A thorough wrist slapping is called for as I haven't
been in touch for a long time... A combination of no Internet access
(it is illegal in Syria!), not being in the mood (stressed or relaxed)
or whatever else.
My last few weeks have, in places, merged from the
sublime to the ridiculous.
'You are welcome'. Everybody says it; on meeting,
on departing, when they can't think of anything else to say, always!!!!
It may, or may not, be a little irritating after a while! Possibly
leading to 'anger', but more of that later too...
I composed this report while in Dahab on the Sinai
Peninsula, while relaxing from the exploits of guiding the trusty
Beemer over cr*p roads, gravel, dirt and even sand.
I've met wonderful Syrians, seen enough 'rubble'
to last me a lifetime (and there's more to come in Egypt!), ridden
a fair bit of piste (intentionally and accidentally), done about
10 clicks of deep sand (wow!?), been robbed of all my camera equipment,
did my pilgrimage (sic) to Jerusalem (everybody else reckoned they
were on one, so why not me?) and generally found the Jordanians
to be a bunch of morons.
After a rather unpleasant dose of food poisoning
in Cappadocia, Turkey, I headed towards Syria. Eastern Turkey definitely
requires another visit... top people, great roads (except the slippy
tarmac of course) and awe-inspiring views.
Compared to what I'd heard, the border formalities
getting into Syria were very slick. I got my first 'You are Welcome'
from the matey-boy who let me out of the Syrian border compound.
A couple of things strike you when you first set foot in Syria.
The friendliness of the people and that the whole country is a cult
centre. I have never seen so many pictures ranging in size from
2 x 3 cm to 20 x 30 metres of the same two blokes... one is President
Assad and the other, his (dead?) son, who looks remarkably similar
to Ringo Starr.
I believe there is a link between a country having
the status of 'International Pariah' and population being warm and
helpful. I've heard similar accounts of other travellers' experiences
in Libya and Iran, as those that I had in Syria.
The Souk (market) in Allepo was something else.
Melting pot is definitely the word(s). The meat market was an education
in animal biology and also detailed enough to make me a vegetarian.
During my travels in the Middle East, I've seen
quite a few women veiled in black from head to toe, without even
a slit to see through. I was wondering what their passport photos
might look like. Probably all rather similar! A friend later told
me the women like it because they can safely have an affair with
another man and nobody will ever know!
My Syrian map of Syria was also different. There
is a whole chunk of Turkey around Antakya that according to the
map, is part of Syria, a 2km long dam does not exist, whole towns
don't exist and of course there is a country to the southwest called
From Allepo, I headed east through a dust storm
and then south to the most mystical of abandoned desert cities,
'Rushafeh'. While camping out, I played with my GPS. Normally (in
the UK) I would get 3 or 4 satellites giving me a signal for a cross
reference. I had all 12 channels (i.e. 12 satellites) reading loud
and clear. Possibly something to do with being 200 or so clicks
from the Iraqi border. Saddam, you are being watched!
The ride further south involved 100 km of piste,
asking Bedouins directions en route. In one place I stopped, the
most stunning woman came before my eyes. The deepest of emerald
eyes and sharp, but soft features. It was as if she were blind,
the way she looked at me. She either had desires for me, or more
likely was bemused this dirty, unshaven westerner on a filthy bike,
who was trying to communicate with her husband!
French metro pass
Throughout Syria, my French metro pass allowed me
to pretend I was a student and get in everywhere for 30 cents rather
than 6 bucks. In Palmyra, I met a friendly couple, Tom from Limerick
on a GS and Kerstin from NZ on an XT heading to New Zealand. Tom
gave me a big hand changing both my tyres. We needed to put his
200+ kg Beemer on its centre stand, on my rim, to break the bead
of the back tyre! The first thing I did upon my arrival in Damascus
was to buy a compressor to pump up the tyres. The bike now sports
2 shiny, happy Bridgestone knobblies, on which I can't ride faster
than 100 kmh on tarmac, as above this there is absolutely no traction!
Near Crac des Chevaliers, I spotted a road sign:
“London to Cape Town Adventure Drive” written in English
and Arabic. Was this an omen of what was to follow?
Hailstones in the desert
Heading south on the motorway to Damascus it started
to rain a little. This developed into hailstones, which took great
pleasure in bouncing off my crash helmet. Complete chaos followed.
Cars stuck, driving this way and that; there was water up to my
cylinder pots in places 4 to 6 foot waves of a muddy torrent in
the central reservation. The bike did not let me down and I ended
up going the wrong way up the motorway and a service road to a truck
stop where I stayed the night. Early the next morning, there were
a few puddles next to the road, but nothing to really hint at the
previous evening's events!
In Damascus, I didn't do a great deal, except eat
ice cream and pizza and do a full service on the bike. I also got
a great Roman (Turkish) bath and introduced road rage to Syria,
care of a woman who was hell bent on running me and the bike into
the parked cars on the side of the road. She learnt a few words
of English and had a wing mirror less for her troubles.
The border crossing from Syria to Jordan via the
motorway was a pain. The Jordanian customs did their best to be
very unhelpful. They also insisted on stamping my Carnet de Passage
even though it is not required for Jordan. It's a shame they can't
read French on English, otherwise the words 'Not valid in Somalia,
Libya, Myanmar, Iraq and Jordan' stamped all over it, might have
given me a few problems!
I then left the bike for 4 days in Amman and travelled
with a pleasant Aussie named Adam to Jerusalem. There were kids
everywhere, all barely out of school, all carrying guns. Big guns.
All it would take would be one chappie or chappess to have a bad
day and you'd have a massacre! You could feel the tension in the
air. There were lots of miserable Arabs and Jews around. It occurred
to us that we could not recall many wars started in the name of
Hinduism or Buddhism.
We visited all the usual sights, but I found Mea
She'arim and Yad Vashem the most thought provoking. The former is
a suburb where the ultra orthodox Jews live (it looks like photos
of Warsaw before circa-1942) and the latter is the Holocaust Memorial.
Upon my return to Jordan I had all my camera gear,
Jack Kirouak's 'On the Road' (with 20 pages left to read!) and some
other stuff stolen. To say I was unimpressed is an understatement.
I am firmly of the opinion, that if some bloke wearing
a black mask, a stripy shirt and carrying a bag marked 'swag' climbed
in through the Jordanian police station window, the Jordanian coppers
wouldn't bat an eye lid. No procedures for it...
Trying to get a police report involved the biggest
wild goose chase with a mad / deranged police captain. Backwards,
forwards, this Directorate, that Directorate (incl. the D of Residancy
(sic) and Border, D of Home Affairs and probably the D of Funny
Walks too). So many people said there was 'no procedure', 'no possibility',
'not in their juristiction', blah, blah, blah...
I expressed my anger in surprisingly (for me) measured
tones and the captain immediately insisted he was more angry than
me.... It was pure, vintage Monty Python. At one point he gave me
his service revolver (without the bullets, mind!) to play around
with. At the end he asked me whether I'm 'happy' or not! Bizarre.
Some time later, I did meet a couple of crazy (in
a very pleasant way!) Bulgarian pedal-cyclists trying to get to
Cape Town on US$400! One is a filmmaker and I did an interview.
I'm sure that the Bridgestone tyre sales figures will shoot up in
and around Sofia in the near future. I also hear that my Sudanese
visa request at their embassy in Germany had finally been refused
with no reasons given.
On the way down the Kings Highway, I finally met
Charlie and Siobhan en route to India via the Middle East. We had
been communicating via email since England. A great night of chatting
and beers was had in Karak, despite the naffness of the town. I
had some small adventures with a petrol pump attendant making sure
that what I was getting was in fact benzin and not diesel :)
Petra was 'spectacular'. These people must have
been totally 'Groessenwahnsinnig'. Absolutely mind blowing stuff.
South from Petra I was stoned (the rock variety). You'd be surprised
how fast the stone wielding morons run when you accelerate towards
them. A British pushbike-cyclist even had the pleasure of rocks
being chucked at him 5 times in one day alone! All I can say is
'B*stards' or possibly 'You are welcome'.
Bright of Arabia
In Wadi Rum, Bright of Arabia rode with Albert and
Uli, an Austrian couple on an Indian Enfield Bullet with Sidecar
into the desert and spent a great night sleeping under the stars.
The sunrise stunned me with wonderful reds, oranges and greys blending
together into a psychedelic haze. I didn't even have to get out
of my sleeping bag.
Aqaba was a dump and I had to unsubtly express my
views of him and his country to the customs git who refused to stamp
my Carnet de Passage (if you get it stamped on the way in, you must
get it done on the way out...). This did however encourage him to
do his job and I made the ferry to Neweiba in Sinai with 5 minutes