Mariam’s cousin, Saleem, and his girlfriend, Noor, invited me, George, Areej (a close friend of George and Mariam from Gaza) and Mariam to go biking down by the Dead Sea. I’ve never been to the Dead Sea and it’s been way too long since I’ve been biking so I signed up. George decided to come too and Mariam and Areej said they’d drive down and meet us for dinner later.
Everyone kept saying it would be easy, but when I was in Madrid, my friends said they would take me for an ‘easy’ bike ride around the city – 6 ½ hours of uphill biking later, soaked in sweat with massive bruises on my bum, feeling pathetically out of shape, I had sworn to exercise more and never trust anyone who said that a bike ride was ‘easy’. Then I’d gone home and eaten 2 kebabs and downed one of those huge Mahou cervezas. Mmmm boy! Much more enjoyable than the bike ride.
But anyway, back to the Dead Sea. It sounded too interesting to pass up, so I put on my sneakers and hoped for the best.
Everyone was driving down in a bus, but Mariam and Areej were craving air conditioning, so we followed behind in the car. The drive was pretty barren – all desert, although we did pass by a series of ‘Baptism Site Grocery Stores.’ Cracked me up. We drove for about an hour and as we got further and further below sea level, it just got progressively hotter and hotter. We went in the evening so that it would be cooler, but it was still close to 100 degrees when we arrived at 8pm.
We got on our bikes and I realized pretty quickly that ‘easy’ was actually an understatement. You know, it’s funny. Growing up, when I would come home and say that I didn’t particularly like sports, Mom would just sort of say casually, ‘That’s normal, no one in our family is good at sports. Don’t worry about it. Just have fun and worry about your homework instead.’ And so during tennis practice I’d hide behind the baseball diamond instead of running laps, and bring Oreos as snacks to practice, all guilt free. I played basketball for a year and the one time I actually got hold of the ball in a game – a total fluke – I shot and scored two points for the other team. I am not what you would ever call a ‘star’ athlete.
Just to give you an idea how easy this bike ride was, and how bad everyone else was – George and I were the star athletes of the group. It was hilarious. I don’t know if it’s an Arab thing, a Jordanian thing, or what, but it was brilliant! It was like biking with a large group of Mom’s family. The entire route was completely flat, save for two small hills. EVERYONE walked up the hills and when I tried to bike up, they all made faces – biking up a 3-foot hill was showing off. Not one to show off, I gave in and walked the remaining two steps. At the top of the second hill, one guy actually collapsed and had to be splashed repeatedly with water, two girls fell…while they were walking their bikes – it was great.
The trip itself was really scenic too – so beautiful. We went through orchards of olive trees, bananas, and corn, and past Bedouin tents. We had to break for shepherds crossing the street with their goats and sheep.
We took frequent breaks and biking through banana fields we stopped to pick some fruit and have a snack. The whole trip ended at a restaurant by the sea, the bikes were loaded back on the bus and we all went in for dinner. Now that’s my kind of exercise.