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December 14th, 2010 | Asia

Exiting Lebanon was Snow Joke…!!

A few kilometres after escaping the early morning traffic of Beirut, the road began climbing steeply into the mountain range that divides Lebanon from Syria… Considering my first impressions of this country, I found it ironic that these mountains are known as the Anti-Lebanon Mountains…!! Anti Lebanon indeed…!! Even the mountains don’t like the place…!!

The sky was a brilliant blue and the temperatures not nearly as low as I had expected… Up ahead I could see snow on the higher ground, but had no idea in exactly which direction the road would take me, having hidden my GPS before I crossed the border into Lebanon… I had been warned in Syria (where the authorities also get a little itchy when they see a GPS on a foreign owned vehicle…) that the Lebanese security forces might well confiscate my GPS…!!

The road was wet all the way from the lower elevations and up into the mountains… Water covered the surface a few inches deep in places… The road was acting as a channel for the melting snow, and made riding up the steep and sharply cornered pass more than a little tricky… A very long series of hairpin bends and short straights took us through the village of Aley, and up to the higher elevations, in excess of 800 m.a.s.l…

And into a winter wonderland…!!

The hills all around were covered in a deep layer of snow, some of the cars parked on the roadside, were up to their bonnets in the stuff…!!

Climbing up into the mountains above Beirut... A sight I was NOT prepared for...!!

Some villages had been cut off from the capital for two days...!! They were probably delighted...!! As far as I'm concerned, they could cut me off from Beirut for the rest of my life...!!

I began riding through small patches of ice, the rear tyre losing grip, causing the bike to twist and squirm underneath me…

Who the heck ordered this stuff...!!

It was difficult to tell ice from water, and I eventually gave up trying to make the distinction, and just concentrated on staying upright…!!

It was difficult to keep my eyes on the road, as the beauty of the landscape all around me just begged to be looked at…

The Big Fella and the snow... Goes anywhere, he does...!!

Distractions such as these were not what I needed...!!

I stopped in places where I judged it to be safe, but on one occasion stepped off the bike and onto a large sheet of ice that saw me running on the spot for a few seconds while my arms cart-wheeled around me, until with a wild lunge, I managed to grab hold of the top box…

This narrowly prevented my face from making painful and unnecessary contact with the road…!!

It also gave an old man passing me on a tractor, a few minutes of intense joy, judging by the laughter that came back to me on the wind…!!

When I passed him a few minutes later, I shook my fist in his general direction, which caused him to double up with laughter again…!!

The closer I got to the border, the deeper the snow drifts were on either side of the road…

A snow plough had very thoughtfully cleared just one of the two lanes in either direction, and this meant that overtaking the slower moving trucks was almost impossible…

On occasion, I did let impatience (and the ice cold spray coming off the trucks in front) get the better of me, and I shot past them where the road was only slightly wider…

Exhilarating stuff, especially with the Big Fella shouting “Nooooooooo….!!” in my ear….or maybe that was me…!!

Once, as I was passing (on a straight piece of road mercifully), I felt my left pannier hook into the top of a snow drift, but luckily it was of the soft fluffy variety, and did not cause the expected “wobble”…!!

Which was a good thing, as I might have “wobbled” under the wheels of the truck which was only inches from my right elbow…!!

Passing was always going to be tricky...!!

Great...!! Only 35 km more of this....!!

When I finally got to the Lebanese border post, the two guards on duty came out of their warm office to gape at the Big Fella and I…

“You come from Beirut…??”  one asked, with an incredulous look on his face…

“Hell no, I just dropped out of the sky a half mile back…!!” I replied, “What have you done with the desert…?? It’s supposed to be around here somewhere…!!”

They both laughed and waved me though without checking my passport, shaking their heads as I passed them by…

The Immigration office was at the top of a steep rise, and I was forced to park on a slippery piece of tarmac… I stood staring down at the side stand, watching as it slowly slid backwards, a few millimeters at a time…

I called the soldier at the gate over and pointed at the bike which was inching inexorably down the slope and if left alone would surely end up in the main street of the little village which lay directly behind us…!!

He agreed to let me ride through the huge arches where the final checks were done, and then walk back to get my passport stamped…

Just $66 for a camera...!! That looks like a good deal...!!

I was through the border in minutes, and then had to ride a few kilometres through a steeply sided mountain pass, to get to the Syrian border post…

In some places, there was still snow on the road, and I rode in the tracks made by a truck that had gone on ahead of me… The track was so narrow that the tips of my boots were scooping up snow as we went along…!! I had to shake shovels-full of the stuff off my boots every so often…!!

There was chaos at the Syrian border…!! Trucks were stuck in the snow, leaving only a narrow gap through which cars slipped and slid to get through… The large parking area had been rejected as a safe place to enter and leave your car, as the chances of getting it out again were slim…

Shoveling snow off the roof at the border...

And where exactly is this desert...!! Who says God doesn't have a sense of humour...??

I had to buy another visa but got this one a little cheaper than the first one I had got when I had entered Syria from Turkey, paying only $25.00 this time… I gave them the “48 hour story” again, and they bought it…!!

Then there was $8.00 “something or other tax” and another SP 100.00 entry tax…

“Will this pay for diesel for the snow plough to do some work…?” I asked with an innocent look on my face as I handed the money over…

“You are funny man…!! You can go….and enjoy the snow…. It is beautiful, yes…?” the guy replied…

And he was right….on both counts…!!

The Road to Damascus wasn't supposed to look like this...!!

Right, I'll just open the throttle wide shall I...!!

It was slippery and dangerous….and beautiful…!!

I had got the hang of the conditions now, and stopped worrying about going down… I told the Big Fella that it was just another wet road, and to stop behaving like a virgin on her honeymoon night…!! That got him miffed, and he took me down and out of the mountains at a speed that I was a little uncomfortable with…!!

Thanks Guys, but make it a warm welcome next time...!! Please...!!

On the winding road into Damascus, the Syrians had seen fit to clear almost all the snow off it, and both lanes of the highway were open… We broke out of the pass and below us in the valley, all the fields were still covered in a blanket of white… I slowed right down and cruised down the final hill and into a small village, where people were shoveling snow off the sidewalks in front of their homes, laughing and shouting to each other, clearly enjoying the novelty of this unusual exercise…

I had planned to meet up with the “Lean, Mean, Pedaling Machine” (Stefan) in Damascus, but an email from him the night before advised that he was leaving early this morning for Jordan, so I bypassed the city and headed south, stopping to refuel at a place known as Kiswah…

I avoided the city centre of Damascus, and made a bee-line for Jordan...

Note to BMW... The 1200GS takes more than 22 litres...!! How many more times must I prove it, dammit...!!

I could have “kiswah’ed” the ground AND the Big Fella as I muttered a silent prayer of thanks for making it up and over the mountains in one piece…

It had been far tougher getting up to the border…, real seat of the pants riding in places, more often than not, pants did not seem to be in contact with the seat…!!

Coming down into Damascus had been easier, and much less stressful… Maybe it was because I wasn’t paying much attention to the road anymore, but rather enjoying the amazing, snow covered landscape around me, and amazed at myself for staying in the saddle through it all…!!

As I hopped off the bike,  I did a slow 360, staring all around me… There was not a bit of snow in sight…!!

We had left it behind us as we entered Damascus… The special spell I had ridden through was broken and things were “normal” again…

The attendant “ooh’ed” and “aah’ed” over the bike, until I took out my camera and showed him the photos of the snow I had ridden through to get there, then he lapsed into silence, before finally saying…

“You must not do that again…!! You will break your motorcycle…!!”

No word on what might happen to me, but plenty of concern for the bike…!!

Keep your radar on the road and off us, and we will remain firm friends...!!

Not bloody likely, its too cold back there...!!

From there, all the way to the Jordanian border, the countryside was wide and flat, scoured by a freezing cold wind, despite the fact that the sun shone brightly…

I got to the border at 2.00pm, and decided that it was not worth trying to ride into Amman today… There was only two and a half hours of daylight left, and Amman was almost 100 kilometres further on… I had a feeling that the border crossing would take longer than an hour and a half, and I was proved correct the following day…

I rode back to Dera’a, which I had passed a short while before and settled into the White Rose Hotel…

Compared to Beirut, it was half the price, and twice as nice…!!

Then the spaghetti with the dodgy mince arrived…

©GBWT 2010

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