Returning back to Beirut under a heavy cloud of defeat, the cold, stark reality of my predicament set in. The road to Jordan was now firmly closed and any glimmer of hope in hopping onto a container ship to Egypt had faded days ago after going on a wild goose chase from one shipping company to the next to see if any of them would accept me and the bike as ‘cargo’, all to no avail.
My situation was such that I was effectively blackaded by land and sea. The irony of it all was that it was self-imposed.
Robert Burns was spot on when he wrote that ‘the best laid schemes of mice and men go often askew’. Uttering the phrase to myself as I sank a glass of warm Bekaa Valley wine, each word felt like a blunt blow to my own carefully (mis)construed plan. The hand of fate had taken an invisible sledge-hammer and had shattered it into a million pieces. It was time for me to start piecing this whole crazy jigsaw back together…
Pouring another glass, I sat on the hostel balcony and watched one container ship after another leave the port (some probably bound for Port Said, Egypt) and decided to put some music on to distract my already strained mind from overdoing the mental gymnastics it was trying to perform. The sublime funk-fused African rhythms of the Ethiopiques wafted into the balmy evening air, and the cloud that hung over me soon lifted. A few bars into their blissed out masterpiece – Ené Alantchi Alnorem (I Can’t Live Without You) – the hostel’s resident cook-par-excellence, Lina, rushed out excitedly onto the balcony saying; ‘This is my song, have you put it on for me?’ I didn’t quite know what to say and before I could search for the right words, she continued: ‘Don’t you know? I’m from Ethiopia!’
In that split second it all made sense. Like a bolt from the Simien Mountains, the countless permutations that I had tried – unsuccessfully – to work through settled onto a brand new calculation. I began to think the unthinkable. This did of course involve breaking the No.1 Golden Rule: Never to step onto a Boeing or Airbus with the Sherpa in tow. Yet falling short of converting my steed into an amphibious vehicle and sailing to Egyptian shores under my own steam, what choice did I have?
Allowing the idea to germinate for 24 hours, the thought of taking the thirty minute flight to Amman or Cairo did not fill me with much joy. The prospect of cycling through the Arabian-Sinai-Saharan Desert at the height of summer during the Holy Month of Ramadan (you can be arrested for eating or drinking on the streets between dawn and dusk in Jordan) looked like an act of extreme folly from every conceivable angle. It appeared that circumstances outside my control had overtaken me and I’ve was forced to show my hand with one all-or-nothing throw of the dice.
That night I dreamt I was trying to ride my bike – but ended up slipping and sliding – around a giant, flooded, snakes and ladders board.
The next morning I awoke, showered, took a long deep breath and set out do the unspeakable: I packed my bags, boxed the bike, walked straight into the nearest Ethiopian Airways office and booked myself onto the first flight out to Addis Ababa.