August 08, 2000 GMT

Ajilun (22-07-2000) till Amman (08-08-2000)

The next day I crossed the border with Jordan and visited the historical site in Jerash, which was very touristic but nice to see. I spend the night along a small unpaved road and had a good night. In the morning an old man passed me asking where I was coming from. I told him I was from Holland and that I was making a world trip and we had a little chat.

After he returned from the village with his groceries I was almost ready to go when he invited me to have some tea in his garden. It turned out in a complete breakfast together with his wife. They were living the whole summer in this garden. They hadn't any house there but were living outside and sleeping under a tree and enjoying their retirement. In the winter they went back to their house in the city. He planned to build a house here someday and was then living here permanently. I spend a couple of hours there and had a really nice time with them.

Around noon I headed westbound towards the Jordan River and drove along the river up north until I was stopped by the military because I was getting to the Syrian border, so I turned around and drove all the way down to the Dead Sea. The Jordan valley is a very fertile area and so there living many people as well. The Dead Sea was great to have a float in (you can't really swim in it and be careful not to get any 'water' in your eyes, because of the salt it hurts like hell).

I spend the night at the shore of the Dead Sea and saw a perfect sunset and at night I saw the glare of Jericho over the mountains. In the morning however things changed. The grass I was sleeping on was oily because of the high salt contents, which attracted water during the night so I packed the bike and drove away. But as soon as it was getting onto sand my bike slipped away and fell over because also the sand got the oily feeling and everything what was touching the sand had 'mud' sticking on it immediately. By the time I had my bike upright again I was looking like a pig as well. I drove on to Amman to apply for my new Syrian visa but was arriving there too late so I had to come back tomorrow. In the hotel I asked if they had some water to clean my bags. They hadn't, because of the lack of water they couldn't allow me to use it for cleaning bags. No problem to me so I took the bags inside the room and immediately they came to me saying that it was possible to clean the bags on the roof, but try to use as less water as possible.

Amman wasn't really an interesting place at all, except for the amphitheatre. There I met Stephen, a biker from New Zealand who bought a bike in England to travel around Europe (and beyond) he was getting himself orientated on the map trying to find the same hotel where I stayed so I could help him out easily. Back in the hotel I was sharing the room with him.

The next day I applied for the Syrian visa without any problems. Again I needed a letter of recommendation of the Dutch embassy. In Ankara these letters cost me USD 12 and here they were for free?

Because there was no reason to stay in Amman any longer Stephen and I drove together south following the Kings highway. The name has probably nothing to do with the Jordan king but with the feeling you get when driving over this road. A good road with hardly any traffic on it and a lot of bends. When a river has to be crossed the road descends steeply for 500 metres, you cross a bridge with no water at all and the road climbs 500 metres back up. A real joy to ride on with your bike.

In Dana we wanted to stay in a hotel with a marvellous view over a valley but the price they asked was much too high. With a cup of tea we were negotiating but still too expensive so we left (after refusing to pay for the tea) and spend the night along a narrow dirt road and had an even better view for free.

The next day (28 July) we arrived Petra in the early morning and paid a whopping JD 25 (USD 35!!) to visit Petra for two days so we could take it easy. This first day we spend seeing most of the central buildings which were really impressing from the outside, but once inside it wasn't anything more than a big square box. We had to rest quite often and long, not only because it was very hot but also because walking around in bike clothing wasn't really the best outfit to visit Petra. Late in the afternoon we found a hotel in Petra and had a triple room for just the two of us.

When having diner in the town we met another (German) biker who just arrived coming from Tunisia, Libya and Egypt. Because Stephen wanted to go to Egypt as well Peewee (the German biker) was a source of information to him and finally it ended up with him staying on our room as well. The 3 of us together with Claudia, a Chilean girl Stephen had also met in Amman, we went the second day to Petra visiting the more remote buildings, which was quite fun. The number of tourist you met dropped drastically and with wearing a proper outfit it was much easier to stand the heat. In the late afternoon we climbed a hill and had a superb view from the top at Al Khazneh, the most famous building in Petra. Walking back along the ridge we waited for sunset and walked back to the gate afterwards. It still was quite a long walk so it was already dark when we reached the gate.

Stephen and I decided to go the next day to Wadi Rum, a small town in the middle of the desert. It's famous for its scenery, which you can see by hiring a camel or a 4WD-drive. Our intention was to (try to) go into the desert on our bikes. We had received lot of practical information from Peewee, who had over 20 years motocross experience and drove from Aqaba to Wadi Rum through the desert. So we put up our tents and put all our luggage into the tent so we were going into the desert as light as possible. But we got stuck completely after 500 metres already when the rear wheel dug itself into soft sand completely. And then we had a bloody hard time to get the bike out the sand again and we were sweating like crazy so the water bottle I took was empty in no time. So we decided to turn around but that was easier said than done but finally we managed to get back to Wadi Rum. Nevertheless we had a great time and decided to have another try tomorrow morning because we later found out that it was only a small piece with soft sand. Once you were through it the ground was getting better. So we read some pages of a book Stephen had about riding on a bike in the desert.

Early next morning, after breakfast, we had another go. Keeping the throttle open and open it further when it was getting soft we got through the soft part without any problems. The trick was to keep up speed, but that made it very difficult to follow the track and we had to make split decisions which track to take when two tracks crossed. Finally I got stuck again but managed (in the end) to get out of the soft sand on my own again. We managed to get 5 km. into the desert when I got stuck a second time but dug myself out again, but it was really exhausting me. Stephen in the meanwhile had different kind of problems: his bike had lost its headlight so he had to stop and find all the pieces back together. As I tried to stay on the tracks as much as possible Stephen rode in a straight line through the desert bumping over stones and small vegetation which probably was the reason why the front shock absorber started to leak oil. So we decided to get back to Wadi Rum again.

It was really clear to us that it would be possible to go to Aqaba through the desert on our bikes but that we had way too less experience to this. We needed to practice more often in riding through the desert and it actually was a lot of fun as well.

So late in the afternoon I drove to Aqaba (on the tarmac road) and Stephen decided to spend another night in Wadi Rum before taking the ferry to Egypt. In Aqaba I spend the night at a campground at the shore of the Red Sea. On the campground were a lot of overland trucks parked. While visiting Egypt they left the trucks in Jordan as bringing your own vehicle into Egypt is very expensive thing to do (as Peewee could confirm) and the freedom of going where you like is very limited as you have to drive in convoys very regularly. This was the main reason why I had decided not to visit Egypt. (Another reason was that my company sent me to Egypt last March and visiting Cairo I was also able to see the pyramids in Giza).

While the Red Sea is one of the most beautiful places to dive in the world I wanted to follow a dive course here. I ended up at Seastar diving centre where I could start the course immediately as 7 people just had started that morning. Another option was to by the books now and start tomorrow together with someone else, which I preferred. It wasn't the cheapest course but the one at the Royal Diving Centre only started in 3 weeks, which was useless to me. I had to extend my visa for a week as the course took 4 to 5 days. So in the police station they extended my visa for 3 month! For free. The rest of the afternoon I spend start reading through the theory on the campground.

The next morning we had 2 sessions in a swimming pool to get used to the equipment and practising all kind of emergency procedures. Most of the things you learn are emergency procedures; what to do if... That afternoon we had a third session in the swimming pool together with the group who started yesterday. After 3 sessions in the swimming pool we were ready to have the first open water dive tomorrow, of course in the Red Sea. This dive wasn't really different to the ones in the swimming pool as we mainly repeated the same exercises. Of course you can go deeper down and there's much more to see (fish and reef) but you're so busy with the exercises and trying to keep your buoyancy right that I hardly saw something. That afternoon we had other open water dive.

The next morning we had the last 2 sessions in the swimming pool learning the more practical thing as how to enter the water in different ways, and how to remove your scuba unit on the surface and underwater. Because some of the other group wanted to finish their course today we had the last two open water dives in the afternoon.

We however had had only practice and from the intention to read yourself through the theory at night was quite difficult as I was tired or met a Belgian couple in a Landcruiser who went through Iran as well and were a source of practical information to me. So I decided to skip the last open water dive today and spend some time reading through the theory, continuing that evening at the campground.

The fourth day we had our final dive and so finished our practical side of the course. I ended the theory as well and was ready to have the final test. I missed 3 of the 50 questions, which was more than enough to pass and to get my PADI Open Water Diver certificate.

I asked if it was possible to have my first free dive the following afternoon, which was no problem at all. I wanted to see how it was to dive without an instructor and doing all those exercises just enjoying the environment. And it really was great. Of course it wasn't a smooth dive as I bumped into some coral accidentally but it was much easier as I had expected. Afterwards the group was analyzing what rare species of fish and coral had seen, but to me it all was new. A real new world was opened to me.

Wouldn't mind to do more dives but it was time to go up north again, back to Turkey. Just before I left I met another biker from Austria also named Martin and wearing the same jacket and together we drove up north. Because the Kings highway was such a nice road I decided to drive the same route back to Amman. At Petra we split up as I was continuing to Amman where I arriving late in the afternoon. I wanted to write a travel report here before entering into Syria where I haven't seen any Internet cafes. After typing for one hour they lost their electrical power and I lost all the typing I did. Without a backup made I was really pissed off but could blame anyone but myself. So the next morning I could newly type the (Dutch) travel report into the computer and so I left Amman around noon.

Posted by Martin Rooiman at August 08, 2000 03:04 AM GMT

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