Thursday, 24 March 2011

Day 187 Jordan/Egypt 24/3/2011, Aqaba – Nuweiba – Dahab. 46.01miles/73.47km, 4hr39minutes, Av 9.9mph, Max speed 41mph!

Somewhere around 1:30am the ferry finally moved and we were on our way to Egypt. Following a certain amount of contortionist moves, we managed to find a marginally comfortable way to lay on the seats and drifted off at about 2am. By 5am we were awake and the ferry had stopped just outside the port. While we were waiting we had some breakfast and availed ourselves of the frankly disgusting toilet facilities. Bearing in mind that the ferry ticket for a foot passenger is $60, you would think there might be somebody who actually cleans the ferry.

Somewhere just before 6am we were allowed to disembark. We retrieved our bikes and headed down the ramp and into the equally un-signposted Nuweiba port. Eventually we found the customs area and had a bit of a shock when we had to remove all our bags and put them through the x-ray machine.

By 6:30am we were reloaded and on the road in Egypt. By 6:35am we were reflecting that 3 hours of sleep on an uncomfortable chair wasn't the ideal preparation for the 70km ride to Dahab, especially as the first 20km was climbing! At least being early the traffic was light and the temperature wasn't too high.


Eventually we made it to the top and stopped for a break before the long descent to Dahab. During the break we learned what could be a valuable lesson while riding in Egypt, the edge of the road is deep sand. If we slide off the road, the chances of remaining upright are slim.

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After our last promised downhill turned into something of a disappointment, we were thankfully rewarded this time with nearly 50km of downhill or flat road. With a helpful tailwind we raced along until we reached Dahab, encountering the first check points of our trip along the way. These are quite common in Egypt, although the ones we encountered today were content with just knowing where we were going and where we were from.

The last few kilometres into Dahab were against the wind, but driven on by our desire to get to a hotel and have a sleep, we soon got to the town. We needed a bit of help to find our hotel but it wasn't long before we were checked into our home for the next week the 'Dahab Plaza Hotel'.

The late night and cycling caught up with us after we checked into the room and we both fell straight asleep. It will be really nice to have nothing to do for the next week, other than eat, drink, sleep and do some planning for the road ahead. Unless something really exciting happens I will write one blog for our time here. Take care all, the pool and a beer beckons!

Wednesday, 23 March 2011

Day 186 Jordan 23/3/2011, Aqaba. 8.97miles/14.39km, 51minutes, Av 10.3mph.

We held out leaving the hotel for as long as possible this morning, eventually packing up around 11am.

To kill the time before going to the ferry terminal, we rode along the hillier than expected coast road to Club Murjan. For a fee you can use the facilities; pool, sun loungers, showers etc. Unfortunately the club closes just after 5pm or when the last of the divers head back to the main city. We only found this information out when we went to order some food at around 3:30pm, which was a shame as we were hoping to stay a bit later and then get to the ferry port shortly after sunset.

Despite the fact that we had to leave early we met some nice people at the club. Rohan from Sea Star watersports was especially helpful and as promised he emailed us with information about Sharm and Dahab.

With not many options available to us, we headed down to the awfully signposted ferry terminal. With at least 5 hours to kill before we were likely to be able to board, we went to pay our departure tax and get stamped out of Jordan. Having used up almost 15 minutes of our waiting time, we settled for a long evening of people watching.

The ferry terminal certainly isn't the most comfortable place to wait if you are female. Debs was one of very few women there, in fact the only other one that we saw never got out of her car. The terminal may not have been as entertaining as previous experiences we have had waiting for late night trains in India, but it still provided plenty of interest.

Watching a man tie luggage to his car was quite a spectacle, especially as by the time he had finished the amount fixed to the roof seemed bigger than the car.

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Outside the terminal building we sat amongst the truckers and passengers watching one of four competing TV sets, each one with the volume set to deafen. Even as non Arabic speakers we couldn't help but be intrigued by the Bollywood style film that was showing on the nearest set to us. The movie was filled with hilarious dancing, and characters and songs that could be only described as camp. It certainly seemed to have everybody glued to the screen.

As the night wore on there were numerous announcements in Arabic where people would get up and leave. Obviously these meant nothing to us, so we contented ourselves with getting ready to leave as soon as we saw the cars move.

At about 10:30pm a bus arrived and people started hurrying towards their cars, so we quickly joined them. Following the traffic straight ahead, I mentioned that there were no signs, we were directed around a long queue of lorries. When we arrived at a lorry sized x-ray machine it looked like we had gone the wrong way. With a bit of gesturing from some lorry drivers we rode through the machine and got stopped by a slightly bemused security guard. A quick passport check and a look at our tickets and he suddenly said “oh you are going to Egypt”, we hadn't been aware we could be going anywhere else! We were ushered on, then stopped again and eventually pointed towards a ferry. By the way that the bus carrying foot passengers was already outside, we have to assume that we took the wrong route to the boat.

Outside the boat our passports were checked again and we were directed into an entirely empty car deck. A deck hand then pointed up a ramp to the higher deck. Arriving at a no less empty upper deck we stopped, unaware of what we were supposed to do now. The deck hand obviously realised that we had been up there for a long time and appeared up the ramp and pointed vaguely towards a wall where we could leave the bikes. With some careful propping we left them relatively secure and headed down to the main deck. Via a ticket inspection we were finally on board a somewhat dilapidated ferry.

Having managed to get ourselves two relatively comfy looking seats each, we settled in for the long journey. Having not long sat down, there was another announcement in Arabic and people started leaving. Going out to investigate I came across a large queue of people waiting outside two glass windows. Asking a crew member what was going on I was informed that it was Egyptian immigration. Going back to tell Debs, I grabbed my passport and went to join the queue. Having already got a visa I managed to get stamped into Egypt after a little confusion with the non English speaking immigration officer. Quite why he thought I only wanted to go to Sinai when I clearly had a full Egyptian visa is a mystery.

While I had been queueing Debs had been defending our seats; an empty seat is fair game on the ferry it seems, even if your stuff is left on it. I wasn't entirely comfortable with Debs having to queue in the middle of the night, on her own, surrounded by men but if we wanted to keep our seats there was no choice. Fortunately it seems women get preferential treatment and she was ushered to the front of the queue. The immigration officer was now familiar with our situation so she encountered none of the confusion that I had.

Back at the seats with TVs blaring we settled down to try and get some sleep; we had the feeling it was going to be a very long night.

Tuesday, 22 March 2011

Day 185 Jordan 22/3/2011, Aqaba. Ferry tickets, a visa and a lot of wandering.

Despite the stifling heat, traffic noise and lack of air conditioning, or even a fan, we slept quite well. Yesterday had clearly taken it out of us.

One of the bonuses of staying in a rubbish hotel is that I don't feel guilty about lighting our stove in the room, so we were able to have coffee in the morning.

Heading out into an already hot day, we went first to the ferry office where we received the shock news that the one ferry a day now only goes at midnight, instead of 1pm! This means that we are going to have a very long day tomorrow, hopefully we can find somewhere to leave the bikes or it will be even longer. On a plus point, with an early arrival in Egypt we should have a good run to Dahab. Especially useful, as the first 10km is an 8% gradient up to just over 800m.

With the news about the ferry, we decided to head to the Egyptian embassy to try and get our visas. This would give us one less thing to worry about on arrival in Egypt. Queueing for a visa at 6am when we would rather just get going, is something we could do without. The embassy was really helpful and we were told to come back at 1pm when we could pick up our passports.

Filling the time until then, we had a walk along the seafront and visited the not that impressive castle. After a lovely, but overtly expensive fresh juice drink each and a cup of mint tea, we went back to the hotel to wait out the rest of the time.

True to the embassy staff's word our passports were ready to collect; if only all visas were that simple! On the walk back we stopped and used the internet, no WiFi in our hotel, and booked some accommodation in Dahab. We have seven nights in a nice sounding hotel close to the seafront. It will be good to have a proper break from the cycling, where we can just relax in a very chilled resort.

Some supplies shopping aside, we did very little for the rest of the day. Aqaba is a pleasant enough place and certainly cheaper than Wadi Musa, but we will be glad to be moving on.

Monday, 21 March 2011

Day 184 Jordan 21/3/2011, Wadi Musa – Aqaba. 82.05miles/131.05km, 7hr47minutes, Av 10.5mph.

We were up early this morning as we potentially had a long one in front of us. After breakfast we loaded the bikes, bid farewell to the Saba'a hotel and headed up the hill and out of Wadi Musa.

The first 40km of the day was spent climbing, with some spectacular views for company. Debs has been suffering with a lot of leg pain after our exertions around Petra, so the climbing wasn't particularly welcome. Once again we were joined along the way by our old friend the strong headwind. It would have been nice to have the wind on our side just once in Jordan.

Passing through the village of at-Tayyiba we had a slightly surreal experience when a minibus stopped in front of us and a load of western tourists leapt out and started taking our pictures and filming us. They turned out to be some members of an Italian cycling club, who made a big tour every year. We were the first cyclists they had seen in Jordan so they had stopped to say hello, congratulate us and have their photo taken with us. It was possibly the strangest moment we have experienced on the road yet, but it certainly took our minds off the steep climb out of the village.

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Eventually the road started to descend and we joined the Desert Highway and began the long journey down to Aqaba. Despite the fact that the Desert highway is definitely flatter than the King's Highway it was noisier, more desolate and a lot less pleasant to cycle along. Several people early on in our trip through Jordan had suggested it as a better road for us to take; we are very glad that we ignored their advice.

The promised long descent all the way to Aqaba failed to materialise, although that probably had more to do with the headwind than the actual road. In fact we soon found ourselves climbing again, 140km suddenly looked like a very long way. For the next 80km we slogged against a strengthening headwind and the undulating road. If it wasn't for the total lack of shops and our decreasing water supply, we would have probably given up and pitched the tent.

With about 30km to go to the city we had the brief distraction of a lone Bedouin leading three camels, including one baby and a juvenile, across the road. When Debs and I stopped to watch, he kindly brought them over to us so that we could take a photo.


Our whole day has been very far removed from the experiences we have had previously on the road in Jordan. There have been no stones thrown or abuse; just lots of friendly waves, sweet children and one offer of a lift that we foolishly turned down.

By the time we arrived in Aqaba it was getting late and we had no idea where we were going or where we were going to stay. With the help of several locals we found the tourist/hotel area and are safely housed in a functional, if not brilliant, hotel. The day has been far more difficult than we, alright I, had expected. It has been our longest day by quite some margin and it has taken its toll on us both. Once again Debs has amazed me, she has been struggling with her legs all day and yet she managed to keep going despite the pain.

We will have a rest day tomorrow, while we book our ferry tickets to Egypt and try and organize our onward travel plans. It is very nearly farewell Jordan, it is just a shame that all of the cycling days, distance aside, weren't like today.

Sunday, 20 March 2011

Day 183 Jordan 20/3/2011, Wadi Musa (Petra). Another look at the beautiful ruins.

We had a bit of a later start this morning, clearly we have cyclists legs not walking ones as both our leg muscles were pretty stiff from yesterday.

Having seen the bulk of the site yesterday we headed down the hill to the gates and began the long walk into the site. Instead of carrying on through to the main city we began the climb up to the Place of High Sacrifice. With tired legs it was a slow climb but the views were worth the effort.

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After a good walk round at the top we stopped for a bit of lunch and then slowly headed back down and out of the site. We may not have seen everything, some places require a guide and some serious hiking, but we feel we have certainly done Petra justice. Despite the steep price it is undoubtedly one of the most impressive places to visit in the world.

Back at the hotel it was time for a well earned rest. We hope our legs have recovered by tomorrow, when we make the final leg of our Jordanian journey to Aquaba. The city is approx 140km away but 100km of it is downhill so we may make it in one day. One more free camp wouldn't be a hardship though.

Saturday, 19 March 2011

Day 182 Jordan 19/3/2011, Wadi Musa (Petra). A beautiful, majestic, rose-coloured ancient city.

We had a great nights sleep, which we clearly needed. After breakfast we grabbed our packed lunches and set off early down the hill towards the Petra entrance gates.

Whichever way you look at it, the entrance fee of 50JD (£43.50) for a one day pass is a lot of money. The two and three day passes of 55JD and 60JD respectively make for better value, but cheap it certainly isn't. As we are here for two days we opted for the two day pass, not because we think that we need it, just that it is nice to be able to take things easier.

By the time we were walking through the entrance gate at approx 8:30am it was already warm. Fortunately the tour parties were only just starting to arrive, so we had a relatively quiet walk into the main site.

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It is worth mentioning that the first and one of the most spectacular, certainly the most famous monuments, the Treasury, involves a near 2km walk. I can't think of anywhere else that you have to walk so far just to get into the main site. Perhaps the people who take a horse or horse drawn carriage aren't lazy, just sensible!

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I won't attempt to describe the sheer scale and just how staggering the monuments carved into the rock faces are. Instead we will just let the photos do the talking. The site is huge and is certainly challenging if you don't have a reasonable degree of fitness. We like to think that we are pretty fit, but by the time we had climbed the 800 steps up to the awesome Monastery and then returned through the Siq to the entrance gates we were ready to drop.

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Having a couple of days to have a look round seems like a good call. It is certainly possible to see just about everything in the main site in one day, if you are prepared to put the effort in though.

Later that evening we were invited by the hoteliers to have a BBQ on the roof terrace. It was a lovely end to a tiring but great day. Plus the clouds lifted so we could see the largest full moon for nearly 20 years.

Friday, 18 March 2011

Day 181 Jordan 18/3/2011, free camp outside ar-Rashadiya – ash-Shawbak – Wadi Musa (Petra). 36.60miles/58.46km, 4hr03minutes, Av 9mph.

What a difference a day makes, despite the wind getting stronger again we had a good day in the saddle.

The steep climbs of the day before were replaced by more gentle ones and the views along the King's Highway were spectacular.

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Gone also was the awful behaviour of some of the locals that has dogged our last few days on the road. One of the villages that we passed through earlier in the day had a slightly unfriendly atmosphere and a very young child made a pathetic attempt to throw a stone, but generally it went without incident.

Arriving in ar-Rashadiya we stopped for a drink and then began the final 30km into Wadi Musa.

Looking at the map, it seemed that we would have a bit of climbing to do followed by a descent into the town. When you are having a good day it seems that everything goes your way; the climbing was easy, clearly we had been higher up than we had thought, and we were soon free-wheeling down into Wadi Musa.

We arrived earlier than we had expected and were soon checking into Saba'a hotel. The luxury of a shower and some clean clothes can not be understated. This will be our home for the next three nights while we have a look round the ancient Nabataean city of Petra.

Thursday, 17 March 2011

Day 180 Jordan 17/03/2011, Free camp Wadi al-Hasa – at-Tafila – free camp outside ar-Rashadiya 25.38miles/39.79km, 4hr09minutes, Av 6.1mph.

The wind that had been hindering our progress for the last few days, took a turn for the worse last night. Sleep became impossible as gale force winds battered the tent. Fortunately we had pitched it correctly and somehow us, our gear and the tent survived the night. It would have been nice to get more than about three hours sleep though! By morning the wind had gone completely, at least we would only have the climb out of the valley to deal with.

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I have decided to split the rest of the day into sections, the good, the challenging (bad is a bit strong) and the ugly.

The Good:

Nearing the top of the steep climb out of the valley a lorry driver pulled over beside us to make sure we were all right and to have a chat about what we were doing and where we were going.

Stopping for a drink in the small town of Abu Banna the shopkeeper came and sat outside with us and in faltering English had a chat about where we were going.

In at-Tafila the shopkeepers were all really friendly; the greengrocer gave us a banana each and the supermarket manager went out of his way to help us by some bread. Even though the manager didn't know what we were asking for, our phrase book doesn't have the Arabic for bread, he asked around until someone knew and then came and found us in the town to point us in the right direction.

A cleric from a nearby mosque insisted on helping me fix one of three punctures that we had during the day. After the bike was repaired, he took us over to the mosque to get cleaned up, filled our water bottle and then gave us some vegetables.


The next puncture was fixed outside a guys shop who had beckoned us over and offered to help. We were surrounded by friendly but curious locals.

Fixing the final puncture a few people stopped to make sure we were OK. We also received numerous shouts of hello and welcome from some of the nice children in the smaller villages.

The Challenging:

The road climbed relentlessly pretty much all day.

We shouldn't complain about nice weather, but with no real breeze the sun beating down on us all day made the climbs especially difficult.

The lack of sleep caused by last night's high winds, certainly didn't make life any easier.

Three punctures in one day, two of them because previously applied patches failed within a couple of hours of each other.

The Ugly:

Not long after leaving our camp-site two guys in a van drove past and threw stuff at Debs, they then attempted to hit me with a stick that they were waving out the window. Their behaviour was made all the more bizarre by then waving and beeping their horn at me. What did they expect, that I would think it was a hilarious prank that they had just pulled and joyously wave back!

Arriving in at-Tafila kids immediately started throwing rocks at us.

Continuing through the town a lad mimes kicking out at Debs' bike and then grins at me like it's a huge joke.

A college age student beckons me from across the road, when I look over to say hello he spits at me.

In al-'Ayn al-Baydha, Debs is subjected to lewd comments and swearing from a group of lads.

More young kids throw stones, although they do apologise when I challenge them.

The above behaviour is all so contradictory, that it is impossible to figure out. We don't want to let a country beat us, but it is getting to the stage that we would happily take the quickest route out. It is a real shame because there have been moments of genuine warmth and hospitality. Most of the awful behaviour is coming from the young, which makes us concerned for the direction the country could be headed. It is so at odds to our experiences in the other Middle Eastern countries we have visited.

After a tough day we found a bit of ground near the road to pitch our tent and settled in for the night.


Hopefully we will make it to Petra tomorrow, with no repeat of today's incidents. A hotel room beckons; both ourselves and our clothes could use a good clean!

Wednesday, 16 March 2011

Day 179 Jordan 16/3/2011, al-Karak – free camp Wadi al-Hasa. 27.43miles/43.67km, 3hr25minutes, Av 8mph.

Leaving the functional, if not particularly great, Hotel Cairwan behind we set off out of al-Karak into a strong headwind. So much for our hopes that the wind would die down over night! For the next 10km we fought the wind and long dragging hills until we reached the town of Mu'ta.

Mu'ta turned out to be a town of mixed emotions for us. Firstly we stopped in a shop for some snacks and were greeted warmly by a customer who wanted to pay for our food. We declined the generous offer, but it was nice to see the warm, hospitable side of Jordan again. The second incident wasn't so great. Getting to the top of a steep hill a few lads ran across the road to have a chat. They were a bit cocky but were generally OK, one of the smaller lads spoke a bit of English and was genuinely pleasant. When Debs joined me she asked if they were any trouble and I said no. Waving goodbye we carried on up the road. As we passed the lads I watched one of them pick up a stone and then try to hide it when he saw that I had spotted him. The warning I gave him obviously didn't make any difference as he threw it and hit Debs in the leg. Clearly they weren't expecting me to turn round and go after them, as all bravado left and they hid behind a lorry, before running off down the road. The lorry driver told me to let them go and apologised on their behalf; it was probably just as well that I didn't catch them. Twice in two days the ugly side of cycling in Jordan has reared its head and I am pretty certain it is going to happen again. I steadfastly refuse to just ride off and do nothing though.

Debs was fine just a little shocked, fortunately when we reached the town of al-Mazar we were invited into a shop for tea, by some of the loveliest people we have met in Jordan.

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The country is turning into a real enigma, the moments of warmth and then reckless stupidity seem so at odds with each other.

The hard work climbing against the wind was rewarded as we left al-Mazar by a long descent down into the beautiful Wadi al-Hasa. Sitting on a couple of rocks overlooking the valley and numerous Bedouin camps, proved to be a perfect place to have lunch. It was another great reminder of why we are doing the trip, something that on the difficult days it's nice to have.

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When it comes to cycling 'whatever goes down, must go up' and we soon found ourselves slowly climbing out of the valley. The wind was still against us and we were rapidly reaching the warmest part of the day. Looking for somewhere to camp became our main priority. Fortunately it seems in Jordan that you can pretty much put a tent up anywhere. We soon found a nice, if somewhat exposed spot and set up camp.

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We will climb out of the valley in the morning; it should be our last long, steep, climb until we head down to Aquaba and the Red Sea. Expect these words to come back to haunt me!

Tuesday, 15 March 2011

Day 178 Jordan 15/3/2011, Grand Canyon Restaurant, Wadi Mujib – al-Karak. 23.09miles/35.46km, 3hr05minutes, Av 7.4mph.

With a fond farewell to Sami we headed slowly out of the valley.

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The climb wasn't really that bad, although rather unfairly the wind was a lot stronger than it had been yesterday. While on the climb the wind wasn't really a factor, but when we came out onto the plateau it started to play its part. It may have been only a crosswind but with no shelter, it still managed to slowly sap our strength.

Originally we had planned to stop in al-Karak and maybe have a look at the castle. As we had stayed in the valley though, we had revised our plans to go a bit further and find a free camp. Karak's castle may be stunning, but we have seen a few over recent weeks and we feel that we could probably afford to miss one. With the wind slowing our average right down, the chances of us getting far looked slim. The original plan started to look like a good one.

Sadly the beauty of the road through the valley didn't continue and we were joined by a lot more traffic. Jordanians aren't the best drivers we have ever encountered; they stop randomly in the middle of the road, frequently pull out without looking, and in one incident earlier, clearly think it's funny to deliberately open their car door on Debs while she was riding along. For the first time on the trip, we can honestly say that we have found a country where we don't enjoy cycling. When a group of lads through a rock at you, in the middle of a town, in front of an army base, you begin to wonder. We have met some terrific hospitable people, which seems so at odds to the behaviour we are encountering on the road. Gone are the friendly, waving, smiling children of Syria, to be replaced by money demanding, rock throwing shits. In fairness we had read other peoples blogs regarding the stone throwing tendencies, but you always hope that it isn't true. A small pebble I could just about understand, but this was a rock, thrown with real force and the intention to harm. At this rate we will be glad to leave the country which would be a terrible shame.

Via several more hills, including a very steep one through al-Karak we made it to a hotel. We have a pretty good view of the castle, but have very little desire to visit. Hopefully our journey tomorrow won't be marred by any more incidents like today.

On a lighter note we passed the 6000km mark today, so go us!

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Plus we had a really nice, cheap dinner in a local restaurant. A whole BBQ chicken, salad, bread, two drinks and a huge plate of flavoured rice for about £5 was a bargain.

Monday, 14 March 2011

Day 177 Jordan 14/3/2011, Wadi Mujib valley – Wadi Mujib valley. 1.63miles/2.57km, 30minutes, Av 3.1mph.

We left this morning feeling pretty good, the weather was beautiful and we were coping with the climbs.

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It was as we were passing a roadside café/restaurant that our plans changed. The owner introduced himself as Sami and insisted on showing us round his place. The 'Grand Canyon' restaurant has a beautiful outlook over the valley and we have rarely seen a toilet with a better view, something that Sami is justifiably proud of.

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Somehow we got caught up in his infectious and often eccentric personality. Quite soon we found ourselves with the bikes stashed and the likelihood of us leaving rapidly declining. The fact that he had five very sweet, 32 day old puppies, certainly had a bearing on Debs desire to stay.

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Over the course of the day Debs was given some logic puzzles to solve that involved moving sticks, which she failed at miserably. As punishment she had to climb up a rope that Sami had fixed into the fairly sheer cliff face opposite his restaurant. She climbed up fine but the route down looked terrifying. When it came to my turn I used the rope to get up and down. We can't see health and safety allowing it in the UK, slipping and falling certainly would have hurt.

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It was nice to have a different experience in Jordan other than just seeing sights. We have always said that we have no interest in just racing through countries. Having ridden our shortest ever distance and slowest ever average speed, we certainly couldn't be accused of racing! Plus it's not everyday that you learn to flick a stone so that it sounds like a bullet going past. In fairness we both failed miserably at that as well, but we do at least know the technique. I did get one or two stones to make a noise but it was very faint; still practice makes perfect.

Sami is an interesting character, plus his coffee is great and his BBQ isn't bad either. He proved to be good company and we hope that his plans to erect some tents for guests come to fruition. We think that he enjoyed our company, being stuck on the edge of a canyon when it gets dark is probably a little lonely.