After arriving in Patra I first took a tour of the city. I passed a huge DIY store, and I thought I could try to realise a plan I had made.
When I started preparing for this trip, I wanted to secure all the stuff I packed on my bike, so I could safely park it in the middle of a city chained to something. To take care of that, Erik Vegt of E.V.A. Motorfietssystemen (+31 71 407 76 61) built me a nice stainless steel case matching my specs. With that case (they called me the pizza delivery boy) I took the bike for an extensive shake down, to southern France for instance. (Yes, it's a rotten job, preparing for such a world journey.) During that trip I packed like it was the real thing. Apart from the fact that I had to unpack the whole case to get my bike upright again after a fall at 7,500 feet altitude in the snow, the case was too high and also always too small for an ever expanding sleeping bag.
And so the minimizing began. The workplace manual for my bike could prove invaluable when needed, but then it weighed 2 kg. My jeans were also heavy, and warm. And taking along all the road maps would be convenient, but it would take up lots of space. A laptop can run Unix, but weighs several times as much as a palmtop (with DOS). A very nifty package with cutlary, plate, fold-up cup, the coffee filter, the coffee - all was sacrificed or slimmed. At the last moment I removed the BMW top-case from the list that I used instead of the other case. To save on total weight, and space.
I now have the tent, the sleeping bag, the mat and a watertight bag with cold weather gear strapped on the back, they can be removed in an instance. So the next plan was: I buy a steel cable, a spanner belt, a padlock and a couple of harps (u-shaped pieces of tapped wire with a strip of metal that can be fastened with a couple of nuts). I attach the steel cable to the chassis of the bike. With the rattle I tighten the cable over the tent and stuff, and secure it with the padlock. This will make stealing my gear a bit more difficult... I spent a full hour in the store matching locks and rattles, but didn't find anything satisfying. I did buy the steel cable and harps - I can always use them to secure things...
I sure didn't suffer from cold in Italy, but I had to get used to the heat in Patra. When you are riding a hot bike in such a city, the speed (and therefor the wind) is too low to provide for any cooling. More so when you have to wear a full-blown bike suit with helmet and gloves. At a bank I departed from my last European currency in exchange for Drachmen, and after that switched from city to toll way. The Greek are very different in traffic than the Italians! Much more respectful, much more attentive. No fights at each traffic light, no cause to overtake left and right. The tarmac is very different: much harder, and very slick. When you ride towards the sun, you get blinded by the reflections. And very slippery: sometimes my boots slip away when standing at a traffic light. By the way, in Brindisi I had other problems: the side step slowly lowered into the asphalt, and once my front wheel went into a piece of road with a hole that was just filled with new asphalt. This, a heavy bike? (I think this bike, with all the luggage and myself, weighs in at nearly 400 kg.)
The first stop was Korinthia, where a ruin of a small village tops a mountain. At the neighboring camp site I was reunited with Dutch, German and English people I didn't see since I left southern Italy. After putting up my tent (after dining with lots of Tzatsiki on the side) a bicyclist approached. He identified himself as my neighbor and headed right at the place besides me. Like he was here yesterday! And indeed he was, because the previous night he occupied the same place. A Dutch lady (named Seraj) who stayed with her parents greeted him with some surprise, for he had left to travel on. The neighbor was from England, and on his bicycle en route to some Greek island. His name is Richard.
Biking that distance, now that's a topic of conversation. So we exchanged all the usual information: When did you depart? Richard left about 2 months ago. Where are you heading? An island named Skidos. What distance do you travel each day? He averages 80 miles a day. What route do you take? Through southern France, avoiding the Alps. Why Skidos? Because his favourite poet, Brooke, is buried on that island. Why do you do this? (That's always the hardest question, but not for Richard.) "For charity", he answered.
Richard returned because he rode to the village on the mountain, to the point where the temple of (I think) Apollo is situated. That took the better part of the morning, and during the hottest part of the day he visited the ruins. While riding down the mountain Richard wondered whether it was really necessary to arrive in Athens almost a full week ahead of schedule. The answer was "no" and so he returned to the same camp site again. He was bound by a schedule , because he would meet his father in Athens, to walk together to the grave of the poet on the mountain at Skidos. Richard looks a bit worn down for his 38 years. He could use a hair cut, and his clothes would turn a shade lighter when washed. And so I couldn't restrain myself:
"Alone on a bicycle from England to some Greek island because you like the works of that poet, all that for charity?" I asked. "Yes", Richard said, "I collect money for the Stroke Association". The Stroke Association is there to help people pick up their lives after a stroke. "Aha", I said, "but why this particular charity?" Richard dug up a flumsy photocopy of a magazine. The story was about him! Richard was 29, young, a succesful salesman in wooden products, had a nice girlfriend (Angela), in short: life optima forma. Until he suffered a stroke after a game of squash. After two weeks in a coma he regained consciousness, only to learn he was paralyzed on his left side. And he was lefthanded. His family was already informed: Richard would never walk again.
After he returned home and revalidation started, Richard quit. He started drinking, and after a while Angela left him. He lost the house they lived in, and had to move in with strangers. Richard did nothing anymore - he reached rock bottom. And then he read Hamlet by Shakespeare. Especially the "to be or not to be", when Hamlet contemplates suicide, hit home full force. Richard completely identified himself with Hamlet and he also considered suicide. And then he decided his story shouldn't end that way.
You see this coming: he learned to walk (and ride a bike) again, learned to write (reluctantly) with his right hand, and picked up the study he never finished. He graduated, and found that the time was there to make his stand. Hence the resting place of the poet Brooke. All kinds of people donated ten or twenty pounds and combined with his own savings he accumulated just enough money to undertake this journey. This made me realize I wasn't really the budget traveller - Richard obtained almost all his clothes in a second-hand store and his other collection of equipment was Spartan to say the least.
I was impressed. When doctors tell you you will never walk again, and then you go on your bicycle to Skidos, after nine years of hard labour. And I thought I had tenacity! I'm not sure I could have done the same in that situation.
I did send him an Eurocheque worth 20 English Pounds. If you want to endorse his initiative:
I decided to declare the next day a rest day, to catch up on my journal, but also to visit the ruins atop the mountain. And Richard wanted to join me on the back of my bike. That morning we climbed the mountain in sandals, shorts and T-shirts, very cautiously. We were even overtaken by a lady on a Honda moped! But Richard leaned into the bends quite heavily, and I wanted us to reach the top in one piece (without helmets). At the top (8:30 AM), we had to climb the last bit. After one hour we were at the summit, the highest point in this area, a truly strategic position.
Greece consists of several parts. The southern part is called Peloponissos, and is connected with a small piece of land to the second part, which consists of Thessalia and Greek Macedonia. This small piece of land is pretty flat, excapt for one high point called Korinthia. From this site you can see both seas which are separated by this piece of land. And several main roads traverse this land. So this peak allows you to see every truck (or army outfit) and every ship (or war fleet) coming. This place at the top was once fully surrounded by walls, and would have been very difficult to take by force. The ruins of the buildings were too badly damaged to discern their function, and neither Richard nor I had additional information from a travel guide. Which goes to show I'm not made to visit touristic places.
The view from the summit is gorgeous - you can see the Greek love olives and olive oil. The scenery is littered with small and big fields of olive trees. In between there are only roads and there are a few industrial patches. The landscape is hilly, like in southern Limburg. Towards both seas, the earth is rather flat. In that area they irrigate the land, and they are active in farming. The new Korinthia is very visible, complete with several smoke plumes from the local industry. It is getting pretty hot (it is already passed 10 AM) and we both forgot to bring along some drinking water. So, after taking a couple of landscape and portrait pictures, we descended again.
The remaining part of the afternoon we spent talking, philosophing and shooting the bull, in that order, while enjoying a couple of beers. I intended to go to Athens, so next morning would mark the end of our gettogether. Richard wanted to stay a bit longer. We had dinner in the local restaurant to round off our goodbye.
Next morning I was up rather early, and at 7:15 AM I was at the local gas station waiving my credit card asking whether they accepted it. I thought the answer was affirmative, but when the tank was filled up, things were not that simple. Was I carrying cash ? He seemed to speculate on that assumption and that's why he said "yes" when asked the question about the credit card. But I didn't have cash with me. At least, not enough after the feast meal last night. The man saw the magnitude of the problem and crossed his chest. He didn't speak any foreign language (apart from Greek) well enough to discuss possible options, and that made me do something I hadn't done before: I put the bike in gear and stepped on it. I was a bit worried about the man left behind while I was rounding up some cash: hopefully he wasn't that frightened to...
Found a VISA teller machine in Korinthia and robbed it. Quickly I returned to the gas station and paid the old man. He was visibly relieved, he obviously thought I had taken off. I was invited for a cup of coffee, but I declined. Total loss of time: half an hour. I could have slept in more, because on the way to Athens the gas stations with prominent signs with VISA and Eurocard logos were plentiful.
Despite this I reached Athens pretty quick. About 10 years back Lydi and I were forced to spend a couple of days in Athens because the KLM found it prudent to send our backpacks to different destinations. Lydi's backpack ended up in Germany. The airport of Athens is east of the city, and Lydi and I took the bus to Pireas, south of Athens, to embark the boat to one of the islands. We already checked out the city centre when we were marooned (did so the year before as well), and the conclusion was that Athens was a beautiful, old but also a very dirty and warm city.
I followed the highway and ended up east of the city. South-east the petrol and chemical port is situated, and that is noticeable! The smoke and smog is so dense it diffuses the sunlight. And it stinks! The row of oil refineries and chemical plants was sheer endless. The traffic kept getting denser. Many men in crisp business suits on a moped, briefcase on the back. After the initial shock of the stench and smoke (my eyes started to water whenever I rode too long with my visor up) I started to navigate towards the city centre using my compass and the sparse direction signs. Years ago Lydi and I used to have a bus stop in the middle of the city as our first stop. In those days there was a huge American Express board because their office was situated there. And to my surprise as well I could find the way almost blindfolded.
Menno had sent the DHL shipment to that office. Parking the bike on the pavement I went in to pick up the replacement for cable I missed so much. They expected me, and within 3 minutes I was outside again with my cable. I rode to the Athens coast just for fun - I even recognize the hotel we stayed at during a SCO distributors conference. I found a restaurant at the coast (and the airport) with a cell phone pole nearby, and there I combined my brunch with downloading 12 mail messages.
In Athens it just was unpleasantly warm and dirty. That, combined with the wish to get on with the trip, made me decide to ride on to the north. The quality of the roads is reasonable, the air above the main land of Greece is sometimes misty with dust, smoke and other filth. But not all was bad: the scenery was beautiful and diverse. From Athens the road leads towards the inlands, where the land is sealed off of the sea by a chain of mountains. So there was no cooling by the sea wind. Slowly the temperature rose to 32 degrees Celsius. Much of the land is used for growing crops, and there is plenty irrigation. They grow almost everything in the relative flat parts behind the mountains. That should not be so difficult in these temperatures, I imagine.
The next piece of road leads parallel to the sea, and is pleasantly cool (29 degrees). Here I find the typical flora of the hills in Greece: many olive trees. En route to Larissa the road turns to the inlands again, but this time the land is not used for growing crops - large parts of the land lay wasted. The hills get steeper until I reach Larissa. There lots of industry and traffic is concentrated in a small, hot area (here too I measure 32 degrees). Of course, as seems to be the case in Greece, the sky towards the horizon is a yellowly white from the filth in the air.
The day is progressing, it's now about 3 PM, and the road will lead me towards the sea again, according to the map. NJear the village of Omolio a river flows into the sea - suddenly the olive trees and dry bushes make way for big loafy trees, forming a genuine forest. This is a pleasant diversion, and the temperature is dropping as well (29 degrees). Omolio doesn't feature a camp site, and I decide to go on to the Olympus mountain. There I immediately find 5 camp sites, all of them equally beautifully situated and kept clean. But: the high mountain has one disadvantage: the heated air is pushed up the hill and cools off. The consequence: thunder storms. Things look dark, but initially I think we'll keep it dry.
The Seat of the Gods, the Olympus mountain, only has one pass, which leads to a meager 3,500 feet height. Just a little ride before unpacking and hitting the shower. The pass comes in 2 phases: the first stage leads to a tiny village with some touristic activity, the second stage is an unpaved road to the start of a pedestrian route all the way to the top, about 7,500 feet. You have to love walking to climb these 4,000 feet (in two days). I saw a couple of fanatics (who walked to the base station just above the tree border) deescending the path - exhausted. "Because of the heat", these Hungarians told me. When you look like that after coming down, I don't want to go up. Not with these temperatures, at least.
After a small thunder storm at the beginning of the evening I 'enjoyed' some disco music during the first part of the night - I once more didn't pay enough attention when selecting the camp site... So the next day I left in a hurry to Thessaloniki, and from there across Halkidiki (a kind of peninsula in northern Greece). This is a very beautiful area - fairly untouched, fairly rough and almost no agriculture. It is also much higher than the sea, about 1,800 feet on average I guess. And so the biker in me could indulge in riding a couple of passes. The tarmac is still the slippery kind, so no racing here. But you can't win them all: at least I could leave the straight path. Opposing Halkidiki there lies the peninsula of Agio-Oros, and there are some very old convents worth visiting, according to some Greek people I met in Brindisi.
So I rode the full length of the coast, past many, many hotels, pensions, restaurants and camp sites. I wanted to reach the convents, and they are placed near the end. You can hardly go wrong on a small stretch of land, I thought. And then, after passing the last village on my map, the tarmac ended. "No problem", I thought, although the distance to the convents would be another 7 miles. "Do all these tourists use this sand road to reach the convents?", I wondered. And after the next turn I could guess the answer (no). There were 5 military vehicles. And one soldier (with machine gun) explaining me the remaining part of the area was off limits. Returning in the village I found a ferry trip (they would leave next morning at 9) to watch the convents.
When I entered the next camp site, no-one in the reception could tell me something about the convents. In the restaurant I met a couple of Germans on holiday in the company of an elderly Greek talking German.
Only with a permit one can enter the convents, and everyone else must stay clear at least 1,500 feet. Because too much was stolen and damaged in the 1,000 year old convents. On top of that, only a couple of them are opened, even for those with permits, the other convents are still in use! Women aren't allowed at all. "Then why are there so many tourists here?", I ask, while looking around. Stupid question! This is Greece: sun, sea like southern Spain. I had walked into the jaws of the tourist industry... That night I put my tent on a camp site near Stavros so I could go from there to Istanbul.
Passing the border from Greece to Turkey went quickly because I cheated. First you have to leave Greece. You are checked briefly after waiting in line for a short time. Then nearly a mile of no-mans land until you reach the Turkish checkpoint. I received a note with a stamp and I could continue. At the exchange office I swapped my Drachmen to Turkish Liras. Then I remounted my steel horse, and rode towards the exit. There they sent me back: the note with the stamp was but a route note.
I had to enter the office, and then to the immigration service, the police, the customs and to a final check. In front of the immigration and police desk was a huge line of waiting American and Italian bus tourists. I saw a couple of Turkish truck drivers using a back entrance and decided to give that a try. I was first in line for the immigration: the one at the window was out of luck, the work for that tourist was interrupted... I had to pay 20 guilders. I didn't carry Dutch money, but I had the equivalent in Turkish Lira: about 2.5 million (!). They preferred Dutch currency, but accepted their own currency reluctantly. (Turkey is troubled with a huge inflation for quite a while.)
Still there was a huge line waiting for the police, so I decided to do things out of order. First I went to the customs. They quickly found out I had 'forgotten' to check with the police, and they swiftly passed my papers to the police officer. That was settled as well. Then the last check, in a small office. I stepped in and waited for the person in front of me. The man behind the desk barked in Turkish that I should leave the office, and an interpretor translated that in English. But I was fed up with it. I informed barking where the hell the sign was telling me to wait outside. The interpretor translated and the man behind the desk ... did nothing. When it was my turn my papers were thoroughly checked, but they checked out OK. The Greek-Turkish border in half an hour, when it should take 2... The man doing the exit checking asks for a wheelie. I'm no star at those, so I leave full-throttle.
The scenery after the border is much flatter, because I'm traversing a delta of three rivers. The soil is fertile, yet there is not much agriculture. But it strikes me that the scenery is emptier than in Greece. The olive trees are missing. I see the first sheep and goat hurders, they stare after me. I see a few women in long, black robes along the road. Here and there they harvest straw and small fields are visible. There are no buildings at all outside the villages. Still I'm not sure whether the emptiness of the scenery is caused by just that. The villages are tourist places, largely abandoned. The busy roads with all its trucks passes right through them - I see a few tourists waiting at the side to cross the road on their way to the beach.
The road from the border to Istanbul is largely two lanes, and not the Greek or Italian type. But still they almost drive the same way. In the US youngsters sometimes do a 'chicken race'. Two competitors drive head-on, the one bailing out first looses. The Turkish car driver constantly plays the same game. And preferrably with me, biker. Even when I ride all the way to the left, the car drivers still start their overtake attempts and they assume I will give way on my little bike. And that I approach in a hurry is unexpected as well. When I have a decent speed, it's not easy for me to go 10 feet sideways on the shoulder for some dangerous lunatic. I rarely see big bikes, but there are a lot of 125 and 250 cc one-cylinder engines. I first turn on my head light. That improves things a bit. Then I try the bright lights, but that makes no difference. They definitely see me. When they continue to drive left too long, I honk my horn long and loud (thanks BMW for the oversized horn). But the most respect is received when I lift my left boot to level with their side mirror. And that is now my method.
Without further problems I reach Istanbul that Saturday afternoon. That's a huge city! 7 million people in this area. I start off by crossing the city, and that alone takes half an hour, even when I only take the highways. Well, highways, not really. These are roads which look like a six-lane highway, but the bus just stops at the side. And there are countless people waiting, sometimes on the road, because the bus stops cannot handle the load on Sabbath. The ladies are dressed in various ways: from very explicit, tight clothes, to baggy dresses and head scarfs seen in northern Europe, to completely black chadors that only leave the face exposed. The men are wearing Western suits or are dressed like the common foreign labourer in northern Europe. The towers of the mosks are plentiful, and actually it's those towers that give this city a completely different look than the other cities I visited so far.
I cross the Bosporus and am struck by the beauty of the city. Hills, a lot of green, not much air pollution because of a slight and constant breeze and the dark blue Bosporus right through it. That Bosporus connects the Black Sea with the Sea of Marmaris, which in turn is connected to the Mediterrenean Sea. It is also the border between Europe and Asia. I had enough of those semi-highways, and so I went down to the shore of the Bosporus after crossing the bridge. This bridge is very high: the Bosporus is not just some small canal, but big sea ships (container carriers, large coast freighters) cross this river and pass eachother without being afraid to scratch one another.
I hadn't seen anything resembling a camp site, but I did spot a couple of police officers (again with machine guns) with a BMW R80GS (an ancient version of my own little bike). I thought: "if they can't direct me to a camp site, then at least we can talk bikes". They already spotted me, and after I turned around they were waiting for me. I told them what I was looking for, and they gave me a complete description. The camp site in Atakoy seemed closest to the city, and so the choice was made. "How to reach that one? That's not easy to explain... Follow us." I protested weakly about Atakoy being at the opposite side of the city across the Bosporus, and that a global pointer would be enough, but they wanted nothing of that. And so I got myself a police escorte through Istanbul.
The police adhers to other rules than mere mortals do. When these gentleman missed a turn on one of the highways, they simply stopped all traffic on one of the lanes and turned around. I followed. Riding against the flow of traffic under a police escorte - no-one will believe this... We then reached a point at which even they were unsure what direction to go, so they turned to their radio. To use one of those they had to stop. The ones we have at home, built into the helmet, haven't found their way to here. And such a stop can easily be done on the highway, alongside one of those bus stops. Every time I attempt that, lots of horns blaring and shouting is my share, but now all you hear is screeching tyres from late-breaking cars on the slick asphalt. After about 16 miles I couldn't miss it, and the gentlemen said goodbye.
The next day I started off sleeping in, and after getting up I went to see a Dutch couple (Gerard and Laura). They are here with a truck, with the cargo area converted to a camper. It's one of those 4-wheel drives they use in Holland to take measurements of the composition of the land. They are on their way to India, and left home about 8 months ago. Or rather - they don't have a home anymore, apart from their truck. So in fact they are home now. The truck is a kind of oversized camper: what to think of 140 gallons of diesel oil, 50 gallons of water, a separate shed with place for their bicycles, half a library of books, a tool kit including a drill, 24 volts truck batteries to store electricity to last 4 weeks, DC/AC, but also AC/DC and DC/DC converters - you name it. They are waiting for their visa to enter Iran, Pakistan and India.
That Monday I started my tour around the consulates. Because there is no separate district for diplomats in Istanbul, I had to cross the entire city. All dressed up, that helps when you want to obtain your visa. It was a disaster. It was hot, I was soaked and dirty from the filth in the city, and the consulates were nowhere to be found. I could locate the Iranian consulate, but they were closed. The one from India had as its address the name of a building, but no number in the long Cumhuriyet Caddesi. Of course Pakistan and India both were situated on a one-way street, and my tourist road map doesn't give any indication which way it is. Gas stations and book stores don't carry road maps. The address of the Syrian consulate turned out to be wrong, its replacement address had the name of the road changed, but I found that out 2 days later. So without success I went home.
The street names in this country are different to the level that I had great trouble decyphering the signs. It seemed I turned dyslectic - I read an address twice, and still I cannot reproduce or recognize the word. It is very hard to find any address this way, and in the back of my head I start to worry about what's in store for me when I am unable to read the signs at all, like in Thailand. Meanwhile, the Turkish people are very helpful. When I stop somewhere to look at the map, almost always someone approaches me to help. They are so eager to help me, that they invent an answer in case they don't know one. They mean well, but it is inconvenient. Many times they sent me to and fro because of contradicting directions.
Back at the camp site Jopie and her husband Kalim treated me to a loving reception with coffee. This couple stays at the camp site all summer long. Kalim is Turkish by birth, Jopie is born in Haarlem, Holland. They took an early retirement, and now divvy their time between Turkey and Holland. They are very warm, and Jo plays mother for me. Of course, cookies were included.
Gerard and Laura could precisely point out on the map where the consulates of India, Pakistan and Holland were situated. I only learned I needed the Dutch consulate when the next day the Pakistani sent me away to get a letter of recommendation.
The Dutch consulate is one like we know in the Hague: stately buildings with big fences, guards and a fleet of cars with CD stickers. The countries I want to visit are a bit less wealthy, and the same goes for the poor devils in the diplomatic service. India is located on the 6th floor in an old building squashed between two night clubs. There is no nice shiny brass plaque telling you where to find the Consulate-General of Pakistan, but they do have a Xerox of a letterhead pasted on their window.
When I had my letters of recommendation for Pakistan, Syria and Iran, it was of course too late to get the visa that same day, they only supply those during morning hours.
That night I was very tired, and went to bed to listen to the world broadcast while working on this story. About 8 PM I fell to sleep, but around 9:30 PM I was woken. Gerard and Laura were going to Jo and Kalim for a cup of coffee, and I was invited too. Jo didn't see me eat, so I had to kill a couple of meatballs with lots of garlic on sandwich, and afterwards bread with Dutch cheese. And I thought I wasn't hungry because of the heat. I let them treat me all the way - great that there are people that care so much about others they don't really know (yet).
The next day I started with Syria, because when I had that visum I could travel on. For this occasion I dug up my clean passport, the one without the US immigration stamps. "Where is your Turkish visum? How did you enter Turkey?", the unfriendly man asked me from behind the less than inviting shutter with steel bars at belly height (!). I could hardly tell him where I was going to, or that my current visum was put in another passport in half an hour. "A Turkish visum is not necessary in this passport", I said to him, for it was in my other passport. Not a lie, and still an acceptable answer, I thought. The passport disappeared in a small room, and from the stairs (this counter was sawn out of a door that provides entrance to the staircase of the building) I could just make out the big chief waiving his hand as if to say this was not his problem but a Turkish one. The visum would be ready next afternoon.
I arrived the next day at 11 AM, my English is not that well... After some sweet asking, being humble (you know, folded hands and a small nod) they conjured up my passport! Just in time to go to the Pakistan consulate. That visum had to be obtained first, because Iran doesn't accept requests from people without means of departure. I handed over my stuff, along with 120 guilders (in Turkish Lire). I asked for a 6 months visum, with multiple entries. The next morning this very rude man gave me a single-entry visum for 3 months. I thought that was a bit cheap for the money I spent, and on top of that I didn't like that man. "It's your own fault - you know we only supply visa lasting 3 months". But he wasn't able to tell me how I should know that - and the own fault story started all over again.
The consul himself was not present, but the vice consul was. In his air conditioned office I put forward my complaints; he couldn't help about the visum, but he would try to correct the attitude of the man at the counter. I left the building with the appologies of the vice consul, but that didn't bring me anything extra. I'll have to reach Pakistan before the first of October, or else the whole show starts again. Let's hope Iran doesn't let their visum end precisely when this one starts...
On to Iran: closed, it is Friday. And Friday is to muslims what Sunday is to Christians. Damn! In a hurry to Lebanon. They wanted a letter of recommendation, and I didn't have one. "That's too bad, now I won't be able to visit your country", I tried, and the man asked me where I would be going next. Aha! The letter seemed to be a me-too affair. I showed him the other letters of recommendation. "Xeroxes of these will do", although they weren't addressed to the Lebanese consulate. "Can it be done today, I mean, NOW ?", I asked. "No, the consul doesn't arrive until 2:30 PM". So I first went to Jordan. There they arranged a visum on the spot, a big exception. (A little sucking-up and telling them you'd love to visit their beautiful country did the trick very well.) Back to Lebanon - I could pick up my passport at 2:30 PM which is very rare. Yeah, right. I'll probably get used to these excaptions. Four visa out of six in five days - not bad.
Meanwhile Gerard and Laura managed to get their visa for Iran, Pakistan and India. We celebrated with a meal, followed by cold coffee (tastes a lot better than it sounds). To get into the Islam mood I quit drinking alcohol this week, but Laura had to get rid of some coffee liquor (alcohol is prohibited in Iran). So things got jolly after all.... I planned on going to the Iran consulate at 8 AM Saturday morning, but Gerard woke me at 8:10. After a shower Laura was ready with my breakfast. So in a hurry to the consulate, and upon return I had coffee with Jo, who also made some breakfast for me. I don't know what's happening to me! So many people caring for me! We thought up a complex scheme to keep eachother updated on our progress.
Now I have to wait for the visa for India and Iran. Both should be ready in 5 days. In the mean time I chat a bit with the fellow campers, many of whom are on a journey as well.
Like John and Janel, parked behind me. They got married 10 months ago, returned for Christmas, but are on a journey since their wedding day. Their plan is to travel around the world on their bicycle. They just enjoyed a two weeks holiday, John's parents visited then in Istanbul. Nice hotel, no own cooking: in short, the lazy life. They have trouble picking up the routine - especially Janel wants to go home. Her prospects aren't that pleasant: black dress, socks, long sleeves and a hot cap on her head cycling right across frying Iran. Being a female she has to ride behind her man, she cannot make eye contact with strangers, and as I said: no part of her body may ever be exposed, unless she is within her (very small) tent. And they had a bad experience with a police officer in Marocco who was very hospitable and subsequently became too liberal with Janel after they all enjoyed some alcoholic beverages.
I'm also impressed by the stories I hear: an Iranian lady winding up in prison after a traveller asked for directions, and she answered; people throwing rocks at western people because they dress differently, etcetera. Lucky thing I'm a kid, they won't bother me much.
Meanwhile I idle in the sun - I'll have to hang on as well as I can until the visa are ready (haha). I hope/expect to resume the trip on Thursday - along the Turkish coast to Syria.