We flew into Jordan to do a cycle tour with Exodus. We arrived a day earlier than the rest of the group so had a day to explore the capital city of Amman. We took a taxi from our hotel into the centre of town and explored the downtown area and then the Roman amphitheatre and the citadel which contains old Roman temples and a mosque. After Rome and Athens this wasn't that exciting and as the weather wasn't that nice we headed back to the hotel.
When our tour finally did start we headed for the ancient roman city of Jerash that was buried during an earthquake and landslide but later rediscovered. It truly is a full Roman city with amphitheatre (complete with bagpipe playing Jordanians), odeon, main streets and temples. After a couple of hours exploring we had a picnic lunch with a view and met our bike crew. We had a mechanic driving a truck and trailer, a bike leader and another cyclist just for the day who spoke the best English and could ensure that we were all set up and ready for the cycling. To complete our entourage we also had a tourist police truck to keep traffic away from us and our coach bringing up the rear with our luggage and more importantly snacks! No breaks were needed on the first day as we basically coasted down 600m over a 37km cycle to end up 200m below sea level in the Jordan valley. There were a few climbs to ensure we were all doing some work and some serious braking down some very steep descents.
The next day we visited the Orthodox Church of Saint George in Madaba which contains an ancient map (5-6th century) detailing the important holy sites of Jordan, Israel and Egypt. Once we met up with the bike crew we cycled to Mount Nebo which is the site in which Moses was shown the promised land. We were then back on the bikes to the Dead Sea. This was a 34km ride in total, once again mostly downhill to 460m below sea level. We did have some strong head winds once we reached the flat of the Dead Sea to test our bunch riding abilities. We all went in for a dip in the Dead Sea with strict instructions not to put our face under, although we all had to have a small taste of the water just to see what 34% saltiness is like (compared with 3% in a normal ocean). Because of this saltiness you can just lie back and float in the sea - or float on your front and pretend you are parachuting! The group also slathered on some Dead Sea mud for cleansing properties (and photo ops) and Darin stepped in as photographer. Then it was a long bus journey into the hills and onto Petra.
On Ellen's birthday we got to have a rest from the bikes and instead we went and hit the red city of Petra. Our guide Wael took us into Petra, through the Sik and to the Treasury (the main sight associated with Petra) in the morning pointing out all the highlights along the way. We also visited the house of the only man that officially lives in Petra for a tea stop. After lunch we were left to our own devices so climbed the 800 steps to visit the monastery and take in the gorgeous views. We didn't have enough daylight to visit anymore so headed to a bar in a 2,000 year old cave for a well-deserved drink. That night we went to a Bedouin camp for a traditional dinner with Bedouin music and lots of dancing (which was needed to warm us up).
We had some time the following morning to explore Petra some more so most of the group went in shortly after Petra opened at 6am to climb to the high altar of sacrifice which wasn't much to look at on its own but had great views and it was a very clear morning. We then took a short trip to the royal tombs before hitting the bikes again for a there and back cycle to Little Petra. This cycle was only 18km but involved lots of climbs and the longest climb was through a village where kids liked to yell out to us and in some cases grab back wheels! After a couple of heavy days on the legs most of the group went for a hammam but we took the cheap option and had a bath with some Dead Sea salts to relax the muscles. We needed the rest so we had enough energy left for the walk into Petra for 'Petra by Night'. This consisted of the 3km path into the treasury being lit with candles then the area in front of the Treasury covered with candles. We then had a musical performance, tea and finally the Treasury is lit up by red lights. It's expensive for what it is but still a nice way to see Petra.
The next day was our long bike day. We had a very windy start so we were very wrapped but slowly peeled off the layers as our bike leader did. We were told that the start would be challenging and hilly and the end much easier but we had come to learn that the Jordanians had a different understanding of hilly and much bigger thighs than the rest of us so it was all pretty challenging on the legs! Most of the group managed the full 44km followed by a stretching session and picnic in the desert overlooking a military training area (we guess it was safe!). The scenery on this day of riding was probably the best with quiet roads winding around hills and desert scenery. Then it was on to the bus for a short drive into the resort town of Aqaba on the Red Sea. We had a relaxing afternoon and made the most of the duty free stores, English bars and seafood dishes.
On the morning of Darin's birthday we had a great boat trip organised on the Red Sea where we got to snorkel around some amazing reefs, laze about in the sun and eat a pretty tasty BBQ lunch. Back on land we drove towards Wadi Rum to meet up with the bike crew for our final day of biking into the desert and this leg was guaranteed flat. The ride was very flat but unfortunately we had a very strong head wind. The bunch riding didn't work too well this day with lots of the guys being a bit ambitious with the pace of the ladies. We all made it though and settled into our camp site very salty, sandy and smelly after our day of activities. For dinner we had a hangi style meal - cooked in the ground in a steel drum which was delicious. Then Darin got a surprise as Ellen had asked Exodus if they could do something for his birthday. They turned out the lights in the tent and the Bedouin musicians played Happy Birthday while a cake bearing the Jordan flag and a bottle of Jordanian wine was brought in for him. Well and truly stuffed we all retired to the fire while the group worked their way through a couple of slabs of beer purchased duty free in Aqaba the night before and others toasted marshmallows.
Our final day we took a 4WD trip through the dessert sitting on the back of the utes admiring the gorgeous view but wrapped up against the cool breeze. Then it was a looong bus ride back to the capital of Amman where we were all hanging out for shower, spa and sauna in our hotel. We had one final meal together near the hotel then the next morning it was time to get on the plane back to London.