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December 4th, 2010 | Asia

Ride to Syria…

The power had gone off again in the area around the Olba Hotel, so there was no chance of an early morning cup of coffee to get my day started on the right footing…!!

We passed this Ottoman Castle on the way to Mersin...

In Erdemli, they keep a VERY close watch on the population...

I was eager to get to the Syrian border as quickly as possible, and decided to take the toll road as far as I could before turning south for Antakya….

A few kilometres beyond Silifke, I passed the massive castle of Kizkalesi, which I had wanted to visit, but never had the time to…

I skirted Mersin and Adana, and then headed south towards Erzin and Dortyol. This is at the very eastern edge of the Mediterranean Sea and home to many of Turkey’s largest industrial companies… At Eskenderun, two huge oil refineries spewed clouds of pollution into the air, and for miles, a hazy curtain of foul smelling cloud hung above us…

I could have entered Syria from the north, via Gaziantep, but chose the closer option via Antakya instead...

In bright sunshine, the first sign to Aleppo appears on the motorway...

I wondered if Willi would not have prefered this option, rather than load his GS like a pack-horse...!! Yeah.... I know...!! Pot, Kettle, black...!!

I stopped to refuel at midday, barely 50 kms from the Syrian border, having made very good time along the O53 motorway… I had not stopped for breakfast and the filling station I stopped at did not serve any food…!! I was offered a cup of sweet tea by the attendant, and dug out a packet of biscuits from my tank bag to share with him… And that was lunch…!!

Last request to Turkish Roads Department...: For heaven's sake put some crash barriers up on this corner...!! I nearly didn't make it to the border...!! Bloody fools...!!

I rode on through Belen and Kirikhan, climbing up over a mountain pass and experiencing the first cool weather for a long time… The last big town before the border is Reyhanli, which was surrounded by freshly ploughed fields where potatoes and carrots seemed to have been the major crops…

After a total of 35 days in Turkey, it was Gule-Gule to them from me....!!

I arrived at the border post of Beb al Hawa at 12.45pm, and spent the next three hours battling red tape…!! It was very similar to Egypt, except a lot cheaper…!!

What made it even more difficult, was the fact that there was hardly a single sign in English and this made working out where to go next, a bit of a mission…

This has to be one of Syria biggest and busiest ports of entry, as leading up to the border, I had passed a line of parked trucks that extended for at least five kilometres…!! How long they had been there, and how much longer it would take them to get moving again, was anybody’s guess…!!

The border itself was the worst kind of organized chaos that I had encountered since some of those in Africa…

And hello to a dusty, litter-filled Syria...!! You have nothing better to do...?? WELL COME to Syria...!!

My first stop was at “passport control”… I stood in line for half an hour, just so the officer could open the front cover, glance at me and then at the photo, before handing my passport back to me and waving me on…

No stamp, no checking for my (non-existent) visa… Nothing…!!

A few hundred metres further on, I parked the Big Fella and tried to figure out what I needed to do next… I walked into the largest building I could see, hoping to find somebody who spoke English, and was lucky enough to meet the guy who sold Third Party Insurance, who gave directions to half a dozen offices that I would have to visit before coming back to him for Insurance…

I filled in a visa application, which was “faxed to Damascus”, for authorization… When the officer explained this to me, I began thinking about pitching my tent at the border, but mercifully, the reply came back in 15 minutes and the process of working my way through the system began…!!

The country counter is ticking again Dudes...!! Syria is No: 61...!!

I had to go and deposit $33.00 into the Immigration’s bank account, get a slip of confirmation, and return to the visa office to get my “Stamp”… Then it was on to passport control proper, where another stamp was added… Then down to Insurance, which cost $30.00, and on to Road Tax which lightened my wallet by another $10.00…

They should never have been allowed to upgrade from the humble Chariot...!!

“Am I done now…?” I asked…

“Oh, no… Now we have to deal with your motorcycle…!!” the agent replied…

I reached for my wallet again…

“There is the registration, and local tax to take care of, and of course, you must pay for stamps…!!”

“I already have three stamps in my passport…!! How many more do I get before I can enter…??”

“A few… But let me help you so that it can go faster…!!”

The remainder of the fees had to be paid in Syrian Pounds, so it was back to the bank to change money, and get more confirmation slips, and then back to my good friend, where I handed him a total of SP 3000.00 to cover the list of costs that he had outlined…

Massive billboards depicting the young president of Syria, are eveywhere...

I wrote everything down in my little book of numbers, and made certain I was not being ripped off, double-checking every piece of paper, and making him repeat over and over what everything was for…

All in all, including the cost of the visa, my entry into Syria cost about $90.00, about R600.00, which was half of what it had cost to get into Egypt…

And, by acting as dumb as I could, I avoided paying any baksheesh…!!

Within minutes of entering the border, I stopped to put my GPS back into its holder, as I had been advised to hide it away, just in case customs wanted me to fill in a declaration form for it…!!

I had managed to get through without being searched, thanks to the insurance agent who took all my documents forward while I waited in the queue, and then after a short chat with the officer searching all the cars in front of me, he waved me through and handed me my documents as I passed him…

“Welcome to Syria…!!” he shouted as I rode off to present my passport to the final checkpoint, where all my stamps were carefully scrutinized by a policeman lugging an automatic rifle…

The first things that struck me as I entered Syria, was the amount of litter everywhere, and the next, was the kamikaze drivers…!!

The main road to Aleppo looked as though rubbish had been spread out on its verges as some kind of bizarre decoration…!!

The road surface itself was bumpy with patchwork repairs that had been undertaken over a long length of time… There were only the faintest remnants of a painted middle line, and as a result, traffic swerved from one side of the road to the other, avoiding oncoming cars that had no concept of which side of the road they were meant to be on…!!

I dueled with three wheeled “scooter-trucks”, buses, trucks, clapped out pickups, and the odd horse and cart…!!

I reminded myself that these folk had started out with chariots over 2000 years ago, and in my humble opinion, should never have been allowed to upgrade to motorized forms of transport…!!

Luckily the road-signs have been translated, otherwise I could have ended up wandering in the desert for years to come...!!

It came as no surprise that on entering Aleppo, I noticed that on every street corner, a traffic officer was stationed, and whistle permanently in mouth, were doing their best to bring sanity to the madness…!!

With daylight fading fast, I followed the signs pointing to the city centre, narrowly avoiding being knocked down by the myriad of yellow taxis that swarmed down every street…

As darkness fell, I put on all my lights, including my hazards, and this must have had the madmen of Aleppo thinking I was a police officer, as everybody gave me a wide berth after that…!!

I pulled over to the kerb at the first big hotel I saw, deciding that discretion should now take the place of valor…!!

Turned out that I had chosen one of the more expensive hotels in the city to stop at, and ended up having to pay the price for getting out of the traffic…!!

My introduction to Syria and the city of Aleppo had been a hair raising one, but I had been through all this before, and knew that by tomorrow, I would have settled into the old third world way of driving, and getting things done…

©GBWT 2010

7 comments to Ride to Syria…

  • Mark Behr

    Syria at last. Great progress. Hope you enjoy the hustle and bustle.

  • Those roads are made like that specially for us … any time you wish, you go off road with a GS 🙂
    Have no regrets, look forward and ride my friend.

    Remember what my signature is?
    “Live to Learn and Learn to Live!”
    Romos

  • Kim

    I suppose all holidays have to come to an end…. “Well come to Syria” – I think!!!!!
    BIG kisses
    K

  • Tibor

    I would like to inform you and the “wide masses” that the sidecar bike (recommended to Willi) is a Soviet made IZH Planeta 3 from the late sixties. Two stroke engine, 16 BHP, max speed ( solo ): 95 km/h.
    But still alive! 40 years in service – at least.

  • Tibor, the walking encyclopedia…!!! How the hell are you my friend…?? Have you guys cleaned up that Red Sludge mess yet…?? Don’t make me come up there…!! B.T.W., that side-car scooter would only reach a speed of 95 km/h if it was dropped down a mine shaft….!! Preferably with the idiot who was riding it, firmly strapped into the side-car…!! R.

  • Vince Ricci

    Welcome back to true Gypsy Biker terrain and situations… No more cushy Mediterranean tours for a while!

  • Åke

    And now in the year of 2013 , the President in Syria makes a living hell for people in the
    country. Lucky you that you where there before the terrible things started and stills
    continues !!

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