My wheels aren’t the only thing digging deep as they sink into the soft ochre sand with every pedal revolution. This penultimate leg of my seven-day, 280-mile bike ride is taking me towards Jordan’s Wadi Rum — en route from the Dead Sea to the Red Sea — and I’m not too proud to admit, I’m feeling it a little. There are camels, hanging about, most of whom look faintly bored but one of them is a baby — all gangly legs and ridiculously long eyelashes. I’m smitten.
The fact that I’ve ridden a morning through the desert on my bike to get to this particular view hasn’t hurt the experience; I’ve become aware of a whole new, way of riding. Try and change direction by all means, but do it slowly, carefully and in the full knowledge that it probably won’t make a blind bit of difference anyway. The bike is going where the sand tells it to.
The camels belong to the Bedouin family living here — for the time being — in a small collection of dark-coloured, goat-hair tents. In addition to the two beasts out front, there are more behind the tents, lounging insouciantly, looking down their prodigious noses at some goats. Were this Petra, the ancient Nabataean rock-hewn city of UNESCO and Indiana Jones fame, they would be carting tourists about, but here, they’ve got a bit of down time until they’re next needed. As have I.
'I’ve encountered this astonishing hospitality before'
Inside the tent, it’s shady and surprisingly cool, compared with the fierce desert heat outside. I’ve been invited to sit down and enjoy some Bedouin hospitality, in the form of an endless supply of sweet sage tea, poured from a large soot-blackened kettle on a fire pit in the centre of the tent. I’ve encountered this astonishing hospitality before, earlier in the trip, with the head of the family with whom we were staying sleeping by the front door of his house, showing (in this case symbolically) his genuine willingness to defend his guests with his own life if necessary. Sitting cross-legged on soft wool rugs, with no sound but soft conversation and the ever present sighing of the desert wind, it’s a wonderful rest for mind and body from the energetic cycling.
I’m ready now for this last two-day stretch through the glorious russet-toned desert to the Red Sea, where my journey will end in a refreshing splash about and a cold beer. Squinting slightly as I step outside into the sunshine again, I take some last pictures of the camels before remounting my own beast of burden, the mountain bike that now has to carry me onwards, through the desert, to a night under the stars surrounded by the sandstone and granite towers of Wadi Rum – The Valley of the Moon.