Belgium - Australia on an BMW R1100 GS motorcycle, solo.
Report #9 - August 1st to 9th, 1998....
The day started off on a positive note. That is to say: after an extremely short night's rest, the live music at the pool at which I had a view did not end before 1 AM. Carolyn called me that morning - just what the doctor ordered after that night. My plan was to find a smith and a shoe repair shop to see what could be done about the damage. I located an aluminum processing factory, but they couldn't weld aluminum. Furthermore, the boss was gone - the shop was left to the care of 2 of those little boys. One was no older than 12, the other barely notched 15. But that simplifies doing the repairs by myself. This way I could prevent those well-meant drilling machines from attacking my bike.
I found some steel strips I could use as a splint. Together we cut the strips to the right size and drilled some holes. With a workbench and a hammer I created 'precisely' the right angle in the strips so they closely followed the broken support. We put some holes in the piece that was still attached to the bike, and in the piece that was broken off. The smallest of the 2 boys was then sent away to buy some bolts, and he was very proud that the bolts he selected were integrated in the project at hand. This construction seems to hold up well, and the case is now secured on 2 of the 3 places. The third point is the broken-off hook from the case, and it is kept in place by a strap. This will do fine to survive the ferry to Egypt, I think.
Went out to look for a shoemaker to replace the broken-off hook from the tank bag. With thanks to Nerons Sport in Naarden-Vesting (the distributor of IXS motor clothing, Nolan helmets, Italjet scooters and the tank bags from Bagster), they supplied all the spare parts that were requested before by others. Then the shoemaker (older than 15 - I couldn't get a word or deed in edge-wise) patched the rupture in the tank bag with a piece of leather and stitched it all together.
Excited about the results I went to the ferry. The price for a ticket was 19 dollar for me, 20 for he bike, and a few dollar for use of the harbour (port tax). The ferry was scheduled to depart at 3 PM - we set sail on an overloaded boat at 4 PM. I never seen so many cockroaches together in my life. They are everywhere, even on the clothes of some of the passengers, they seem to think that's normal. Cockroaches are stubborn: I saw one trying to scale a painted wall for half an hour, but each attempt ended about 6 feet up with a fall to the ground.
It took about 3 hours to make the trip; we arrived in Egypt at 7 PM, in a tiny village called Nuweiba. The ferry has 2 stories for vehicles, the top one is for cars. After docking everyone returned to their cars, went in and turned on the airconditioner - inside the ship, just in front of the engine room, it was very warm (outside in the 40 degrees wind it was a bit cooler). I thought I died of the fumes of the started cars. But there was no progress in the row of cars - some of the drivers got out. After half an hour we asked the remaining stationary running drivers to kill their engines as well. It took 1.5 hours finally before we were allowed to disembark.
With a slight headache I arrived at a huge platform, first stop was Immigrations. The rules have been changed recently: now I do need a visum. Cost: 15 dollar, to be paid at the bank located on the other side of the complex. I receive 2 stamps which are stuck in my passport when I returned to Immigrations. Apart from the walk in the heat this went rather painless - I was ready for the next step: customs.
Customs collected all people on one large parking space, where literally everyone was unpacking. There were some guys walking around clearly inspecting and searching through stuff, but they don't wear uniforms. It's chaotic. Everyone walks around, families are sitting on the floor, tired children are crying. Some teenagers are playing soccer with a water bottle.
Besides the parking lot there are a few small offices, but there is no one speaking anything other than Arab. They don't (want to ?) understand my questions read from my little book. Some boys find it funny to give wrong advice to foreigners (an English couple with their daughter, four Polish boys in an old VW van, and myself). When they give some 'advice' for the second time, I know they are messing around. I smack one on his head, his ear turned red. Thereafter, the foreigners had to do without their 'help'.
The purpose of the whole procedure is the temporary import of my bike. In fact it takes just 2 documents: the Carnet de Passage and my passport. From the Carnet they tear out a third of a page, the passport receives a note saying the keeper of the passport has brought with him 'something' into the country, and he is supposed to take it with him when he leaves. Almost every country I visited writes or types (yes, on a computer) mij name, passport number and bike in some sort of journal.
In Egypt, part of Africa, things are more complicated. They warned me up front, and I didn't worry then. After laying one on the boy a policeman popped up. 'Tourist Police', to help us. He called in a man who tried to get an imprint with a pencil on a corner of a piece of paper from the drilled-in chassis number of my bike. And that number is placed on a really impossible place on my bike. On top of that it was getting dark, and he had no light. The remaining part of the piece of paper was an Arabic questionnaire, which I filled out with the help of the police officer. The form disappeared into the office, the officer was called away, and I waited.
With my Carnet in hand I went looking for the person behaving the bossiest - this was indeed the boss. Again he wanted to see the chassis number, this time to verify the Carnet. The number checked out. I had to wait again.
The cop appeared again - he had helped a crying, solo travelling American lady afraid of leaving the platform in the dark. I had to buy 2 carton dossier maps for 10 pounds (3 US Dollar) and they were filled with photocopies of my passport and visa. At the boat company I had to buy a note (2 dollar) explaining they had shipped my beloved bike. The office was on the other side of the complex, naturally. With the dossier maps I could go to a small office where I was sent away 3 times already. Bt this time things were alright - feverishly they scribbled on my Carnet. I received a note (in Arab) which I had to take to the cashier (on the other side of the complex - this time I went on my bike). I now had to pay 265 pounds (almost 90 dollar).
I didn't believe it anymore. I was now 3 hours busy and got a bit agitated. And paying an extra 90 dollar because some guy in a sleazy, worn-out office has written that down? Did all those Egyptian labourers, returning from Kuwait, Abu Dabi, Dubai and Saudi Arabia pais that as well? And without complaining? I couldn't imagine that, and decided not to pay and return for some explanation. The police officer had left, the English couple didn't believe my story, but they were in the 'buying the dossier maps' phase. I waited.
Now the cop was helping the English and the Polish people, there was nothing to be gained with me, for now. I waited to see whether my ferry companions would become my problem companions. They sure did. The Polish guys had to pay 515 pounds (172 dollar) and the British people 1015 plus 1400 pounds (totalling 805 dollar)! The 4 Polish boys were quickly done. They didn't have that kind of money - they would wait for the next boat back to Aqaba. That turned out to be the same one on which we arrived. It would leave at 3 PM the next day. The bureaucrats told them the van had to stay, and they had to leave the complex (they had their visa). Of course, the other things they already paid for were not refunded. The Polish guys protested and waited.
The British man went through the roof. He didn't have a Carnet, and that would cost him 1400 pounds. The engine in his Range Rover measured more than 2 liter, hence the 1015 pounds. The officer tried to mediate but the bureaucrats didn't bulge. I wanted to see an official document (if necessary in Arab) stating these prices. We went to another filthy office - the one of the officer. He had a letter from the Egyptian traffic office. The first sentence about the taxes: "the import tax is usually 100 pounds..." Then I knew for sure: they were filling their own pockets.
Meanwhile the parking lot was cleared. The last remaining cars were repacked again, most of them were packed far beyond their maximum capacity with goods bought in the rich oil states. No one admitted to having paid between 265 and 1015 pounds. It was midnight. I had enough of the men in the offices and they were ready to strangle me as well. The tension peaked.
Again I studied the letters I nicked. Apparently there is a tax, raised in 3 classes of engine power, which have to be fulfilled by everyone entering Egypt with a vehicle. Except when you are a group travelling through Egypt, and one of the members is the owner of the vehicle. This logic was beyond me, but it helped the English. They were granted passage for 100 pounds (and then they started again, now for the Carnet). They could travel to Port Said in 3 days, to take the ferry to Cyprus.
According to my math teacher, I was a group with one member. And therefor I argued that the same rule applied to me. No way. I debated, pushed, turned to the boss, hit on tables and became verbally violent. I refused to pay that kind of money just for a few days diving in Egypt. And more so because the reason why I had to pay was not clear to me, at least no clearer than: "it's the law".
But we were all fed up with the situation, and I got my transit-import, provided I would go to Port Said. That is the nearest border, short of the one with Israel. I had to pay insurance: 15 pounds. Again I got a note which was intended for the 'Traffic Police'. They wanted 32.50 pounds. I nearly exploded! More and more I turned into a financial milking cow instead of a foreigner visiting the country (and spending money there as well). This time the money was for new license plates. Yep! I had to remove my Belgian plate and attack the new plates. One of them had to be mounted on the front. In full view I stored one of the plates in my case, the other one I attached over the Belgian plate with a piece of tape.
I got my Carnet (almost wound up in a fist fight), with all the necessary stamps. The fight was caused when I was fed up with the games of the customs chief, and I yanked open the office where my Carnet was and took it off the table. My passport is covered with stickers, stamps and writing. In all this consumes 2 pages. Even the serial number of my GSM phone is added, although they don't have a GSM network here. I wanted to know the name of the chief. He was willing to tell me, but he didn't want to write it down. I won't lightly forget his name: Muhammed Mahmoed El-Faragh.
The English daughter had stopped complaining about being hungry (there was no food, and we had passed on the grub with rice from the cockroach kitchen): the girl had fallen asleep. It was 1:30 AM after all. But the English were still busy: the Carnet still caused problems, although the price had dropped to 800 pounds. I didn't await the final result. The Polish guys had parked their van and weren't seen since (but they had told me they intended to sleep in the van). I split, after another 2 groups of important-looking officers had checked really all the papers I had accumulated. What a welcome!
On the ferry I had talked with some other travellers (without vehicles, the smart Alecs) and they told me Dahab, located about 50 miles south of Nuweiba, was the perfect place to get some rest. And I sure could use it after all this stress. After 1 mile I encountered the first checkpoint. I barked rather unjustified: "What do _you_ want!?" The man with the inevitable machine gun looked at me with obvious surprise, waved me on and even came to attention. At the next checkpoint (there are lots of checkpoints, and still tourists get blown to bits in Luxor) I first show them my passport before starting to yell. At the third one (it now is about 3 AM) I use the first method. They too let me through. Meanwhile I have a couple of tips for tourists.
In a pitchdark Dahab I wanted to check into a hotel with an airconditioner so I could at least enjoy a pleasant rest of the night. I located a beautiful hotel (nicer than the Mariott in Beirut) bathing in the lights of many lamps. They put me in a room on the first floor, with a view on the sea and next to a pool. The airconditioner was very quiet and operated perfectly. Reluctantly I left my bed at 9 o'clock.
Dahab used to be a Bedouin city, but now it is swamped with tourists. The tents along the beach are replaced with metal constructions with a straw roof, those typical Bedouin-style places to sit and lie down are in the shade. During the day those are used as places to sit for people drinking tea or eating a snack. At night you can use them to sleep for 5 pounds. The temperature is 30 degrees all night, and the 'beds' are not very clean. But neither are most of these backpack tourists. Some of them stay here for weeks at a stretch. They take a shower by using a bottle of water, or they soak themselves in the sea.
I am looking for a diving center. The first one I spot can take me down with the second dive this day. The equipment looks worn down. At 2 PM there will be a truck which will take the divers (6 in total) to the right place. The dive is as long (or as short) as the time it takes for the first member to run out of air. No thank you, I decide to give it a try up-market in a more expensive club. I go to the Novotel. I encounter a serene peace, Scubapro equipment and a manager eager to enlist a new customer. That afternoon I make 2 dives with a private guide and a private driver who looks after the car while we are submerged. And all this at the most beautiful diving places of Dahab. My air supply lasts longer than that of the guide, but both times we manage to stay down more than 50 minutes.
The Red Sea is too dark at 75 feet to support flourishing coral growth (mind you: this is generalized, after just 4 dives). At these depths (and deeper) we swim through a spectacular valley, filled with all sorts of fish. At the other side we reach some kind of room, filled with lots of small fish, because it creates a natural shelter. The visibility was well below 3 feet swimming among the fish, I loved it. At 25 feet depth the coral is at its best: lots of variation in species, even some I never saw before, and it's nice and bright. The fish are present in fewer numbers than on Bonaire - that still remains my favourite diving spot.
The second dive starts in a bell: a clock-shaped entrance in the rocks which widens when going down. We swim through - I notice the heavy damage to the coral. Apparenty all divers are towed through that hole, even the ones touching the coral. Much of the coral has broken off, everything is covered with sand and dust. All that remains is the remarkable shape of the bell. This time as well the diver stays at 75 feet depth, I ask him if we can rise. We can, and this becomes a great dive. Towards the end of the dive we spot an octopus searching the small caves in the rocks with his tentacles. All 8 of them can move independently. The top part of his body changes color when I let my hand cast a shadow on his skin. The guide has to pull me with him, he is getting cold. I can recommend this place to anyone, especially with one of those discount plane tickets. But be sure to take along your own gear - one of my regulators was leaking so badly we had to borrow one from another guide. The borrowed one breathed very heavily. Oh, how I long for my own equipment!
The second night at the 'Swiss Inn' was at least as pleasant as the first one, and much longer. The next morning I intended to go to Cairo, and from there to Port Said to take the ferry to Cyprus. I first went to Sharm-el-Sheik in the southernmost tip of the Sinai desert. A well-known diving destination, and loaded with hotels and diving centra. A large office of the Tourist Police was also present, so I decided to discuss my customs disaster with them. In the end the chief of the Nuweiba office was called by phone, and this led to a stalemate. Even the fact that the Israelis in my hotel only paid 100 pounds did not change anything. I retreated.
>From Dahab to Sharm-elSheik the road goes through a desert. The terrain is mountain-like and the mountains have gorgeous pastel colors. I enjoy the view, the camel shepherds, the sight of the herd of goats and ask myself how they could ever get used to this kind of heat. It now tops 40 degrees Celsius, my motor suit is zipped up on all sides. The Bedouins live here like there is nothing the matter, they're not soaking wet.
>From Sharm-el-Sheik to the north the scenery is less beautiful: it's all flat and the mountains are only visible far away. The wind however is coming in from the sea. The temperature drops slightly. But now the bike develops problems: after about one hour riding in the heat the engine misses a couple of strokes. The bike then brakes heavily, and I fear the worst for my rear tyre. After a split second things return to normal. I stop and let the bike cool off. After 15 minutes riding the same thing happens. I doubt whether I would reach Port Said (400 miles). I decide to not take the risk of stranding, and I turn back to the east, back to Nuweiba. I hope they won't give me a hard time noticing the 3-day visum brought me from Nuweiba to Nuweiba.
I'm grateful to my bike for having these fits. This desert is by far the most beautiful I've ever seen. First the road takes me up to 2500 feet. The temperature drops a littlebit more, the problems stop. The mountains are a very soft shade of pink, sometimes black, sometimes yellowy. But the pink shades, sometimes almost purple, are dominant. The sand comes in various shades as well: very pink to hard yellow. The mountains look untouchable. Nothing survives. Except, in the sand near the rocks one or two pieces of grass make a stand. In other places the sand has won the battle: sand dunes have formed. The kind with a seemingly razorsharp top edge and a base curved by the wind. The sand looks so soft I almost feel the urge to step off and lie down. This is a far cry from the rugged, bold, dead mountains.
I reach the first oasis. Suddenly there are palm trees, and I see some people. There is even a bus line from here to the coast. Everything I always imagined about an oasis is confirmed here. This is a safe haven in the barren, inaccessible desert. I take a picture, one of the last (again a miscalculation). Apparently I was not in the center of the oasis - around the corner there are even Eucalyptus trees. The journey continues, I'm on my way to Saint Katherine. That's the place where Moses .... oh dear. Now I'm caught: did he receive the ten commandments, or did he invent them himself? It'll probably be given to him by God in some way. So the place where Moses received the ten commandments. Moses himself had already left, all that remained was a convent. I didn't feel like taking a tour. They did sell films - I let them rob me for one roll of Agfa film.
The remainder of the journey led back to Nuweiba, passing many checkpoints. I had still one Egyptian night remaining, and one morning. The Hilton hotel was the only one with a diving club - I check in. One other diver and a guide are checked in for two morning dives. The next morning we go in a Jeep to the diving spot at a sandy beach - this is usually bad news, the sand usually covers the coral. And with that it chokes the coral, making everything that's typical for a coral sea disappear. The other diver (Paulo) wears a shortie (a diving suit with short sleeves and trouser legs) and 20 pounds of led. The signature of a beginner. Submerged it rapidly became clear that if I wanted to see anything I had to stay in front of Paulo: he left a trail of disturbed sand and broken coral. It's a complete mystery how a guide of a center which in its brochure brags about their sound ecological approach can let this happen.
The dive is not spectacular, and again too deep for my taste. On my way back I play a while with some shrimps from a cleaning station, but when Paulo almost takes a seat on a piece of coral to watch I swim on. A 'cleaning station' is a place where shrimps or gobies (a fish species) stay under a piece of coral. Sometimes a big fish approaches the coral, and opens his mouth and gills. Then the shrimps leave their hideout and start eating the algae in the mouth of the fish. The large fish will not shut its mouth - the little shrimps have nothing to fear. When you keep really still, you can get those shrimps to actually remove the loose pieces of skin from your fingernails. A free manicure!
I'm just in time for the ferry - I had to be on the premises before 2 PM. Everybody, even the ones I haven't seen before, recognizes me. My heart shrinks - I expect big trouble. I decide to try and use the positive approach. Shaking hands, smiling devotedly, an all around nice guy I clear the first hurdles. The police officer pops up again - he knows I complained with the boss of the Tourist Police. The chief of customs knows this as well. I receive the preference treatment, and within half an hour I'm on board. It still is peculiar, that although you never have to wait, it still takes a lot of time. For the 32.50 I paid I get a partly refund, but that is quickly cashed in again by buying additional dossier maps and photocpoies. The 10 pounds that remain are donated to the officer (and he accepts it in plain sight of the others).
On the boat, armed with a bottle of water, I seek out a place in the shadow. The delay is a bit shorter now: 45 minutes. I slept for a short while, but when the ferry set sail, I was lying in the sun, and I woke up all sweaty. Then I started walking around, killing another bottle of water, and I meet a few Germans. With one of them (her name is Ruth) a nice conversation starts up about repression of women. I take the side of the Arabs, and I defend the hypothesis that walking around without having your hair covered is like walking down Broadway wearing just a bathing suit. And it's just a small gesture wearing a chador when you're used to it. And I think her travel companion wears a skirt that's way too short. When Ruth asks me why the women that have taken up a study don't stand a chance in the Arab world, I try telling her that they go studying solely out of an academic curiosity, and that it doesn't get in the way with having babies. But finally I have to give up my hypothesis. (And glad too that I couldn't defend it - otherwise I could end up believing in it too.)
The comm system keeps announcing incomprehensable stuff - the speaker nearest to us has been hit by something, the sound is weirdly deformed. Now and then we see people walking by with their passport in hand, but we pay no attention. When the ferry is finally docked, we are allowed to enter the innards of the ship to go to the exit or to our vehicles. I made sure I was on the lower deck this time. Furthermore I had already filled out my form. But: it had to be stamped as well, and now was too late. My passport was taken in - I could recollect it at Immigrations, on shore. The lower deck was the place for the trucks. I don't know what's worse: sucking in gasoline fumes for an hour and a half, or half an hour of diesel exhaust. With my eyes streaming and my lungs protesting I left the ship. A bike can squeeze past anything, and I was the first in line for the inspection. But without my passport.
So I entered the office. All the foreigners were packed together - none of us had collected the stamp and all our passes were taken in. They were doing something unknown with them in a small room. We had to wait. One hour passed by. Many didn't have a visum, but I did. So I went looking for the person in charge and shook his hand like I had known him all my life. I fired all my Arab at him (so that's not much), and excused me thousandfold for not being able to address him in his own language. But I had a visum, and therefor I didn't have to wait in line with the others. Could he search out my passport and stamp it? And so he did!
Stamping the Carnet proved to be a bit more difficult: everyone had to pay 6 Dinar, but I had to pay 7. For a moment I wanted to start an argument, but on second thoughts the 1.5 US Dollar wasn't worth it. Then I had to get some form signed by the chief of customs, and back at the counter they gave me a note in exchange which would get me through the exit. Apart from the passport problems a swift passage through customs. The rest of the foreigners were still waiting when I said goodbye to the Germans. The parking lot where I had diverted all rows was completely empty. My bike stood all alone, first in line....
I went eating again at Thalal's, next to the aluminum club. Now the two boys could show the boss what it was that kept them busy when he was away last week - they were still glowing with pride. And Thalal was pleased to see me again as well, and the usual commotion started. Talking about the bike, whether they were allowed to try the seat, etcetera. It was my last night in Aqaba and I agreed with the request for a ride on the back. The guy with the biggest mouth dug his nail in my skin the deepest - that's how scared he was. And I didn't even had my helmet or my coat on, and then I definitely don't go speeding.
Next morning I went on my way to Wadi Rum, where Lawrence of Arabia collected his men. This trip too treated me to beautiful desert landscapes. The mountains are slightly deeper red, and the scenery is dominated by mountain chains and valleys with flat surfaces which are much wider than those in the Sinai. In Wadi Rum is nothing to be seen, although they do have a visitor center. You can get some sleep as well, in a Bedouine tent, but at 9 AM I wasn't very sleepy. Quickly to Petra.
I had my doubts about Petra. It dated back to around 200-300 years bC, an important distribution place for spices, slaves and silk on what is known as the Silk Route. Petra is very secluded situated in the mountains - the only way to reach it reasonably simple is with a horse and wagon using a canyon measuring a few miles. The Romans changed the location of the distribution to (I think) Damascus, and after that Petra was quickly done for. For a thousand years the city was hidden, until they rediscovered it in 1812. Sounds like Indiana Jones? That's correct! The movie (the Last Crusade) was partly shot here. My doubts concerned my allergicness to tourist traps. Everyone I asked assured me it was defenitely worthwile. After selecting the highest-situated hotel and a night of roof-sleeping I went to see the lost city.
It was beautiful, but still a tourist trap. In the canyon to the city there was a distinct smell of horse menure. This was caused by pushy men trying to sell a ride on their wagon or horse. The same happened in the city itself, but then with camels. A bottle of water was priced very high (three times the price for a liter gasoline). The buildings carved out of the rocks were nice, but my amazement about the fact that people were building so early was long gone. The Pythagoras hypothesis is older, and we still use it. I just mean to say I don't want to belittle the ingenuity of the people in those times with statements like 'those primitives who could also build a reasonable building', I think they're better than that. I wound up walking around all afternoon, and had a great time.
Sleeping on the roof turned out to be a mistake. The roof was fenced off with walls and meanwhile it was filled with backpackers. A few of those had spent all day visiting Petra, and they had just taken off their sneakers and socks, which they hadn't washed that morning. And so the air was filled with all these smells. But it was getting dark, and I didn't fancy looking for other accomodation. Also, the group of Japanese directly beside me were planning on getting up before the crack of dawn to avoid having to go through the entrance check. They found the fee of 30 dollar too much for their wallet. So I got up early as well, and at 7:15 AM I was on my way to Amman. The highway was not interesting and I arrived in Amman before 10 o'clock.
The Saudi consulate still had not received an answer, and I distinctly got the impression my application wasn't even sent off yet. The consulate of the Emirates was closed (on Thursdays and Fridays - the Muslim weekend). The trip to Dubai is over as far as I'm concerned - I'll go to Turkey for service.
I collected my email in an Internet cafe, put it on my palmtop and answered 2 urgent messages. I searched the site of the Bayerische Motorwerke for an address in Turkey - I could only find something in Istanbul. So let's call from Turkey then. I also let go of the idea to go to Cyprus, the trip with the ferry would only take me to the Turkish part, and it's very expensive. And I have to re-enter Lebanon, with all the added costs.
From Amman I went to Damascus that same afternoon, and found myself a bed in a hotel in the center of the town. They ripped me off for 29 dollar at the border - it's always something different. From Lebanon to Syria is 400 Syrian pounds (8 dollar), and today, from Jordan, the same visum costs me 32 dollar, and a 3 day transit visum 23 dollar. About 6 dollar for filling out the Carnet is the only constant factor. The Egypts have left me too tired to kick up a fuss about it.
After Damascus I ride to Aleppo. The engine acts up at first, but then the problems suddenly disappear. When I take a break for some tea I get the same warm and friendly welcome from the Syrians. These people are really heartwarming. My bike is cleaned, I get water in any quantity, the mocassins of the owner are mine because the boots looked way too hot, my socks are rinsed, my T-shirt is made wet, and the second cup of tea is free. Again totally impressed I continue to Aleppo, the second city in Syria. I plan on a 2 day stay, this is my last time in this country this journey. The bike starts acting up again. I hope I don't have to go too far into Turkey, and find myself a dealer in the east. An unpleasant feeling about the bike creeps up on me.
In Aleppo I spoil my time on purpose chatting. I enter the souq (the part of the city containing all the small shops) and visit the companies I'm not familiar with from Northern Europe. I encounter a shop where they sell second-hand tractor parts. The owner speaks English very well, he imports the parts himself, mainly from Ireland. His neighbor runs a similar shop, but he purchases his stuff from him. He just returned, and has bought 40 tons of stuff. They are scheduled to arrive in 2 weeks. We talk about everything - even the political situation. The man offers no critics on Assad, only on his government. The 60% defense expenses, the inflation, the effort he has to make to pay the Irish in English Pounds (through some helpers in Lebanon and Jordan): he criticizes it all. But Assad is above everything.
Then I see a shop where they manufacture pumps. They cast the shell of the pump outside the city, but in the center they build the axles. One of the customers just brought a pump which has an axle that needs replacing. The axle is ma in the shop on a lathe - I can hear Klaas doing an imitation of our teacher in workplace technics. Maybe that's why I enjoy watching this: I once learned how to operate one of those machines. But these guys are professionals: at the place where the bearing has to be attached the axle is a couple of microns thicker. The bearing has to be attached with brute force. A perfect fit.
The next stop is for lunch. They won't let me pay for it, and they take me to another pumps shop. This one is almost the same, except the pumps are bigger here. The man here speaks more Arab than English however, and I end up in a shop where cylinders of diesel engines are enlarged so they can use oversized pistons. That is a very precise job and the man is impressed by the fact that I see that the cylinder must be put in the workbench exactly straight. This man achieves this by sticking a piece of cigarette paper between the claws of the plate - that's how small the margins are. This workshop could have been mine: all cleaned up, everything at its place, the lathe spotless. They help a customer put a new cylinder around a piston pen. They are not afraid to take things apart here.
The man next door (a tyre shop) checks in. He studies economics. I steer the conversation to the topic of politics a bit too quickly, and the young man, who speaks English very well, warns me about this subject. I learn there is some kind of Stasi active <-- abbreviation of the term Staats Sicherheits Polizei, the German security police during WO-II - NJ -->, a secret police keeping tabs on people. Suddenly I feel the feeling of not being free, although I think I would find it much more choking when I really would get in touch with this.
They serve tea, and a while later the student changes the topic to politics himself. And you know, every time I say something about the government he agrees, but not when I criticize Assad. Because Assad is OK. And the Israeli are no good. And Syria is a democracy being neutral in conflicts. I recognize the propaganda and the onesided information supply. And yet the young man (I avid mentioning his name) has plenty criticism: the monetary policy is wrong, there is no free trading and people traffic, the foreign connections are worse than those of Jordan (and they profit from those immensely), there is no Internet, there is no freedom of press, the foreign papers are censored and the governmental services are too big. He thinks one man can't alter anything. (Just as well I don't live here - I would be in trouble right away.)
It was a fun day - I saw a lot, and learned even more about Syria. This is definitely a place I will return to some day. Next time I'll plan to arrive in early spring, in March and April, I'll get myself a multiple entry visum for all adjacent countries, I'll visit Israel and then I'll leave the Middle East by ferry from Haifa. My bike will never see Egypt again. And maybe I'll take a travelling companion with me, so we can do the things I wouldn't dare doing alone: crossing the deserts off-road, and camping in the wild.
Allah ma'ak (see you) from Syria.
PS: I am in Ankara now. After filling the tank with Turkish gasoline the problematic running of the engine has gone away, the valves sound like they don't need adjustment for a long time, and the engine purrs like a kitten. To celebrate this I decide to consume a lot of miles - that's why I'm already in Ankara. Now it's time to find me a BMW dealer to buy spare parts!
For the worrying people: there is no rain at all here (like there was in Trabzon), and I avoided all coach crashes. Furthermore I haven't seen any unpaved roads or rough terrain for a while now, and I haven't fallen of my bike.