment that would remain etched in my memories of this journey…

My only regret was not asking him to pose for a photograph with me, but in hindsight, that might have broken the temporary spell of the moment…

Hopping back on the Big Fella, I issued him with a few terse instructions of my own:

“Keep your speed down. You have ten and a half litres of fuel and about 170 kms to go today. You will not be getting any more fuel until we get to Dubai…!!”

The grunt I received in reply as we roared back onto the Desert Highway was hopefully one of acceptance of my instructions…

I sat back and watched the desert roll past on either side… The highway ran due north, passing Jurf al-Darawish and Al-Has, Sad as Sultani and Al-Qatrana, Dab’a and Al-Qastal before entering the major road-works taking place south of Amman…

Entering the hilly city of Amman for the second time...

For once, Gi-Gi gave me no trouble at all…!! She took us through the city, many of the buildings recognizable from my last visit; the Royal Hotel, the Mosque with the big green dome, the steep narrow street leading to the “Downtown” area, and then into King Hussein Street, past the many travel agents and shoes shops until with a note of triumph in her voice, she said,

“Arriving at…. New Park Hotel… on left…”

Had there not been so many people out on the street, many of them stopping to stare at us, I would have reached forward and kissed her…!!

At reception, I was welcomed back with huge smiles and offers to help me offload my gear…

“Your room is waiting, sir…!! Nescafe…?? In the big cup…??”

“Yes please,” I replied gratefully, “It’s good to be back…!!”

And it was… Despite the New Park only being a two-star hotel, the staff here is super-friendly and eager to please… And that usually makes one’s stay a pleasant experience…

I am allowed to wander in and out of the kitchen at all times of the day and night, helping myself to hot water to fill the mug I carry with me, so that I can have coffee in my room whenever the urge arises… And it arises often…!!

Within minutes of arriving, I began unpacking and repacking my gear… I would be keeping the bare minimum with me, and loading the rest into the crate with the Big Fella the next morning…

Rides and Flights... Jordan and the Arabian Peninsula, and my flights from Amman to Dubai, and then Dubai to New Delhi in India...!!

I had no idea when he would be put on a plane, and had to assume that I would be in Amman for three or four days at least…

I called Mohammed at Access Freight, and arranged to meet him the following morning…

I lay awake that night, thinking about how much my plans had changed… I had so badly wanted to ride from South Africa all the way to Singapore, before putting the bike on a plane to Australia… I would now have to fly the bike three times before I reached Singapore… From Amman to Dubai, Dubai to New Delhi, and later, from Dhaka to Bangkok… What a palaver…!!

This would naturally cause a rather large and unplanned dent in my budget…

I might well be picking fruit in South America if I wasn’t careful…!!

©GBWT 2010

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