John's HomeMiddle Eastern Adventure (Jul-Sep 2005)Sanli Urfa and dodgey border crossings into Syria
Middle Eastern Adventure (Jul-Sep 2005)
|Sanli Urfa with its sacred carp is our last stop in Turkey. The ice slushy's there are fantastic (best enjoyed relaxed under the shade of a tree).
We are nearing the border with Syria and my trepidation increases as I realise that I am the only person (crazy enough) in our tour party that doesn't have a valid entry visa for the Syrian Arab Republic (and it is a very long bus trip back to Istanbul). Although tourists need to arrange a visa before they arrive, the lonely planet says that travellers from countries where there is no Syrian embassy 'can usually' get a visa at the border. It is this term 'usually' that I have been left pondering for the last few days.
The border crossing is an experience! My travelling companions, of which the few hardy souls left carrying on for this leg of the trip (Alysa & Des, Wendy, Cherie and Nicole) all had to walk the roughly 1km stretch of no mans land under the Arabian midday sun at its zenith. Hot would be an understatement. It would have been a very cool photograph to get the two flags of the Turkish and Syrian Arab Republic flags at the border - but we didnt feel like tempting fate or the itchy trigger fingers of the armed Turkish border police and the even more heavily armed Syrian miliatary police who were undoubtedly scowling at this obscure little border crossing where few Western tourists venture and where news would undoubtedly take a long time to travel.
After being ushered into a shack that served as the immigration point, by gun toting 16 year olds, our passports were taken from us and we were left pondering our fates. It is times like these that you really do need minties (and a lot of faith in whether the kiwi passport is really as good as they say in travelling around some of the hotter hotspots of the world). After being sent off across the road to another shack (apparently a branch of the Syrian Central Bank) to obtain the necessary 'entry tax', I exchanged three US$20 bills (which seem to be universally accepted pretty much anywhere) for about 2000 Syrian Pounds (an absolute fortune given that a large pizza costs about 15 pounds). In any case, this allowed me to extricate my passport (very gratefully received now with six little green stamps and a whole heap of Arabic writing that I suspect will cause me a real headache the next time that I pass thorugh LAX) and we were sent scampering onto the dirt road to await our transport.
The souqs of Aleppo are fantastic (really authentic after the 'Grand Bazaar' (aka Grand Ripoff that is Istanbul). You can really get lost here amidst the spice markets, coffee and silks, and dodgey food vendors.
One useful tip that i learned was how to read arabic numbers (either from the license plates or from the serial numbers on the bank notes). Its not too hard and means that you can at least buy a bottle of water or some fruit without feeling too ripped off. The people are fantastically friendly and very curious because there are few Western tourists that come to Damascus and even fewer to Aleppo (and as for Asian tourists .. well I think I was a bit of a cause celebrite for once!)
Locations Visited: Urfa, Sanliurfa, Aleppo
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