Monday, October 31, 2005

Getting into Syria....

Made it into Syria. High anxiety at the border, but, was finally successful.

I need to catch up on the last few days. Wednesday morning, we left our hotel in Petra very early, 0545, to catch the morning sun on the ancient buildings. Tony & I slept on the Hotel roof and had a very good sleep! The ticket office at the Petra site opens at 0600 but the fellow sold us tickets at 0550 and we hustled down the dirt road. Magnificent narrow and high canyon passage to the "Treasury Building", one of the fearure photos of Petra. Saw it in the morning light in silence. Spent six hours walking through the site, the highlight,after a long hot climb to a mountain top, being the "Monastary", carved out of the sandstone cliff. 45 metres high, ... about 140 feet! As we descended, the hordes of noisey bus-tourists were flooding in. We were glad we arrived very early.

We motored up the Kings Highway, through the beautiful and stark mountains to Al Karak and found a secluded, or so we thought, place to camp on the outskirts of the mountain town. We has some locals visit us as we were making supper. They were very friendly but we didn't have much language in common. Next mornng, we motored back up the mountain to see the fortress built by the Crusaders in about 1140. A fantastic castle, very well preserved, with spectacular views down to the Dead Sea. Motored down the twisty, well paved road through the canyon to the flat plain with Israeli cliffs on the other side. The road goes north up the East side of the Dead Sea and was a beautiful ride. Mountains to the right and the sun flashing on the Dead Sea to the left. We stopped a a private beach for a swim, one of the "must do" things we had agreed. Water was refreshingly cool and so salty that I had to tread water to keep my feet DOWN! If I had a newspaper, I could have floated on my back and read it.

After a shower and a very nice sit in the sun, we motored off to Amman, about 40 minutes up the hills. The Dead Sea is over 1000 ft. below sea level and Amman is 3,500 ft. above sea level, so it was a steady climb. In Amman, we stayed with some British Embassy friends of Roy's and went to a Halloween party at the Embassy that night. First glass of wine in about six weeks! We had a very pleasant and comfortable visit visit. Next morning, Friday, we enjoyed a "proper English breakfast", packed up and headed for Jarash, on the way to the Syrian border. We tried to see a Roman site there, but, it was closed. From what we did see, the Leptus Magna site we saw in Libya was much larger, so, we didn't feel too bad about missing this one.

On to the Syrian border. Lots of fruit vendors along the sides of the road and green trees. The road was good and we motored along at a steady 100 km/hr. I was very anxious about this border crossing. Although I'd been told by the Syrian Embassy in Ottawa that I could get a visa at the border, "No problem", other information said "no". We cleared the Jordanian prcedures and paid our exit taxes. Motored about one km before we reached the Syrian border checkpoint. The immigration official said that it was impossible to get a visa, as stated on the large sign on the wall, and that I'd have to go back to Amman. He didn't speak much English and was particularly unhelpful. My worst trip nightmare come true. I explained again twice to no effect.

Moved down the counter and tried another official. He actually smiled and spoke a bit more English. I tried again. He confered with others and said that they'd have to phone Damascas and, "Please could I wait about an hour". I sat on a bench while the others waited outside. High anxiety. After 20 minutes the frowning first official came to get my passport. He returned after another 15 minutes with a note in Arabic and pointed outside to the "bank". I walked outside and found an "Exchange" and changed 56$US for Syrian Pounds and walked back. This looked like a good sign! The frowning fellow put the requisite stamps into my passport and I was a very, very happy traveller! I hate to think of trying to activate the Plan "B" by re-entering Jordan. Very relieved, I joined the others and we did the paperwork and paid the fees to register the motorcycles. The entire Syrian border experience was only 75 minutes; a new best record for us in spite of our worst expectations.

It was dark as we motored to Derna'a, the next town, and found a hotel. Lots of small motorcycles here but Jordanians are prohibited from owning them. Our motorcycles always attract crowds and we haven't seen any other large bikes since Egypt, and there were very few there. Woke up very early to the "Call to prayer" at about 0500, and snoozed to 0600. Packed up the bike and here I am at the internet shop in the hotel building. We head North in about an hour. Sure feels good not to be on my own back in Jordan!

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