Petra & Wadi Rum by Bike by Exodus' Natasha Owen
Exodus’ E-commerce Manager Natasha Owen, was fortunate enough to spend last Christmas far, far away from the family disagreements and the commercial madness on two wheels in the beautiful kingdom of Jordan.
I had been told by many of my well-travelled friends that Petra and Wadi Rum were ‘up there’ in their list of favourite sites and so I added it to my list of destinations to visit. However, I knew I wanted to see Jordan as close up as possible, and so I chose the cycling option.
Now I have to confess, this was my first cycling holiday, and in fact, I was actually very new to cycling altogether! That said, I knew I had a good all-round fitness and obviously put in some extra cycling practice leading up to the holiday, but still I wasn’t really sure what to expect.
We flew into Amman on a late night flight, and after meeting our guide, Mouyyad, we transferred to the town of Madaba, found our rooms and crashed out for the night.
Next morning, we got onto the minibus, drove out of town for about an hour and then met a lorry that was delivering our bikes and to be our vehicle support for the week. The bikes were in great condition, and after a little bit of adjustment and practice we were quickly on our way.
As well as our local, qualified antiquities guide (who has never been on a bike but was totally invaluable along the way sharing his historical knowledge with us), we had Paul, a Lebanese guy, as our cycling guide. His brother owns a cycling store back home and it’s clear he knows his way around bikes. He was also the jester on the trip and always had a smile on his face. He had a great way of describing the way ahead of us: ‘We go up, up, up, then long down and then little up’.
Throughout the week the cycling is on tarmac roads. You do cycle on a mountain bike though as the tarmac isn’t perhaps to our standards and there’s also quite a lot of sand blowing onto the surface. Cycling through villages and mainly out of the way of big towns, you really are a curiosity to the Jordanians – cycling isn’t something that adults in Jordan do, particularly women. The kids run out of the houses as they hear you approach and run towards you. They can get a little exuberant but they’re laughing the whole time!
Cycling down from Mount Nebo to the Dead Sea it’s a long, zig-zagging fast road and Paul manages to balance letting you really get some speed up and enjoying the ride, with some gentle chastisement to stop you getting over-confident. People on the trip thanked him for that at the end of the day, especially after we saw that a car had gone over the top!
The Dead Sea was great for relaxing us after our thrilling ride. At Christmas time you’re unlikely to spend much time in the Dead Sea – it’s warm enough in the water, but you know you have to get out. DO shower thoroughly, for all its therapeutic qualities I did get a slight rash from the water.
Petra is off limits to bikes but by Day 4 this is quite a welcome break. Now I’m not normally a ‘temple’ sort of person but I defy anyone to not be impressed by the ancient city and this was where we spent Christmas Day. It’s on an unbelievable scale – we walked about 14km on our full day there and then after cycling to Little Petra the following morning, we returned to Petra ‘proper’ again for an afternoon walk of about another 10km. That second walk in particular is wonderful. With Petra being a UNESCO World Heritage Site it’s no surprise that it attracts many visitors, but if you get to do that afternoon walk you won’t see anyone else right until the very end.
The other highlight of the trip had to be Wadi Rum – not just for the stunning colours, patterns and shapes of the rock formations, but also for the charming, hospitable welcome we received by the Bedouin family that we stayed with. Sat in a Bedouin tent, around a huge log fire,
I chatted all night with our hosts and shared their sheesha pipe. All brothers or cousins (the females remained in the nearby village where they cooked us what was undoubtedly the best meal of the trip), it was our opportunity to pretty much ask them anything about their day-to-day life, and theirs too to ask about ours! Salah, (forgive me if I’m spelling that wrong!) worked during the day as a PE teacher at the local school and spoke excellent English, but he loved to escape to the desert of Wadi Rum again at the weekends.
Despite it being December and unfortunately half of us having come down with a cold, the opportunity for a night under the stars in Lawrence of Arabia’s desert was just too appealing. Take plenty of thin layers and a hat if you’re travelling at this time of the year and you’ll be fine. You are only using your sleeping bag for that one night, but seriously, bring a good one – you’ll appreciate it and have a great night of star-gazing!
In Amman, for our last night, Mouyyad, our main guide, booked us into one of the best restaurants in the capital – but it certainly didn’t have the price to go with it. That’s another thing to mention about this trip – the food is wonderful, good value and great if you’re a vegetarian. To be honest, I would be happy to stick to the variety of mezze on offer and skip the main courses altogether. On cycling days, our vehicle support drivers and Mouyyad would suddenly reveal wonderful energy snacks of dried and fresh fruit, nuts, nougah, biscuits about mid morning to keep us going and then prepare the most amazing salads at lunchtime – you’re certainly well looked-after!
This is a Grade B trip and for my level of experience that is about right. There are some steep ascents along the way and I was lucky enough not to be cycling them in the heat of the summer, but the majority of the route is fairly flat or downhill. A tip for you: if faced with what looks like a steep hill and you’re thinking about getting off and pushing for a while, think again – it’s much harder to push and it’s likely the guys will have stopped just over the brow for a refreshment/snack stop!
Natasha went on Exodus’ Petra and Wadi Rum Cycling holiday.