Crossing Africa Newsletter III – Extended

15-11-2002 Smelling Syria

Awoke pretty early, had the nicest breakfast till now and headed for the Turkish – Syrian border town of Antakya. That I reached again by sunset but there should be plenty of hotels around.

Finding your way in a new town by dark keeps difficult and I am glad at least some people speak English here (or at least try to). So I found my cheap hotel and went into town to do some shopping…
This is truly a place that you can skip if you can, I did not feel at ease here, that’s why.

16-11-2002 YAOB (Yet AnOther Border)

Syria this time. On my way to the border I had to place my spare “chain guide” as I lost it somewhere along the way, but could feel it now on the sharp hilly turns.
The border post was quite okay, 44 dollars lighter I came out on the other side. 36 for Insurance, 7 for Customs and 2 for some peace of paper I still have no clue what it is for. But Syria welcomed me! The purpose was to reach Tartus before sunset and finally a plan worked out.
Syria is different then I thought it would be and much pourer then I expected, but this has one advantage… that it is cheap. Finally I found some African petrol prices, which till now have been my major expenses (about 33%).

17-11-2002 Krak’s the plan.

Visiting Krak des Chevaliers is the second best thing to visit in Syria, after Palmyra, and as Palmyra is way of route I am going for Krak instead.
The visit was amazing and me as a “Construction Engineer To Be” a good site.
I found out that my Student Card was not accepted here and I needed an ISIC card (International Student Identity Card). Hmmm where could I get this… It is definitely worth getting one as sites in Syria give you a massive 90% discount on all sites and other countries give discounts up to 50%. The plan was to spend the night in Krak but as I was there early and I saw a sign saying Lebanon just before the Krak turn-off, I thought it might give Lebanon a try.
Although I did not have a visa for the Country and did not plan Lebanon, I thought to give it a go. If they would turn me away I could always stay at Krak anyway.
But this was the most amazing border crossing in my entire life! I could get a visa for Lebanon for up to 3 months, for free, but just in case I might like it too much here and would stick around I asked for a 15 day transit visa. At customs there were huge billboards in 3 languages explaining the traveller what to pay and what it is for! The first time I saw that! And in my case it was all free. So I got in to Lebanon, 0 dollar poorer.
So I made it to the Capital by sunset, had to race there to get there before dark but as stated in the “Lonely Planet” petrol is really cheap, about 100LL (0,7$/€), I figured it wouldn’t matter using a bit more… and found a place to stay for only 5 bucks a night.

18-11-2002 Dutch Embassy and the American University of Beirut…

Walking through Beirut, gave me a good view of the Ruins that the war left behind and all the new construction work that is going on here, I went –first- to the Dutch Embassy to see if I could apply here for a new passport as I found a South African stamp in my passport that I completely forgot. (By my knowledge you are not allowed to enter Sudan if you have visited either Israel or South Africa) That seemed possible, but would take a maximum of 3 weeks…hmm. They would send me an e-mail about this later in the week. Then –second- to the American University of Beirut (AUB), to see if I could get an ISIC-card. And to have a look at the “Rich Bitches” in Beirut, which there where plenty of! I couldn’t get an ISIC card there, but they pointed me in the right direction. So I now have an ISIC-card! My goal for they day was to get it and as my feet where gone by all the walking, I called it the day.

19-11-2002 Embassies again.

Had an other visit to the Dutch Embassy, to see if they knew anything? And they did. They had made a call with the Sudanese Embassy and told me that Israel still is a problem but South Africa isn’t any more, but I needed a letter of Recommendation that set me back 14€, this as I wasn’t a Lebanese citizen.
So, that in my pocket I made the two copies of my passport and cut of two of my home printed passport photo’s and went for the Sudanese Embassy. To be turned away and been told to come back tomorrow at 11 am.
The rest of the day I shopped around to find a good diving school as I might do something useful with my time and I wanted to get my OpenWater for a long time anyway, but never did.

20-11-2002 Meeting the Consular himself.

As I walked to the Embassy yesterday and knew where it was I thought to let the bike out for a spin, as it was standing in the corridor of the hostel for a couple of days now after it had been ridden on everyday. That was not a smart decision as a lot of Beirut streets are one-way and lead you to complete other destinations then the one you are planning! But as the Lonely Planet states, driving in Lebanon is very challenging as no one obeys traffic rules (@Oedske, you will love my driving when you spend some time here), so I might as well adapt the Lebanese way of driving and ignore one-way streets and treat them as a normal road, which led me to the Sudanese Embassy. (By the way, the LP is wrong with petrol prices! Its not 100 but 2000 for a litre of petrol (1,35$/€)… now the LP is 2 years old, but I think at the time they forgot a nought)
After filling in the Visa form I was invited to have a chat with the Consular himself who was very helpful and would do his best to get me a visa and if it would take long send it to Cairo, so I could pick it up there… Let’s now hope they give me one… He told me to call him in a week’s time. So diving it is then! Let’s go to the place I picked and tell them I am actually going.

21-till-24-11-2002 Diving…

These day’s I did not much, walking around town, learning the theory of diving and being thought how to dive “on paper”, going out with some newly met friends and relax, enjoy the Freedom of Beirut! And on the 24th I finally did my first dive after some exercises and after wards did the theoretical exam. I do have problems clearing my ears but as I was having a bit of a cold (There where some major rains here yesterday and I didn’t dress for it…) I hope it will go better tomorrow as my nose now is free again.
By the way, my cell phone died yesterday, so you can’t reach me on that any more, it will be e-mail from now on, and you can give the sat-phone a try but it has not been “on” yet. (@Martijn, I have all the coordinates ready to send you, but it will not work via sms2mail so I will mail them when I find an internet cafe?. Hope you did some programming already 😉 )