the after-ride

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To see a world in a grain of sand,
And heaven in a wild flower,
Hold infinity in the palm of your hand,
And eternity in an hour.

William Blake, Auguries of Innocence

"So how did you get home then?" This question has now knocked "So how did you cross the channel?" tumbling from its number one spot.  And it's quite understandable because we're no longer camped on a Red Sea beach watching the sun sinking over Sinai, we're back home in Wales watching mist moving over the Mynydd (Ddu).

So here's the answer...
 

Before we lost Audin we'd had a vague and thoroughly un-researched plan which involved: finding a cargo ship in Aqaba; hitching a lift through the Suez Canal; steaming westwards along the Mediterranean; disembarking somewhere European and southern (like Spain), and; riding back home, just in time for the first flush of spring grass.  This would have ticked an important box, the one marked 'delay inevitable return to life of work'.

Unfortunately, this cunning plan had two flaws.  Firstly, it was already autumn and the return ride would have been in winter, needing more stuff than we wanted to carry on two horses.  We had coped in Syria and Jordan by ditching just about everything except a spare pair of underpants and a toothbrush.  The second flaw was more serious: the money had nearly run out.  Seventeen months of outgo exceeding income had caused this inconvenient state of affairs. 

So we turned instead to Plan B: go straight home and get back to work.  But Plan B also had a problem.  For the  horses to be allowed back into the UK, they had to become 'resident Jordanians', which meant staying in one place for a minimum of three months.  It was 'quarantine' but only in the loosest sense and having an excuse as good as this to put off the impending return to a life of labour suited us just fine.

So we settled for Plan C: living in the desert for a few months before flying home just in time for Christmas dinner.  It was like this:
 

"Somewhere on a desert highway / she rides a Harley Davidson / her long blond hair blowing in the wind..."  Hannah and Sealeah wondered why they'd had to traipse along all that way on foot, when they could have been riding in a cool convertible.  We took the highway along the Red Sea shore to Aqaba and back north for an hour to Shakria, home for the next three and half months.

 

Shakria is hardly a bustling metropolis. But for sand, rocks and space to play...it's hard to beat.  Zoom out a few times on the map below to see just how much space.  Shakria sits just at the northern end of the famous Wadi Rum.
 
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We rented this luxury shack (our "Shack in Shakria") from Mr Sabah Atieeq, climbing guide extraordinaire and, in his own words, "something like the King" of Wadi Rum.  Our rent was 40/month, all bills included (i.e. electricity for the two light bulbs).  It was airy and had an 'open plan' feel to it, on account of the complete lack of doors or windows.  We bought a water tank from a friend of Sabah's (3 hours of drinking tea followed by 30 minutes of haggling), a gas bottle and stove to cook on, some foam mats to sleep on, and various brightly coloured plastic objects from the  local Brightly Coloured Plastic Object Emporium.
Compared to living in what little remained of our tent, our new home was The Hilton.
Hannah and Sealeah hung out in the walled garden...
...pigged out on alfalfa...
...and popped their heads in every so often to check we were okay.  
Sealeah was particularly impressed that this practical human dwelling had been fitted with a serving hatch.  By the sheer power of her royal presence and beauty she was able to will humans to their feet bearing gifts of apples, oranges, grapes, bread and the occasional Binty bar.
Our landlord, Sabah, often came over for a cup of tea,  bringing along his son Tail, who usually fell asleep within minutes.  Sabah loves to talk, especially about being 'in mountain'.  This expression is quite apt for the mountains of Rum; it often feels as though you are 'in' the mountain rather than 'on' it.
Our shack was in the compound of Sabah's Shakria house, home to his Shakria wife, Noel, and their seven children - six girls and a boy.  We didn't see so much of Sabah's other wives, sons and daughters as they were mostly down the valley in Rum.
The desire to climb must be in the genes- Sabah's kids were always hanging around.
While the horses enjoyed a well-earned rest, we went climbing ourselves.  We'd had a climbing trip here ten years earlier but that was just a two week (flying) visit.  Now we had three months.
The village of Rum sits beneath the highest peak in the area, Jebel Rum, which has some fantastic sandstone walls with modern rock climbs.  There are also many amazing 'bedouin routes' which make the most of natural features like deep, water-worn gorges to wind their way through the steep ground to reach the summit domes. 

British climber, Tony Howard, and friends put up many of the modern rock climbs and publicised the area through articles and guidebooks.  Strangely, his guidebook didn't mention 'horse' as a means of getting here for a climbing holiday.

We followed many of the bedouin routes, all over the Rum area.  I climbed Jebel Rum itself five times (because it was there!) by five different routes.  Only once, when Lisa came with me on a traverse from west to east, did we meet any other climbers, and that was on the walk out from the base.  The summit was a great place to sit and doze for a while.
We borrowed a jeep through friends at Bait Ali and explored further afield (or should that be 'further asand'?).
We put up a handful of new rock climbs (all two pitch routes) on this 60m high micro-tower.  In Wales this would be a decent sized crag; in Rum it was a mere baby in comparison to the surrounding towers.  Details are in the New Routes book at the cafe in Rum.

From sunrise to sunset the mountains of Rum are a beautiful place to be.


 

As all sons and daughters know, when parentals announce a state visit you have to make a special effort to tidy up. 

Lisa's mother, Marlene, arrived first, toured by jeep, horse, and camel, and came with us to visit friends (including our good friend Salaama in Humaimeh).  Lisa and Marlene then travelled north to see more of Jordan and Syria.
 
The Adshead parentals arrived next.  We squeezed and scrambled through Rakabat Canyon, walked through Barrah Canyon, had a great trip with Sabah up a remote mountain on the Saudi border, and followed the fantastic Canyon of Wadi ibn Hammad  - in hot water - down to the Dead Sea.
We had a few days in the mountains around Petra, including a walk up the highest peak, Jebel Haroun, where Moses - a few thousand years ago - had buried his elder brother, Aaron.
After all the parentally-related excitement, we returned to just irresponsibly riding around in the desert.
We had the occasional night out...
...including a memorable one with Sabah and family.
Flora and fauna in the desert seem like unexpected free gifts, extra bonus material.
We hadn't seen rain since Turkey, nearly six months earlier but on our last night in Shakria a big storm rolled in...
...and the rain freshened up the inside walls of our shack.
Our three months in 'quarantine' was over.  It was time to go home.
After a seventeen month ride out, a scheduled Royal Jordanian cargo flight took us back in five hours (but there wasn't much to see).  The plane was empty apart from the horses and a few boxes of fresh green beans  destined for London restaurants.  Hannah and Sealeah were disappointed that these weren't on the in-flight menu.
Welcome home!