Monday, 4 August 2008

Pilgrimage from Yayladagi to Zighrin 28/07/08

My last day in Turkey!!! What an awesome feeling...

I have loved walking through Turkey but the thought of finally getting to the Middle-East fills me with joy. I'm one happy pilgrim today :)

I was hoping to wake early and even though I'm excited it isn't till 8am that I finally drag myself out of bed to check out. The way back to the minibus terminal is very easy but somehow I manage a wrong turn and wonder the streets for an extra thirty minutes :( But it isn't long before I'm back in Yayladagi...

The guy sitting next to me during the taxi ride works at the government offices in town and invites me for a tea. By the time I'm ready to leave it's 10am, the sky is overcast and it's not too hot so I'm not too concerned.

With 4kms till the border I'm in good spirits and loving the walk through the pines. I suddenly realize though that I'm extremely nervous about the Syrian immigration. I am meant to have a visa before entering but I know it shouldn't matter as I have entered before without one. I just don't know what they will think of me walking??? Since starting I have had it in my mind that if I have any problems it is going to be at this crossing, so let's keep our fingers crossed...

A restaurant appears 1km from the border and not knowing what I will find on the other side I stop. Two young guys are busily preparing for the day...

"Good morning. Are you guy serving food yet?"

"Good morning. We have kebabs if you want to wait ten minutes..."

Looking at the newly lit fire in front of him I somehow doubt ten minutes is a very good estimate...

"That's alright. Thanks anyway, have a good day..."

"No problems, but sit and have a tea before you go"

"Sure"

It was a good choice to stay because not only are the guys good value but ten minutes after sitting down the table is loaded with food for breakfast! Champions :)

Then just to top of my Turkish experience they don't let me pay! I love Turkey ;)

Ten minutes later the border comes into site and my heart rate slightly increases. The road has been very quiet and one thing that I know from experience is a bored immigration officer is very rarely a good one, the exception being when their border post is so quiet they spend their whole day watching soaps on TV and the two minutes they have to spend with you is an inconvenience they want to be finished with as soon as possible :)

Handing my passport to the Turkish officer I'm surprised with all his questions. He thinks that because I have been here two months I must have been working and his circle of questions cycles over and over. Luckily for me I came name a path from town to town right from Ipsala to here so it adds believability to my story :) But lets hope this is not a sign of things to come at my next stop! If it takes five minutes of questions just to leave form this border crossing how hard is it going to be to enter...

The good thing with Syrian immigration offices is that they are positioned off the road and the officers can't see that I walked in. I took the liberty of applying for residency while living in Damascus to give myself more options on this crossing and I make my mind up not to mention walking at all unless I have to...

"Good morning, where are you from?"

"Australia"

"Do you have a visa?"

"No, but I've applied for residency in Damascus and they told me I didn't need one"

"Hmmmm, you need a visa but wait here..."

The younger officer hands me a form to fill out and proceeds to look page by page through my passport...

"What's this stamp?"

"England" This is going to take a while if he doesn't even now that one... :)

"What's this stamp?"

"Panama"

I have heard that if the immigration officers on the Jordanian border are bored they will go through your passport stamp by stamp and try to see if there are any gaps in your travel where they will accuse you of going to Israel. I have the feeling this is what he is trying to do but even knowing where I have come and gone from over the last two years i would have trouble plotting a course from stamp to stamp in my passport, so I'm not too concerned.

Knowing that I will have to cross back into Syria again in a couple of weeks I don't want to lie on my form so I write that my reason for being here is tourism and that I will stay two weeks. The question that stumps me though is the one at the very bottom...

Means of entry into Syria and the registration number of the vehicle...

I leave it blank and hand it back. The officer quickly reads it over and points to the bottom...

Shrugging "Don't know"

He shrugs and waves like it doesn't matter...phew :)

The older guy comes back with a big smile...

"OK, no problems. So you live in Damascus do you?"

"Yes" If that's what he's just been told from Damascus don't want to contradict them :)

"Where?"

"In Baramkeh"

"Aaaaah, Baramkeh. What's your address?"

I just shrug. Even when I lived there I had no idea what the address was as it consisted if five lines of writing and a picture. Something about being the apartment block down the road from the gym across from the spotted dog that will bark at you three time when you pass...

"So, what were you doing there?"

"Studying Arabic" This is not something I wanted to admit to if possible as I can't remember a word :) Sure enough the next question comes in Arabic and I break into a sweat...

"Where did you study? At Damascus University?"

I pause. My mind fills with Turkish. Come on Ben...think! Day one lesson one...

"I'm studying Arabic at the Arab European University in Damascus"...

Phew, I manage to get it out followed by "but now..." making motions like everything has disappeared from my head

They just laugh and my visa is approved.

I made it!!! Wooohooooo :)

Not to be outdone by the Turks the first people I come across invite me for tea and every second car that passes has someone yelling...

"Welcome! Welcome! Welcome to Syria!!!"

There are even people who are literally half way out their car windows with enthusiasm :)

This is actually one thing that drives foreigners nuts after being in Syria for a short while. If a Syrian only knows one word in English it will be "welcome" and they happily use it over and over again to any passing "tourist". It is cute for the first few days but after that it does get tiring ;) I can only imagine what it's like for the poor people who have lived here for years...

It's funny, before people come here they wonder if the Syrians will welcome them at all but after a short time most wish the Syrians would be a little less "welcoming" ;)

The walking is great. I'm seeing a side of Syria I didn't even know existed. Green wooded hills, rich fertile valleys and farming everywhere. A long way from the endless dessert which covers most of the country.

A car pulls over on the other side of the road, a guy jumps out and waves me over. Straight way I get a good vibe from this man and as I get closer I'm greeted by the same aura that surrounded the monks at the monastery in Porto Lagos. His eyes are full of compassion and I can see he is a man comfortable with who he is and what he is doing...

"Hi, I'm an artist. My name is Nubour. Where are you from?"

"Australia"

"Welcome, welcome. Are You just walking? Where have you come from?"

"Yes, just walking. I've walked from England" I can see this stumps him slightly :)

Laughing "Are you sure?"

Laughing "Yep, I'm sure" :)

He grasps my hands and when he releases I open them to find 2000 Lira (US$40). I'm speechless. Forty dollars is a lot to give away to a stranger anywhere in the world and after living here for a few months the sum in my hand looks like a small fortune. The funny thing is he must have had it in his hands before finding out where I was from or what I was doing...

Smiling "Good luck..." He turns and walks back to his car...

And that's that. He's gone before I have a chance to respond, thank him or anything. I want to ask for a photo or get him on video but as my eyes follow him back to his car I realize nothing will recapture that moment.

Yep, Syrians! "Axis of evil" written all over them ;)

The road is full of little shops selling tea, coffee and fruit so I have and endless stream of invites. It makes for slow going and I do feel slightly bad I can't accept them all.

Passing a beautiful little lake, darkness falls and I weave my way through the mountains. A rather noisy group calls out from across the street and I can't resist to join them...

"Ben, can you drink Akrak?" In Greece it's called Ouzo, in Turkey Raki and here Akarak, but whatever its name I'm all for it...

"Sure"

Yassir breaks out a huge smile and I realize he is drinking alone. He must be dying for a drinking partner and I'm more than happy to oblige ;) An extremely entertaining guy but has a bit of the "drunk uncle" syndrome, many of the jokes he finds terribly amusing leaves the rest of the table rolling their eyes...

He tries to sell me his daughter along with one of her friends, tempting but I don't think they would both fit in my backpack and it wouldn't really be fair to separate them ;)

He then proceeds to let the baby sip his drink and suck his cigarette, much to the mothers disgust but the baby loves it. The drink gets spilt on the table and straight away the baby dives in sucking it up :) Yassir roars with laughter as the rest of the table gasps...

As I go to leave they offer to let me stay in their shop...

Perfect :)

3 comments:

Nicu Panaitescu said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Nicu Panaitescu said...

Big country, long journey, amazing stories... Thanks and God bless you, Ben!

Nicu

Ben :) said...

Always a pleasure nicu :)