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Old 06-11-2008, 11:42 PM   #61
shay
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Excellent read !!
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Old 06-12-2008, 12:03 AM   #62
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Thank you for the time and effort you've put into / are putting into this report as it's one of the best that I've read for a long time.

The pictures and the commentary are truly inspirational, it's making want to pack up my bike and do the same trip.

Keep writing, I'm reading!
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Old 06-12-2008, 08:02 AM   #63
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Venice of the Desert

...is how Palmyra is described, according to my guidebook. And I am keen to get there, now that I have refuelled the bike and myself (an excellent breakfast at the Bagdad cafe, with hard-boiled eggs, tomato and cucumber, sweet cakes, coffee....I eat all I can in case the next meal is a while coming.

On the road I am puzzled to see puddles of water, and realise that it can rain in the desert. When I get to Palmyra later I learn it did indeed rain heavily the night before my arrival. Timing is everything.

Rainfall in the desert:



A bus-shelter (literally!)


Sadly there were no races the day I visited:

When I get there I treat myself to a posh hotel in Tadmur (Palmyra town) for £25 as a one-off, justifying it by the tip I stayed in in Damascus and because I seem to be travelling well within my mental budget.


I jump on the bike to start to explore the ruins, which are more extensive tham most and a wonderful sandstone. I start from the 'far end' (they are huge) and there are virtually no tourists and I walk down the main street. This town made its money on trade, charging for goods passing through. The tariffs have been discovered by archaeologists and it seems there was a particularly high duty on fish from Sea of Galilee, olive oil, and prostitutes!




The agora (market) and the sanctuary of Bel are particularly impressive.


Here are some photos of Palmyra:



I am sure I know how to work this camera by now:



Date palms growing in the verdant oasis




Palmyra ruins



Ampitheatre (I will see more in Bosra and then in Jerash and Petra!). Romans went to the movies a lot! : }





At sunset I ride up to the Arab Citadel which overlooks Palmyra. There is a fiercely strong wind, and a group of German tourists who manage to drop and break their bottle of wine...so red wine everywhere.






I also meet the first UK reg vehicle since leaving Europe...an old Landy being driven to Capetown by Craig (Aussie) and Jodie (S/African). They have the right mental approach...hope to be there by October but no big deal if we aren't.


Together we demolish some big bottles of local beer and swap experiences. Some random person had smashed their side-window in Rome so they were glad to be well clear of Europe.


'Trust in God, but tie your camel' (Bedouin saying).

By this stage, having parked my bike in the street in both Aleppo and Damascus, I felt pretty relaxed about people's honesty and in a way I would not in Europe. Generally the few travellers I met were positive about this aspect of both Syria and Jordan.



I go to bed happy with my beer consumption and resolved to get up at dawn (c 5 am!) to see the ruins again at sunrise.

I wake about 5.30 wishing I had drunk less beer and lay and pondered whether it was worth getting up. I decide to move and am glad I did. The light was good:




Then back to bed!




When I leave Palmyra, in the middle of the desert (next stop Iraq) I will be headed to Bosra.



But first I need fuel (again). I won't make the same mistake of setting out with a half-empty tank, so I ask a passer-by where the pertrol station is. He leads me there.


My petrol guide...normally his wife would have been on also. Note more Syrian redheads.


The first station in town is out of fuel, so we set off together and finally find what we need. He sets off while I refuel:




Eventually I get back on the road to Damascus (en route to Bosra), relaxed (partly because I know this road) and looking forward to Jordan. I see a bike by the road at Bagdad café…a Croat couple on a KTM990 having a refreshment break on their way East. They are doing a 25 day circuit down to Aqaba from near Zagreb. Well-loaded!


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Old 06-12-2008, 08:17 AM   #64
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I begin to think Beirut might be a bad place to visit......

Last night I find myself stuck on Damascus’s version of the M25, except that it narrows down to one road which is sign-posted BEIRUT 100k’. My plan was to go to Bosra on the Jordan border, and then cross over today (Sunday). It was definitely not to participate in the current regime melt-down and stand-off betwen Hezbollah and the Lebanese government.


I begin to worry. How can I have missed a sign to a whole country, Jordan? Embarrassing. I start to worry because, although I have only seen Arabic TV, there are enough scenes of riot and flames, and nods from all the TV watchers when I ask if this is about Beirut, to convince me that I should wait a little (or indeed, a lot) before crossing to the Lebanon.


I am jumping ahead, in case anyone gives a monkey’s and wonders where I will end up. To kill the suspense, I am writing this from Rose’s Internet cafe in Jerash, Jordan, formerly a major Roman City and (yet another) set of finely preserved old buildings and Ionic columns.



So where did this all go wrong? The trip across the desert roads to Damascus was fine, I had enough fuel, and the deadly patch of oil, carefully tracked on my GPS, was almost all gone, picked up by passing cars. It was the return to comparative civilisation, and the overload of road-sgns on the big Damascus ring-road, that must have thrown me off track.



Once recovered, I have a good ride to Bosra. I am surprised by how fertile the land is, and how well irrigated.











.........
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Old 06-12-2008, 08:21 AM   #65
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Are the Simpsons running Syria?

Everyone is patriotic in Syria and has flags and banners supporting their country. I am given a gift of a Syrian flag sticker for my bike, and everyone nods approvingly when they see it alongside the other national stickers of the countries I have passed through.

However there is one common sticker of Assad Bashir which looks just like Ned Flanders and gets me thinking whimsically what might really be going on.

Team Ned Flanders Racing:
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Old 06-12-2008, 10:43 AM   #66
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Another Roman city...and I sleep on a bench

Bosra is the number 2 Roman city in Syria after Palmyra.
When I get to Bosra, I discover there is only one hotel and it is well outside my budget, being one of the Cham hotels. Fortunately I am approached in the square by Zacharie who offers me accommodation in a restaurant on the square. It's closed and i can have it for the night, and he'll provide dinner and breakfast. Sounds like a plan, particularly as he (really) is a guide who works part of the year with the German and italian archeologists.
My restaurant bed:


I quote :
Bosra (also called Bozrah or Bostra; Arabic: Busra ash-Sham) is an ancient city 67 miles (108 km) south of Damascus. Once the capital of the Roman province of Arabia, Bosra was an important stopover on the ancient caravan route to Mecca.
Bosra's most impressive feature is its superbly well-preserved Roman theater, complete with tall stage buildings. And there are also early Christian ruins and several old mosques to be found within its great walls.

As you see from the photos below, it is also interesting because of the black basalt of which it was built.





The greatest interest for me was this has been (and is still being) excavated and Zacharie had grown up in the ruins before all the locals were rehoused 600 mts away so it could be dug up. So as we walked around we saw a mosque above us which he remembered having to walk down steps to but now you had to walk up to. And there are many layers of building from Roman and (I think) Nabatean times.


I dine with Zacharie - here he is puffing a nargileh, with his nephew in background.

He (Zacharie) is age 24 but looking older and short on sleep because ‘he just got married’.



and his friend, who is from Damascus and a Christian. (Cross on right arm is a bit of a giveaway). Seems 10% of Syrians are Christian.



They leave me and I go to sleep - not well because of mozzies and the scutterings of mice (or rats?) looking for abandoned food in the restaurant.

Because I am sleeping directly opposite, in the morning I am the first into the famous ampitheatre (a World Heritage Site) and have it to myself for an hour. This is largely unrestored, by contrast with other sites like Jerash.






Here is a workman's bucket made from a car or truck tyre


............
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Old 06-12-2008, 11:11 AM   #67
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Crossing into Jordan

Crossing into Jordan
I debate whether to take a country road frontier post out of Syria and into Jordan, because they are often simpler, but I opt for the main road in case there are any insurance issues to sort out in which case I need an insurance office.
Big mistake!
As I pull in I see a fleet of 20-30 German charity rally cars and their 50 occupants, who proceed to gum up the frontier for hours. After 30 minutes I decide some Arab-style queuing is called for, and I bypass the queue. A loud German expletive I ignore.

The fleet of German rallyists:






As I get to the desk the Director of Syrian Customs emerges and, seeing the rallyists, starts to address them as a group: ‘Adolf Hitler – what a man!’ as he kisses his fingers and applauds him loudly loudly and repeatedly. The Germans are frozen with embarrassment, and cringe. Afterwards they tell me this is not the first time in Syria they have this experience.
Then into Jordan where most of the officials are curter and less friendly than in Syria, and I pay my 35JD custom duty and 22JD for 1 months insurance. As ever, the 1 week option is too short and one month too long.
Some instant observations:
  • Looks a little cleaner and better off than Syria, although the petrol stations are also shoddy and concealed like Syria
  • No motorcycles to be seen except police bikes
  • People are friendly but not as much or as overtly as in Syria where people came up and shook hands all the time
Then I am free to head for Jerash, near Amman and a major Roman site. For some reason the GPS will not acknowledge Jerash in any spelling of the name I can think of.



First view of Jerash from the mountains


I stop for hotel advice and get sent on a wild goose chase out to the Olive tree Hotel 7km out of town when I ask for a City Centre hotel. So I regain the town and pop into an internet café and ask if anyone knows a hotel. A young lad of 13 or 14 offers to lead me to a hotel, and rides pillion with me to it. We end up at Hadrian’s Gate Hotel right by the Roman site – it transpires there are only 2 hotels in town anyway, and this one is so clean you could breakfast off the floor! It’s also a lot better located. The manager insists I garage the bike immediately and walk, telling me it will be stolen. Funny how the small places seem to fear more than in the big cities which the bike has already survived!

My (3-bed) hotel room in Jerash


Hadrian's gate:


I set off for a tour and get told off for trying to sneak a look at the gladiator show being staged without buying a separate ticket! Even without this, the site is extensive and impressive.



A phony gladiator...separate ticket required!




I stop for a lunch in a big shady restaurant with Saudi families tucking away at the tasty food. Here is the menu!


Refreshed I tackle Jerash again – you can clearly see the ruts from the carriage traffic in Roman times.



As the afternoon lengthens the crowd is largely gone, and it’s time to enjoy the Louvre exhibition there which includes original paint from the walls.


That evening I stroll around time and meet the police – their senior officer first refuses to sallow a photograph, then changes his mind and poses for one.


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Old 06-12-2008, 12:25 PM   #68
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Fantastic!!

It all brings back great memories of my travels through this area!! Thanks so much for the continued commentary and pics

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Old 06-12-2008, 12:49 PM   #69
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The Dead Sea

Next morning I set off for Petra via the Dead Sea.



You can almost see the heat haze as i descend toward the Dead Sea


The heat is intense, and I stop at Amman Beach (resort) to try the floating on water.



It’s a Monday and the resort is untidy with the detritus of the weekend. Shower facilities are very basic and I ride off afterwards feeling saltier than I would have wished-not a great combination in oppressive heat, 400 mts below sea level.


The lowest I get on GPS is -383mts





Floating in /on the Dead Sea




Some peolpe remain proper:




The road south along the Dead Sea has lots of checkpoints, and evidence of listening equipment aimed at the Israeli side visible across the Sea. By the time I get to Potash City the heat is getting to me and I head for Karak and the mountains – the King’s Highway which will take me on a switchback ride to Wadi Musa (Petra). I have to check petrol as there are few stations – happily, I learn Karak (famed for its castle) has one and I should be able to make that.


It pays to be vigilant as there are many speed-bumps, some side-by-side, but the massive geology is a distraction.


Entering Wadi Musa I ask for hotels and look up to see there are all around me – M’hamid of Orient Gate lures me in, amidst a Wild West feel to the town. His traveller-style place, whilst basic, looks good and I negotiate a 3-bed room with a balcony for a reasonable 15JD. My co-guests in the hotel include 4 students from EMU (US’s Eastern Mennonite University), a new one for me.


M'hamid tells me that 4.30 pm is really too late to visit Petra so that will be for first thing tomorrow....I can hardly wait (I am a big Indiana Jones fan in case you didn't guess!).
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Old 06-12-2008, 01:00 PM   #70
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To go on or not?

I have just got a message as I enter Jordan that there is a ship leaving Ashdod in Israel that will take the bike back to London for a reasonable price , allowing me to fly back having achieved the Red Sea.

So now I start to think about the Pros and Cons of this:

Pro

Allows me to enter Israel without worrying about return thru Syria (which would not be possible)
Financially not much different than cost of riding back
Avoids the potential hassle of unpaid fines in Turkey etc, plus riding across this huge country at 45 mph
Bike will have done about 5000 miles already so maybe avoids mechanical problems
Allows me to visit Jerusalem and other Holy sites

Con

I love the ride
I have already been to Israel
Misses out on places like Istanbul, Serbia I was saving for the road home
It ain't the same if you don't ride the bike back to your front door

I continue to debate this, on paper and in my mind, for the next week or so - the boat time means I will have to be in Ashdod (nr Tel Aviv) by 27 May.

Watch this space for the answer.

Simon
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Old 06-12-2008, 01:22 PM   #71
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Fantastic trip

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Old 06-12-2008, 02:01 PM   #72
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your report is fantastic!! it is a pleasure to read it, and the pictures are great too.

If you will decide to enter israel, you are more than welcome to make contact !

cheers!

Eldad G.


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Old 06-12-2008, 04:43 PM   #73
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Great report....so exciting to read and look at the various pics. Thanks for sharing.
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Old 06-12-2008, 08:44 PM   #74
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Once again from Denver

I live too close to E. Colfax. The longest commercial strip in America!

I see a disconnect here... The boat leaves May 27 (a coupla weeks ago), and your pictures are time-stamped yesterday?

You appear to be a very brave man (foolish? Thin line? ). The Middle East comes across on the nightly news as a very scary place. I propose that your travelogue dispels that thinking smartly. I wish more people could see the warmth and hospitality afforded you by our Arab brothers. Seven years since September 11th and America is just starting to mind the baby in the bath-water. Maybe we can get past the eye-for-an-eye approach to foreign relations.

Your compatriot Michael Palin has done a lot (at least in this country) for opening our eyes to travel. This forum and your posts have opened mine even wider.

Cheers
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Old 06-12-2008, 09:13 PM   #75
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Great job! Thank you,

Oregon, USA
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