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'98 Trip Around the Mediterranean Sea
Fifth Leg: Middle East

Jordan
Syria
Turkey

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Jordan '98 Jordan map

Fri, July 17, 98. JORDAN: Ferry to Aqaba.

 

J.: We wasted the whole day to get from Dahab to Aqaba. Because Israel has access to the Red Sea and you can’t go to Syria after visiting Israel (Syrians simply won’t let you in), we had to take a ferry from Nuweiba to Aqaba to avoid Israel instead of driving through 10 km stretch of Israeli territory. Egyptian bureaucracy took 3 hours. We had to pay again. This time 22 pounds each. Then we had to wait another 5 hours for the ferry to be ready. The trip took 4 hours. We arrived in Aqaba ferry port after sunset. At the border, a clerk in a change money window, asked us where we were from. After hearing the answer, Canada, he stated: “I respekt yor kontry.” It felt good to hear such words.

G: Jordan seemed to be a pretty modern country. Clean streets, nice restaurants, bank machines, expensive cars and, of course, the money: it took two CDN$ to match one Jordanian Dinar. But overall it was pretty cheap. 

J.: We slept at the campsite along with some German tourists. The camp had the worst facilities ever. (Night Fri/Sat 17/18).

 

Sat, July 18, 98. JORDAN: Wadi Rum.

 

J.: We left early in the morning, stopped in Aqaba for breakfast but it was very difficult to get anything decent to eat there other than some extremely puking sweet pastries. We filled the tanks and bought water and set off to Wadi Rum. (The film Lawrence of Arabia was shot there. Lawrence himself lived there for a few years.) I didn’t like the idea of going through the desert, but Greg was quite persistent. After few kilometers we realized that we lost a bottle of water (we had 3 altogether). Later on we noticed that one of the remaining two bottles was leaking. Add to this a very poor breakfast, temperature in the mid-forties, desert, soft sand, no map (!) and 35-40 km of the desert track with no one around, and you know what to expect from the next paragraph.

 

Soft sand of the desert track is only for the most enduring riders. The beginning wasn’t too bad. The track was quite hard. 

Wadi Rum, Jordan. There is only one bottle of water left.

After a few kilometers, sand became soft, so it was easier to ride off the track, right through the sand and occasional bush, rather than struggle with the ruts. As soon as I lowered the speed, the ride became tricky, my bike began to wobble from one side to another and a fall was inevitable. I was on the ground a bit more often than Greg was. The worst was when the falling bike crushed the rider’s leg. Then the other rider had to stop, turn around, get off the bike, free the victim and help to lift the bike from the ground.  

After another fall, Wadi Rum, Jordan

Turning point took place after few hours of struggling with the track. We run out of water. We were exhausted and didn’t know where to go. We were surrounded by astonishing rock formations. We stopped beside a huge rock. Greg decided to look around. I was trying to recover from temporary but serious weakness caused by the heat (approx. 45 C) and dehydration. I was so weak I couldn't stand. It’s possible that I had a sunstroke. 

Escaping sunshine in the shade of a motorcycle. No strength to even lift my arm for the picture. We don't know where we are, we have no water. Wadi Rum, Jordan

Greg came back after an hour or so. He spotted Bedouins’ camp about 2 km away from us and went to get some water. Ahead of us there was the most difficult passage: about 500 m up and down the hill through the softest sand you could imagine. We went through this trap one at a time pushing each other at the beginning. First gear, full throttle, 7,000 rpm. We both succeeded without a fall. Yeah! I was exhausted. The Bedouins were very friendly. They gave us more water and of course tea. We rested there for half-hour or so and then kept riding. I fell a few more times. One time I was going through small sand up and downs with 40-50 km/h speed. My bike was literally flying in the air.

 

YES! Finally we made it!!! 

We made it!!!

After 35-40 km through the desert, 6 hours and numerous (about 10-12 each) falls, we reached the village of Rum alive, hungry and thirsty.

Our bikes past the test with an A+ mark!

We were driving until late that night to get to Petra and we pitched the tent by the parking lot beside Petra archeological site. Nights Sat/Sun/Mon 18/19/20 there.

 

Sun, July 19, 98. JORDAN: Petra.

 

J.: Petra was the ancient capital of the Nabataeans—Arabs who dominated the Transjordan area in pre-Roman times. The Romans took the city in 106 AD. During the Christian era a number of Nabataean buildings were altered for Christian use. In 12thcentrury the Crusaders moved in and built a fort. Then it was forgotten. It was rediscovered in 1812. A narrow gorge (2-5m wide, 200m high) leads to the entrance.

The Treasury (the Khazneh) 

Treasure, Petra, Jordan

(approx. 100 BC-200 AD) was carved out of the solid sandstone. A scene from the movie Indiana Jones & the Last Crusade was shot here. [8000 seat amphitheater carved in the solid rock].

Another famous building: the Monastery: 50m wide and 45m high, built in the 3rd century BC. One could ride a camel around Petra. But this was rather a treat for “package” tourists, not for serious travellers. By the way, it was HOT that day…

G.: In the evening we met a lonely Honda-Transalp rider from Spain. Later that evening we had a dinner with Francisco in a local restaurant and shared our travel experiences.

 

Mon, July 20, 98. JORDAN: Kerak, Dead Sea Valley, Jerash. SYRIA: Damascus.

 

J.: The next day we were going to get to Damascus so we set off early.

 

Kerak

We reached Kerak, then the Dead Sea. Kerak lies about 900m above sea level. You could see the Dead Sea from there. Going towards the Dead Sea, we passed the Sea Zero Level. Hot, very hot.  

Passing Sea level. Jordan

 

Dead Sea

The Dead Sea looked and tasted (!) quite disgusting. It is 75 km long, 6-16 km wide. Salt content: 33%. No life. 394m below sea level, the lowest point on earth. Still it was possible to have a swim or rather a float. By the way, you would definitely learn where your cuts were …  Be prepared for a few minutes of agony…   

Dead Sea, Jordan

 

Jerash

Another archeological site from the Roman times. The Forum is unusual because of its oval shape. 

Oval Forum in ancient Jerash, Jordan

South Theatre (1st century AD; capacity: 5000 spectators) has been beautifully restored. The cardo, (Colonnaded Street) stretches for more than 600m. Some important officials were visiting the site so we had a chance to listen to the Bedouin wind band. Maybe I should have stayed there and start a career! 

G: We arrived to the border in the evening. Nice surprise: the crossing was pretty straightforward but a bit time consuming. 



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Syria '98 Syria map

Damascus.

We reached Damascus late at night. If you travel by motorbike especially in the developing countries, try to avoid driving at night. In Damascus, a driver of a Pontiac Firebird (Kuwait license plate) offered his help in finding a hotel.

2 nights Mon/Tue/Wed 20/21/22 in a hotel in Damascus. We parked the bikes beside the Ministry of Interior Affairs, which was under heavy military guard (free parking!).

 

Tue, July 21, 98. SYRIA: Damascus.  

 

 

J.: We took the whole day to explore the city. 

Street market in Damascus

It is considered the oldest constantly inhabited city in the world. We visited Omayyad Mosque. 

Omayyad Mosque, Damascus

Inside it, there was St. John’s Shrine. The mosque (705-715 AD) suffered badly during 1893 fire. What remains today is a reconstruction of that mosque.

We visited the beautiful Saida Ruqqaya Mosque built in 1985 in the Iranian style. 

Saida Ruqqaya Mosque, Damascus

The mosque contains the mausoleum of Ruqqaya Bint al-Hussein ash-Shaheed bi-Kerbala (Ruqqaya, the Daughter of the Martyr Hussein of Kerbala).

All around the country we spotted Assad’s portraits (the  “director” of Syria). In Syria there was almost as many pictures of Assad as Gaddafi’s in Libya. 

Assad, the director, and his bicycle

 

Later in the evening we had couple of shawarmas (delicious and cheap) and went to a Hammam (bath house). The workers there washed us thoroughly, scrubbed our bodies with a metal brush 

Greg is enjoying scrubbing

and gave us a massage. At the end we were served tea. It was fun.

 

Wed, July 22, 98. SYRIA: Damascus, Palmyra, Crac de Chevelier.

 

J.: In the morning we set off to Palmyra. Few kilometers before Palmyra, Greg rode through a huge pothole at 140 kms/h. He dented the bike’s rear rim and damaged his bin clamp. Fortunately the rim and the tire were still OK. We stopped at a nearest gas station. It took 2 hours to fix the clamp.   

Gas station near Palmyra, Syria

That day it was hot: 45 C. We quickly toured the site (met a Polish tourist, Maciek from Bialystok), had a meal and set out to the Crac de Cheveliers.

Again we were driving at night and reached Crac de Cheveliers around midnight. Slept in the restaurant. Night Wed/Thu 22/23.

 

Thu, July 23, 98. SYRIA: Crac de Chevelier and ride to Aleppo.    

 

 

J.: In the morning we toured the caste. Crac de Chevelier = Castle of the Knights = ’Qala’at al-Hosn’. It was built over a period of 100 years from around 1150.  It could house 4000 troops. The Crusaders were forced to surrender to Sultan Baibars in 1271. It didn’t look much different 800 years ago.  

Crac de Chevelier

G: It was quite an unbelievable experience to walk around the castle. It seemed like it was just yesterday that the crusaders were there. There were many signs of the Muslim presence, inscriptions on walls, etc. The castle is a beautiful monument to the past conflicts. It could, however, be better taken care of.

J.: We set off to Aleppo and reached the city late in the afternoon. We toured the city and decided to spend more time there the next day. Night Thu/Fri 23/24 in a hotel in Aleppo. We parked our motorbikes in the hallway of the hotel.

G: In the summer it was hard to breathe in Aleppo. The pollution was unbelievable. A nice feature of the city was the visible Russian influence, more so here than in Damascus. Many store signs didn’t even bare Arabic script. They were in Cyrillic alphabet.  

 

Fri, July 24, 98. SYRIA: Aleppo to Turkey.

 

J.: In the morning we decided that we had seen enough medinas so we skipped Aleppo and set off to cross the Turkish border. We stopped at the fruit juice stand. 

Delicious.



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Turkey '98 Turkey map

Border crossing was easy. A Turkish border officer asked for a bribe. Since it was only US$ 2, we complied with unwritten rules.

We were planning to reach Cappadocia, but were unsuccessful in doing this. The gear shifter of my bike broke right at the border. We stopped in the nearest town. The locals quickly directed us to a shop where the shifter was welded in no time for free. Just like in Egypt, hordes of curious kids surrounded us. They were very friendly, though. As the day ended, we found a spot to sleep in the middle of the field near Nigde. Night Fri/Sat 24/25.

 

Sat, July 25, 98. TURKEY: Cappadocia. Drive to the Med coast.

 

J.: This region is famous for the fantastic natural rock formations of its valleys. Our LAST RECORDED PICTURE of this trip was taken here. 

Goreme, Cappadocia, Turkey

Greg’s camera with a film and two other films (Turkey: Cappadocia, Olympus, Bodrum, trip through the Balkans, Poland) got stolen at the Amsterdam Train Station at the end of the trip. Quite an unfortunate accident. 

 

After seeing Cappadocia, we set off to the Mediterranean coast. Excellent roads through the mountains. Overall, Turkey is a great place for motorcyclists. We arrived in Monav and slept there. Night Sat/Sun 25/26.

 

Sun, July 26, 98. TURKEY: Monav (at the Mediterranean coast) to Olympus.  

 

J.: We left Monav early for Olympus. In Olympus we placed ourselves in the famous Tree Houses (houses, rather rooms, built on the trees), went to the beach, met a number of foreign and Turkish travelers (backpacker type) (Pnesh—a Turkish girl’s name!). At night we went to see the Eternal Flame on the mount of Olympus. We spent the night Sun/Mon 26/27 there (evening and half the night in a bar with Ozis, Kiwis and Turks). We had really good time with the Tree House residents, but there wasn’t much time left till the end of the trip, so we decided to leave the next day for Bodrum.

 

Mon, July 27, 98. TURKEY: Olympus to Bodrum.

 

J.: Another fun ride through Turkish mountains: some highways, some very narrow and busy roads. We reached Bodrum and found a campsite a few kilometers further in Gumbet. The plan was to go to Greece the next day, but after reviewing the situation and time, we decided to stay in Bodrum for couple of days and then to ride straight to Poland. 3 nights Mon/Tue/Wed/Thu 27/28/29/30 in Bodrum.

 

Tue & Wed, July 28 & 29, 98. TURKEY: Bodrum (Gumbet). 

 

J.: We tasted the “package tourist” way of spending time. It was boring (Bodrum = Boredom). I was able to put up with rude and arrogant English tourists for two days. Luckily there were some German backpackers on the camp with whom we hang out. Everything was awfully expensive. I really missed riding my bike these two days.

 

Thu, July 30, 98. TURKEY: Bodrum, Ephesus, middle of nowhere.

 

J.: From Bodrum, we drove to Ephesus. Toured this crowded place quickly (last ruins that year) and kept riding towards the Bulgarian border. The night found us in the middle of nowhere, again. Not really knowing where we were, we pitched our tent in an olive orchard, which we found after a one-hour search. Night Thu/Fri 30/31 there.

 

Fri, July 31, 98. TURKEY: “nowhere” to Edirne.

 

J.: In the morning we discovered that the place was several meters from the cliff that lead to the Mediterranean Sea. A beautiful view. Near dawn a flock of sheep passing by woke us up. Neither sheep, dogs nor the shepherd bothered us. We continued the trip to Edirne and slept at another free “campsite” (night Fri/Sat July31/Aug1) in the middle of the field.


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