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Stranded Near the Saudi Border

Aqaba waited patiently, growing hotter and sunnier as we slept in. We had gotten the air conditioner working, and bathed in cool air, had fallen into a very deep and sound slumber. Soon, however, the call of the road became loud enough to rouse us, and we headed off in search of breakfast.

We selected the place mostly because its tables were made from intricately patterned hammered copper. The coffee came with milk, which was an interesting new occurrence. Other than that, the food was the normal delicious Jordanian fare: flatbread, pastes, and salad.

The tables and the food were so delightful that they almost made up for the shameless addition of items to and inflation of prices which occurred on the bill. We haggled a bit over the bill, making some insignificant progress, and eventually paid, leaving with a quickly healing chip on our shoulders.

Nothing is better for healing chipped shoulders than wheeling, of course, and today proved no different. We headed onto Aqaba’s main street and wheeled hard and fast through the town. Traffic was reasonably dense, but our fellows seemed very excited to see us on the road, slowing down from time to time to pump fists out the window, and honk horns in recognition of either our fine folding cycle and daring maneuvers or our insanity.

We headed on, past a giant Abu Dhabi-funded housing development, toward the ferry terminal. Our plan was to investigate the option of taking a quick ferry hop over to Egypt. The road skirted along the region where the rocky desert met the coast, weaving its way through a steady band of industrial operations. We rode by factories, chemical refineries, and the like, all nestled between jagged lifeless desert and impossibly blue and sparkling sea.

The traffic speed began to increase as we ventured further from Aqaba, and soon we felt compelled to take to the sidewalk. The sidewalk was even more covered in sharp pieces of broken glass than the one from the Amman airport had been. It was startling. For a culture that generally shuns drinking, it seemed that almost every car on the road would have to have been drinking bottles of liquor and throwing them out onto the sidewalk in order to maintain this level of sharp detritus. There were plenty of scraps of label as well, advertising vodkas, rums, and beers, so it was not that we had misidentified a vicious soda bottle littering habit.

But on we rode, figuring careening trucks were at least slightly more dangerous than piles of jagged glass, trusting in the Kevlar lining of our tires, and stopping from time to time to investigate giant churning industrial operations.  We rode up and over a cliff to skirt a cliff-side overlooking the container port, where we paused for some time investigating the operation of the cranes loading and unloading all kinds of goods from all over the world. The shipping industry has always been a particular fascination of AsiaWheeling, and we are always happy to indulge in a little port viewing whenever the opportunity presents itself.

We rode on past the port. There was a large police van on the side of the road ahead of us, full of cops looking at us. As we rode by, they got on the van’s loudspeaker and blasted “It is very hot” at us. We giggled and kept riding.

Then we hit the passenger ferry terminal. It was a ghost town, populated only by a few old man clustered in the shade of  the large concrete building. Just as we pulled in, Claudia’s tire popped. Our spirits briefly fell as we crouched down to investigate the damage. It was certainly quite flat. We looked down at it in disbelief. We had hitherto had no problems with flats in all our wheeling. We had even come to think ourselves made invincible against such things by the fine Kevlar linings of our Schwalbe Big Apples.

These tires on Claudia’s Speed D7, however, were no Schwalbes, and were looking pretty flat. So now we were 20 miles or so outside of town, somewhere near the Saudi border, with a flat tire. Luckily, Jordanians are pretty friendly, and we figured we could likely hitch a ride back into town, especially with a flat tire and a blond girl.

So we locked the bikes and headed out to investigate ferries. On our way over we passed this Saudi truck, which sported a “no women” sign, which we found alarming, but also quite interesting.  Was it to ensure that no Jordanian female drivers got behind the wheel before crossing the border of Saudia Arabia where they would meet trouble?  Was it to remind the drivers to exercise willpower on long missions through the desert?  Your guesses, dear reader, are welcome in the comments.

We were able to discover very little, and not having our passports with us, were firmly forbidden from entering the passenger boarding zone. So we put the ferry plan on ice and headed out on foot, thinking we might find a beach. We had even brought bathing suits with us, just in case. So we grabbed the suits from the bikes, and headed out along a barbed wire-lined drive, past an oceanography institute. We briefly considered breaking into the institute, which had a nice looking beach, but thought better.

Some ways down the road, we did break the law, though, crawling under a fence and down to the seaside. Some difficult to interpret signage produced almost conclusive indication that it was illegal to be down here, but we were also in the middle of nowhere now, and doing nothing but wading. Or at least wading had been the plan, until we realized how filthy the place was.

It was a unique kind of filth though, for the water remained crystal clear and blue, though it was filled with floating trash. The beach too was strewn with all kinds of trash. We dared not remove our shoes for here too we found nearly the same level of broken glass strewn in the sand.

We spent a great deal of time investigating and eventually dissecting a desiccated puffer fish that had washed ashore. We climbed back up onto the road just in time to have a cop car full to the brim with Jordanian officers drive by, slow down, and roll down the window. Inside, the officers were all smiles, and were delighted to hear that we were Americans, that we were riding bicycles, and that we thought Aqaba and Jordan we beautiful. They drove off, and we waved.

Back at the cycles, we did not walk more than 30 feet before a large white van pulled over and insisted on giving us a ride. The fellows who drove the van were on their way into Aqaba anyway, and even spoke a bit of English. They were thrilled to hear all the same things that the cops had heard, and we relaxed into the ride.

Back at the Hotel Amira, we dropped off our wounded cycle and, discovering that our Indonesian wrench had disappeared at some point during the journey, headed out on foot in search of the right sized wrench. We walked for a while, asking at various places. Eventually, after getting another authoritative and resounding “no” followed with a similarly toned “and I have no idea where you can in this city,” we walked right next door and bought an adjustable wrench and a few allen keys while we were at it. Back at the Amira, we flipped Claudia’s D7 over and I began dismantling the thing. Her bike has no rear derailleur, relying on just the seven-speed internal transmission, so the chain is quite tight. It took a bit of raging to get the thing off, but off it came. When we went to investigate what had given her the puncture, I was surprised to find that it was not the glass, but a random bit of wire, with a sharp end. Fair enough.

The fellow at the front desk was more than happy to give us a bucket, which I filled with water while Scott re-inflated the tire. We took the inflated tire and plunged it into the bucket, moving it around and looking for the bubbles. We found them coming out in two places. I put my finger over them to remember where they were, and pulled the tire out of the water.

Scott was ready with our Knog patch kits, which feature ready-to-go, self-adhesive patches with cool semi-pornographic hipster cartoons on them.

We stuck a couple on the tire, waited a few minutes, and put the thing back in.

Good as new.


  1. Mark/Dad | November 19th, 2010 | 10:17 am

    In the picture of the three of you by the road barrier with the sea behind, it looks as if Woody grew a patch of beard by stealing it from Scott’s face!

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