Date:Thu, 14 Sep 2000 05:25:43
Damascus (10-08-00) till Esfahan (27-08-00)
Finally I got my palmtop back, so hopefully this report is going to be different to the previous ones in this matter, it's not just a summary of places and sights I've visited but hopefully more like a story.
Thursday, 10 August, I spend the morning packing my stuff, and have a last shower so I was ready to leave Damascus. Fully packed I drove to the factory where Geert and Uwe were working. Actually they weren't doing anything at all as the machine finally worked well. When they were ready to go back home at 14.30 we said goodbye and I headed for Hama, just over 200 km. using the highways and checked in a hotel (slept on the roof), did some shopping in town, had some food and strolled around seeing already the first Noria, a huge wooden waterwheel formerly used to elevate water used for irrigation. You can hear them from far away as they are really groaning because the wooden axe is rotating on a wooden block causing friction.
The next morning I visited several wheels but and took some photo's but they're not all that nice. Around eleven I left the hotel heading for Palmyra. I didn't use the highways but took some small roads through the desert although they were all tarmacs. The scenery was absolutely magnificent, never thought that it was possible to create such an interesting landscape only using sand and stones. Hardly any traffic and hot. Although not as hot as a desert supposed be (the heatwave in Turkey was worse). Entering Palmyra was great as you drive through the ruпnes bfore entering the town. I immediately disliked the place as everyone was trying to get me in his hotel and at the locally groceryshop they asked "touristprices" which immediately got back to normal as you leave the shop when you refuse to pay those prices.
I went to the castle to have a nice view over the ruпnes in the late afternoon, and I wasn't the only one. Back at the hotel I noticed that the antenna of my GPS was broken. The hotelowner had told me it was safe to leave the motorbike outside, but the streetkids were touching everything. I had a quick look at it but the antenna but it didn't receive any satellite anymore.I already had learned not to make any impulsive decisions or reparations so I put it aside. Had a diner in a restaurant on the street together with my South-Korean roommate.
The next morning I got up so early that all the restaurants were still closed so I had to eat the things I had on my motorbike. I visited the historical sites but refused to pay the SYP 300 (USD 6) for the Temple of Bel and slipped in together with a organised group of Italian tourists and it wasn't really worth it the money. Actually I had enough of all those (Roman) sites, I already saw so many of them, so I got back to the hotel to pack the bike.
I planned to drive to Aleppo via Rasafeh but the hotelowner thought that a part of the road to Rasafe was a real desertpiste.This sounded really great to me. So I headed to As-Shukna were this road started and filled up my tank completely before heading north. I met there an Italian couple on a motorbike and they just came from Rasafeh, but they followed the tarmac road and so had a detour via Deir ez-Zur, but they were driving a roadbike. They were told that the direct road was dangerous because it was easy to get lost on the desertpiste because of all those different tracks everywhere. Now I needed my GPS the most for navigation it didn't work and I had to use my handcompass. I decided at least to give it a try, and as long as I headed due north I had to hit a tarmacroad within 150 km. After having some troubles finding the right road out of the village, the first 30 km. were still tarmac but ended in a small village. I confirmed by the locals I was still on the right road and then headed into the desert. At first you try to remember which way you went at forks, but there are so many and you have to keep on driving and fully concentrate yourself on the piste. Very soon I found out that it really doesn't matter which pistetrack you take because sooner or later they all come together again. Just check that it doesn't go to a small village or a barn and its general direction is north. I liked it so much that I was disapointed that I hit the tarmac road already after 38 km. The remaining road to Rasafeh was easy and all tarmac. So my first desert navigation experience was a real positive one and definetely tasted for more.
Rasafeh was an old walled city which was a real pleasure to walk around as it was very remote and hardly visited by tourists. The only place around was a place you could have some drink and food and where you had to buy the entrance ticket. First I had a couple of teas and went inside the city and strolled around for about an hour. It didn't have a real attractive building or so but its restfull peace which was really pleasant. Together with the fact that it was in quite an original state (not so much restoration attempts) made me like the place. Back in the restaurant I had some more tea but when I asked for food they had to admit that there wasn't anything left. So I left the place and headed for Aleppo trying to find a place to roughcamp. I found an abandonned barn not far from the road and parked the bike perfectly out of sight. However within 5 minutes a miltary truck appeared and 5 guys with guns demanded me to leave. I had found a sleeping place directly opposite of an armybase which wasn't a clever thing to do. So I drove on and took a small dirtroad leading to a field and parked the bike on the sand, made a diner and slept well next to the bike until the sun came up and hit me. I was just putting away the sleepingbag as a small bike appeared out of the fields. This guy was living there with his family just in a small tent. Although you could hardly call it a tent; it was a piece of plastic on some sticks tied with some ropes. He was getting some water and when he returned he invited me for some tea. So I was following him on my bike into the fields. The tea turned out to be a whole breakfast. I had a little Arabic phrasebook and so we had a kind of conversation. I had to take some photos of his kinds and send the pictures to him. He wrote down his address in Arabic on paper. The mail was not going to be send to his "house" but to the nearest village. but as long his name was mentioned on it wouldn't be any problem.
So I left for Aleppo. Not far from the main road there was a little castle. I tried to find it but didn't succeed. However I had a great time on some dirttracks along a huge lake.
After reaching Aleppo the normal problem in Syria appeared: nobody can point my current location on the citymap. Even police officers are looking at the map and don't know where they are (on the map I mean). So I drove around for a while till I crossed a railroadtrack and managed to find the station. From there on it was easy to find the hotel I wanted to go to. In the late afternoon I went to the bazar and had a great time there just strolling around, smell all the different spices and watch the local people buying things.
The next morning I went back to the bazar early expecting that the most activity was during the early morning but it was almost completely deserted so I went back to the hotel and packed the bike, ready to go back to Turkey. Using small roads I arrived at the border and crossing it was no problem at all. I had a free crossing into Turkey by using my Carnet as the last time I had to pay USD 20.
My goal was Adana where my father had send a small package to the TNT office containing the palmtop. I had asked around for any address to send this package to, but the Dutch embassy and the AMEX-office both said they refused it "for security reasons" and private persons refused to give their address as soon they heard there were electronic parts inside the package. Turkey customs would ask then for additional payments. So sending it to the TNT-office was the only solution left.
But I couldn't make it to Adana today and I parked along an orchard of orange-trees. The owner visited me and said it was dangerous to stay here as they were hunting around. But one of the hunters was with him and so knew I was here so I wasn't really worried. Also it was already getting dark and I didn't want to look for a different place.
I was not even 5 minutes inside my sleepingbag when a policevan appeared and 6 armed man demanded me to pack my things. I wasn't really impressed (more pissed off that they didn't leave me alone) and started to pack my bike under everyones full attention. Both my baggagerolls went into the policevan and I had to follow the van to the policestation. There they checked my passport and after a brief lecture I was 'free' to leave and had a free police escort back to the highway. There I drove a little bit further and parked (and slept) along an orchard as well without any problem. In fact, the next morning someone came by and switched on the pump which pumped up groundwater to irrigate the field so I had a great oppertunity to clean the bike and myself.
Then on to Adana where I found the TNT-office after asking a few times. I entered the office fully ready to battle with Turkish customs but was really surprised when they told me my package was already waiting in their office for a couple of days. Everything went through customs without the slightest problem. According to the office manager it wasbecause his name was mentioned on the papers but I didn't care at all. Finally, after 2.5 months, I had my palmtop back. I could even use their computer to write an email to my father that I received the package.
I drove on to Mersin to visit the Internetcafй where I copied some files from floppydisk to the palmtop. Because I didn't want to travel that day anymore I went to a garage trying to repair my GPS-antenna. I had found out that there was a broken copper track on the PCB in the antenna, which I wanted to fix by soldering a piece of wire to bypass it. They indeed had a soldering iron and I managed to fix the wire. Immediately I went outside to see if my GPS was picking up any satelites now and... indeed it did. It worked out perfectly well! Carefully I glued backtogether the antenna and was in a very good mood: Today I got my palmtop back and repaired my GPS.
The rest of the afternoon I went into the mountains north of Mersin and reorganised the emails on my palmtop (and reread them). I needed also most of the next day to sort out all the emails which I did at a teahouse in a small mountainvillage. I was sitting on a terrace drinking a cup of tea occasionally, a really pleasant relaxed atmosphere. In the late afternoon I went back to the Internetcafй to copy the resting emails but when I saved the file I got an error message in Turkish and got the owner who "solved" the problem by exiting without saving. I was furious: 2 hours work had gone. She also realised her mistake disappered. As did I without paying.
The next morning I went back and repeated all again and had everything done in an hour. So I went back to Adana and visited the BMW-dealer along the road. They were very friendly but hadn't any motorbike spareparts on stock (I needed only some unimportant parts). I also wanted to take 5 liter motoroil with me so I could exchange the motoroil somewhere in Pakistan or India, as high grade motorbike oil was impossible to get there. They had a 5 liter jerrycan but it didn't fit into my tankbag. So they gave me the address of a hypermarkt in Adana where I also could buy oil for a motorbike as well as a jerrycan. And indeed they had the required motoroil but only in 1 liter packs.
Single jerrycans weren't sold so I bought a 5 liter jerrycan 'Anti freeze', drained the contents in the toilet and replaced it, at the parking, by the bottles of motoroil. I also bought a new pump, to replace the one which was fatally damaged in Wadi Rum by sand, but the gauge wasn't displaying the right pressure. Replacing the pump for another one didn't bring any improvement. So I ended up throwing away the defective pump and kept its gauge. And after replacing my front brakepads I finally I was ready to head for Iran.
But first I had to go through Turkey for some days. Taking small roads doesn't really help to cover the distance fast but the scenery in much more breathtaking. I headed for Mount Nemrut and hope to drive some off-road. The road to the mountain was really nice but all paved. Not the best pavement but paved. It's necessary while all the minibusses are going up the mountain twice a day, for sunrse and sunset. The next day I wanted to drive around the mountain on secondary roads. I stopped in the first village I passed to buy a replacement for a lost lock and was offered some tea. When they found out where I intended to go to they told me it was a very bad road; I'd better drive back. But when they found out I liked off-road driving they adviced me another route straight through the mountains. This really sounded great to me so I headed to the explained directions and ended up in a small village. No, this was not the right track but a car coming from the opposite direction would send me up the right track which was a small track climbing steep up the mountain, but not after he made sure I had enough fuel with me. The track was quite full with stones so I had to climb in first gear mainly but made it to the top. The following descent was more difficult: even in first gear I went to fast and had to brake. I couldn't use my rearbrake as I kept my feet close to the ground to control the sliding over the loose stones. So I used the front brake and once I slipped away completely and the bike felt on its right side: breaking its front blinker and its cylinder protector and bending its mirror and alu-suitcase. I put the bike upright and put the broken pieces into my pocket. The rest was a piece of cake compared to the first hilltop and after 52 km. I reached Pьtьrge and the tarmac. In Maden I passed a military controlpost and found a place to spend the night on a track into the mountains.
At 23.30 hours, while I was sleeping a car showed up and stopped. The driver shouted at me and I totally ignored him hoping he would leave. But not this guy, his shouting was getting louder and he moved the car so that its headlights were pointed at me. When he started to use his cellphone I decided to 'wake up' and this made him even madder and his two sons had difficulties to keep him into control. As soon as he found out I was a tourist from Holland he cooled down a bit but still I had to move so I started packing the bike under his full attention. I had to follow him for a place to sleep and we ended up in a little village where we were awaited by about 20 people. They all looked at the bike and we had some tea. Some local militaries showed up and needed to see my passport. No, I couldn't spend the night here but I had to follow them. They drove back to Maden where we didn't go to a hotel but to a policestation. There they had to see my passport again and I had to explain what I was doing there. Eeeehhhh, nowaaa, not very much, only sleeping. Why I was lost far away from the mainroads. So I told them my story. They said it was a dangerous area, why they wouldn't tell me. Has the PKK something to do with it? That was a wrong thing to ask because suddenly I had to answer all kind of questions. After an hour (02.30 am meanwhile) I 'was a free man' although I never felt myself arrested and could go. I wanted to sleep so I asked if I could stay at the policestation which was impossible. Where should I go then? Tjsa, eehh... go back to the same place. Then I really didn't understand it anymore. I didn't care either so I drove back and saw the car who brought me to the policestation. They asked me what I was doing and invited me to spend the night at their house.
There we played some cards, drunk tea, and went to sleep at 4 am. We couldn't sleep long the next morning as the people from the vilage saw my bike parked outside and started knocking on the door. They arranged a huge breakfast but only men were joining. After playing some cards I decided to leave and left the village leaving behind a lot of people waving. Only after a couple of km.'s I had to stop at a military checkpoint where I had show my passport. As soon as my name was mentioned over the radio I could continue as they remembered my name from last night.
The first part was over local roads, very nice to drive on but I wanted to get to Iran now so I had to make kilometers and took the main road towards lake Van. I had learned from last night, took no risk and slept at a petrolstation and continued the next day and reached Dogubayazit. the last village before the Iranian border and stayed there at a campground where there were also two German bikers coming from Iran.
They had a five week holiday and had their bikes shipped to Pakistan, flew in and drove around in Pakistan for three weeks, went in four days through Iran (so hadn't seen anything and they still had one week to cross Turkey before the ferry took them to Venice. It's a way seeing some of the world but I'm glad I've got some more time.
The next morning we had breakfast together and they left. I had a shower and it was really warm water; wonderful! I realised that I had to do some laundry as well and decided to stay another day. Went to the supermarket and spend my last turkish money and met an american who wanted to go to Iran as well but a visa was refused at three different iranian embassies, so he had to fly to Pakistan now.
The next morning it was a short trip to the border. There was a long line of trucks waiting but the adventage of a bike is that you can pass them all easily. I got a paper from the turkish authorities to collect stamps. After collecting all the stamps you can leave Turkey. My passport was no problem but for the Carnet (bike registration) the office was closed. The official was outside having a relaxing chat in the sun. Once I found him we got to his office and I got his stamp in no-time as well and could leave Turkey.
In Iran I was immediately approached by someone who spoke english and told me where to park the bike and where the immigraation office was and so on. The luggagecheck, where some people really had problems with was easy. The guy pointed at my luggageroll and asked what was in there. "Cloths" I answered. "Only clothes?". "No sandals and gloves as well" and the he was satisfied. The guy who spoke english turned out to be from the tourist office and supplied me with a good free map. I could also change money with him. His rate wasn't that good (got the current rate from the germans) so I didn't change any money with him. The rest of the border formalities was so easy that I was through it all in notime. I looked over my shoulders if no one was waving me back but it all was OK. I drove to the next town Maku and went in a bank to change money. This bank didn't change money but the neighbouring bank did. But it turned out to be just closed. For lunchbreak I thought and I left town.
Later on I realised it was Thursday today (a Saturday to the Islamic countries) so the banks wouldn't open after lunch or tomorrow as well. With only petrol in the tank for 100 km. and no local currency at all I returned back to Maku and changed only USD 20 on the black market against a very poor rate as they new exactly what my problem was. But at least I could get some petrol now during the weekend. The petrolstation just outside Maku was selling diesel only but there was another station 60 kms. ahead. I could make that but there turned out to be no station at all.
According to the map the next (and nearest) petrolstation was another 35 kms. further down the road. My tank was almost empty when I got there and... they had only diesel as well. But fortunately there was another station inside the town which sold petrol.
I had to fill the tank myself and when I looked at the litercounter and was surprised to see how much was going in the tank thinking "I never have tanked that much before" until people were shouting and I appeared to be overfilling as there was no saftey-stop on the hose. When I took out the hose the petrol was spraying everywhere like a fountain and I was completey under it. So I washed my hands and face and payed the petrol. Fortunately the petrol in extremely cheap here, you can get over 21 litre for USD 1!!! That's less than 5 dollarcents a litre.
An hour later I found out that the bracket of GPS-holder was broken everywhere as its plastic couldn't stand the fuel so I had to put a strap around it to hold the GPS. In Urmiye I had a diner for USD 0.75 and spend the night at a roughcamp. Following the secundary roads down along the Turkish and Iraqi border I crossed through small villages and drove along nice winding roads through a mountaineous area. In Bone I wanted to buy some cheese and after having succeeded to make myself understood and got the cheese outside there where about 40 people standing around the motorbike. Small bikes and pickups were blocking the road completely. Not that anyone cared, in fact the policeofficers were looking at the bike as well. Everybody looked how I stowed away the cheese and started the engine. Before I could leave they had to move away several bikes but then I could go.
Outside Bane the roads was turning from tarmac into gravell and stayed that way, so I drove offroad for over 40 kms. which was great. Just before Sute I was stopped at a military checkpoint and had to show my passport. They really didn't now what to do with it, as for my personal data they actually looked at my american visa, so I had to wait as they phoned from their officebuilding. A pickup stopped and one of those guys could speak english and knew they had to check my Iranian visa and as it was still valid everything was OK. So I wanted to leave but had to stay. Whatfor? Finally an officer was coming down the hill on a small motorbike and wanted to see my passport and the soldier was explaining and showing my iranian visa and showed everything he had learned a couple of minutes ago (and impressed his boss with it?). But I could continue. I didn't see the village of Sute and decided to park along a dry riverbed, nicely outside sight of the road. Sitting here less than 5 minutes 4 guys came walking down the hill straight towards me and started to talk with me, offering me some melons and finally invited me in their home which I accepted.
With one of the guys on the back I drove to the village (the 3 others had to walk) and parked my bike on the parking. After get myself washed I got inside and sat on the carpet. We had some cups of tea and some chats (they got their english books out of their rooms) followed by a diner and some more tea. But it was a men only business. The women you only saw passing by and peeking around the kitchendoor but they didn't participate on the meal.
Later that night some more people showed up and they appeared to be Kurds and were particularly interested in the maps of the Kurdish areas in Turkey and Iraq. I slept on a matrass on the floor really well.
The next morning after breakfast I wanted to leave (could stay longer if I wanted) so I got dressed but couldn't find my socks. It appeared that they were freshly washed that night. My intentions were to drive south to Senendec but my hosts told me yesterdaynight that it was another 200 kms offroad and in this way I would never get through Iran so I returned to the main road and drove down to Esfahan the next day.
In Esfahan I was driving against a one-way road when I saw policeofficers standing ahead, so I pretended to be lost and asked them for directions. Ooh easy, just keep following the road you're on now.
The hotel had a bed available and as I was taking the stuff off my bike another dutch couple on a motorbike showed up. Manus and Yumi were just coming from Bam and were on the way back home. We took a room together and as they had been in Esfahan before they knew exactly where the best restaurants were and also a place where you could get milkshakes.
I'm still a little bit behind, so this is the story so far. At the moment however, I'm already in Islamabad (Pakistan) and want to leave up north to the Karakoram highway tomorrow and spend some time there.