Monday, November 29, 2010

Jordan Valley, Jordan and Israel

City mall.

Leaving Amman in the morning took a long time. I think it took 12km to clear the city borders and it looked a little like suburbia as I got farther away from city center. I also made a few stops along the way. My first stop was at the bike shop to see if they had any helmets that fit. They didn't. Next, I went over to the Mecca Mall where I had to fight to park my bike near the doors. They had security and metal detectors at every entrance. I was able to find a passable helmet in there even though it wasn't quite as nice as the one I had purchased in Beirut. Oh well. With over 80% of Jordan's population living in the north, the roads out of Amman were very busy. It was not pleasant biking until I got past the city of Salt.

The wooded hill tops on the Jordan side of the Jordan valley.

I remember the biking improving quite a bit after that, but nothing too specific. A Jordanian biker passed me in a car going the other way and got really excited. We had a lot of trouble communicating, but he gave me his phone number if I needed a place to stay while I was in Jordan. After that, I climbed some hills, traversed some other hills, and then went down one of the steepest roads I have been on this trip. I dropped at least a 1000 meters, probably farther, to below sea level. I didn't feel energized by the extra oxygen.

Looking into the agricultural fields of the Jordan Valley.

If anything, I felt motivated to go faster because of the kids who wanted to throw rocks at me. I had been warned about this part of Jordan, but had completely forgotten to be careful until I heard a couple stones skittering to a stop behind me on the road. I wasn't happy about it. I made a point to keep my eye on all the kids from there on out. If I saw them pick up a rock or walk to the street with one in their hand, I would charge at them with my bike. Some would drop it when they saw I was coming. The few hold outs would drop them when I finally stopped to talk to them and made them shake my hand with whatever hand they had the stones in. I'm curious if just giving the kids any kind of attention is enough to stop them. Maybe they felt happy knowing they had been acknowledged. Only one kid tried to pick up a rock again after I left. I went back to talk with him again. His friends got him to put down the rock. Sometimes, a little communication goes a long way.

Eastern Jordan Valley mountains.

When I was almost to the border, I received my one millionth invitation for tea and decided to pull over in celebration. The tea was as sugary as ever and the company was great. The only problem was there was a mass of about 100 flies at our feet. They would not leave us alone. The flies are all over the Middle East, but the people who grew up with them don't mind them as much. This time there were so many that even the guys sharing their tea with me commented on it. They didn't move though. Between the flies and wanting to get to Israel by night fall, I didn't stay long.

Sunset at the Jordan-Israel border.

Crossing the border was a tiny bit frustrating. I cleared Jordan easily, but I was not allowed to bike into Israel. I had to wait for a bus to take me to the Israeli border. The bus cost money and I had to wait almost an hour for it. It sucked. When I finally arrived on the Israeli side, I didn't rush in. I had a hunch I would be there a while because I would have to be interviewed after having visited Lebanon and Syria. I got off the bus last and went to get my bike. I had to put the wheel back on to move my stuff easily. The border folks were telling me to hurry up and get inside. It would have taken 2-3 trips to carry my bike and gear in separately instead of one big trip so I just let them get grumpy until I was ready.

Edit: This is how Israel handles airport security. Border security is probably similar.

Once inside, I was assaulted by a barrage of good looking men and women, especially 20-something girls. I don't know if this is by design or by chance, but it was weird. In the US, I feel like our border guard stereotype is a 40-something out of shape guy. I know that every Israeli has to serve in the military so cute girls and boys have to be posted somewhere, but I thought that a border wasn't a likely place for that. I thought more seasoned rougher looking military guys would be there though I am sure the people there are perfectly capable. Who knows.

I do know that having a fun flirty interrogation with the 20ish year old Romanian-Israeli girl was a lot more fun than the last time I faced an interview by the 40-something grumpy guy at the US-Canadian border. I had to spend about an hour talking to her and telling her everywhere I had been this trip, which was a ridiculous task because I have been out for so long. By the end of it, we were half friends and half interviewing. She even bought me tea and brought me chocolate since while I waited for my final approval there was no way to get food. Even the guy searching my bags to make sure my x-ray machine flagged protein powder wasn't something else was a pleasant experience. I think one reason I was alright with the experience is that I expected to be detained for a couple hours. If I didn't expect the wait, I probably would have been grumpy and that would have worn off onto whoever I met. Remember this when you need customer service this holiday season. Service with a smile comes from being serviced with a smile of your own. . . maybe?

Fertile Israeli side of the border.

While I waited, I saw the guy who had rode the bus next to me be denied entry to Israel. I don't know why. They seemed to have trouble communicating with him. I think he was from an old Soviet Socialist Republic because they kept asking if he spoke Russian. I can't imagine having come all that way and being denied entry. After seeing him be denied, I was very relieved when someone came out, welcomed me to Israel, and handed me my stamped passport. I couldn't help wondering if letting them know I was Jewish and that I was there to do something for my recently deceased father had made the difference. When I told her after the interview, she responded, 'Oh, why didn't you say so before.'

When I left the border, I asked about camping. They said there wasn't anything near by. I found a grassy field just a minute away and went back to ask them about it. The incredibly friendly, plain clothes man, carrying some sort of machine gun grenade launcher told me that the wonderful grass field I had found was directly below a military base and that they would probably not appreciate it. I agreed with him and went another few kilometers down the road. I turned off on a side road and got about ten feet before being warned about landmines. I opted out of that one as well. My next stop was another few minutes down the road and looked alright enough but I stayed closer to the road that not, just to be safe.

Birds at sunrise

After a pretty good night's sleep, I awoke to two unusual things. First, there were hundreds of birds making a racket. There had not been many birds in the parts of Turkey, Syria, Lebanon, and Jordan that I visited. This part of Israel was lush. I also saw morning exercisers. I saw young guys biking and old ladies power walking. Yes, I had seen the Amman marathon, but that was a major event. That was random folks going out in the early morning to maintain their fitness. It was good to see.

Bike path!!

Even better than morning exercisers was the gas station where I picked up food for the day. It was like an oasis in a sea of bad Middle Eastern markets. They had hummus, Ben & Jerry's Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough ice cream, Nature Valley granola bars, chocolate milk, and untold other Western treats that I had been missing. I stocked up and set out for the north. Shortly after that gas station, I found something even more amazing, a bike path. Oh man, Israel might really be the Promised Land.


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  3. Biking through middle east? you must have a death wish