Sunday, October 13, 2013

Aqaba - Jordan

--Há uma versão em português logo abaixo--

I knew that the only way to cross from the West Bank to Jordan on the Hussein Bridge was to get a visa in advance, which I did while in Ramallah. But what I only found out a day before leaving Palestine was that I wouldn't be able to cross the bridge by bike. It's a military zone, with a mined border area, and the crossing is only allowed by motor vehicles.

So I put my bike on a bus, faced all the bureaucratic procedures (which took me about two hours) and from the Jordanian terminal, after the bridge, I started my marathon to get to Amman. That was a really tough cycle as I left the Jordan Valley, which is about 250m below sea level, and had to climb to the 1000 meters altitude of Amman.

In Amman I had hosts waiting for me, arranged by a friend of mine from Amsterdam. They were more Brazilian than Jordanian, and great people - the best thing I will remember from Amman. I stayed there for three days, visited some sights and spent some time on some issues concerning my trip.

Leaving Amman there were two options  for heading south; one was the easiest route, cycling on the flat road along the Dead Sea, and the other the nicest one, but facing a hilly area with very tough climbs and valleys. I chose the nicest one, and I must say: no regrets at all! It was hard but it paid off, with an amazing landscape all the way.

Wadi Mujib
My first stop was in Al Mathlutha, just next to the Wadi Mujib, a gorge I would face the day after.  I stayed with a Jordanian family there, the man being a friend of my new friend in Amman.

The day after, I crossed the valley. It was huge and very impressive, with an amazing view. There is nothing easier than cycling downhill, and I think I did it in less than 30 minutes. But to cycle up the other side is another story. It took over three hours, with more than 10 stops to rest.

Then I cycled another 40 km and got to Al Karak, where I spent two nights with a German family, also arranged by my friend from Amman. There I visited Kerak Castle, a large crusader castle.

Kerak Castle
In that region there was one thing that drove me crazy - the children's reaction to my bicycle, or at least the difficult children. As soon as they set eyes on me they started throwing stones. And for them that was just fun or at least nothing wrong. And even when they asked me to stop and we talked about Brazil, soccer and soccer players, as soon as I was leaving, I could see in the mirror of my bike they were bending to pick up stones!

I was really upset about this. I've always enjoyed greeting children through all the places I've cycled, stopping when possible or at least waving to them, but this made me feel very bad. I didn't stop any more. I cycled fast and ignored their calls, and even felt in some way afraid of those little ‘monsters’.

That was until I got to a desert area and saw a bunch of boys playing soccer in a poor village. My first reaction was something like: let's cycle faster and they may not see me. But then I thought that it could be a good opportunity to cure my new phobia of children.

Leandro by bike Soccer Club
It was great medicine. These were not stone-throwers but innocent boys who gave me a nice gift that afternoon. They were very poor, many of them without shoes, playing in a field of dust with a ball made of socks. They were Jordanian boys, they were Brazilian boys, they were boys of the world, who can in the magic of a soccer field forget the hard reality of their lives and for a moment see themselves as a Messi, a Cristiano Ronaldo, a Neymar.

At first they watched me stop my bike with surprise and curiosity, but after a while I was seen as one of them. The number of boys doubled and all of them greatly admired my bike and that I was from Brazil. I'm terrible at playing soccer, but I found out that I'm much better with sock balls. Despite the amount of dust, I played with them for a while always shouting things like: "come on Messi", "very good Ronaldo", "that was amazing Barcelona" and they loved it.

I didn't change their lives but I gave them the little I had, which is something that a boy who lives in the middle of nowhere, with that reality of life can remember for some time.

From there I cycled for another two hours, but I was still far from the next city so I started thinking about a place to camp.

Jordanian people are very kind people who really enjoy showing one of their best traits: hospitality. Many times while cycling there I stopped to ask for water and people would give me water, then ask me to stop to rest and drink some tea, then have a meal and sometimes even sleep there.

That day it was time to check out the Bedouin's hospitality. I'd heard they were very nice people, but hadn't had the opportunity to confirm it. So the opportunity had arrived. I left the road and headed to a Bedouin camp where the dogs immediately announced my arrival.

There I found more proof that poor people are the ones who have more to offer. It was amazing how happy they were to have me there. We talked and laughed a lot - don't ask me how, since they didn't speak much English. But after five months on the road, there aren't many questions I haven't been asked, so with only one word I could guess what they were trying to say or ask and with gestures it would be answered.

They raise goats, which when they are about a year old are sold in the city. During summer the Bedouins live in the mountains, and when it starts to get cold they move their camps to the Dead Sea area.

We ate a very good meal, a kind of pasta with meat, shared in the same pan. I was prepared to eat with my hand, as they do, but the pan was put on the ground already with one spoon. It didn't take long to work out who that spoon was for.

I cycled for two more days until I arrived in Wadi Musa, to visit Petra. Since I didn't have anywhere to sleep, my plan was to leave my bike and stuff in someone's house during the day while visiting Petra and get it back in the evening and find a place to camp. So when I arrived in Wad Musa I asked a man if I could leave my bike at his house and he agreed. I left everything there and went to visit Petra.

When I came back in the evening the man invited me to sit with him and his children in the garden and drink some tea. He was a very nice person to talk with. After the tea he served me dinner although they had already eaten. With such kindness I thought he would happily allow me to camp in his garden. But to my surprise he said he was the owner of a hotel in the city and he also had a building very close to his house, a kind of a hotel too, but where people rent the rooms to live. He made a call and said that I could sleep there. I took my bike and walked two hundred meters to the place where I stayed for two nights.

I spent two days walking in the wonderful Petra, admiring the great treasure that the Nabataean people gave the world. It’s an amazing city carved into solid rock which, after losing its glory, fell to ruins and was completely lost to the West for more than 500 years.

From Petra I headed to Aqaba, camping twice in Ar-Rashdiyya. From there to Aqaba it was the best thing a cyclist could ask for: cycling only downhill. I established a new speed record for this trip of 67 km/h.

In Aqaba I had an amazing experience - diving for the first time. It was one more special gift that this journey has given me. It was like entering a new world and I loved every second.

King Abdullah II is also in Aqaba at this time, visiting during a Muslim celebration. Here in Jordan the monarchy is very different from in Europe. The king has real power and plays an important role in the political life of the country. I saw his image everywhere in Jordan and he's highly respected and admired by the people.

Today I end my time in Jordan and in the Middle East, but of course I hope to be back some day. In a few hours I'll be taking the ferry to Egypt, the only country I'll visit in Africa.

Goodbye for now.