Life passing like a train

Skakavac waterfall, just outside of Sarajevo

Skakavac Large waterfall outside of Sarajevo

Spring awaits exploration

Spring awaits exploration

I am strong again. The hole in my ear drum has fully healed and I no longer wake up to pus and blood stains on my pillow. This sickness was pretty bad, and I would have to rate it as one of the worst I have experienced. There was a period of about 10 days where I thought I might never hear out of my left ear again, and I quickly realized how many things in life I take for granted.  I am so thankful to be able to travel the world again. While recuperating I wondered Sarajevo through and through. I would often find myself glancing up at the remote mountains or snowed peaks always dreaming of camping in the countryside. Life on the road is hard, but I thoroughly missed it. I have met lots of interesting people here in; bars, restaurants, wilderness trails, and bus stops, all of them seem excited to talk with me and offer interesting perspectives on life. There is no limit to the amount of human interaction one can experience while traveling alone, all borders are self-imposed. I at times grow weary of the recurring conversation of my trip, and at times decide to remain quiet. We are fearful of leaving the current in the stream, and it is so much easier to continue the path that pulls us.

Abandoned and destroyed by the war, Olympic hotel on Mt. Ingman

Abandoned and destroyed by the war, 5 star hotel built for the 1984 Olympics on  Mt. Ingman

Common warning throughout the Bosnian countryside, "Danger Land Mines!"

Common warning throughout the Bosnian countryside, “Danger Land Mines!”

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As early as I can remember, I have looked at the palm of my right hand. In some way it has been a sort of recurring obsession, not unlike the portrait of Dorian Grey. Palm reading is rather popular in Asian traditions, and since I was a boy I had healers foretell the creases in my hand. My “life-line” has a large gap in it, meaning “that I will choose or change directions in my life, or will have a short life span”. This has always been a sign of some concern to my father and at one point he even told me to start closing my hand in a different way, hoping to change the lines, gradually get them to intersect. No amount of technique could change the lines, and it has taken me close to 25 years to really understand what it all means: Get over yourself and your fucking ego. Thoughts, fears, feelings, insecurities don’t make you a unique snow flake, these are things that we all share. I have too often made the excuse that ” I am special”, but the rest of the world feels the same way. We are not as important as we want to be, we are all just pieces of thread from the same clothe. I felt like the Bedouin in Egypt and Jordan were way ahead of me with these ideals, and were able to take life less seriously because of it.

I am changing gears. The last 4-6 months have been spent wandering, awaiting warmer conditions to pedal east. It is now the time…Asia awaits. Thank you all for the “Get well soon” wishes, and I now ready to pedal out of Europe.

More human than a human

My first thoughts while pedaling out of the Sarajevo international airport were “What happened to the Middle East”. Where are the dusty dirt roads, filled with muddy pot holes? Where are the Arabic men squatting on sidewalks smoking cigarettes and drinking sweat tea? Or the hordes and hordes of spice and tobacco shops? I am ready to get back to a different culture than the one I came from. My thoughts as I drifted through the midnight streets were that I needed to quickly pedal out of Europe, the sooner the better. It seems that the more countries I pedal through, and the more people I meet only increases my appetite to continue wandering the world.

I have become sick. My body, once strong and fearless is now surviving on one meal a day and close to 14 hours of sleep. My ear infection became worse, and there were few days where I thought my head was going to explode. The accumulation of pus and mucus in my inner ear was so voluminous that the doctor had to make a small incision to relieve the pressure. The process of making a hole in my inner ear was one of the most painful experiences I have been through. It took three nurses to hold me down while a needle was forced into my ear, slowly with the use of a vacuum, the fluid drained from my head. The whole time my body was tense with pain, and the loud sound of the instruments echoed in my head.

The healing process is slow and painful, I am experiencing vertigo for the first time. I once had a religious yoga practice and the fear of losing/dislodging crystals within my inner ear (Vertigo) always scared me because it would keep me from doing many of the balancing poses in my practice. Now just looking up at the sky and back down to the ground makes me noxious. The noxious feeling is the same feeling when one drinks too much alcohol, and is on the verge of vomiting. So daily it feels as if I am close to vomiting. Also, to make matters worse, while the ear heals I am left with an almost unbearable ringing sound day and night. Some nights I wake up and ringing is so loud that I start to cry, I remind myself to be strong, strong, strong and to have patience. I think of my father and his struggle with heart disease, and how calm he always was.

I have taken up painting as therapy, some nights when I can’t sleep I paint water-color pictures of the middle east or the Dalmatian coastline. I don’t know how long I will be off the bicycle, but I am patiently waiting for my return to adventure. I have found a nice quiet spot to rest and rest I do. This is by far my most depressing post to date, but my will strong and there is nothing that can keep me from pedaling the rest of the way to China.

I put together a few videos, one from my adventures to Feynan village. I hope to be back to this level soon :)

 

 

Farwell to the Middle East

Yasser Arafat mausoleum Ramallah, Palestine

Yasser Arafat mausoleum
Ramallah, Palestine

The last few days have been absolutely crazy, and now I am going on close to 48 hours of no sleep. Israeli security at the Tel Aviv airport is so difficulty that I almost wasn’t able to catch my flight back to Bosnia, for anyone who plans on bicycle touring Israel fly in and out of Jordan, and don’t wrap your headscarf around your fathers ashes. The marathon 48 hours began when I departed Hebron and pedaled the expressway into Tel Aviv. It was the day before my flight to Bosnia and I needed to get bike box and find a place to sleep somewhere close to the airport. The road into Tel Aviv was busy and I met a bike messenger who invited me to stay with him and his friends in his apartment downtown. Pumped, I decided that I would go all out and figure a way to pedal to the airport the next day.

My Rabbi host for the Purim festivities, Danny Cohen, Hebron West Bank

My Rabbi host for the Purim festivities, Danny Cohen, Hebron West Bank

Tel Aviv has a very Pasadena like feel. Riding around I could feel the ocean breeze, and was thankful to be away from the deserts of the east. I befriended the owner of a pizza restaurant, and was quickly invited to drinks and food. I go so carried away that I almost forgot about getting the box and barely made it to the bike shop before closing.  Planning on returning to the shop en-route to the airport, I stashed the box in the recycle bin, then pedaled to my new friends house.

Islamic art found on the Jewish only settlements in Hebron

Islamic art found in the Jewish only settlements in Hebron

Great company and lots of interesting conversation, hours passed while we talked of religion, politics, psychology, and even touching the subject of woman’s Buddhism in Burma! We stayed up till sunrise and smoked the local tobacco. I has been an ongoing challenge of mine to figure out a way to get to the airport under bicycle power, I had several attempts in the past but always got intimidated by the size of the bicycle box.  I first thought about carrying the box under my arm, but with all the luggage on the front rack it takes too much muscle to keep Gaby straight. With a little jerry rigging I was able to figure a way to rope and bungee the box to Gaby and pedaled an insanely busy  30 km on the expressway to the airport.

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It is possible to get to the airport with a box under pedal power, even in Tel Aviv

It is possible to get to the airport with a box under pedal power, even in Tel Aviv

A slow ride, it took me over an hour to get to the airport riding mostly on the shoulder of the busy highway. On several occasions I had to merge through traffic, on busy interchanges, but all in all I was never honked at or the subject of any rage. To keep my mind off of the traffic,  I would constantly remind myself that everything would be easy and stress free once I arrived at the airport, but things turned out quite the opposite. Pulling up to the departure terminal I was the only man with a smile, and it quickly faded. On suspicion that I was carrying a bomb, Gaby was quickly confiscated and I had to wait close to 30 minutes for the police to go through all my stuff, then… I left Gaby unattended for close to 30 seconds while I tried to get some tape, and had her confiscated a second time. After 10 minutes of verbal abuse, she was given back to me a second time, “You can not be more than 5 meters away from your luggage”, these guys were so strict about their rules I wouldn’t be surprised if security walked around with tape measures. While packing Gaby my Allen wrench tool broke, and I was in despair for close to 45 minutes!! None of the security or personnel would even talk to me anymore, and when I asked them to call maintenance to see if they had any tools, they refused and gave me the cold shoulder. To make things worse I was literally guarded so that I could not walk away from the bike and gear, I was trapped with a half dismantled bicycle in the Tel Aviv airport. Finally I borrowed a cellphone, and was told by the airline that the next available flight to Bosnia was in 3 weeks and that I would loose all my frequent flier miles if I missed my scheduled departure. I took a deep breath and accepted the fact that I was pretty much screwed, without proper tools I could not get Gaby to fit in the box, and I only had 30 minutes to check the box before departure. I called my bike messenger friends and then said they could bring tools but it would take them close to an hour to arrive. My thoughts returned to Saudi Arabia, if I don’t make this flight, I told myself I will just pedal to Saudi Arabia and forget about ever returning to Israel. Just then a Bedouin man passed driving a floor waxer and strangely enough…. he had a few Allen wrenches with him.

Mihrab, place of prayer in the Abraham cave, Hebron

Mihrab, place of prayer in the Abraham cave, Hebron

I raced, taking off the fender, front rack, stem, front wheel and pedals and packed everything together in the box. I dragged the box, my bags and panniers through the busy airport to the check-in counter, but before I could check in I was met by a different team of security guards.

-Where have you been? “Egypt, Jordan, the West Bank and Israel”

-Have you had any relations with Arabs or Palestinians during your visit?  “No” (I lied)

-Are you Muslim? Why are you flying to Bosnia? “No”, “Vacation”

 By far the best thing in Jerusalem, Temple Mount hanging with my homie Ariel

By far the best thing in Jerusalem, Temple Mount hanging with my homie Ariel

They let me pass and I was able to get my ticket, however just before checking the box  security steeped up and wanted me to open the box and remove all the contents out. Fuck!! I took me close to ten minutes to tape the shit out of the box and now you want me to unpack!! I humored them, what else could I do. They went through everything and even asked me why I was carrying Egyptian products, tea and spices.  The flight was to have already departed but the head of security made a phone call, (This was the best thing other than the Allen wrench from the Bedouin that happened to me all day). Finally done with the bicycle box I proceed to security, and put my bag through the x-ray machine, just as the bag comes out I hear the words “Keffiyeh” (Headscarf). Damn, this never ends!! I had slipped, and I was either too tired or my brain just wasn’t functioning because I wrapped Baba’s ashes, out of respect, in Jordanian headscarf, and now nothing was more suspicious the contents of my bag. Again, the same interrogating questions, “its only ash”, I said, “there is nothing dangerous in my bag”. Three separate chemical tests are done, and I wait, “I am never flying into or out of Israel again” I tell myself. Security asks me again about the contents found wrapped in the Keffiyeh. Inside the box of ashes there are several images of my father and an image of the Buddha. I am tired and ready to give up, I just want to go home!!! I look them in the eye, my eyes are watering from frustration “This is religious ash sacred to my belief in Buddhism, it is not dangerous or harmful in anyway, and I am ready to board my flight”. They spoke amongst themselves for a few minutes, then let me go.

Border between the Muslims and Jews, Hebron

Border between the Muslims and Jews,
Hebron

I was the last one on the plane, and everyone was a bit frustrated about waiting for a sole person. Fuck it, I made it!! I quickly stopped the stewardess and ordered a whiskey on the rocks and passed out!

Earlier on: I had a great time partying on “Purim”, the Jewish equivalent to Halloween. In January, I connected with a Rabbi in Hebron and was invited to join his family and friends for the holiday. Hebron, a city in the West Bank (Palestine) has a small settlement of about 800 Jews. The city has a history of violence and I knew that by staying in the settlement I would get an interesting perspective on Israel’s treatment of the Palestinians. Arriving at mid-day, I pedaled through a parade of orthodox Jews dancing and swigging bottles of wine and whiskey.  Huge meals of chicken, meat balls, hummus, egg plant and bread were prepared. Women and men sit at different tables, and it is improper for me to shake hands with a women.  I felt very welcome, and got an interesting view of what it is like to live in a settlement. The Jews here are very close with one another and at times I almost felt like I was staying with a sort of tribe. Not a common site in California, everyday I watched them wrap their arms with tefillin and pray. Prayers are done in the direction of Jerusalem, and many bob side to side and front to back when praying, almost as if listening to dance music.

Mor

Morning prayer

The drinking went on for two straight days, and I had several heated debates about the treatment of Arabs in Israel. It is not surprising to see civilian men carrying guns on their belts and automatic rifles stacked in the corner of the room. Israeli checkpoints are found throughout the Jewish settlement and randomly cars with Arab license plates are pulled off the highway for inspection. Neither Jew nor Muslim is allowed to cross into the other territory, and there is very little communication between the two groups. On one situation, while departing the settlement I was asked by a Palestinian boy what it is like in the settlement. The cave of Abraham (one of the most religious places to both religions) lies between the two districts, and a retaining wall splits the building into Synagogue and Mosque.

Bethlehem is the hilliest city in Israel, and pedaling to a remote monastery in the desert I constantly climbing steep hills only to find myself descending and climbing again. I camped in a valleys and listened to Hyenas and Kalashnikovs throughout the night. I really enjoyed visiting the St. Saba orthodox monastery, and when visiting the Nativity Church I lucked out and was able to visit the place of Jesus’s birth without waiting in the long line.

I am back in Bosnia and headed for Northern Montenegro and on to Kosovo. Currently resting an ear infection and hope to be on the road again in the next few days.

Location of Jesus' birth, Bethlehem

Location of Jesus’ birth,
Bethlehem

Entrance to the cave of Abraham, Mosque Hebron

Entrance to the cave of Abraham, Mosque Hebron

Banner in the Jewish Settlement, Hebron

Banner in the Jewish Settlement, Hebron

Another blocked walkway between the Muslim and Jewish districts in Hebron

Another blocked walkway between the Muslim and Jewish districts in Hebron

A modern day apartheid, rooftop in Hebron

A modern day apartheid, rooftop in Hebron

Stone work in the Mosque of Araham

Stone work in the Mosque of Abraham

Secrets of the Dead Sea (Qumran, Ein Gedi, Masada, and Jerusalem)

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Worst mosquitos ever!! I am camping about 20 meters from the Dead Sea, and can’t for the life of me figure out why there are so many mosquitos. Their appetite rivals the mosquitos in Alaska, and by the time I set up my tent I have bites on top of bites. Too scared to leave the tent I eat a cold meal of cucumbers and pita bread and fall asleep to the buzz around me.

Gethsemane Church, Mt. of Olives Jerusalem

Gethsemane Church, Mt. of Olives Jerusalem

I am pedaling the beaches of the dead sea again, this time on the Israel/Palestinian side. The northern beaches are long a flat and mostly fenced off by the Israeli military, fearing that Jordanians will swim across to the Zionist state. Border checks are ever so present, as it is illegal for almost all Palestinians to leave their home city! (Literally an open air prison). After being stopped and interrogated about why I am carrying a bag of tea with Arabic writing, I head south to the historic city of Masada, the last Jewish settlement during the second temple period.

Ancient Mountain city of Masada, this is the location where the Romans lay siege to the city

Ancient Mountain city of Masada, this is the location where the Romans lay siege to the city

The historic story of Masada as told by a recently sponsored archeological study: It is the middle of the first century C.E, Jerusalem is in flames and the temple has just been destroyed by the Romans. The Sicarii, one of the last groups of Jewish rebels, fled the holy city and relocated at the top of a nearby mountain city, Masada, built earlier by the Roman leader Herod the great. 30 km north of Masada, on the coast of the Dead Sea, lay the famous Roman Perfume factory of Ein Gedi. The Perfume produced in the factory during the time was world renown, and so famous that even Cleopatra had commissioned her own scent from the perfumer. It is hypothesized that 1/3 of the entire Roman Empire fortune came from the sale of Ein Gedi perfume! In an attempt to incur as much damage as possible to the Roman empire the Masada rebels burned down the factory and kidnapped the perfume maker . Rome then sends over 100,000 soldiers to attack the small city and return the perfumer. It takes the Roman’s several weeks to engineer a method of attack for the mountainous city of Masada. Completely surrounded and outnumbered, (the total rebel population at Masada was about 1,000), the Jews decided upon mass suicide. When the Romans breached the city walls in 73 CE there was no one left alive.

Salt beaches on the Dead Sea

Salt beaches on the Dead Sea

Hiking to the top of Masada, I spent several hours exploring the ancient city and returned to my bicycle to find a nice Bedouin admiring my “smock”. He invited me to dinner with the owner of the restaurant and I spent a nice evening listening to stories of the middle east and central Asia, (I am completely pumped on cycling through Georgia, Azerbaijan, and the Stans). After dinner, Gal, the owner, gave me two large grocery bags and told me to “loot” his buffet and restaurant. I ended up pedaling away from Masada with fresh pomegranates, grape fruit, curried potatoes, sweet rice, bread and humus. Thanks Gal! I pedaled to a local hangout on the dead sea, and soaked in hot springs and floated in the saturated waters of the sea. What a strange feeling being in the Dead Sea, I felt like I was the oil in a salad dressing mixture, never really able to mix with the water. When floating, I felt like I was sitting in a bean bag chair, or lying in a recliner chair. The beach had more salt than sand, and while walking to the deep sections of the sea I discovered islands of salt in the shallow waters near the shore. Cutting your feet on sharp salt rocks hurts!! The water was cool but lacked any sense of refreshment.  The hot springs were just as salty as the sea, but the warmth felt better on my skin. At 400 meters below sea level, I was too far from the sun to get burned. Without any fresh water to rinse off I was covered in a thin layer of salt for the next few days.

Popular local hangout, Thermal pools near the Dead Sea.

Popular local hangout, Thermal pools near the Dead Sea.

I then pedaled to Qumran, the city where the dead sea scrolls were found, and slept near a large canyon. Later in the evening, a storm flew in and a flash flood began. I huddled in my sleeping bag for 45 minutes, during the biggest rain storm I have encountered while camping. During the down pour, it was as if I had pitched my tent under a waterfall! The next morning the road was washed out and traffic was halted for a few hours on the Dead Sea highway.

Palestinian girl loves my headscarf!

Palestinian girl loves my headscarf!

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Crosses carved into the stone during the Crusader period.

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A long step climb of over 1,500 meters brought me to Jerusalem. Arriving in the late afternoon I planned to sleep in the Jerusalem forest, but met some locals at a bike shop who invited me to stay with them. Jerusalem is a fantastic city and it is amazing to have so many district cultural districts in close proximity to one another. Tonight I walked through the Jewish Orthodox district only minutes after being in an Arabic neighborhood. In the 3 days I have been here I have visited almost all of the religious sites, from the Church of the Holy Sepulcher (Jesus’ Tomb) to the Western Wall (Jewish holiest of holies) to the Dome of the Rock (3rd holiest place for Muslims). Today I marveled at the Dead Sea scrolls in the Israel Museum and talked with the Curator about the difference/similarities between the scrolls found in the Dead Sea and those found in Nag Hamadi.

Tomb of  Jesus

Tomb of Jesus

Crucifixion site, this stone was repeatedly kissed, every 10 minutes a lady would wipe it clean with a rag and disinfectant

Crucifixion site, this stone was repeatedly kissed, every 10 minutes a lady would wipe it clean with a rag and disinfectant

I am now headed north to the Palestinian cities of Ramallah, Nablus, and Jenin before pedaling south to Bethlehem and Hebron.

Last days in the middle east

Byzantium mosaic of the middle east, map includes Nile, Jerusalem, Jericho and Hebron, circa 2nd century

Byzantium mosaic of the middle east, map includes Nile, Jerusalem, Jericho and Hebron, circa 2nd century

the laden lorries frequenting the route. Within 30 minutes my panniers were filled with eggplant, garlic, onions, and tomatoes. Enough for a few days minus the water. The road flowed, then climbed around the sea and I looked into the distance for shade. I stopped near the police station and rested under a road sign, and was invited for tea and coffee with the chief of police. Police in Jordan are athletic and the chief even demonstrated this by carrying Gaby up the stairs into the main office. We joked for close to an hour about Americans and fast food, then hit the road again.

Roadside anise

Roadside anise

The Dead Sea is 400 meters (1,400 feet) below sea level, and as I left the sea and pedaled up to the city of Madaba, I climbed for close to 4 hours. My plan was to get some Bedouin clothes, see Moses’ burial site, then camp in some remote location before dark, but due to the endless climbing I ended up sleeping in the remote mountains, too tired to go on to the city.

Not so fun of a climb with 6 litters of water

Not so fun of a climb with 6 litters of water

The next day, upon entering Madaba, I asked a few locals about Bedouin shops, and met a nice man who was once a taxi driver in New York. Gazi was now baker, and owned a thriving  bakery in the city center He invited me to his house for lunch, introduced me to his family, offered me a shower, and gave me new clothes. He then gave me a trash bag and told me to “throw away” all my current clothes. Later his son took me to the local Bedouin shops, and taught me to make bread. After a long day they gave me a room in their house, and I slept well until the morning call to prayer at 5:30 am. If you wake up to the first call, you might as well get up because the second call is fifteen minutes later.

Gazi and Mohamad my Jordanian family in Madaba

Gazi and Mohamad my Jordanian family in Madaba

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Legendary bread skills

Makeshift roadside sandal repair thanks for the string Carolina

Makeshift roadside sandal repair thanks for the string Carolina

I ate breakfast with the family, filled my panniers with bread and jumped on Gaby for the long road to the Palestinian border. I stopped for lunch at Mt. Nebo, Moses’ burial site, then coasted down the mountain returning again to the Dead Sea. I met some really nice Saudis at Mt. Nebo and as I pedaled towards Palestine I contemplated making a left turn to Saudi Arabia, “In Shala” (if god allows) I said to myself and said good-bye to Jordan.

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It took me over 6 hours to cross into Palestine! Stranded between the two countries I sat in a room full of Palestinians and other Arabs, and watched them pray twice before being called to the interrogation room for the final time. Finally, at close to 9 pm, I was give back my passport and welcomed to the West Bank. It was dark and windy when I pedaled away from the border and I found a hidden nook behind a mound of dirt to pitch the tent.

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I have spent the first half of the day in Jericho, and will be heading to the western side of the Dead Sea to sleep tonight. I fly back to Bosnia on the 21st, and I will write again from Jerusalem, In Shala!

Here’s one from the archives:

Cycling to the lowest place on earth

I stood at the top of the trail and pondered pedaling down into the valley. Something inside me wanted to turn back and said that it was a bad idea, I ignored and held the brakes on a long rough trail into the Dana Biosphere…

Locals on the trail to Feynan village, Central Jordan.

Locals on the trail to Feynan village, Central Jordan.

I sat at the top of the trail for close to an hour, where I finally decided to pedal into the valley.

I sat at the top of the trail for close to an hour, where I finally decided to pedal into the valley.

I left Petra and picked up supplies to give to the local Bedouin in the remote village of Feynan. During my last day in Petra I met a man who had visited the village earlier and had mentioned the poverty and poor living conditions of the Bedouin there. School note books, several dozen pencils, 4 kg of sugar, black tea, lighters and bread filled my already stuffed panniers, and I pedaled a long steep 60 km to the historic village of Dana. From Dana it is a 30 km hike on a steep trail down into and out of a protected reserve, and spent close to an hour contemplating my next move. If I take Gaby down into the valley there is no turning back, I watched the sun move behind rain clouds and freewheeled into the canyon….here we go I thought.

Rough segments on the trail to Feynan village

Rough segments on the trail to Feynan village

After a few km, I was about ready to give up. The road, a parts, was so steep and rocky that it was too dangerous to ride and I had get off the bike and push. I looked back to the top of the mountain and wondered if I should turn back. I decided to call it a day and slept a few km from the trail head, listening to the howl of Jordanian wolves throughout the night. Local Bedouin had warned me earlier not to camp in the canyon, but I ignored their warnings as I thought it was an attempt to sell me a hotel room. All night I head the wolves hunting and I shivered at the thought of them finding my tent. I awoke the next morning to the sight of goats eating my prayer flags strung across the top tube of Gaby. After a few cups of Bedouin sweet tea I decided to push on and had a long hard day pedaling through rivers, up rocky trails and on sandy roads leading into narrow canyons, finally I arrived at the remote village of Feynan.

The trail went up steep mountains, down cliffs and through muddy wetlands

The trail went up steep mountains, down cliffs and through muddy wetlands

I stopped for tea, and ended up dressing several of the inhabitants fly infested, pus filled, flesh wounds with my first aid kit. I didn’t have any gloves and after about an hour my complete kit was empty, the locals had used all my bandages, antibiotic ointment and alcohol wipes! I dressed a total of 5 wounds then was offered a place to stay and served sweet tea with fresh goat milk. Outside the village I met a Bedouin man who worked for the school department, he invited me for more tea and I gave him all the school supplies to distribute in need. He offered me a place to camp and I slept easily in the warm spring night, dreaming of infected wounds.

I was definitely rocked out upon arriving at the village

I was definitely rocked out upon arriving at the village

The next day I pedaled north to a small village south of the Dead Sea called Al Mazara. There I met with a friend from Dahab, Egypt and we loaded up on supplies and hitched to a nearby Wadi for an adventure. We hiked through the Wadi (canyon) for several hours and found a nice sandy spot to camp. We gathered wood, built a fire and swam in the river till nightfall. Telling stories, eating humus and drinking tea till late evening. Rain came by surprise and soaked my tent and our sleeping bags but the night was warm and the good vibes continued on.

Wadi Numera, canyon leads to the Dead Sea

Wadi Numera, a long hike in the canyon leads to the Dead Sea

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The canyon was so narrow in certain areas that sometimes I had the impression I was in a cave.

Today we hiked out of the canyon and tomorrow I am headed explore more of the Dead Sea.

Petra, Wadi Rum and deserts of southern Jordan

Treasury temple, Petra

Treasury temple, Petra

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Greek style columns adorn many of the Petra structures

I crossed into Israel completely shocked by a western culture, sun bathers, men lifting weights on pristine beaches and women in bikinis reading fashion magazines. Crossing the border wasn’t easy and because I neglected to take off my head scarf I was taken into an interrogation room. Thoroughly questioned about my purpose of visit, every response seemed to draw more suspicion, and finally, after making notes in the computer, they welcomed me into the country.

Long sandy stretches, Wadi Rum

Long sandy stretches, Wadi Rum

Israel is about 4 times as expensive as Egypt, putting it inline with the States. Headscarves, so popular in Egypt by men and women alike, were replaced by “Yamakas” and the ever-present Muslim forehead callous, a very respectable mark made from praying 5 times a day, was replaced by frowns as I asked locals where I could buy fresh vegetables and fruit at a reasonable price. I spent my day’s allowance on bread, coffee and humus then retired to a secluded bio-mass dump to sleep. The next morning I packed up and headed to the Jordan border, I am not quite ready for the western world again. Israel charges a $30 dollar tax to cross into Jordan, and after paying the hefty fee they warned me that I might not be allowed to enter with a bicycle and that the tax I paid was non-refundable. (How sweet). I caught the Jordanian customs officer during his morning prayer, and was greeted with a smile when I presented my passport. “I have never met an American who come to Jordan by bicycle, most German, French and Swiss cyclist, American are too lazy to ride, and like to ride in air condition bus”. I am not sure if the officer was intentionally trying to dis me, or my home country but please let it be known that I am giving us, non-lazy Americans, a good name/reputation in the Jordan and the rest of the middle east.

Sun baked, and desert worn

Sun baked, and desert worn

Wind carved sand, follows the paved highways throughout southern Jordan

Wind carved sand, follows the paved highways throughout southern Jordan

I pedaled into the port city of Aqaba, passing several military check points along the way. Aqaba literally means difficult in Arabic, and the city has a long history of being conquered by Arabs, Ottomans, Christians and other warring tribes. Evidence is apparent in the ruins of several ancient Mosques and the remains of the oldest-purpose built Christian Church. My first impression of Jordan/Aqaba was a “classy” middle east.  Saudi Arabia is only 20 km from the city, and all over I was constantly passed by beautiful, vintage Mercedes Benz’, Rolls Royce’, and the occasional Bentley. (all of course sporting the Saudi license plate). Middle aged men and women walked the sidewalks wearing beautiful handmade silk robes and vividly colored burkas, and families had catered picnics on the turquoise watered beaches.

Quiet, lonely desert, Wadi Rum

Quiet, lonely desert, Wadi Rum

I pedaled to the local “food street” and found venders selling spices, vegetables and fruit in the back of pickup trucks. All in all I purchased two dozen pita bread, half a kg of hummus, 1 kg of pasta, vegetables, 2 boxes of juice box cheese, 0.5 kg of honey cake and a kg of raisins all stuffed in my rear left pannier. I was stocking up for the southern Jordanian deserts, and hoped that it would be enough to feed me in and out of Wadi Rum (a nature preserve about 100 km away). As I was pedaling out of the city a local coffee roaster drew my attention, fresh Yemen coffee with Cardamom, from the city of Mocca,$3 a pound. I stuffed it in with the rest of my supplies and pedaled a long, windy highway, teaming with semi trucks out of the city.

Too sandy to ride, I carried 6 litters of water, my tent, and sleeping bag over 30 km shopping style

Too sandy to ride, I carried 6 litters of water, my tent, and sleeping bag over 30 km shopping style

The only thing that you can't buy at an REI or camping equipment store is the most important thing, will power. Pannier over my shoulder, sleeping bag and plastic bag full of water I walked over 30 km in the sandy deserts of Wadi Rum

The only thing that you can’t buy at an REI or camping equipment store is the most important thing, will power. Pannier over my shoulder, sleeping bag and plastic bag full of water I walked over 30 km in the sandy deserts of Wadi Rum

Aqaba lies at the bottom of a huge alluvial fan, and the climb out was like escaping from a whirl pool. Since arriving in the middle east I have this constant fear of running out of water. Distances between cities can sometimes be over 100 km, and the dry desert terrain leaves little hope for survival. The whole Jordanian country is one large desert with the only natural water is the Dead Sea. Some towns have salty wells and water has to be trucked in. Pedaling up steep passes Gaby lurched and shimmied with the weight of 6 litters of water. The sun fell behind a large rocky butte and traffic ceased. I turned a sharp corner saw a long line of cars and trucks parked on the shoulder, misalayas (prayer rugs) were rolled out on the desert floor, and all the inhabitants were praying into the sunset. This truly is a beautiful country.

Canyons, Wadi Rum

Canyons, Wadi Rum

4,000 year old petroglyphs found in the canyons of Wadi Rum

4,000 year old petroglyphs found in the canyons of Wadi Rum

Arriving in the village of Wadi Rum, the last inhabited village before the nature preserve, I was constantly hassled by locals trying to sell me a 4×4 off-road tour of the canyon. “Why would I want to ride in your stinky jeep when I can pedal peace”? They wouldn’t take “no” for an answer so I pedaled away with several Bedouin chasing me into the desert. I pedaled a few km and was forced to push Gaby through the thick, hot sand. The vast canyons and remote landscape of Wadi Rum was such a paradise and just what I needed to unwind after an intense few days. “Most tourists get stuck at Petra, to look at what man created, little tourists come to Wadi Rum, which was created by God” said a local Bedouin. I pedaled, pushed and walked throughout the park and stayed 5 days in almost complete solitude.  After the first few days I ran out of water but met a few Bedouin villagers who gladly replenished my supply and offered me sweet tea in their tent. We drew pictures of animals in the sand and exchanged names. Getting foo, on the other hand was not as easy and soon I was eating bread crumbs and pure sugar. The last two days I ate nothing but sugar, sesame oil, and curry spice, not a very good diet on the stomach but it at least it kept the hunger pangs a bay.

Gaby was more than happy as she got the "royal" treatment. I carried her more than half the time through rocks and sand in the preserve

Gaby was more than happy as she got the “royal” treatment. I carried her more than half the time through rocks and sand in the preserve

After a long, hard two hours of pushing Gaby through the sand, I pedaled back to the main road and had another long, busy climb to the Petra crossroads. Now at elevation, a cold wind, chilled my desert worn body and I spent a freezing night listening to the wind batter my tent. At first light, after striping down and changing clothes in full view of the tourists passing in large group buses, I pedaled to the ancient city of Petra.

Tomb, Petra

Tomb, Petra

Sacred sacrificial alter at the top of a steep mountain, Petra

Sacred sacrificial altar at the top of a steep mountain, Petra

DCIM100GOPROPetra is a marvel and a must for anyone near Jordan. The ancient city is a fabulous collection of ancient architecture and beautiful canyons. Established as early as 600 BCE by early Nomadic Arabs migrating from the Arabian peninsula, the Nabataeans made the city a popular stop over point for traders carrying frankincense and myrrh to the Mediterranean. The early architects combined elements of Greek, Egyptian and Syrian culture and the city flourished for hundreds of years. In the first century, the Romans conquered the middle east and Petra became the Arabic Roman capital. Due in part to a series of major earth quakes that damage the cities aqueducts as well as the decline in paganism (Frankincense and Myrrh were no longer used in rituals), Petra declined and was eventually abandoned after being conquered by the Arabs in 663 CE. The abandoned city was unknown to the western world until a Swiss traveler described his visit in 1812, since the city has become a UNESCO heritage site attracting over 500,000 visitors every year. The “Treasury Temple” was featured in the film Indian Jones and the last Crusade.

Petra birds eye view, the city once had a population of over 20,000

Petra birds eye view, the city once had a population of over 20,000

I spent three days wandering from tomb to temple to residence. Each structure was carved completely out of the sandstone rock. It is fascinating to see how one of the earliest civilizations lived and thrived in the desert, building/carving massive facades to honor their gods and loved ones. Yesterday I stayed in the city well after dark and had the whole city to myself, an absolutely enchanting experience even though I was stumbling around in the dark. Petra is exceptional and I was able to look through the hundreds of tourists and constant hassle of locals and see the marvel within.

Irrigation canals carved into the stone line the entrance to the city

Irrigation canals carved into the stone line the entrance to the city

Remains of a Pagan temple

Remains of a Pagan temple

DCIM100GOPROI am now headed to the Dead Sea and plan on being in Amman, the capital by next week. I should be in Israel by early March. Will write again as soon as I find internet.