“We three Kings of Orient are,
One in a taxi, one in a car,
One on a scooter, beeping his hoo-ooo-ter,
Smoking a fat cigar”
One of us was on a shiny blue bicycle, another on an old rattler borrowed at short notice from a friend and I am still muddling along on the bike (Rita) that has carried me all the way from England. I have a little bell on my bicycle and we had a few unpleasant drags on our Christmas cigar before discarding it in disgust. We weren’t quite kings, but we felt pretty regal today.
It is Christmas Day: my first ever Christmas away from home. We were riding the Biblical King’s
Highway, pedalling towards the ‘lost’ kingdom of Petra, towards the ‘rose-red city half as old as time’. It
was not going to be an ordinary Christmas Day. Christmas morning saw us on the bicycles by 7.30am,
bikes suitably tacky in tinsel and Santa hats warding off the early desert chill. Deep-fried falafel
sandwiches make a fine festive breakfast for 10p. It’s Christmas so we had three each: hang the expense!
We bellowed Carols as we rode, not letting lyrics or tune get in the way of good old-fashioned, high
volume roaring. Local Muslims amused by our good cheer cried out “Merry Christmas!” or “Happy New
Year!” even “Happy Birthday!.” Near enough: it is the season of goodwill after all.
Corned beef and tomato puree sandwiches made a sumptuous Christmas Lunch: at least we three
hungry cyclists were genuinely appreciative of all we ate today. In the afternoon we sought shade in the
company of a Bedouin family, hot sweet tea in small, delicate glasses reviving the senses and forging
friendships. My mistletoe decked Santa hat looked daft but caused hilarity atop an old Bedouin man’s
flowing red and white headdress.
We arrived in Petra before sunset, hot and tired and ready to share our mini Christmas Pudding. It was
a Christmas Day without a full belly, without Eastenders, without Grandpa’s snoring. It was a Christmas
without fine food yet with real gratitude for what I ate. It was a Christmas far from friends yet I was in a
country of genuine unconditional friendship and hospitality. A Christmas buzzing on the glory of this
high mountain road so near to where Christmas began. It was my first Christmas away from England.