Saturday, December 9, 2017

The Eye of the Storm - Jordan


I cruise into the beach resort of Aqaba. SIM card time. The hyperactive guy can't stop saying phrases like "18 giga!" and "16,000 minutes!" but eventually I have my Jordanian number for 9.5 Dinars (about 10 UK) A guy outside the shop is insisting that I rev my engine. "Brm! Brm!" he says excitedly. Looks quite disappointed when I do though. So much for eco-conscious German design.

The Call to Prayer is very odd this lunchtime. Just weird disconnected bits of singing that cut-off mid word. A muezzin soundcheck. I pass some liquor stores. Outside the DHL office a very drunk guy in Arabic garb says he will watch my bike but immediately wanders off when I go inside. I receive my carnet - the expensive customs document that I need for some countries - Egypt especially.

At a light a carload of excitable guys pull up alongside and start to give me the usual interrogation - "What is the top speed? Ooh the dial goes up to 200 miles an hour! How much does it cost?" - but are almost immediately cut-off by another simlarly over-caffeinated carload who screech into the tiny space between the other car and me, nearly crushing my foot. These ones can't seem to open their window and then both cars peel off through the red light.

I find a pitch for my tent in with a bunch of tarpaulin shacks and Bilal at a kiosk says he will watch over. Maybe I would like to rent some snorkel gear from him and I say yes tomorrow. I dine on a pot noodle he sells me and slurp it in the dark with Palestine to my right, Saudi Arabia to my left and the twinkling lights of Sinai ahead of me. 

In the morning the wind is blowing hard and I scrabble around finding ever larger rocks to hold the guy-ropes down. Two large rocks, the sized of my head are just enough to stop my tent turning into a paraglider.
As I am eating soup in the town, an East-Asian lady at the next table to me vomits all over her shoes then carries on eating as if nothing had happened. A bizarre emperors new clothes moment follows as all the staff and customers fixedly ignore it too. 

Much of the 3 days I spend in Aqaba is spent in a stifling internet cafe batting away flies and trying to write my blog on a losing-the-will-to-live connection and with a sticky keyboard that randomly selects upper and lower case. Also wandering the plush hotels trying to find somewhere that can do laundry - which of course I need to do on a Friday when everything is closed. Highlight is finding a completely mobbed locals restaurant called Muhanes which is the real deal with about eight different counters all dishing up delicious dishes of ful, humus, falafel amongst other things on a dizzying production line that seems to feed the entire local population in short order. I watch the ensuing drama and work on my bread technique - I am gradually getting more graceful at eating just with my right hand. Now more of the food ends up in my mouth than on my fingers and my shirt.

Despite the high winds, I do also manage a magical hour snorkelling - It is still a wonder to me how this vibrant alien world can exist so secretly below the impassive marbled waves.

Wadi Rum

I am running late coming into Rum village but they tell me it's only 30 minutes to Bedouin Directions camp and I have a full hour before sundown. This is an issue because I know much of the way is soft sand - always a challenge on a motorbike and especially as I am heavily loaded with luggage. But wow, Wadi Rum sand is extra-fine and that means some serious physical exertion to keep the bike upright and moving forwards in places. It's like a boat with the rudder at the front. A moment's hesitation and the weight goes to the front and you are down. I stop and gasp and pour sweat at regular intervals, but also take in the majesty around me. The late light and the vibrant sandstone carved into abstract art all around me is breathtaking even without the assault on my cardiovascular system. After 6 miles and an hour and a half, the sun perfectly silhouettes some people on a distant hill. They are distracted from their sunset reverie by the antics of a hapless Englishman desperately trying to dig his motorbike out of an pool of liquid red sand. I am better entertainment than the celestial dance just now. With all my luggage off, I am starting to win but then a pickup slithers its way across the dusky ripples to me and Sami can't resist having a sit on my bike once we dig it out.

They feed me tea and soup at their camp and call Mehedi at my camp who dispatches Audi and Mohamed to come rescue me. In the moonless pitch dark I put my luggage in their truck and gingerly follow them, eyes straining to read the sand tracks. Halfway they stop and Audi says shall I ride the rest of the way? I'm exhausted and I figure a Bedouin dude like him knows a thing or two about taming the sand. And about motorised  transportation with a name like Audi. I am only slightly concerned when he starts asking me where the brake and clutch are, but before I can back out of the deal he is off. At high speed. The bit about brakes seems to have eluded him and Mohamed and I can only watch helplessly as the red light of the bike veers spastically like a dying butterfly and then disappears abruptly. We leg it over to where he crashed. A bit of a graze and the handle bars are a bit messed-up but not too serious and we have a good chuckle at his expense. "I don't know how you can possibly ride that thing! And in sand!" he says and when we do arrive at the camp they give me a hearty round of applause.

The camp is in a beautiful tiny canyon in the white sand, beyond the red sand of the protected area and the only other visitors are a couple working in Amman in gender support for Syrian refugees - they have brought rum to Wadi Rum and as the evening by the fire progresses the Greek girl gets louder and more animated. The conversation moves through humanism and Japanese porn. The stoic girl from Manchester leads us up onto the rock to stargaze but the Greek girl is not a climber. "I want to go DOWN!" Soon the canyon echoes with a massive domestic. When they finally kiss and make up, the silence is total. Any sound, even my fingertips brushing together, is as perfectly sculpted as these rocks. Breaths of breeze as thoughtful brushstrokes. The moon is new and the stars are a velvet spangled pin cushion.

Next day I wander the dreamscape, climb natural bridges and run my fingers over stone that hangs like drying animal hides and transforms great cliff faces into a manuscript. Some human intervention in the form of old Nabatean inscriptions. An ocean frozen out of time. Over gallons of sweet tea, Audi and Mohammed tell me stories of their lost loves. A Spanish woman who got scared she wouldn't be able to leave Jordan because she would share a passport with her husband and her 10-year-old son who has never met his Bedouin father. I wild camp a couple of miles further towards Saudi Arabia and this is where I finally find what I didn't know I was looking for all these miles. The hum. Pure absence. Just the blood in my veins.

Next night there are 25 Hungaians at Bedouin directions but I'm not feeling the party mood and it's odd to see the Bedouin performing for the tourists. One pretty redhead escapes with me and we talk talk in the dark dark. I take  6 of them up onto the rock to stargaze and then stay behind and sleep there, slowly spinning under the heavens. As the sky starts to bloom, I am alone with my hum and then tiny sounds start. Feet. The Hungarians arrive like thoughts super-imposed onto my empty mind and gather pace, first whispering then talking then taking selfies and laughing. But I can still hear my hum and the redhead sits apart and is also still. Once the glacial heartbreaking of light is done and the melted wax skyscrapers are fully at attention we talk more and I am lighter than air.

Mohammed and Audi want driving lessons so we go to a firmer area. Mohammed wipes out without getting even 2 yards. Audi takes off and I wonder if I will ever see my bike again. The video of Mohammed falling goes viral among the Bedouin and even weeks later and hundreds of miles away they recognise me and call out.


A blast of high pressure water gets the bright red sand out of the bike's crevices and the place looks like a murder scene. I dodge camels and goats and man-spreading drivers using both lanes on the motorway. Foothills give way to majestic views and I stop in a cafe overlooking Petra. Some girls come and individually say hello tentatively and then all descend on me, grabbing my journal and reading it, writing in it. It's the first real conversation I have had with Arabic women on my journey and they're very sweet and bubbly. Noor has neon green makeup to match her neon green headscarf, Giehan does most of the talking as she has excellent English. When I go to pay for my coffee and biscuit the menfolk give me a sour look and charge me ten dinar - way over the top - I don't think they were too happy with me chatting to their ladies. Outside the ladies are quite oblivious and buzz around the bike playing raucous football and posing with the bike for photos - no way to get the helmet over the headscarf though it turns out.

I walk the atmospheric siq (canyon) into Petra at dawn and have the same wow moment that millions have had before me at the end where the Treasury appears, as with everything here, carved directly out of the rock. My guide Juomaa takes me up the absurdly vertigo-inducing scramble up to the Place of High Sacrifice. Juomaa was born in a cave here and at 50 years, he has two wives and 15 children. He's allowed to have 4 wives but two is as far as his budget will stretch. He invites me to stay at his house tomorrow and attend a wedding. The caves that house a few Bedouin families are fascinating - sort of trailer park trash meets the stone age. Slap a stretch of chicken wire over a cave mouth and bingo, you have a home. Just add chickens, goats and yappy dogs to ruin your sleep and you're done.

I'm glad I don't get a mule up to the Monastery - it looks very stressful, hanging on for dear life on the steep crumbly crowded path. The building (or should that be carving?) itself is beautiful and all the more because, like most of Petra the weathering of the sandstone makes the line between human creation and nature so obscure. And the stone itself is marbleized into rainbow patterns and swirls more reminiscent of an acid trip than the sober architecture of tombs that it hosts. A couple of maniacs appear high up on the facade, even jumping from one part to another. I sit there and watch the sun slowly stretch the perspective of the pillars and capitals into an impossible molten orange.

I am there before dawn the second day too and I have the royal tombs completely to myself to clamber around in, Lara Croft style. A 74 year-old guy plays me some rubaba - a one string violin-ish instrument with the incredible theatre below as his backdrop.

Wadi Musa

Little Petra

I manage to get to Little Petra for a hour before dark and then give one of the Bedouin a lift home which he thoroughly enjoys. I then go to find Juomaa to stay with him but he seems to have gone AWOL. He did mention something about having to go feed his goats at Wadi Araba and despite asking around his village Umm Sayoun and running into his nephew Qaseem I don't manage to find him and end up at a strange little half-finished hotel in a mini-canyon, lit by 1500 lights, near Little Petra. A guy called Zak and his mate Casanova, who are the spit of Tony Soprano and henchman, fast-talk me into a rather expensive tent. My meal is cooked by a friendly lady called Hannan. As she points out proudly, it's the first meal I have eaten in Palestine or Jordan cooked by a woman.

Wadi Araba

I head off down the dramatic switchbacks to Wadi Araba and the Dead Sea Highway. Halfway down a huge convoy of 15-20 bikers comes the other way. Literally the first motorbikes I have seen in Jordan. The roasting desert at the bottom is austere and otherworldly.


I head back up at the turn for Tafila, more switchback happiness - the kinds of roads that people invented motorbikes for. At Dana I park up and check in to a guesthouse and almost immediately the biker convoy rend the air as they show up and cluster around my bike.

In the evening I meet some bright 20-somethings from Amman. There's musician/architect Ahmad and the eye-wateringly beautiful Tali. All of them well-educated and it's great to hear the Jordanian point of view expressed in such clear English. I ask them if they would mind showing me a little of 'their' Amman when I get there and they seem very surprised and flattered and eagerly friend me and swap phone numbers. One of them makes kunafeh, the same sweet cake I had in Nablus, over a fire, slowly spinning the dish and then turning it out upside down. They ask me what I think about Israel and I try to carefully explain that I don't feel really qualified to judge but that I feel for the Palestinians living under occupation and resent the settlement stupidity but that fundamentally chicken-and-egg violence on both sides has to stop before peace can even be contemplated. They ask me about Northern Ireland - almost as if I personally wrote the Good Friday agreement - and it is tantalising that there is actually one example of a long-standing conflict of this form that has apparently been solved. One thing that Mohamed, my Bedouin friend from Wadi Rum said, and Tali echoes, is that Jordan feels like it helped the Palestinians after 1948 but then a Palestinian assassinated their King in the 50s and so now Jordan just looks after its own borders. This maybe where Jordan's sense of neutrality in this fiery region comes from partly. They're uncomfortable with their current king's aid to Saudi Arabia in Yemen but they understand that some careful balancing of the forces around them is necessary. For now, Jordan remains the calm centre.

I find Ahmad off on his own, upset and we talk. He has just broken-up with his girlfriend of 5 years. She has been seen sitting and talking with other men and he says she is evil. I become a sort of agony uncle for a few days. His mum says he has been sad for too long and maybe he should go to a doctor. It's only been one month! She says love is different here and, when people fall here, it is for ever. I try to say that love is the same all over the world and that for me it is also for ever. Until it isn't. It may or may not be a related cultural thing but the girls from this evening seem to think better of their association with a random unmarried Englishman and become uncontactable.

I sit and listen to a dapper 60-year-old man play arbaba, an arabic flute. He harmonises with humming along with the skipping melodies and sings of fickle love. Later he and his friends are drunk and try to talk me into coming with them to some prostitutes. I gently decline.

The next day, I take the bike down the very crumbly and steep path to the beginning of the national park. I can see I have bitten off more than I can chew and spend much of the walk worrying about how I will get back up. In the end I have to meditate for 15 minutes before I can find the necessary focus to make it. The valley itself is another gorgeous flavour of arid beauty and wind carving, reclusive birds and lizards hugging the unexpectedly lush spring that graces one rise like a blessing.


The Church of the Apostles is on a dusty street lined with liquor stores and continuing the liquid theme, the amazing mosaic inside is a poem to the gods and creatures of the ocean. I am wrapped-up in the photos from the early 20th century in the Shrine of the Beheading of John the Baptist and at St. Georges church I marvel over the mosaic in the floor - the oldest surviving map of the Holy Land.

I eat at Hared Jdoudna, a local institution. Fatteh Makdous, fried bread with aubergine, yogurt, peppers and pinenuts followed by Mohalabeh - like a sort of creme brulee with pistachios and fig compote. Unbelievably delicious. (Ahkil Zirkee!)

Aphrodite spanking Eros - Archaeological Park


As I learn in the excellent little museum in the hilltop town of Salt, this was the Ottoman capital and the home of much trade with Nablus. A local shrub, Kili, from the steppe, is the alkaline ingredient needed to turn olive oil into soap. The birth of Israel sent the town to sleep however and now the peace is gently rippled by the old men playing Manqala in the square and the gentle bustle of Al Hamman street's market. Salt prides itself on religious harmony and tolerance and I visit Al Kader church, one of only 3 places in the world open for prayer to both Muslims and Christians.


As I lazily wander the liana paths, two buttons on my shirts make a desperate bid for freedom. To avoid the medallion-man look, especially undesirable in this part of the world, I walk into a tailor shop nearby and he sews me back together in no time. When I tell him that my great-great grandfather, Arthur Clegg, invented the Singer sewing machine, he looks at me as if I were a visitation from the stars. A chatty guy feeds me awami, herise and asaaba zainum, sweet sticky pastries, on Al Hamman street, shows me his nargileh den in a cave and won't take a penny from me. I buy nuts (mukeseret) and raisins (zbeep).  'zbeep' is my favourite arabic word. When I get back to my bike it is, as often is the case, being used as a hobby-horse by a small child. His father lifts him off with a sheepish smile.


The backroad turns are honey-dripping last light. I levitate past bleating goats and patchwork shacks and catch the final glow at the mighty fortress of Ajloun. I go back in the morning and find it wrapped in wraiths of cloud. The first rain in a year comes. Khaled, and his son Yamin, who run my hotel tell me they have been praying in the mosques for this and that the lack of rain has cost 7% of Jordan's economy. Unmarried at 38 and constantly nagged about it by his family, Yamin has only two states - either talking or broadcasting a raspy bubbling from his nargileh. Each pull on a nargileh is equivalent to about 5 cigarettes. While I wait for the downpour to stop, I learn that the King's mother is a British nurse, that the best Arabic sweets come from Nablus, Damascus and Aleppo and that I am the first motorcyclist to visit since the war started in Syria. Today is the funeral of Khaled's sister who died from lung cancer. The whole family comes later and sit around chain-smoking. Here they never embalm or cremate or bury on a Monday, because Monday is the second day of the week and the number two is unlucky.


When the skies eventually clear, I head to the impressive Roman ruins at Jerash. I find a water-driven stone cutting machine from the 6th century. It uses a crankshaft and as such it is the oldest machine. The first place work was mechanised was here, not China or medieval Europe.


Next day the cloud descends again and seeps in through my ears and eyes. The near-euphoria of Wadi Rum is water vapour and it evaporates. I sit in the abandoned hotel lobby, straight out of The Shining and listen to the rain roar on the tin roof. I battle with the senseless vagaries of the Jordan postal system, like wading through treacle, to attempt to receive a water filter from London. Under the black skies, I head north for Um Qais. I turn back for petrol. The attendant first offers me a fuel cleaner. I can't read my GPS in the mist and I put on my rain-trousers in a ditch. My teeth are aching more each of the last few days. I vacillate between the road via the Jordan valley and via Irbid. I find myself making indecisive circles on a steep and slippery track in the hills and shout a muffled and pathetic "What am I DOING?!?" inside my helmet. I run but I cannot leave myself behind. I abandon the mission and turn tail for Amman, an untidy sprawl of slimey streets and aggressive drivers. A flyover towers intimidatingly over my hotel and I struggle to park, to carry my kilos of baggage up steep cracked stairs, to empty water out of my boots, to get warm, to get dry. But the room is colourful. The shower is hot. Ahmed on the reception is friendly and so are the staff in the very working class cafe that I eat green molokheya soup with tanoor bread and Amman starts to open to me. I visit a dentist that Ahmad's mother recommends to me and although I probably will need an extraction at some point down the road I can apparently postpone this more or less indefinitely by just using a special mouthwash for the time being. Not keen on the idea of having a tooth pulled in the backwoods of Ethiopia - I will be using that mouthwash diligently!

Getting around Amman on a motorbike is fun despite, or maybe even because of the homicidal racetrack nature of the streets. The best part of it that many of the junctions have lit-up kerbstones which make me feel like I'm in Michael Jackson's "Thriller"

The citadel is good for a view but not on the same amazing level of preservation as Jerash. Its museum does have a few very interesting objects, the oldest known statue of a figure for example. There's an updated figurativism at the theatre, little flocks of girls in hijabs giggling over selfies. In the overheated Rainbow Theatre on hipster Rainbow Street, there is an Egyptian film festival and I perspire through a lovely film called "Little Eagles" by Mohamed Rashad. It is about his difficult relationship with his grumpy father whose only dream was to press clothes for a living echoing the difficult relationship between Egyptian youth and the state and gives me some insight into the revolution, Alexandria and a generation that sometimes feels like it has failed itself. I have also been reading "The Women of Karantina", a very human novel about the uneasy role of the state and organised crime in Alex. Something about this city is fascinating me long before I have arrived.

A middle-aged lawyer tries to pick me up in a cafe and later I learn that it is an LGBTQ 'hub'. He looks a little crestfallen when Ahmad my good-looking 23 year-old friend shows up. Ahmad is intense and says he doesn't like novels. He only reads philosophy and people talking about the beauty of God and Islam. I attempt to explain my own humanism to him. We talk about our maternal relationships. No small talk for us! He insists on paying for my drinks. It's 1am, we walk and talk out the meaning of life in the cold streets for an hour. We stop at a little stall for a cup of hot Adas (lentil soup) and he takes me to his dad's huge Mercedes - his prefers his own Mercedes C300.

Breakfast at Hashem is pure entertainment - a whirlpool of well-drilled staff slap down plastic tablecloths, falafel, ful and juggle huge piles of bread, all to the now-familiar and bewitching soundtrack of acapela renditions of the Koran.  I ask after the music and the guy in the little cashdesk cabin gives me a CD.

Qasr Amra

I fly across the featureless wastes to the 'desert castle' Qasr Amra and its stunning wall paintings. I am hypnotised by them and their surprising mixture of styles. The Umayyad who built it are who, in the first period of Islam, broke the bloodline of Mohamed, causing the schism of Sunni and Shia. They ruled a huge empire from Portugal to Persia. The iconoclasm of early Islam at this point only forbade images in mosques, and these in a dwelling were perfectly acceptable.

Al Asraq

Asraq is one of those frontier towns that strums my heartstrings, just a single street in the wilderness lined with eateries bedecked with half-skinned goats a-dangling and truck drivers who shrug off highjackings and endless empty roads smoking and staring into space. I eat my Shawarma and watch the local dramas.

A little further towards Iraq I stand in TE Lawrence's room at al-Asraq castle and imagine the campfire conversations of the Arab revolt while the flames throw shadows on the hardy basalt walls.

I float past the legion shelters of the Syrian refugee camps on my way to al-Hallabat castle where I bathe in a pomegranate sunset.

Qasr al-Hallabat


Back in Amman, I eat in an lovely cafe, every millimeter covered in arabesques and mirrored facets. It is grand scale passive smoking but at least the tobacco and molasses smells good. The waiters run around with hot coals for the nargilehs and disappear in great clouds of smoke as they suck greedily getting each pipe started. Passive smoking on an epic scale.

Section of the Dead Sea Scrolls - Jordan Museum

Inscription in unknown language - Jordan Museum

Umm Qais

Irbid's rush hour is pretty intense but I eventually pick my way through it and make it to Umm Qais, a Roman ruin, again not on the same level as Jerash, but in the spectacular location of the junction of Palestine, Syria and Jordan with the Sea of Galilee just beneath. A film unit is here shooting a drama about Isis and the columned ruins are swarming with extras toting plastic AK47s. The reality check is that today news comes of the worst attack yet at a mosque in Northern Sinai killing over 300 people. Sinai is where I will be in 3 days time. Not ideal.

North Shona/al-Hameh

I drop down the hill and find the tiny border town of North Shona, to the north of it al-Hameh famous for its hot springs. I getting chatting to my 436th Ahmed on a bend in the road and he offers me accommodation at his father's house. I wander into one of the spa places and make lots of new friends. Another Ahmad sends me messages saying "I LOVE YOU". In the mental little town centre everyone stares at me and the shawarma guy jumps out of his skin when I talk to him. Nothing in particular happens but I feel immersed and one hundred percent alive. I drink coffee and watch football in the open air 'pub'. Back at the spa place I meet Ahmad's dad, a sort-of Arabic Delboy. He explains how his dad had to leave Akko in 1948 at the age of 8. "How can someone just come and steal your home?" he fumes. More people show up and have conversations about Balfour and Jibneh, the cheese that goes in Kunaffeh. He does community work for the poor in the area and shows me some harrowing pictures of people with wasted limbs and living in rooms little more than animal stalls. He wants me to come visit them with him and write about them in my blog. He is cross that Syrian refugees live in splendour, according to him, while Jordanians suffer.

A very animated guy who looks a bit like Reverend Jim from "Taxi" comes and tries to tell me something, I have absolutely no idea what, but he keeps telling me anyway. "Ah yes, this is Mr. Jihad - he very crazy" says Delboy. They feed me hot milk with ginger. I ask what the drink's name is. "Hot milk with ginger" they say. They produce a microphone and push it in my face (I foolishly mentioned that I work in music and sound) but I beat a swift retreat.

In the morning, after involuntary screaming in the ice-cold shower, Dweik, a really lovely old man from Hebron gives me some oranges from his garden. Mr. Jihad is there on his terrace too, making urgent box shapes with his hand and repeating the word "tamtal" pleadingly. Dweik chuckles and eventually says "He is mentally ill. This area is famous for gold and for antiquities. He says he has found a golden statue of a pharoah and wants to sell it to you." I manage to extract myself. I decide, slightly guiltily, not to wait the 3 hours for Delboy and his visit to the poor people - I need to get moving and I am pretty sure I would be pressurised for donations. I message him and he says he will send me photos for my blog which he never does send.

About 20 miles down the road, I stop at Tabqet Fahel for falafel and coffee. Then of course, Mr. Jihad jumps out of a minibus and greets me like a long-lost brother. He insists I take his picture standing next to a completely random broken-down car. and then disappears as quickly as he arrived.

The pub - North Shona


Mr. Jihad (right) and friends - Tabqet Fahel

Dead Sea

I rest my eyes on the supernatural layered blues at the Dead Sea shoreline and enjoy a big lunch at Gawr al-Mazraah while the schoolkids all watch me open-mouthed. They run away when I bring out the camera. Adam the cook is from Alexandria and speaks a little english.


After Wadi Majib, I turn back up into the mountains, piled like demerera sugar, to wander the atmospheric galleries and dungeons of the hefty Kerak castle.

I spend the evening with the lovely Heather and Richard who I met in Madaba. Heather is from Brixham in Devon where my grandmother lived. Richard is Dutch. They live a nomadic life in British Columbia from fruit picking vaguely near Banff. We swap camping tricks and eat pastries and sup whisky illicitly in their room.

Wadi Rum

I drive up to the sea. Only place in the world you can say that. I luxuriate in another delicious meal at Muhanes in Aqaba and then on back for one last night at Wadi Rum. My plan is to go to the nearby village of Diseh and wildcamp but the village is not immediately welcoming. A little girl throws stones at me as I pass in fact! She is smiling while she does this however.. I am searching for someone to give me a bit of firewood and lend me a blanket but I wander various deserted camps and find myself eventually in a bizarre abandoned hotel in the sandy nothing - a sort of disembodied lobby containing absolutely nothing apart from the ubiquitous three portraits of the King, his father and his son. Sunset is fast approaching and I decide Diseh is not working for me so I call Mehedi from Bedouin Directions and he completely sorts me out - gets a friend to meet me at his house in Rum village and guide me out into the sand (slightly less bleeding involved this time!) to near Khazali canyon where I choose a little canyon of my own. Again that pindrop silence. I scan the skies and smile at Betelgeuse and Rigel, Sirius and Canis Minor. I hear the tiniest of noises outside my tent as I ready for sleep but after intensely listening for 5 minutes it does not recur. In the morning I find a dog sleeping just nearby. What a curious lonely life this dog must lead. She is very hungry and I put down some oatmeal in front of her but she just sniffs at it sadly and walks away. I scramble up a nearby mountain and savour my last minutes in this special place. Back in Rum village a couple of camel drivers race me the last few hundred yards of sand. I hose down the bike at Mehedi's house and thank him warmly. Such a friendly feeling as I leave the village. One place I know I will definitely come back to.

The evening at Aqaba is very efficient, I manage to collect my laundry, get money, book my boat ticket from the unusually grumpy people at the boat tour operators near the castle, eat and find my water filter sent from the UK that of course did not get delivered today as promised because of some small typo in the phone number, requiring me to go on an odyssey around the town.

At the port I end up, not for the first time, picking my way in the dark around legions of container trucks and asking random people where to go until finally I find the blocked off and deserted-looking police shack that of course is where I am supposed to go. I wander around and find myself in a hangar with a gigantic X-Ray machine for trucks. They tell me I need an exit permission so I backtrack and find a cunningly hidden information booth. There, Saafi, picks up his cigarettes and phone and with a steeling-myself look takes me to the Kafka-esque police and customs building. We talk to a policeman who eventually sells me a 10 JD exit tax and a 25 JD exit tax for the bike. I am given a large variety of colourful raffle tickets which I struggle not to spray all over the terminal and at the deeply lo-tech passport window they scan my eyes with a decidely hi-tech iris scanner. Down to customs where they peel off another 5 JD for no discernable reason and I have my exit permission along with an absurdly large pile of other paper scraps. Now I can go through the giant X-ray - I have to ride through the cavernous building at less than 5 km/h which is actually a little bit of a challenge on a heavily loaded motorbike.Various policemen relieve me of bits of my confetti as I steadily approach the boat and then huddle amongst the containers. Up the stairs they give me a foreigner landing card and I join a vast unruly queue through the raging hot lounge area. There's not one woman among the hundreds of men sitting here watching football, all workers returning home from jobs in Saudi and Jordan. When I finally reach the end of the line they take my passport and say I will have it returned on arrival in Egypt which I don't like at all. So, stateless, I escape the heat to the relative cool of the deck and drowse on a bench beneath the red sea stars lulled to sleep by the drone of the engines and the lilting Arabic all around me.

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