Sunday, 10 August 2008

Pilgrimage fromTartus to Lebanese Border 05/08/08

Giving myself a sleep-in I head down to last nights restaurant for a wonderful mushroom omelet and fresh fruit cocktail. Perfect way to start the day but by the time I get moving it's after 10am.

The walk along the harbor is great, sticking to the coast the sea breeze is wonderful and even though I didn't start till late the temperature is fine...

"Hey, hey..."

A guy from a construction site calls me over for a morning tea. Thirty years ago he lived and studied in Russia but because he has forgotten most of it his Russian is as good as mine...pretty poor. He can speak English as good as I can speak Arabic, which is basically nothing, so the conversation is a very interesting mix :) But somehow we manage to get by and have a good half an hour chat...

"Are you religious?"

"No..."

"I'm Christian...a Christian communist" :)

I think he's joking but I'm to find he is serious. He goes on to tell me there are actually two active communist parties in Syria but unfortunately I can't understand any more details... :(

After 5kms my road comes to an end and I have to head inland to the main road. Not 100m from the shore the temperature jumps five degrees and now it isn't so pleasant...

I have seen some tourist brochures on Tartus with pictures of ruins and it seems the Gods are smiling on me today, my new road takes me straight to them :) Without knowing what they are I wouldn't walk far out of my way for them but the extra 50m is worth it :)

I hit the main road and it's a 20km stretch straight to Lebanon. My stomach is finally feeling better and my energy levels are high. Feeling extremely fit I'm sure I will be able to make the border before dark.

Stopping every five or six kilometers for tea the sun starts to get low and I can make out the border in the distance. I'm not very keen on wondering into Lebanon after dark without getting my bearings first, but the stretch of coast I've been walking along is perfect for camping and I can't see it instantly changing across the border.

I still have my camera in hand and want to tuck it away before hitting the border but a military base is next to me and I don't want to look like I'm hiding it. A guy in uniform is walking down the street opposite and crosses the road to cut me off...

"What's that?" He points to my camera...

"A video camera"

"What are you doing?"

"I'm walking to Lebanon"

"That's forbidden!"

"Give me your passport"

I give the guy a quick look up and down and don't like what I see. He might be in uniform but it doesn't look like he's showered in a week and his eye's are glazed. There's no way this guy is getting ahold of my passport. If he wants to look bad enough he can walk with me the 500m to the border...

"No, I'm going to Lebanon"

"Give me your passport! I need to see your passport"

Pointing at the border "Lebanon, Lebanon..."

His voice raises a few decibels and he starts to look extremely pissed "Passport! Give me your passport!"

Time to remove myself from this situation :) I point at the border, give him my best smile, wave and walk off. I'm followed by a stream of yelling which I don't understand anything of. Normally in this situation I will never look back as this gives them another chance to communicate. Without looking back, short of crash tackling me there's nothing he can do. But for some reason I break my own rule and steal a glance behind me. His arms are waving and he's gone red...

I smile again and give him another wave... :)

He can't help himself. Putting his hands to his head he breaks into a big smile, waves and walks off :)

Finding a quiet corner I hide the cameras and head for the border. Leaving Syria always seems to cost money, basically a bribe but always disguised as something else, and now it appears they have made it official.

I get presented with a "Permission to leave Syria" card issued by no other than the "Syrian Arab Republic Ministry of Finance"!!! Not the Immigration office or customs, but the Ministry of Finance! Classic!!!

"Six hundred Lira please"

The form clearly has "500SYP" written on it so I pass him 500...

"No, 600 Lira"

I point to the form...

"Yes, five hundred for the form, one hundred for me"

The problem with Immigration officers is they know, and you know, that they can't be argued with. If he wants 600SYP, he's going to get 600SYP :)

Making my way to the Lebanese office I spot an Australian Passport on the counter. Glancing around a guy comes up to me with a big smile...

"Gday mate, you Australian as well?"

"Sure am"

Pointing at the man next to him "This guy tells me your walking! He saw you on the road today"

Well...my covers blown :) One thing I don't want to look when passing through Immigration is nervous or uncomfortable so now he's talking to me he's getting the whole story, don't want to look like I'm hiding something...

"Where you walking to?"

"Jerusalem"

"Cool"

"And you are going to walk from here to Tripoli?"

"Yep"

"These guys are telling me it's a bit dangerous. They reckon there's heaps of dogs and hyenas and everything..."

I smile taking this as a good sign. Dogs and hyenas I can deal with, it's the wandering bands of heavily armed angry youths which I'm hoping to avoid. If that's all they have to warn me about I feel a whole heap safer :)

The immigration officer gets my attention...

"So, where will you stay in Lebanon?"

"Tripoli then Beirut"

"What hotel in Tripoli?"

"Any hotel"

"No, I need a name for a hotel"

I don't know how many borders I've passed through and how many times I've been stumped by this question but I never seem to learn my lesson and do some research before arriving. I turn to the Australian...

"Do you know the name of any hotels in Tripoli?"

He shrugs...

I quickly start running through all the words I know in Arabic searching for a suitable hotel name...

"Palace Hotel"

"The what? No, what hotel are you staying in Tripoli?"

"Yes, the Palace Hotel"

He gives me a look of disgust, waves me away and writes "Quality Inn" :)

I made it! I'm in Lebanon!!!

There was a small town on the Syrian side of the border which looked like it continued over to this side, but no such luck. No shops, no houses, no nothing. I'm just faced with a long empty road. The good news is though that the beach is still looking perfect for camping. It's fully dark so walking about 700m away from the border I find a nice little spot tucked away in some sand dunes and call it a day...

1 comment:

lesslie said...

..borders borders... but i guess the night sleep at the in lebanon made it worth it?! at least you were more lucky than i was!? lol