Saturday, September 24, 2011

The Jordan Challenge 4: Go on a Bicycle Trip with Cycling Jordan

I've seen a couple people on bikes in Amman since I got here, and I'm pretty sure they both had a death wish.  I have to psych myself up just to cross the major streets here; I can't imagine being in traffic on a bike. But, as I learned today, outside of Amman is a whole different story.  I had taken the advice of one of last year's Fulbright students and resolved to do a bike ride with Cycling Jordan this year.  Once I joined their Facebook Group, I was privy to the weekend schedule and saw that there were not one but three rides this weekend.  I picked what looked like the easiest one (a morning of cycling outside the town of Madaba south of Amman), threw caution to the wind and signed up.

This morning, as I prepared to catch a cab to our meetup location at the Abdoun Mall, though, I was having some pangs of trepidation.  I didn't know where I was going and wouldn't know anyone when I got there.  What if I couldn't keep up?  Turns out that my worries were for naught.  Cycling Jordan runs multiple trips every weekend, and Sari, the inspiration and coordinator behind the whole thing, has been doing this since he was in his second year at the University of Jordan (he's now graduated and does this on the weekend in addition to his "real" job).  It's all been honed to a science.

One of the things that made the cycling experience so cool is that the trip was anchored at a farm outside Madaba.  Here I am in front of a grafiti'd logo there, about to board the bus back to Amman.

There were close to twenty of us who met up at the mall parking lot, and after signing some paperwork and paying the trip fee, we boarded a bus and headed out of town.  Our destination was a private farm in the countryside of Madaba.  Once we arrived, we were all issued bikes and helmets, a brief orientation of the rules of the road, and off we went.

Sari (in the yellow jersey) assigning us our bikes
The whole experience was very laid-back.  We stretched out, with people adjusting their own paces, and about every 15-20 minutes we'd stop for a water break and to make sure everyone was okay. We rode on paved country roads where we were passed by the occasional car or truck, not-so-great bumpy roads, and dirt roads: the bikes performed really well on all of them. There was even a truck that followed us that a few people used as a rest stop when they got winded.  After an hour and forty-five minutes of riding (I timed it out of curiosity), we wound up back at the farmhouse where we'd started.
Not a great picture but I had to include it.  I had been cruising along thinking "this isn't so different than the desert fields outside my hometown of Twin Falls, Idaho."  Then I saw the camels pictured here and thought, "Actually, yes it is. I'm biking in the Middle East right now!"

On a dirt road we had to stop for the herd of goats who clearly had the right-of-way.

A great thing about Cycling Jordan is that it's purposely designed to help people meet other people as much as it is to give them some fresh air and exercise.  When we got back to the farmhouse we relaxed a bit while Sari and the other trip leaders put together a light meal for us -- pita bread, hummous, fuul (bean dip -- their's was a particularly good one), tomato/cucumber salad and tea.  We sat in the sunshine and chatted while we ate, and I got to know some of my fellow riders better.  There was Elvira, a German development worker who recently arrived here after an interrupted tour in Yemen; Tareeq and Waded, a great Jordanian couple who recently relocated back here after years of living abroad; and Ahmad, a recently-graduated Palestinian doctor who went to med school in Egypt and is now interning at a hospital in Amman. 
Two of my new friends, Waded and Elvira, relaxing after the ride.

Sari kept telling us the fuul was really good while he piled on our plates -- and he was right.

Eventually we loaded back up and headed back to the city on the bus.  At the mall Tareeq and Waded graciously offered rides home to Elvira and me, and with any luck, we'll be meeting up for another biking expedition, or maybe one with a hike thrown in for good measure. My original challenge was to do at least one ride with Cycling Jordan, but right now I'm thinking that shooting for one or two trips each  month would be great.  So, if this sounds like anything anyone here in Jordan or planning to visit wants to try, be sure to let me know.  Double thumbs up for Cycling Jordan!

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