Wednesday, 3 September 2008

Pilgrimage from Khirbat Al Ghazalah to Syrian-Jordanian Border 26/08/08

Waking with my alarm at 7am the thought passes through my mind "Why did I bother finishing the movie?"

I want to get some blogs written before Maya comes but it isn't going to happen, rolling over I fall back asleep. Snapped back to reality by the phone it's Maya letting me know she's thirty minutes away.

Meeting her as she arrives I'm extremely happy she made the effort and offer to shout her brunch...

"Let's eat in the next street. The restaurants here piss me off"

Which they do, like any tourist area worldwide they are well over priced with a constant stream of people harassing you to buy something. Bugger that :) As we leave the square the last restaurant on the corner gives me a great vibe...

"Let's eat here"

With the tables centered around a fountain the atmosphere is peaceful and even though it looks expensive the environment is worth it. Catching up over a meal of chicken, rice, hommus, yoghurt and olives I'm left feeling very content. The bill arrives and I can't believe my eyes...550 Lira! That's the same amount the other restaurants wanted to charge me for one plate! A bargain with two teas, softdrink and the starters! It's comforting to see not everyone is caught up in the "Let's milk the tourists for all their worth" crowd :) No wonder this restaurant sends off good vibes.

From here it's in to the theater and I'm well impressed. I have to admit, the only reason I made the effort to get here was because all the other travelers I talked to who have seen a lot of ruins all say this is worth the effort. And I'd have to agree...

What makes the Busra theater so unique is that it is still in almost perfect condition. So perfect concerts still get held here. Quite extraordinary! Maya has been here before and is happy to act as my tour guide. From the theater it's down for a quick stroll around the old city before she has to find a bus back to Damascus. Spotting a juice stall in the square maya turns to me...

"Do you want a juice?"

"Sure, sounds great"

"How much is the orange juice?"

"One hundred lira"

"One hundred lira! For for one or for two?"

"For one"

Laughing "Come on, I'm Syrian! You can't charge one hundred lira for a juice. How much really?"

"One hundred lira"

Maya starts to look pissed off...

"Even in the expensive areas of Damascus you don't pay more than fifty lira for a juice on the side of the road. Are you stupid?"

"Oranges are expensive here"

"I'll give you one hundred for two"

"One hundred and fifty for two"

She turns to me...

"Do you still want a juice?"

"Nah, bugger him. I'll just get a bottled drink"

Maya removes two bottles from the fridge and assuming the prices are standard everywhere in Syria hands him fifty lira...

"No, seventy-five!"

"Look, the price for these is forty lira! Fifty is more than enough!"

"No, seventy-five"

Maya slaps her fifty lira down in disgust and walks away...

"See, that's how you have to deal with them. They are stupid!"

I have to laugh :) I'm glad it's not just the foreigners who have to go through this...

The bus isn't until 2pm which leaves us just enough time for a game of billiards. Saying our farewells I head back to the restaurant to wait out the heat. A couple of hours and two cups of tea later I go to leave...

"Could I please have the bill?"


"No, the bill, the bill"

Making dismissive waving motions at me "No no"

"No money?"

Smiling Broadly "Welcome welcome"

It does give me a bit of faith when I meet shop owners smack bang in the middle of touristville who still maintain some dignity and honor...cheers guys :)

A quick taxi ride back to the highway leaves me on the edge of Seida and not knowing if I'll find any restaurants elsewhere I stock up on more fried chicken. With my belly full of grease and feeling very ill I start hitching back up the highway. A policeman walks down from his office to find out what I'm doing...

"I'm hitching about ten kilometers that way then I'm going to walk to Jordan"


"Just for fun"

"Aaaah, very good. Very good"

Walking into the middle of the road he stops a truck and instructs him to take me where I want. Now that's the way to hitch :) Relocating my intersection I get to it. It's already past 6pm, a bit later than I wanted to start, but it means the conditions are now perfect for walking.

Thoroughly enjoying my last steps in Syria the distance goes quickly and I walk into the night. Rapid footsteps sound as I pass a building, a voice calls out in a mix of French and English...

"Mister, stop! Come here!"

Glancing over I have the feeling I'm next to a military complex but having learnt my lesson after getting shot at in Turkey I'm not game to hit them with my torch...

"Are you military? Police?"

"Stop mister! Stop! You must come here"

They didn't answer my question and are moving close. With my torch beam aimed just in front of he leader I give it a quick swivel up stealing a glance. Flicking from one to the next I don't like what I see. Three young guys, probably 22-25, all well dressed are coming out of a construction site. A bad feeling hits my straight away, they have the look and character of wanna be gangsters and I'm not sticking around to find out...

"Mister, mister! Come here!"


Now, they are probably just university students who have found a good place for a party and want to invite me along but I'm not going against my intuition. Their language is aggressive and if they want to talk they will have to follow me up the road...and if they are willing to do that the conversation will be held in the middle of the oncoming traffic :)

A car zips past and using it's headlights I glance back to check if they are following, much to my relief they have stopped on the roadside watching me retreat.

By 11pm I hit the border and a policeman at the first checkpoint comes out to meet me...

"What are you doing?"

"Walking to Jordan"

"Ha, you can't do that! If you walk past here I will arrest you" Indicating to the car next to him "This is Abu Khali. He will take you to Jordan"

"No, seriously. I'm just walking. I've walked across the other Syrian borders with no problem. Why can't I walk here?"

He doesn't look impressed...

"If you want to walk, fine! But as soon as you pass here I will arrest you"

He takes my arm and much to the amusement of the other offices tries to manhandle me into the car. I decide it's time for some peer pressure. In Arabic and loud enough for everyone to hear I explain that I've walked all the way from England (obviously leaving out the part about driving across the border from Greece to Turkey ; ) ). My ploy appears to work, I suddenly have a big group swarming asking questions, then loosing interest they go back to their dinner. The original officer is still making motions like he's going to handcuff me and I resign myself to being driven. Abu Khali has already gone and there's no more cars, loitering around for another minute I slowly start edging away. The officer looks up...

"Okay, go go"

Making shooing motions at me it's all the encouragement I need :)

The official at the next checkpoint welcomes me with a cheeky look in his eye...

"Please sit, sit" Motioning to the bench next to him

"Where are you going?"


"You are walking?"


"And then?"

"And then I'm meeting my mum on the 29th and after that I don't know"

He gets distracted with another traveller and I get up to go...

"No, please. Sit, sit. I want to talk"

"I have seen you walking yesterday and the day before on the highway. Where did you start?"


"England, wow! How long has it taken you?"

"In total the walking has taken about eight months"

He explains to the other two workers what I'm up to and they all nod approvingly. Once again I get up to go...

"Ben, I have one question for you and you have to answer truthfully"

Taking a deep breath. Here we go :) I glance up at his face and am pleased he still has a playful look in his eye...

"So, are you going there?" Pointing west

Laughing "You know I can't answer that truthfully. How can I answer that?"

I am normally open with the fact I'm walking to Jerusalem but the one place I really don't want to let them know is here at the immigration office. Anywhere else they would have to go to an effort to get me blacklisted but here it will take one flick of a pen or click on a keyboard and that will be that. A rule about coming to Syria is they will not let you in if you have EVER been to Israel...

"So you are going to Tel Aviv!"

" Jerusalem. My walk will finish there"

All three of their faces light up with big smiles and I can see nothing but admiration in the look from my questioner...

"Ben, you are a very good man. A very good man and a very strong man. Now you are free to go..."

Luckily for me none of the other immigration officers recognize me as a walker and before long I'm in no-mans land, a couple of kilometers from Jordan. Out of the blue a big flash hotel appears and I can't believe my luck. It looks expensive but I figure if they will let me stay for $30 I'm all for it...

"Hi, how much is a room?"

"Just you?"


"Twenty dollars"

"Twenty dollars!?" I'm sure I heard wrong

"Yes, twenty dollars"

I can't believe it! With marbled floors, 24 hour reception, mini-bar, free internet, business center, TV, 24 hour cafeteria and a big new bathroom it is probably the best value hotel I have ever stayed in. Bit of a funny location, in no-mans land and all, but with a duty free shop downstairs selling vodka at $8/Litre I think this is where I'll come to retire ;)

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