|06-10-2008, 10:17 AM||#47|
Joined: Apr 2006
did I pay?
|06-10-2008, 02:13 PM||#49|
Joined: Apr 2006
Into the Turkish mountains
As I leave Develi I feel mounting trepidation, It has been a long day, the sky is clouding over, my map shows a small yellow road with various arrows (for steep slopes) before I attain the small town of Goksun on the other side, there is little hope of lodgings in Goksun, it is now 4.30 pm.
I find the best way to calm these anxieties, some rational and some not, is by talking to people along the way.
The only problem is that in these parts there is not a lot of habitation
Eventually I reach a very small town (Ticas?). The first person I talk to can confirm I am on the right road for Goksun...but then we hit the linguistic buffers. He remembers one guy locally speaks German (many Turks have worked in Germany as Gastarbeiter I think) so he is wheeled in to help out. It becomes a grand conference but he is the lead speaker.
Our conversation goes something like this (apologies to native German speakers but my Deutsch is sehr kleine):
Wie ist die strasse fur Goksun?
Die Strasse ist Gut
-Alles tarmac? Ja
-Ja, keine Schnee
Somehow I also manage to convey the concept of sunset, and get an answer to how long I have - zwei uhr - the powers of mime!
I am then invited for tea and a general chat but sadly have to excuse myself as I am still concerned to get over the mountain before dark.
Once I get going it is a fabulous ride, good GS territory...the road is largely tarmac (except where it is gravelly and being rebuilt!) with virtually no traffic. It had all the fun of tight bends above big ravines, potholes and ruts, bumps and select patches of gravel. Would not want to have broken down there at that time - could have been a cold and lonely night
And all this amidst towering mountains.
Once I am down on the plateau I soon get to Goksun...but as I feared it was a one-horse (and no hotel) town.
So I resolve to head for the next big town, Kahra Manmarash. This involves a long downhill ride thru swooping canyon roads at a good speed....but night is drawing in. I am breaking my self-imposed rule (which many others have also advised) of not riding at night.
Just as dark arrives I see Kahra Manmarash, a sizeable city but another that does not get in my (800 page) guidebook!
So I go straight to a petrol station and ask for a city centre hotel. One guy who is refuelling suggests a place and then hops in his car and leads me there, some 5 kms away in the city centre. He leads me to a hotel (Hotel Belli, big and dilapidated) that exactly fills the need, and then heads off. Another friend!
Once installed in the hotel I grab dinner in their (adequate) restaurant and then hit the streets. I break all the rules and have an icecream from a street shop (but it is well frequented and selling lots so I reason it's probably OK - and indeed it proved to be).
The streets are becoming livelier and livelier with peple driving up and down waving flags, sounding their horns and yelling. It becomes louder and louder, and lots of police stand by and watch....I think there must be a big football match, perhaps a local derby.
When I crash out I can still hear the sound of braking and revving cars, drums and whistles...but nothing could keep me from a semi-exhausted sleep.
Next day I awake refreshed. I rescue the bike, which the hotel wanted me to park in a supervised park where I feared it would get hemmed in by cars...but it did not).
This is the day where I will enter Syria, all being well. I mentally prepare myself for a long ordeal at the border, for 2 reasons:
1 the Turks may try to collect the speed fine as I exit
2 For Syria I have no carnet (triptych) so will have to go through all the customs hassle to get the bike in.
I work my way to my first motorway in Turkey, as this seems to be the only road past Gaziantep to the border crossing at Kilis.
I find I am not alone on the M-way...what looks like a moving boulder is actually a tortoise.
I stop to help him across...and from a nearby office building someone leans out to check i am not in trouble! It's good to know as a biker that if you needed help, there are people around.
Meanwhile the tortoise thinks I am a predator and curls up, so I have to gently boot him across the rest of the road like a Flintstones football!
I get back on the bike and take the main road to Kilis. It's a straight, wide road without much traffic. I wave to a parked police car and am astounded that over the brow I am waved down by traffic police. I assume it's for a friendly chat...but they tell me I have been doing 93 kmh and am (again) in big doo doo.
I challenge their radar reading as I was trying to keep under 90 kmh. Eventually the other car drives up and we have a rerun of the radar which says (according to their calculations) I was doing 58 mph (93 kmh).
We go through the tedious process of checking documents and writing the fine, this time for 177 YTL (Eu 90). Again I plead lack of available funds and they give me my paper...but suggest I pay it at the border on my way out! I agree with my fingers crossed.
When I check out of Turkey, all is going swimmingly until the second police officer frowns and looks at a piece of paper. I wonder which of my many misdemeanours has come to light. He says: 'You have a speeding fine'.
Fortunately it is the one down the road 30 minutes ago and they have no record of the earlier, bigger fine. I have no choice but to pay, and go to the next stage. As I leave Turkey, the final checker logs on to his PC and ays: 'There is a computer problem'. I now fear they have recalled the early fine - he sends me back to the second checkpoint to redo one check, but fortunately it's just another bit of bureaucracy.
Finally I leave Turkey - I expected the hassle to be in Syria but I have had a day's worth already (it's only 11 am) and I haven't even got there.
When I drive over the Syria entry, I am welcomed to Syria with big smiles and handshakes from all the Syrian officials. At the sight of my bike gear the police passport checkers throw a pile of Turkish tourist passports to one side so they can chat about what I am doing, what my bike is, where I am headed. Effectively I get fast-tracked, and it's clear they don't see many bikers at this small crossing.
Mindful of my recent Turkey experience, I ask how fast motorcycles can go in Syria. The policeman says with a big grin: 'Go as fast as you like!'
But suddenly there is 'another problem' - apparently my visa from London does not have the necessary 'code'. 'No worries' they say'...we will telex London and resolve this in half an hour'.
I am incredulous (twice in one day) because I did not think telexes still existed, and I have yet to meet a visa office that worked in units of time as small as 'half an hour'. But I resolve to relax on a bench, read a book and drink some water while they sort it out (and there is little else I can do).
Once that is cleared up I go the next stage. I will not detail all the toing and froing, on a hot day, but it occupied 90 minutes. I was befriended by a big local lad who lead me around the various functions:
-bank to change money
-insurance to be bought
-customs duty to be paid
-2 photocopies to be made and paid for
-stamp to say I exited or something similar
-then into the scrum for the customs sign-off, where people (mainly lorry drivers) are throwing money at the offical who is in a bad mood
With all this paper I pile into the smoke-filled box again and use my armoured elbows to push back a few more aggressive types. I am concerned at this stage a lunch-break is looming. Red-head takes pity and starts to fill out my final pass but loses interest in finishing it so my helper takes over (the whole entry process has been remarkably collegiate, with everyone seemingly making change from the cash drawer). Unfortunately my chubby helper manages to tear the important top left corner of my final form – one which everyone now seems to agree will be critical to my future well-being- so a lot of frenetic stapling is done to recreate one page
-then to the sergeant for permission to stay
-then to the General to check all was in order (it was).
All this in a thick fug of cigarette smoke, and heat! At the end, my helper wished me good luck and disappared, without even a hint of payment for his help.
In fact it was not bad so long as you are patient. Cost was around $120, which is what I expected, with most of that being import duty as I had no carnet.
(In fact, not having a carnet saved me money, as I discovered when I hit Serbia on the road back...but that's for later).
So I am already thinking Syria is a good place. Eventually I speed off into Syria, now looking for petrol before hitting the road to Aleppo. Unlike Turkey, where there are many well-appointed stations and all take credit cards, it's apparent that Syrian ones are well hidden and dirty, and often involve a little off-roading just to get to them.
It turns out to be a big, hot, bustling city...I stop in the traffic to shed some garments and my helmet, then follow signs to 'Old City' and am soon outside the Souk at Bab Antakia (Old Gate). My plan was to find a hotel just inside the Gate but it's clear that could be a suicide mission, given the small gate. Soon I am surrounded by a large crowd watching, or offering to help. A 12 or 13 yr old boy cycles up with his brother on the back and offers to guide me to the hotel area.
He is as good as his word...he plunges into the speeding traffic, little bro hanging on f0r dear life, while I try to follow him. He has not quite mastered the 'one way' concept, and that it might apply to me, so we are separated and then he finds me again.
The traffic is frantic and people dice with the cars:
I check into the New Arabia, a classic Arab hotel entered through a street door with the reception 1 floor up, and my room about 4 floors up. There are internal sitting rooms, away from the heat. As there is no lift, and the bell-boy is on the insolent side, I take great pleasure in loading him up with my heavy panniers and getting him to trudge up while I take the (slightly) lighter bags.
The high point of my room is the exotically decorated toilet:
Aleppo's souk (market) is vibrant and colourful...here are a series of photos which show the people, the food and the celebrated Aleppo soap:
Above, stacked bars of Aleppo soap, made to a secret recipe.
Tne magnificent citadel:
The streets are narrow but somehow these minivans make their way through the pedestrians...and when someone comes the other way, there is a big (but friendly) negotiation of who gets past who.
Traditional methods of carrying can still be seen:
I park my bike on the street outside the hotel...manager says that a car might be at risk, but not a big motor-bike...and so it proves to be.
So ends my first day in Syria...everywhere I go on the bike, people gather because there are few bikers.
simondippenhall screwed with this post 06-11-2008 at 01:16 PM
|06-10-2008, 10:29 PM||#51|
Joined: Jun 2008
Location: Littleton, Colorado
This is truly fantastic. Pity us poor North Americans who can't visit such amazingly varied places and peoples in such a short time.
|06-10-2008, 11:21 PM||#52|
Joined: Apr 2006
Hi Markya. I have great memories of a summer spent working in Denver when i was a student (lived off E Colfax), and weekends in the Rockies. Enjoy. regards Simon
|06-11-2008, 06:40 AM||#53|
Joined: Jun 2008
Excellent read. I'm riding to Turkey on the 1st July and gleaning as much info as possible.....riding back up through Greece, Albania etc. Appreciate it if you could tell me if they take credit cards at the fuel stations in Albania and do they pump unleaded ?
|06-11-2008, 10:32 AM||#54|
Joined: Apr 2006
I think it was unleaded but to be honest I did not pay much attention as I decatted my bike and it goes better on leaded anyway.
At no time in the 6 weeks of my trip did anyone try a fast one on me or try to rip me off (other than the price of icecreams at the Royal Diving Club in Aqaba, which is another subject which won't affect you!).
And be prepared to ride slow in Turkey! It's worth it.
PM me if you need more
Turkey all seem to take CC without problem.
|06-11-2008, 12:42 PM||#55|
Joined: Apr 2006
My relationship with Diana deteriorates....
From Aleppo in search of antiquities
I have developed a mixed relationship with Diana Darke today. She wrote the Bradt Guide to Syria, and we are not on the same wave-length when it comes to directions, and the true interest of historical sites. That may not be surprising, since she and I left University the same year (I know this from the Author Notes) and she has dedicated the intervening years to studying Syrian history and society, while I have not!
Be that as it may, I struggle mightily to find Qalb Loze, a Byzantine church tucked away miles from anywhere in the mountains.
On the way I see a lot of fields which seem mainly to be growing rocks
En route I find an impressive Roman road and a friendly guide who abandons his German charges to chat with me and have a photo taken.
There are also lots of beguiling local children
Qalb Lose (when I eventually find it!)
Once I do track down Qalb Loze after it is interesting but hardly worth the 20km of winding mountain road. The Druze villages on the approach go back many generations – Druze may not marry outside their sect, except in exceptional circumstances, Diana tell me. I fear I may be too much of a Philistine for true appreciation of all Syria has to offer. I must try harder tomorrow!
Here is one of many redheds I meet in Syria:
(Later on, when I dine with a French amateur historian in Palmyra, I get an answer to why there are so many redheads here - it is fascinating.
He tells me that the Franks of Northern Europe (including Normans etc) have many redheads, like in Normandy and indeed I reland. And they were many of the Crusaders, who never returned to Europe but intermarried in Syria and left their 'redhead' genetic legacy!
Despite the anti-climax of Qalb Loze, the back roads are fun and the little villages where I stop for cay and cakes are friendly. The bike, the GPS, and the Blackberry (for I have to make a call to London) all seem to create great interest.
The cake man in the village, and his workers:
Heading South for Hama I had my second disagreement with Diana, spending at least an hour going round in circles searching for Serjilla (try saying that fast!). This is one of the ‘Cities of the Dead’ – in exceptional condition but abandoned centuries ago as economic conditions changed. Apparently there are hundreds of these, and I struggled to find one!
Now it is time to head for Hama on what is billed as a motorway, although sheep driving, U-turning drivers and oncoming traffic on the verges mean it is (despite the common blue sign) not Motorway as we know it.
And the way of asking people not to speed is quaint:
Lots of interested bystanders on the way:
Hama, the town of moaning waterwheels on the River Orontes, also produces an adequate hotel in the Cairo Hotel and I dine in the Ali Baba café for $1.50. Under my hotel is a gym with apparently impressive credentials - I don't end up looking like this, however!
Waterwheels (wooden) at Hama
This is the day I have been looking forward to…a visit to the fabled Krak des chevaliers. Important to be there bright and early…or at least 9 am, before tourists arrive in any number.
|06-11-2008, 01:50 PM||#56|
Joined: Apr 2006
Crusader castles and more
The Syrian people I met were all happy to be photographed - this shepherd takes a rather more formal approach than the Cappadocian father and son below!
On the way to Krak I spotted a Syrian-style horse transport:
The Krak des Chevaliers is a superb Crusader castle…there I bumped into some Russian sailors whose ship was in Lattakia..I think Russia must still maintain close links with Syria (God knows they need the friends, given their history with Israel and bad habit of knocking off adjacent Premiers like Harire (sp?). And yet strikingly friendly people to the traveller - if I had accepted every invitation for tea I’d never have got to Jordan.
Krak des Chevaliers
From Krak des Chevalier I decide to head due North to a noted Assassin castle at Masyaf. My local advisers think this is a poor decision as they say the road is unclear - but my map shows it is plain sailing. As the road becomes alarmingly steep, and 2 locals cannot agree whether left or right is the better option, I begin to question my decision (and my map!).
But gradually my use of poll-testing bystanders gets a clear consensus that my objective is straight ahead and might even be attainable. And as I climb the mountain I note some interesting things:
- some fine villas appear, finished or in construction, which suggest that Saudis and others who frequent the Lebanese mountains to escape the summer heat, may be moving in.
-so far in Syria most women are heavily veiled, then I suddenly stumble across a mountain town - Non, c’est un village’ says my latest adviser, who speaks French from his Syria Univ education- which is populated by stunningly attractive and flirtatious women and girls all wearing the tightest jeans and not a veil to be seen. I quiz Monsieur and he says ‘c’est comme ca’. He invites me to socialise and have tea with his brother and himself but again, rudely, I claim I must catch up with the Assassins.
I make it to the castle which is impressive, but on a morning when I have toured Krak des Chevaliers it is like eating a hamburger after a fillet steak. As usual I get a local helper to guide me to my destination - this time an army officer hops on his mobylette and guides me down a rather uneven road, and as we get there the phone rings from a London head-hunter. Call dealt with, I do the tour and persuade the incredulous guardian of the Castle that I really did ride here from England.
Masyaf the Assassin castle, and local schoolkids at the castle (note the uniform is quite French)
The day went downhill from here because my next stop was to be the (apparently fabulous) ruins of Apamea…but I managed to totally miss the turn and ended up in Hama again. Frustrated, and ‘castled out’ for the day, I seek out a money-changer as I am running low on Syrian Pounds, and then head South for Damascus.
On the way to Damascus I begin to regret my decision to abort the Apamea visit, and decide to make amends by visiting Ma’aloula on the way. This is the last place where they speak Aramaic, as Jesus did, and had the added attraction of the shrine of St Tekla, approached by a long passageway where the rock parted to allow her to escape her attackers.
the 'parting of rocks' that saved St Tecla's virginity, according to history:
The ride got more interesting when the tarmac ended and we were on to gravel. I did my best ‘off-road God…stand on the pegs and go for it’, trying hard not to be overtaken by a Honda 125 with 2 blokes sitting on it.
After this excitement, Ma’aloula was a bit of a disappointment, but then again my Aramaic is a bit rusty too. Finding these places is also challenging as Garmin has its own way of punctuating which means I never seem to be able to find Syrian towns on the GPS! Even Damascus the capital is a problem because Garmin decides to spell it Dimashq.
This man swears to me that it really is 'Unleaded'
while this one serves me coffee as I refuel
As I approach Damascus, I head for Centre and then Old City. The traffic is very dense, very aggressive and it is the rush-hour and hot. So I pull up opposite the major souk and ask a passer-by for a hotel. Within 5 minutes I am installed in a hotel around the corner - it’s the low point so far for cleanliness and facilities (but see later episodes!), but the staff are very friendly (And chain-smokers as per local practice). Location is spot on, a short walk from the souk, and they tell me it’s fine to park outside on the street.
So I go and tour the souk al-hammadiye, which is alive and full of people. Its ceiling has a lovely, astral appearance because of little star-like holes - not the work of a designer but thousands of bullet-holes from the local reaction to imposition of the French Mandate in 1923!
Then on to the Mosque which is half the size of a football field, or more, and very beautiful. There was a church in part of it, a reminder that Damascus is like a big stack pancake with layers of history and religion interwoven everywhere.
A Roman section of the souk
On the way back I rescue some Russians …but that’s for the next instalment!
simondippenhall screwed with this post 08-26-2008 at 01:34 AM
|06-11-2008, 02:18 PM||#57|
Joined: Apr 2006
As I walked back from dinner
...I saw the first foreign bikers I had seen since entering Turkey. It's dark and the traffic is frantic, but I spot 3 Russian bikes pulling in to look at maps. I introduce myself and find they are looking for a hotel...so I suggest mine, if they can live with its run-down nature.
At 9 pm after a long day, they are more than happy. Although one has GPS, they seem to be working from Black and White photocopies of old maps...not the easiest way!
New-found Russian friends:
Bait Jabri restaurant on an old home
A first morning in Damascus
I go out and have breakfast in a little shop, whose inhabitants (there is a cook and 2 waiters) are bounded by what can only be 3 metres by 6 metres, if that. A hole in the ceiling turns out to be access to the loft, where they sleep. Together we and a Bedouin watch graphic footage of fighting in Beirut. All agree that it may not be a good time to visit there, so I decide to postpone the visit to Lebanon!
At about 8.15 I return to find uproar at the hotel as a tow-truck assesses how to tow away our motor-bikes. The manager is yelling, I think offended that his hospitality has been shamed by the police onslaught on foreign bikers. There is time to save the day, however, and the manager scurries up the street to find suitable pavement space for the bikes…which is OK with the police.
So now I have a day in Damascus ahead, so much to do.
First stop is the National Museum which has an amazing collection including a whole synagogue lifted from Doura Europos, near the Iraqi border. The Museum took some finding, but it was worth it.
After this I spent the day exploring Damascus, all its various quarters including the vibrant Christian quarter where St Paul’s church sits.
I was enveloped in a sea of schoolchildren who blocked the streets and pushed aside all-comers as they raced out of school on their lunch-break.
I visited the bank – extraordinary experience – air-conditioned marbled hall, 2 security guards, I am given a number which is announced and then I am ushered to the desk where a young English-speaking lady gives me the money…but I am the only customer, with swarms of clerks and managers. Yet I manage to get a better exchange rate than from the money-changers who have no overheads –explain that.
I step outside to the dusty street where a 15 meter length of carpet is rolled out and being measured by 2 assistants, nodding wisely at each other. I expect the consequences of mis-measuring would be horrific.
Then to a tea-house, where I sit and listen to a TV Mullah laying into the ‘CIA’, pronounced as we do and with a tone of loathing for much he fears or hates. Then home to my meagre hotel, which does however offer each guest his own prayer-mat.
From Damascus to Palmyra
Now to the desert, to the ancient (and remarkably preserved in the sand) Roman trading post of Palmyra, about 90 miles from the Iraqi border. It’s a battle finding the right road out of Damascus and so I miss the last petrol station. By the time I am on the Palmyra road, I come to a petrol station which is locked and closed.
I take the road for Bagdad:
So now I have a 120 mile journey and 70 miles in the tank. The map is ambiguous about where petrol lies – a local tells me there is one a few km along. None to be seen so I ask again…I am told there is one in 30 km. So I do my analysis and see I can still turn around if it doesn’t show up and make it to Damascus, and avoid a premature death in the desert.
There is a petrol station in 30 km but it is long dead, with only the husk of old pumps, and a young minder who has difficulty understanding when I ask where Benzine is. I scramble for my Arab phrase book, which helps… a little. He thinks in a few km there will be petrol.
The dead petrol station
And a whole lot of desert:
Not far to Iraq:
There is no petrol station. I ask a Bedouin who thinks Allah will provide. My next informant (a group napping by the road-side) are certain there is one in 40 km. We discuss the difference between 4 and forty and write out 40.
So I decide to go beyond my ‘point of no return’, reasoning that the worst that can happen is that I hitch with someone to a petrol station however distant, and set off. And right over the brow there is a big petrol station, at the Iraq turn.
Suddenly the world seems better with 220 miles in the tank. Then I have a dramatic swerve and find ahead a pool of oil across the road, where a truck has spilt its guts. I mark the spot ‘DIE’ on my GPS and carry on serenely and soon find the Bagdad café, where I meet an Italian biker on his way to Aqaba. His friend, an Italian policeman, had been refused a Syrian visa and so he rode alone.
Bagdad cafe (by name, not location):
|06-11-2008, 03:40 PM||#59|
Joined: Apr 2006
that's it for tonight
Getting a bit too detailed, I think...but thanks for reading. Turning in now (11h40 London time) so will try to pep it up in the next episode which takes me toward Jordan
|06-11-2008, 10:47 PM||#60|
kiwi in NL
Joined: Mar 2008
hanging on every word
[quote=simondippenhall]Getting a bit too detailed, I think...but thanks for reading. quote]
Not at all Simon! lovin' every bit of it! ... keep it coming! It's a fantastic read!
Though not sure how productive I'll be at the office today as i day dream of petrol hunting in the middle of Syrian desert...
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