So, here I am, back in touch again, after a lovely break spent in Southeast Asia, Bangkok, Hua Hin (beach), Singapore, Pulau Tioman (island in the South China Sea), Melaka, Kuala Lumpur, Bangkok. Invitation and plane ticket courtesy of a friend. How very nice.
Now I am back in the saddle again, traveling in and around Jordan. On arrival back in Amman, I was able to obtain my visa for Iran. Hooray!! :-) Great. Iran is a big country and so, even though I expect to be there about 6 weeks, I don't think I shall have time to cycle all the way. There is a train system and so I might have to make use of this for some of the way. We'll see.
I had my second fall off my bike recently. Not bad, just a few bruises. I was descending a long hill towards the Dead Sea. It had been raining for a while and I noticed the lorries going really, really slowly. It was also quite windy. As I was overtaking a lorry and came past it, a strong gust of wind attacked me. The road surface felt like an ice rink and my bike and I both fell over and parted company. We both went sliding, sliding, sliding. I really didn't think we were going to stop, but eventually we did. The lorry I was overtaking then overtook me and carried on, but the one behind him was a real sweetie: he stopped and waited ... and waited, cos I was having difficulty getting my pannier back onto the rack; the road was still slippery; it was still raining and I was pretty filthy. BUT, no clothes were torn, no damage to the bike, and, although I had bumped my head and bruised my forearm and thigh, I could carry on cycling. And I didn't cry! The lorry then followed behind me all the way to the next junction, when he made sure I knew where I was going before he carried on! I'm sure he followed me like this to make sure that, if I came off the bike again, he would be able to protect me from any other traffic behind. I felt so grateful to him.
I had wonderful stay in Amman, with Wendy and Farkad, who work with Iraqi refugees. I was invited to a Women's Group for them to ask me about my trip. They were SO interested; it was a real privilege and pleasure being with them.
I met a fellow cyclist, Tom (The Hungry Cyclist), who has done such trips as North to South America over 2 1/2 years! It was SO nice to meet such a kind and ebullient person; especially as I am still readjusting to being on my own again, after 3 1/2 weeks of being in company with others and not having to find where I am going to sleep each night.
In a few days I shall be going over the border to Syria. The weather is still very warm, but today, for instance, there was really big, wet rain and thunderstorms. As I go north, the temperatures will start going down and the weather will be more inclement. It will be quite a shock. I had not encountered rain since about the end of May and I have not had to be wearing warm clothes until recently (in the evenings). I wore shoes for the first time on my trip a few days ago - and developed blisters on my heels!
A year ago I was at the annual Royal Geographic Society's Explore weekend; including attending the excellent cycling workshop. This year I have been asked to submit a paragraph to be read out to the erstwhile attendees at the same workshop, led by two excellent cycle adventurers, Hall and Al. If anybody wants inspiration and encouragement, it is in abundance at this event. Go to it! :-) (it's this weekend).
23 November - Irbid, Jordan
Quelle horreur! I had my FIRST PUNCTURE yesterday! :-(
I managed to find a very nice little bus shelter to undertook the gruelling procedure of doing something about it. And I managed to sort it. :-) I took off the back wheel (under the guidance of the instruction manual), eased out the inner tube and replaced it with a new one, put the wheel back on and connected everything; then set off. But, yikes, no gears! The cable connections had come undone; I had to take off the panniers again to do them up properly. and then I was on my way again. In all, 1 hour! How about that?! :-) .
The puncture happened at about the time that some words I had written for the cycling workshop at the Royal Geographic Society's Explore weekend would have been read out (in which I happened to have mentioned that I had had no punctures to date - sod's law, eh?)
I thought this event deserved a special journal entry. :-)
29th November - Damascus, Syria
I arrived in Syria last Monday. Exiting Jordan was easy and friendly. Entering Syria was slightly more long-winded. The immigration official didn´t like the sticky patch on the back of my passport. "You´ve been to Occupied Palestine" he said. Neither was he impressed that I had no exit stamp from Cyprus; he seemed to find the concept of European travel without borders difficult to grasp. But, what REALLY got his goat, was my exit stamp from Amman airport (24 October) and the date of the re-entry stamp (10 November). Apparently, he didn´t see how/why anyone could be out of the country for so long. He wanted to see a re-entry date in the same month. "You have a second passport", he shouted, "where is your other passport?" Eventually, after taking my passport to two higher authorities, twice each, he allowed himself a half smile when he said I could be admitted to Syria. He then wrote down the amount I needed to pay: 52. I assumed he meant Syrian pounds (I´d not yet grasped the exchange rate, cos that was less than a pound), but no, he actually meant US$52, to be paid in US$ (or Euros .... or anything other than Syrian money). I paid, another protracted affair, then cycled into Syria.
At the first town, Da´ra, I tried finding hotel accommodation, but it was hugely expensive. In one hotel, was a woman who asked if I spoke French. I exclaimed at the price of hotels. The upshot was that she, a Professeur de la langue francais, invited me to stay with her and family. :-) They live in a Christian quarter in the town. They were very hospitable. She and I spoke French (that is to say, she did most of the talking); I spoke English with her son; with her husband, it was a bit of Arabic and French. She was very glad to have someone with whom to talk, as it was difficult to discuss most issues with anyone locally. She has aspirations, but cannot see how anything can ever come of them. :-(
The next day, I had stopped about lunchtime to have something to eat. A chap, quite insistently, beckoned me over to his home . I ended up spending the rest of the day and the night with his family. I had to wear a headscarf in the afternoon. In the evening, I was attired in the full gear. It was different from the usual dress and a very attractive style. There was no English from them, except a few words from the eldest daughter; and hardly any Arabic from me. BUT, their attitude was extraordinary; completely unfazed and the next day, they even tried to encourage me to stay longer. Other cyclists had stayed with them in the past, from Italy, Germany, Russia.
I arrived in Damascus on Wednesday. I wandered around looking for accommodation, happened to ask directions of a Norwegian girl, Ingunn, who suggested we asked people in the street about staying in someone´s house (as one does). So, she approached a group of people at a bakery. A local teacher spoke English and said we should go home with her and she would ring around. We had food and tea at her house. she was very kind, but unable to find us accommodation. I ended up going with Ingunn to where she was staying, there was a room available and, voila, here I am in an old house in old Damascus, at a much more reasonable rate than any other paid accommodation in Syria to date.
Damascus is great. You can wander around endlessly and just enjoy the sights and smells; all quite safely. In the post office I met a film-maker and his colleague from New York, working here with the UN in the placement of Iraqi refugees. There are 1.2 million refugees here! It is a very slow business and very distressing to hear about the awful things to which people have been subjected.
Yesterday was MY BIRTHDAY. Guess what I was doing for the whole day? From just after midnight at the beginning of my birthday and for 18 hours thereafter, I was sharing my time between the loo and my bed. :-( The first time I had been ill on my cycling trip. Good timing, eh? BUT, I was in a great place for being ill; it could have been so much worse. The two girls staying in the guesthouse, Ingunn and a Spaniard, Anna, were so thoughtful and caring as to my needs for the whole day. I was really ill; it was horrible; I felt like death warmed up. But, today I feel much better, but weak and still not quite right.
Therefore, my stay in Damascus has been prolonged until I feel able to resume cycling.
I found a hole in my tyre whilst cycling to Damascus and instantly wondered what I was thinking when I decided to leave my spare tyre on Cyprus! I have managed to buy a tyre here in Damascus (albeit a nobbly one) for the princely equivalent of 2 pounds 20p! And I have patched up the hole with that wonderful stuff called Gaffa tape.
Enough for now. :-)
30 November - Damascus
Damascus is the largest, continuously inhabited city in the world; dating back to at least 3000 BC. It features in the Bible, with the persecutor, Saul, converting to Paul, as a result of his blinding encounter with God whilst travelling the road to that city.
Straight Street (my Christian guesthouse butts off from it) is where Paul stayed in a house during his 3 days of darkness and to where Ananias came, at God´s command, to restore his sight. The rest, as they say, is history: Paul did a complete u-turn from his zealousy, was baptised and became one of the strongest advocates for the Christian faith and totally pro-Jesus. Read for yourself; he has loads of books and letters to his name in the New Testament.
Also in Damascus is the impressive and important Ummayad Mosque and the beautifully decorated old warehouses, or paschas, testifying to the former richness of this ancient city.